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Title: Maria Chapdelaine: A Tale of the Lake St. John Country
Author: Hémon, Louis
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Maria Chapdelaine: A Tale of the Lake St. John Country" ***

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MARIA CHAPDELAINE

A TALE OF THE LAKE ST. JOHN COUNTRY


BY

LOUIS HEMON

TRANSLATED BY
W. H. BLAKE


Author of "Brown Waters," etc.


New York

1921



CONTENTS


    I  PERIBONKA
   II  HOME IN THE CLEARING
  III  FRANCOIS PASSES BY
   IV  WILD LAND
    V  THE VOWS
   VI  THE STUFF OF DREAMS
  VII  A MEAGER REAPING
 VIII  ENTRENCHED AGAINST WINTER
   IX  ONE THOUSAND AVES
    X  STRAYING TRACKS
   XI  THE INTERPRETER OF GOD
  XII  LOVE BEARING GIFTS
 XIII  LOVE BEARING CHAINS
  XIV  INTO THE DEEP SILENCE
   XV  THAT WE PERISH NOT
  XVI  PLEDGED TO THE RACE



CHAPTER I

PERIBONKA

Ite, missa est

The door opened, and the men of the congregation began to come out
of the church at Peribonka.

A moment earlier it had seemed quite deserted, this church set by
the roadside on the high bank of the Peribonka, whose icy
snow-covered surface was like a winding strip of plain. The snow lay
deep upon road and fields, for the April sun was powerless to send
warmth through the gray clouds, and the heavy spring rains were yet
to come. This chill and universal white, the humbleness of the
wooden church and the wooden houses scattered along the road, the
gloomy forest edging so close that it seemed to threaten, these all
spoke of a harsh existence in a stern land. But as the men and boys
passed through the doorway and gathered in knots on the broad steps,
their cheery salutations, the chaff flung from group to group, the
continual interchange of talk, merry or sober, at once disclosed the
unquenchable joyousness of a people ever filled with laughter and
good humour.

Cleophas Pesant, son of Thadee Pesant the blacksmith, was already in
light-coloured summer garments, and sported an American coat with
broad padded shoulders; though on this cold Sunday he had not
ventured to discard his winter cap of black cloth with harelined
ear-laps for the hard felt hat he would have preferred to wear.
Beside him Egide Simard, and others who had come a long road by
sleigh, fastened their long fur coats as they left the church,
drawing them in at the waist with scarlet sashes. The young folk of
the village, very smart in coats with otter collars, gave
deferential greeting to old Nazaire Larouche; a tall man with gray
hair and huge bony shoulders who had in no wise altered for the mass
his everyday garb: short jacket of brown cloth lined with sheepskin,
patched trousers, and thick woollen socks under moose-hide
moccasins.

"Well, Mr. Larouche, do things go pretty well across the water?"

"Not badly, my lads, not so badly."

Everyone drew his pipe from his pocket, and the pig's bladder filled
with tobacco leaves cut by hand, and, after the hour and a half of
restraint, began to smoke with evident satisfaction. The first puffs
brought talk of the weather, the coming spring, the state of the ice
on Lake St. John and the rivers, of their several doings and the
parish gossip; after the manner of men who, living far apart on the
worst of roads, see one another but once a week.

"The lake is solid yet," said Cleophas Pesant, "but the rivers are
no longer safe. The ice went this week beside the sand-bank opposite
the island, where there have been warm spring-holes all winter."
Others began to discuss the chances of the crops, before the ground
was even showing.

"I tell you that we shall have a lean year," asserted one old
fellow, "the frost got in before the last snows fell."

At length the talk slackened and all faced the top step, where
Napoleon Laliberte was making ready, in accord with his weekly
custom, to announce the parish news. He stood there motionless for a
little while, awaiting quiet,--hands deep in the pockets of the
heavy lynx coat, knitting his forehead and half closing his keen
eyes under the fur cap pulled well over his ears; and when silence
fell he began to give the news at the full pitch of his voice, in
the manner of a carter who encourages his horses on a hill.

"The work on the wharf will go forward at once ... I have been sent
money by the Government, and those looking for a job should see me
before vespers. If you want this money to stay in the parish instead
of being sent back to Quebec you had better lose no time in speaking
to me."

Some moved over in his direction; others, indifferent, met his
announcement with a laugh. The remark was heard in an envious
undertone:--"And who will be foreman at three dollars a day?
Perhaps good old Laliberte ..."

But it was said jestingly rather than in malice, and the speaker
ended by adding his own laugh.

Hands still in the pockets of his big coat, straightening himself
and squaring his shoulders as he stood there upon the highest step,
Napoleon Laliberte proceeded in loudest tones:--"A surveyor from
Roberval will be in the parish next week. If anyone wishes his land
surveyed before mending his fences for the summer, this is to let
him know."

The item was received without interest. Peribonka farmers are not
particular about correcting their boundaries to gain or lose a few
square feet, since the most enterprising among them have still
two-thirds of their grants to clear,--endless acres of woodland
and swamp to reclaim.

He continued:--"Two men are up here with money to buy furs. If you
have any bear, mink, muskrat or fox you will find these men at the
store until Wednesday, or you can apply to François Paradis of
Mistassini who is with them. They have plenty of money and will pay
cash for first-class pelts." His news finished, he descended the
steps. A sharp-faced little fellow took his place.

"Who wants to buy a fine young pig of my breeding?" he asked,
indicating with his finger something shapeless that struggled in a
bag at his feet. A great burst of laughter greeted him. They knew
them well, these pigs of Hormidas' raising. No bigger than rats, and
quick as squirrels to jump the fences.

"Twenty-five cents!" one young man bid chaffingly.

"Fifty cents!"

"A dollar!"

"Don't play the fool, Jean. Your wife will never let you pay a
dollar for such a pig as that."

Jean stood his ground:--"A dollar, I won't go back on it."

Hormidas Berube with a disgusted look on his face awaited another
bid, but only got jokes and laughter.

Meantime the women in their turn had begun to leave the church.
Young or old, pretty or ugly, nearly all were well clad in fur
cloaks, or in coats of heavy cloth; for, honouring the Sunday mass,
sole festival of their lives, they had doffed coarse blouses and
homespun petticoats, and a stranger might well have stood amazed to
find them habited almost with elegance in this remote spot; still
French to their finger-tips in the midst of the vast lonely forest
and the snow, and as tastefully dressed, these peasant women, as
most of the middle-class folk in provincial France.

Cleophas Pesant waited for Louisa Tremblay who was alone, and they
went off together along the wooden sidewalk in the direction of the
house. Others were satisfied to exchange jocular remarks with the
young girls as they passed, in the easy and familiar fashion of the
country,-natural enough too where the children have grown up
together from infancy.

Pite Gaudreau, looking toward the door of the church, remarked:--"Maria
Chapdelaine is back from her visit to St. Prime, and there is her
father come to fetch her." Many in the village scarcely knew the
Chapdelaines.

"Is it Samuel Chapdelaine who has a farm in the woods on the other
side of the river, above Honfleur?"

"That's the man."

"And the girl with him is his daughter? Maria ..."

"Yes, she has been spending a month at St. Prime with her mother's
people. They are Bouchards, related to Wilfrid Bouchard of St.
Gedeon ..."

Interested glances were directed toward the top of the steps. One of
the young people paid Maria the countryman's tribute of
admiration--"A fine hearty girl!" said he.

"Right you are! A fine hearty girl, and one with plenty of spirit
too. A pity that she lives so far off in the woods. How are the
young fellows of the village to manage an evening at their place, on
the other side of the river and above the falls, more than a dozen
miles away and the last of them with next to no road?"

The smiles were bold enough as they spoke of her, this inaccessible
beauty; but as she came down the wooden steps with her father and
passed near by, they were taken with bashfulness and awkwardly drew
back, as though something more lay between her and them than the
crossing of a river and twelve miles of indifferent woodland road.

Little by little the groups before the church dissolved. Some
returned to their houses, after picking up all the news that was
going; others, before departing, were for spending an hour in one of
the two gathering places of the village; the curé's house or the
general store. Those who came from the back concessions, stretching
along the very border of the forest, one by one untied their horses
from the row and brought their sleighs to the foot of the steps for
their women and children.

Samuel Chapdelaine and Maria had gone but a little way when a young
man halted them.

"Good day to you, Mr. Chapdelaine. Good day, Miss Maria. I am in
great luck at meeting you, since your farm is so high up the river
and I don't often come this way myself."

His bold eyes travelled from one to the other. When he averted them
it seemed by a conscious effort of politeness; swiftly they
returned, and their glance, bright, keen, full of honest eagerness,
was questioning and disconcerting.

"François Paradis!" exclaimed Chapdelaine.

"This is indeed a bit of luck, for I haven't seen you this long
while, François. And your father dead too. Have you held on to the
farm?" The young man did not answer; he was looking expectantly at
Maria with a frank smile, awaiting a word from her.

"You remember François Paradis of Mistassini, Maria? He has changed
very little."

"Nor have you, Mr. Chapdelaine. But your daughter, that is a
different story; she is not the same, yet I should have known her at
once."

They had spent the last evening at St. Michel de Mistassini-viewing
everything in the full light of the afternoon: the great wooden
bridge, covered in and painted red, not unlike an amazingly long
Noah's ark; the high hills rising almost from the very banks of the
river, the old monastery crouched between the river and the heights,
the water that seethed and whitened, flinging itself in wild descent
down the staircase of a giant. But to see this young man after seven
years, and to hear his name spoken, aroused in Maria memories
clearer and more lively than she was able to evoke of the events and
sights of yesterday.

"François Paradis! ... Why surely, father, I remember François
Paradis." And François, content, gave answer to the questions of a
moment ago.

"No, Mr. Chapdelaine, I have not kept the farm. When the good man
died I sold everything, and since then I have been nearly all the
time in the woods, trapping or bartering with the Indians of Lake
Mistassini and the Riviere aux Foins. I also spent a couple of years
in the Labrador." His look passed once more from Samuel Chapdelaine
to Maria, and her eyes fell.

"Are you going home to-day?" he asked.

"Yes; right after dinner."

"I am glad that I saw you, for I shall be passing up the river near
your place in two or three weeks, when the ice goes out. I am here
with some Belgians who are going to buy furs from the Indians; we
shall push up so soon as the river is clear, and if we pitch a tent
above the falls close to your farm I will spend the evening with
you."

"That is good, François, we will expect you."

The alders formed a thick and unbroken hedge along the river
Peribonka; but the leafless stems did not shut away the steeply
sloping bank, the levels of the frozen river, the dark hem of the
woods crowding to the farther edge-leaving between the solitude of
the great trees, thick-set and erect, and the bare desolateness of
the ice only room for a few narrow fields, still for the most part
uncouth with stumps, so narrow indeed that they seemed to be
constrained in the grasp of an unkindly land.

To Maria Chapdelaine, glancing inattentively here and there, there
was nothing in all this to make one feel lonely or afraid. Never had
she known other prospect from October to May, save those still more
depressing and sad, farther yet from the dwellings of man and the
marks of his labour; and moreover all about her that morning had
taken on a softer outline, was brighter with a new promise, by
virtue of something sweet and gracious that the future had in its
keeping. Perhaps the coming springtime ... perhaps another
happiness that was stealing toward her, nameless and unrecognized.

Samuel Chapdelaine and Maria were to dine with their relative Azalma
Larouche, at whose house they had spent the night. No one was there
but the hostess, for many years a widow, and old Nazaire Larouche,
her brother-in-law. Azalma was a tall, flat-chested woman with the
undeveloped features of a child, who talked very quickly and almost
without taking breath while she made ready the meal in the kitchen.
From time to time she halted her preparations and sat down opposite
her visitors, less for the moments repose than to give some special
emphasis to what she was about to say; but the washing of a dish or
the setting of the table speedily claimed her attention again, and
the monologue went on amid the clatter of dishes and frying-pans.

The pea-soup was soon ready and on the table. While eating, the two
men talked about the condition of their farms and the state of the
spring ice.

"You should be safe enough for crossing this evening," said Nazaire
Larouche, "but it will be touch-and-go, and I think you will be
about the last. The current is strong below the fall and already we
have had three days of rain.'"

"Everybody says that the ice will hold for a long time yet," replied
his sister-in-law. "Better sleep here again to-night, and after
supper the young folks from the village will drop in and spend the
evening. It is only fair that Maria should have a little more
amusement before you drag her off into your woods up there."

"She has had plenty of gaiety at St. Prime; singing and games almost
every night. We are greatly obliged to you, but I am going to put
the horse in immediately after dinner so as to get home in good
time."

Old Nazaire Larouche spoke of the morning's sermon which had struck
him as well reasoned and fine; then after a spell of silence he
exclaimed abruptly--"Have you baked?"

His amazed sister-in-law gaped at him for a moment before it stole
upon her that this was his way of asking for bread. A little later
he attacked her with another question:--"Is your pump working
well?"

Which signified that there was no water on the table. Azalma rose to
get it, and behind her back the old fellow sent a sly wink in the
direction of Maria. "I assault her with parables," chuckled he.
"It's politer."

On the plank walls of the house were pasted old newspapers, and
calendars hung there such as the manufacturers of farm implements or
grain merchants scatter abroad, and also prints of a religious
character; a representation in crudest colour and almost innocent of
perspective of the basilica at Ste. Anne de Beaupre--, a likeness
of Pope Pius X.; a chromo where the palely-smiling Virgin Mary
disclosed her bleeding heart encircled with a golden nimbus.

"This is nicer than our house," thought Maria to herself. Nazaire
Larouche kept directing attention to his wants with dark sayings:--"Was
your pig very lean?" he demanded; or perhaps:--"Fond of maple
sugar, are you? I never get enough of it ..."

And then Azalma would help him to a second slice of pork or fetch
the cake of maple sugar from the cupboard. When she wearied of these
strange table-manners and bade him help himself in the usual
fashion, he smoothed her ruffled temper with good-humoured excuses,
"Quite right. Quite right. I won't do it again; but you always loved
a joke, Azalma. When you have youngsters like me at dinner you must
look for a little nonsense."

Maria smiled to think how like he was to her father; both tall and
broad, with grizzled hair, their faces tanned to the colour of
leather, and, shining from their eyes, the quenchless spirit of
youth which keeps alive in the countryman of Quebec his imperishable
simple-heartedness.

They took the road almost as soon as the meal was over. The snow,
thawed on top by the early rains, and frozen anew during the cold
nights, gave an icy surface that slipped away easily beneath the
runners. The high blue hills on the other side of Lake St. John
which closed the horizon behind them were gradually lost to view as
they returned up the long bend of the river.

Passing the church, Samuel Chapdelaine said thoughtfully--"The
mass is beautiful. I am often very sorry that we live so far from
churches. Perhaps not being able to attend to our religion every
Sunday hinders us from being just so fortunate as other people."

"It is not our fault," sighed Maria, "we are too far away."

Her father shook his head regretfully. The imposing ceremonial, the
Latin chants, the lighted tapers, the solemnity of the Sunday mass
never failed to fill him with exaltation. In a little he began to
sing:--

    J'irai la voir un jour,
    M'asseoir pres de son trone,
    Recevoir ma couronne
    Et regner a mon tour ...

His voice was strong and true, and he used the full volume of it,
singing with deep fervour; but ere long his eyes began to close and
his chin to drop toward his breast. Driving always made him sleepy,
and the horse, aware that the usual drowsiness had possession of his
master, slackened his pace and at length fell to a walk.

"Get up there, Charles Eugene!"

He had suddenly waked and put his hand out for the whip. Charles
Eugene resigned himself and began to trot again. Many generations
ago a Chapdelaine cherished a long feud with a neighbour who bore
these names, and had forthwith bestowed them upon an old, tired,
lame horse of his, that he might give himself the pleasure every day
when passing the enemy's house of calling out very loudly:--"Charles
Eugene, ill-favoured beast that you are! Wretched, badly brought
up creature! Get along, Charles Eugene!" For a whole century the
quarrel was dead and buried; but the Chapdelaines ever since had
named their successive horses Charles Eugene.

Once again the hymn rose in clear ringing tones, intense with
feeling:--

    Au ciel, au ciel, au ciel,
    J'irai la voir un jour . .

And again sleep was master, the voice died away, and Maria gathered
up the reins dropped from her father's hand.

The icy road held alongside the frozen river. The houses on the other
shore, each surrounded with its patch of cleared land, were sadly
distant from one another. Behind the clearings, and on either side of
them to the river's bank, it was always forest: a dark green background
of cypress against which a lonely birch tree stood out here and there,
its bole naked and white as the column of a ruined temple.

On the other side of the road the strip of cleared land was continuous
and broader; the houses, set closer together, seemed an outpost of the
village; but ever behind the bare fields marched the forest, following
like a shadow, a gloomy frieze without end between white ground and gray
sky.

"Charles Eugene, get on there!"

Chapdelaine woke and made his usual good-humoured feint toward the
whip; but by the time the horse slowed down, after a few livelier
paces, he had dropped off again, his hands lying open upon his knees
showing the worn palms of the horse-hide mittens, his chin resting
upon the coat's thick fur.

After a couple of miles the road climbed a steep hill and entered
the unbroken woods. The houses standing at intervals in the flat
country all the way from the village came abruptly to an end, and
there was no longer anything for the eye to rest upon but a
wilderness of bare trunks rising out of the universal whiteness.
Even the incessant dark green of balsam, spruce and gray pine was
rare; the few young and living trees were lost among the endless
dead, either lying on the ground and buried in snow, or still erect
but stripped and blackened. Twenty years before great forest fires
had swept through, and the new growth was only pushing its way amid
the standing skeletons and the charred down-timber. Little hills
followed one upon the other, and the road was a succession of ups
and downs scarcely more considerable than the slopes of an ocean
swell, from trough to crest, from crest to trough.

Maria Chapdelaine drew the cloak about her, slipped her hands under
the warm robe of gray goat-skin and half closed her eyes. There was
nothing to look at; in the settlements new houses and barns might go
up from year to year, or be deserted and tumble into ruin; but the
life of the woods is so unhurried that one must needs have more than
the patience of a human being to await and mark its advance.

Alone of the three travellers the horse remained fully awake. The
sleigh glided over the hard snow, grazing the stumps on either hand
level with the track. Charles Eugene accurately followed every turn
of the road, took the short pitches at a full trot and climbed the
opposite hills with a leisurely pace, like the capable animal he
was, who might be trusted to conduct his masters safely to the
door-step of their dwelling without being annoyed by guiding word or
touch of rein.

Some miles farther, and the woods fell away again, disclosing the
river. The road descended the last hill from the higher land and
sank almost to the level of the ice. Three houses were dotted along
the mile of bank above; but they were humbler buildings than those
of the village, and behind them scarcely any land was cleared and
there was little sign of cultivation:-built there, they seemed to
be, only in witness of the presence of man.

Charles Eugene swung sharply to the right, stiffened his forelegs to
hold back on the slope and pulled up on the edge of the ice.
Chapdelaine opened his eyes.

"Here, father," said Maria, "take the reins!" He seized them, but
before giving his horse the word, took some moments for a careful
scrutiny of the frozen surface.

"There is a little water on the ice," said he, "and the snow has
melted; but we ought to be able to cross all the same. Get up,
Charles Eugene." The horse lowered his head and sniffed at the white
expanse in front of him, then adventured upon it without more ado.
The ruts of the winter road were gone, the little firs which had
marked it at intervals were nearly all fallen and lying in the
half-thawed snow; as they passed the island the ice cracked twice
without breaking. Charles Eugene trotted smartly toward the house of
Charles Lindsay on the other bank. But when the sleigh reached
midstream, below the great fall, the horse had perforce to slacken
pace by reason of the water which had overflowed the ice and wetted
the snow. Very slowly they approached the shore; there remained only
some thirty feet to be crossed when the ice began to go up and down
under the horse's hoofs.

Old Chapdelaine, fully awake now, was on his feet; his eyes beneath
the fur cap shone with courage and quick resolve.

"Go on, Charles Eugene! Go on there!" he roared in his big voice.
The wise beast dug his calked shoes through the deep slush and
sprang for the bank, throwing himself into the collar at every
leap. Just as they reached land a cake of ice tilted beneath their
weight and sank, leaving a space of open water.

Samuel Chapdelaine turned about. "We are the last to cross this
year," said he. And he halted the horse to breathe before putting
him at the hill.

After following the main road a little way they left it for another
which plunged into the woods. It was scarcely more than a rough
trail, still beset with roots, turning and twisting in all
directions to avoid boulders and stumps. Rising to a plateau where
it wound back and forth through burnt lands it gave an occasional
glimpse of steep hillside, of the rocks piled in the channel of the
frozen rapid, the higher and precipitous opposing slope above the
fall, and at the last resumed a desolate way amid fallen trees and
blackened rampikes.

The little stony hillocks they passed through seemed to close in
behind them; the burnt lands gave place to darkly-crowding spruces
and firs; now and then they caught momentary sight of the distant
mountains on the Riviere Alec; and soon the travellers discerned a
clearing in the forest, a mounting column of smoke, the bark of a
dog.

"They will be glad to see you again, Maria," said her father. "They
have been lonesome for you, every one of them."



CHAPTER II

HOME IN THE CLEARING

It was supper-time before Maria had answered all the questions, told
of her journey down to the last and littlest item, and given not
only the news of St. Prime and Peribonka but everything else she had
been able to gather up upon the road.

Tit'Bé, seated facing his sister, smoked pipe after pipe without
taking his eyes off her for a single moment, fearful of missing some
highly important disclosure that she had hitherto held back. Little
Alma Rose stood with an arm about her neck; Telesphore was listening
too, as he mended his dog's harness with bits of string. Madame
Chapdelaine stirred the fire in the big cast-iron stove, came and
went, brought from the cupboard plates and dishes, the loaf of bread
and pitcher of milk, tilted the great molasses jar over a glass jug.
Not seldom she stopped to ask Maria something, or to catch what she
was saying, and stood for a few moments dreaming, hands on her hips,
as the villages spoken of rose before her in memory--

"... And so the church is finished-a beautiful stone church, with
pictures on the walls and coloured glass in the windows ... How
splendid that must be! Johnny Bouchard built a new barn last year,
and it is a little Perron, daughter of Abelard Perron of St. Jerome,
who teaches school ... Eight years since I was at St. Prime, just
to think of it! A fine parish indeed, that would have suited me
nicely; good level land as far as you can see, no rock cropping up
and no bush, everywhere square-cornered fields with handsome
straight fences and heavy soil. Only two hours' drive to the railway
... Perhaps it is wicked of me to say so; but all my married life
I have felt sorry that your father's taste was for moving, and
pushing on and on into the woods, and not for living on a farm in
one of the old parishes."

Through the little square window she threw a melancholy glance over
the scanty cleared fields behind the house, the barn built of
ill-joined planks that showed marks of fire, and the land beyond
still covered with stumps and encompassed by the forest, whence any
return of hay or grain could only be looked for at the end of long
and patient waiting.

"O look," said Alma Rose, "here is Chien come for his share of
petting." The dog laid his long head with the sad eyes upon her
knee; uttering little friendly words, Maria bent and caressed him.

"He has been lonely without you like the rest of us," came from Alma
Rose. "Every morning he used to look at your bed to see if you were
not back." She called him to her. "Come, Chien; come and let me pet
you too."

Chien went obediently from one to the other, half closing his eyes
at each pat. Maria looked about her to see if some change, unlikely
though that might be, had taken place while she was away.

The great three-decked stove stood in the centre of the house; the
sheet-iron stove-pipe, after mounting for some feet, turned at a
right angle and was carried through the house to the outside, so
that none of the precious warmth should be lost. In a corner was the
large wooden cupboard; close by, the table; a bench against the
wall; on the other side of the door the sink and the pump. A
partition beginning at the opposite wall seemed designed to divide
the house in two, but it stopped before reaching the stove and did
not begin again beyond it, in such fashion that these divisions of
the only room were each enclosed on three sides and looked like a
stage setting-that conventional type of scene where the audience are
invited to imagine that two distinct apartments exist although they
look into both at once.

In one of these compartments the father and mother had their bed;
Maria and Alma Rose in the other. A steep stairway ascended from a
corner to the loft where the boys slept in the summer-time; with the
coming of winter they moved their bed down and enjoyed the warmth of
the stove with the rest of the family.

Hanging upon the wall were the illustrated calendars of shopkeepers
in Roberval and Chicoutimi; a picture of the infant Jesus in his
mother's arms-a rosy-faced Jesus with great blue eyes, holding out
his chubby hands; a representation of some unidentified saint
looking rapturously heavenward; the first page of the Christmas
number of a Quebec newspaper, filled with stars big as moons and
angels flying with folded wings.

"Were you a good girl while I was away, Alma Rose?"

It was the mother who replied:--"Alma Rose was not too naughty;
but Telesphore has been a perfect torment to me. It is not so much
that he does what is wrong; but the things he says! One might
suppose that the boy had not all his wits."

Telesphore busied himself with the dog-harness and made believe not
to hear. Young Telesphore's depravities supplied this household with
its only domestic tragedy. To satisfy her own mind and give him a
proper conviction of besetting sin his mother had fashioned for
herself a most involved kind of polytheism, had peopled the world
with evil spirits and good who influenced him alternately to err or
to repent. The boy had come to regard himself as a mere battleground
where devils who were very sly, and angels of excellent purpose but
little experience, waged endless unequal warfare.

Gloomily would he mutter before the empty preserve jar:--"It was
the Demon of gluttony who tempted me."

Returning from some escapade with torn and muddy clothes he would
anticipate reproach with his explanation:--"The Demon of
disobedience lured me into that. Beyond doubt it was he." With the
same breath asserting indignation at being so misled, and protesting
the blamelessness of his intentions.

"But he must not be allowed to come back, eh, mother! He must not be
allowed to come back, this bad spirit. I will take father's gun and
I will shoot him ..."

"You cannot shoot devils with a gun," objected his mother. "But when
you feel the temptation coming, seize your rosary and say your
prayers."

Telesphore did not dare to gainsay this; but he shook his head
doubtfully. The gun seemed to him both the surer and the more
amusing way, and he was accustomed to picture to himself a
tremendous duel, a lingering slaughter from which he would emerge
without spot or blemish, forever set free from the wiles of the Evil
One.

Samuel Chapdelaine came into the house and supper was served. The
sign of the cross around the table; lips moving in a silent
Benedicite, which Telesphore and Alma Rose repeated aloud; again the
sign of the cross; the noise of chairs and bench drawn in; spoons
clattering on plates. To Maria it was as though since her absence
she was giving attention for the first time in her life to these
sounds and movements; that they possessed a different significance
from movements and sounds elsewhere, and invested with some peculiar
quality of sweetness and peace all that happened in that house far
off in the woods.

Supper was nearly at an end when a footstep sounded without; Chien
pricked up his ears but gave no growl.

"A visitor," announced mother Chapdelaine, "Eutrope Gagnon has come
over to see us."

It was an easy guess, as Eutrope Gagnon was their only neighbour.
The year before he had taken up land two miles away, with his
brother; the brother had gone to the shanties for the winter, and he
was left alone in the cabin they had built of charred logs. He
appeared on the threshold, lantern in hand.

"Greeting to each and all," was the salutation as he pulled off his
woollen cap. "A fine night, and there is still a crust on the snow-,
as the walking was good I thought that I would drop in this evening
to find out if you were back."

Although he came to see Maria, as all knew, it was to the father of
the house that he directed his remarks, partly through shyness,
partly out of deference to the manners of the country. He took the
chair that was offered him.

"The weather is mild; if it misses turning wet it will be by very
little. One can feel that the spring rains are not far off ..."

It was the orthodox beginning to one of those talks among country
folk which are like an interminable song, full of repetitions, each
speaker agreeing with the words last uttered and adding more to the
same effect. And naturally the theme was the Canadian's never-ending
plaint; his protest, falling short of actual revolt, against the
heavy burden of the long winter. "The beasts have been in the stable
since the end of October and the barn is just about empty," said
mother Chapdelaine. "Unless spring comes soon I don't know what we
are going to do."

"Three weeks at least before they can be turned out to pasture."

"A horse, three cows, a pig and the sheep, without speaking of the
fowls; it takes something to feed them!" this from Tit'Bé with an
air of grown-up wisdom.

He smoked and talked with the men now by virtue of his fourteen
years, his broad shoulders and his knowledge of husbandry. Eight
years ago he had begun to care for the stock, and to replenish the
store of wood for the house with the aid of his little sled.
Somewhat later he had learned to call Heulle! Heulle! very loudly
behind the thin-flanked cows, and Hue! Dia! Harrie! when the horses
were ploughing; to manage a hay-fork and to build a rail-fence.
These two years he had taken turn beside his father with ax and
scythe, driven the big wood-sleigh over the hard snow, sown and
reaped on his own responsibility; and thus it was that no one
disputed his right freely to express an opinion and to smoke
incessantly the strong leaf-tobacco. His face was still smooth as a
child's, with immature features and guileless eyes, and one not
knowing him would probably have been surprised to hear him speak
with all the deliberation of an older and experienced man, and to
see him everlastingly charging his wooden pipe; but in the Province
of Quebec the boys are looked upon as men when they undertake men's
work, and as to their precocity in smoking there is always the
excellent excuse that it affords some protection in summer against
the attacking swarms of black-flies, mosquitos and sand-flies.

"How nice it would be to live in a country where there is hardly any
winter, and where the earth makes provision for man and beast. Up
here man himself, by dint of work, must care for his animals and his
land. If we did not have Esdras and Da'Be earning good wages in the
woods how could we get along?"

"But the soil is rich in these parts," said Eutrope Gagnon.

"The soil is good but one must battle for it with the forest; and to
live at all you must watch every copper, labour from morning to
night, and do everything yourself because there is no one near to
lend a hand."

Mother Chapdelaine ended with a sigh. Her thoughts were ever fondly
revisiting the older parishes where the land has long been cleared
and cultivated, and where the houses are neighbourly-her lost
paradise.

Her husband clenched his fists and shook his head with an obstinate
gesture. "Only you wait a few months ... When the boys are back
from the woods we shall set to work, they two, Tit'Bé, and I, and
presently we shall have our land cleared. With four good men ax in
hand and not afraid of work things will go quickly, even in the hard
timber. Two years from now there will be grain harvested, and
pasturage that will support a good herd of cattle. I tell you that
we are going to make land."

"Make land!" Rude phrase of the country, summing up in two words all
the heartbreaking labour that transforms the incult woods, barren of
sustenance, to smiling fields, ploughed and sown. Samuel
Chapdelaine's eyes flamed with enthusiasm and determination as he
spoke.

For this was the passion of his life; the passion of a man whose
soul was in the clearing, not the tilling of the earth. Five times
since boyhood had he taken up wild land, built a house, a stable and
a barn, wrested from the unbroken forest a comfortable farm; and
five times he had sold out to begin it all again farther north,
suddenly losing interest; energy and ambition vanishing once the
first rough work was done, when neighbours appeared and the
countryside began to be opened up and inhabited. Some there were who
entered into his feelings; others praised the courage but thought
little of the wisdom, and such were fond of saying that if good
sense had led him to stay in one place he and his would now be at
their ease.

"At their ease ..." O dread God of the Scriptures, worshipped by
these countryfolk of Quebec without a quibble or a doubt, who hast
condemned man to earn his bread in the sweat of his face, canst Thou
for a moment smooth the awful frown from Thy forehead when Thou art
told that certain of these Thy creatures have escaped the doom, and
live at their ease?

"At their ease..." Truly to know what it means one must have
toiled bitterly from dawn to dark with back and hands and feet, and
the children of the soil are those who have best attained the
knowledge. It means the burden lifted; the heavy burden of labour
and of care. It means leave to rest, the which, even if it be
unused, is a new mercy every moment. To the old it means so much of
the pride of life as no one would deny them, the late revelation of
unknown delights, an hour of idleness, a distant journey, a dainty
or a purchase indulged in without anxious thought, the hundred and
one things desirable that a competence assures.

So constituted is the heart of man that most of those who have paid
the ransom and won liberty-ease-have in the winning of it created
their own incapacity for enjoying the conquest, and toil on till
death; it is the others, the ill-endowed or the unlucky, who have
been unable to overcome fortune and escape their slavery, to whom
the state of ease has all those charms of the inaccessible.

It may be that the Chapdelaines so were thinking, and each in his
own fashion; the father with the unconquerable optimism of a man who
knows himself strong and believes himself wise; the mother with a
gentle resignation; the others, the younger ones, in a less definite
way and without bitterness, seeing before them a long life in which
they could not miss attaining happiness.

Maria stole an occasional glance at Eutrope Gagnon, but she quickly
turned away, for she always surprised his humbly worshipping eyes.
For a year she had become used to his frequent visits, nor felt
displeasure when every Sunday evening added to the family circle
this brown face that was continually so patient and good-humoured;
but the short absence of a month had not left things the same, for
she had brought home to the fireside an undefined feeling that a
page of her life was turned, in which he would have no share.

The ordinary subjects of conversation exhausted, they played cards:
quatre-sept and boeuf; then Eutrope looked at his big silver watch
and said that it was time to be going. His lantern lit, the
good-byes said, he halted on the threshold for a moment to observe
the night.

"It is raining!" he exclaimed. His hosts made toward the door to see
for themselves; the rain had in truth begun, a spring rain with
great drops that fell heavily, under which the snow was already
softening and melting. "The sou'east has taken hold," announced the
elder Chapdelaine. "Now we can say that the winter is practically
over."

Everyone had his own way of expressing relief and delight; but it
was Maria who stood longest by the door, hearkening to the sweet
patter of the rain, watching the indistinct movement of cloud in the
dark sky above the darker mass of the forest, breathing the mild air
that came from the south.

"Spring is not far ... Spring is not far ..."

In her heart she felt that never since the earth began was there a
springtime like this springtime to-be.



CHAPTER III

FRANCOIS PASSES BY

One morning three days later, on opening the door, Maria's ear
caught a sound that made her stand motionless and listening. The
distant and continuous thunder was the voice of wild waters,
silenced all winter by the frost.

"The ice is going out," she announced to those within. "You can hear
the falls."

This set them all talking once again of the opening season, and of
the work soon to be commenced. The month of May came in with
alternate warm rains and fine sunny days which gradually conquered
the accumulated ice and snow of the long winter. Low stumps and
roots were beginning to appear, although the shade of close-set
cypress and fir prolonged the death-struggle of the perishing
snowdrifts; the roads became quagmires; wherever the brown mosses
were uncovered they were full of water as a sponge. In other lands
it was already spring; vigorously the sap was running, buds were
bursting and presently leaves would unfold; but the soil of far
northern Canada must be rid of one chill and heavy mantle before
clothing itself afresh in green.

A dozen times in the course of the day Maria and her mother opened
the window to feel the softness of the air, listen to the tinkle of
water running from the last drifts on higher slopes, or hearken to
the mighty roar telling that the exulting Peribonka was free, and
hurrying to the lake a freight of ice-floes from the remote north.

Chapdelaine seated himself that evening on the door-step for his
smoke; a stirring of memory brought the remark--"François will soon
be passing. He said that perhaps he would come to see us." Maria
replied with a scarce audible "Yes," and blessed the shadow hiding
her face.

Ten days later he came, long after nightfall. The women were alone
in the house with Tit'Bé and the children, the father having gone
for seed-grain to Honfleur whence he would only return on the
morrow. Telesphore and Alma Rose were asleep, Tit'Bé was having a
last pipe before the family prayer, when Chien barked several times
and got up to sniff at the closed door. Then two light taps were
heard. The visitor waited for the invitation before he entered and
stood before them.

His excuses for so late a call were made without touch of
awkwardness. "We are camped at the end of the portage above the
rapids. The tent had to be pitched and things put in order to make
the Belgians comfortable for the night. When I set out I knew it was
hardly the hour for a call and that the paths through the woods must
be pretty bad. But I started all the same, and when I saw your light..."

His high Indian boots were caked with mud to the knee; he breathed a
little deeply between words, like a man who has been running; but
his keen eyes were quietly confident.

"Only Tit'Bé has changed," said he. "When you left Mistassini he was
but so high..." With a hand he indicated the stature of a child.
Mother Chapdelaine's face was bright with interest; doubly pleased
to receive a visitor and at the chance of talking about old times.

"Nor have you altered in these seven years; not a bit; as for Maria
... surely you find a difference!"

He gazed at Maria with something of wonder in his eyes. "You see
that ... that I saw her the other day at Peribonka." Tone and
manner showed that the meeting of a fortnight ago had been allowed
to blot the remoter days from his recollection. But since the talk
was of her he ventured an appraising glance.

Her young vigour and health, the beautiful heavy hair and sunburnt
neck of a country girl, the frank honesty of eye and gesture, all
these things, thought he, were possessions of the child of seven
years ago; and twice or thrice he shook his head as though to say
that, in truth, she had not changed. But the consciousness too was
there that he, if not she, had changed, for the sight of her before
him took strange hold upon his heart.

Maria's smile was a little timid, but soon she dared to raise her
eyes and look at him in turn. Assuredly a handsome fellow; comely of
body, revealing so much of supple strength; comely of face in
well-cut feature and fearless eye ... To herself she said with
some surprise that she had not thought him thus--more forward
perhaps, talking freely and rather positively-but now he scarcely
spoke at all and everything about him had an air of perfect
simplicity. Doubtless it was his expression that had given her this
idea, and his bold straightforward manner.

Mother Chapdelaine took up her questioning:--"And so you sold the
farm when your father died?"

"Yes, I sold everything. I was never a very good hand at farming,
you know. Working in the shanties, trapping, making a little money
from time to time as a guide or in trade with the Indians, that is
the life for me; but to scratch away at the same fields from one
year's end to another, and stay there forever, I would not have been
able to stick to that all my life; I would have felt like a cow
tethered to a stake."

"That is so, some men are made that way. Samuel, for example, and
you, and many another. It seems as if the woods had some magic for
you ..." She shook her head and looked at him in wonderment.
"Frozen in winter, devoured by flies in summer; living in a tent on
the snow, or in a log cabin full of chinks that the wind blows
through, you like that better than spending your life on a good
farm, near shops and houses. Just think of it; a nice bit of level
land without a stump or a hollow, a good warm house all papered
inside, fat cattle pasturing or in the stable; for people well
stocked with implements and who keep their health, could there be
anything better or happier?"

Paradis, looked at the floor without making answer, perhaps a trifle
ashamed of these wrong-headed tastes of his. "A fine life for those
who are fond of the land," he said at last, "but I should never have
been content."

It was the everlasting conflict between the types: pioneer and
farmer, the peasant from France who brought to new lands his ideals
of ordered life and contented immobility, and that other in whom the
vast wilderness awakened distant atavistic instincts for wandering
and adventure.

Accustomed for fifteen years to hear her mother vaunting the idyllic
happiness of the farmer in the older settlements, Maria had very
naturally come to believe that she was of the same mind; now she was
no longer certain about it. But whoever was right she well knew that
not one of the well-to-do young fellows at St. Prime, with his
Sunday coat of fine cloth and his fur collar, was the equal of
Paradis in muddy boots and faded woollen jersey.

Replying to further questions he spoke of his journeys on the North
Shore and to the head-waters of the rivers--of it all very naturally
and with a shade of hesitation, scarcely knowing what to tell and
what to leave out, for the people he was speaking to lived in much
the same kind of country and their manner of life was little
different.

"Up there the winters are harder yet than here, and still longer. We
have only dogs to draw our sleds, fine strong dogs, but bad-tempered
and often half wild, and we feed them but once a day, in the
evening, on frozen fish.... Yes, there are settlements, but
almost no farming; the men live by trapping and fishing ... No, I
never had any difficulty with the Indians; I always got on very well
with them. I know nearly all those on the Mistassini and this river,
for they used to come to our place before my father died. You see he
often went trapping in winter when he was not in the shanties, and
one season when he was at the head of the Riviere aux Foins, quite
alone, a tree that he was cutting for firewood slipped in falling,
and it was the Indians who found him by chance next day, crushed and
half-frozen though the weather was mild. He was in their game
preserve, and they might very well have pretended not to see him and
have left him to die there; but they put him on their toboggan,
brought him to their camp, and looked after him. You knew my
father: a rough man who often took a glass, but just in his
dealings, and with a good name for doing that sort of thing himself.
So when he parted with these Indians he told them to stop and see
him in the spring when they would be coming down to Pointe Bleue
with their furs-François Paradis of Mistassini,' said he to them,
will not forget what you have done ... François Paradis.' And when
they came in spring while running the river he looked after them
well and every one carried away a new ax, a fine woollen blanket and
tobacco for six months. Always after that they used to pay us a
visit in the spring, and father had the pick of their best skins for
less than the companies' buyers had to pay. When he died they treated
me in the same way be cause I was his son and bore the same name,
François Paradis. With more capital I could have made a good bit of
money in this trade-a good bit of money."

He seemed a little uncomfortable at having talked so much, and arose
to go. "We shall be coming down in a few weeks and I will try to
stay a little longer," he said as he departed. "It is good to see
you again."

On the door-step his keen eyes sought in Maria's for something that
he might carry into the depth of the green woods whither he was
bent; but they found no message. In her maidenly simplicity she
feared to show herself too bold, and very resolutely she kept her
glance lowered, like the young girls with richer parents who return
from the convents in Chicoutimi trained to look on the world with a
superhuman demureness.

Scarcely was François gone when the two women and Tit'Bé knelt for the
evening prayer. The mother led in a high voice, speaking very
rapidly, the others answering in a low murmur. Five Paters, five
Aves, the Acts, and then a long responsive Litany.

"Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our
death..."

"Immaculate heart of Jesus, have pity on us..."

The window was open and through it came the distant roaring of the
falls. The first mosquitos, of the spring, attracted by the light,
entered likewise and the slender music of their wings filled the
house. Tit'Bé went and closed the window, then fell on his knees
again beside the others.

"Great St. Joseph, pray for us..."

"St. Isidore, pray for us..."

The prayers over, mother Chapdelaine sighed out contentedly:--"How
pleasant it is to have a caller, when we see hardly anyone but
Eutrope Gagnon from year's end to year's end. But that is what comes
of living so far away in the woods ... Now, when I was a girl at
St. Gedeon, the house was full of visitors nearly every Saturday
evening and all Sunday: Adelard Saint-Onge who courted me for such a
long time; Wilfrid Tremblay, the merchant, who had nice manners and
was always trying to speak as the French do; many others as well--not
counting your father who came to see us almost every night for three
years, while I was making up my mind..."

Three years! Maria thought to herself that she had only seen
François Paradis twice since she was a child, and she felt ashamed
at the beating of her heart.



CHAPTER IV

WILD LAND

AFTER a few chilly days, June suddenly brought veritable spring
weather. A blazing sun warmed field and forest, the lingering
patches of snow vanished even in the deep shade of the woods; the
Peribonka rose and rose between its rocky banks until the alders and
the roots of the nearer spruces were drowned; in the roads the mud
was incredibly deep. The Canadian soil rid itself of the last traces
of winter with a semblance of mad haste, as though in dread of
another winter already on the way.

Esdras and Da'Be returned from the shanties where they had worked
all the winter. Esdras was the eldest of the family, a tall fellow
with a huge frame, his face bronzed, his hair black; the low
forehead and prominent chin gave him a Neronian profile,
domineering, not without a suggestion of brutality; but he spoke
softly, measuring his words, and was endlessly patient. In face
alone had he anything of the tyrant; it was as though the long
rigours of the climate and the fine sense and good humour of the
race had refined his heart to a simplicity and kindliness that his
formidable aspect seemed to deny.

Da'Be, also tall, was less heavily built and more lively and merry.
He was like his father.

The married couple had given their first children, Esdras and Maria,
fine, high-sounding, sonorous names; but they had apparently wearied
of these solemnities, for the next two children never heard their
real names pronounced; always had they been called by the
affectionate diminutives of childhood, Da'Be and Tit'Bé. With the
last pair, however, there had been a return to the earlier
ceremonious manner-Telesphore ... Alma Rose. "When the boys get
back we are going to make land," the father had promised. And, with
the help of Edwige Legare, their hired man, they set about the task.

In the Province of Quebec there is much uncertainty in the spelling
and the use of names. A scattered people in a huge half-wild
country, unlettered for the most part and with no one to turn to for
counsel but the priests, is apt to pay attention only to the sound
of names, caring nothing about their appearance when written or the
sex to which they pertain. Pronunciation has naturally varied in one
mouth or another, in this family or that, and when a formal occasion
calls for writing, each takes leave to spell his baptismal name in
his own way, without a passing thought that there may be a canonical
form. Borrowings from other languages have added to the
uncertainties of orthography and gender. Individuals sign
indifferently, Denise, Denije or Deneije; Conrad or Courade; men
bear such names as Hermenegilde, Aglae, Edwige.

Edwige Legare had worked for the Chapdelaines these eleven summers.
That is to say, for wages of twenty dollars a month he was in
harness each day from four in the morning till nine at night at any
and every job that called for doing, bringing to it a sort of
frenzied and inexhaustible enthusiasm; for he was one of those men
incapable by his nature of working save at the full pitch of
strength and energy, in a series of berserk rages. Short and broad,
his eyes were the brightest blue--a thing rare in Quebec-at once
piercing and guileless, set in a visage the colour of clay that
always showed cruel traces of the razor, topped by hair of nearly
the same shade. With a pride in his appearance that was hard to
justify he shaved himself two or three times a week, always in the
evening, before the bit of looking-glass that hung over the pump and
by the feeble light of the little lamp-driving the steel through his
stiff beard with groans that showed what it cost him in labour and
anguish. Clad in shirt and trousers of brownish homespun, wearing
huge dusty boots, he was from head to heel of a piece with the soil,
nor was there aught in his face to redeem the impression of rustic
uncouthness.

Chapdelaine, his three sons and man, proceeded then to "make land."
The forest still pressed hard upon the buildings they had put up a
few years earlier: the little square house, the barn of planks that
gaped apart, the stable built of blackened logs and chinked with
rags and earth. Between the scanty fields of their clearing and the
darkly encircling woods lay a broad stretch which the ax had but
half-heartedly attacked. A few living trees had been cut for timber,
and the dead ones, sawn and split, fed the great stove for a whole
winter; but the place was a rough tangle of stumps and interlacing
roots, of fallen trees too far rotted to burn, of others dead but
still erect amid the alder scrub.

Thither the five men made their way one morning and set to work at
once, without a word, for every man's task had been settled
beforehand.

The father and Da'Be took their stand face to face on either side of
a tree, and their axes, helved with birch, began to swing in rhythm.
At first each hewed a deep notch, chopping steadily at the same spot
for some seconds, then the ax rose swiftly and fell obliquely on the
trunk a foot higher up; at every stroke a great chip flew, thick as
the hand, splitting away with the grain. When the cuts were nearly
meeting, one stopped and the other slowed down, leaving his ax in
the wood for a moment at every blow; the mere strip, by some miracle
still holding the tree erect, yielded at last, the trunk began to
lean and the two axmen stepped back a pace and watched it fall,
shouting at the same instant a warning of the danger.

It was then the turn of Edwige Legare and Esdras; when the tree was
not too heavy each took an end, clasping their strong hands beneath
the trunk, and then raised themselves-backs straining, arms cracking
under the stress-and carried it to the nearest heap with short
unsteady steps, getting over the fallen timber with stumbling
effort. When the burden seemed too heavy, Tit'Bé came forward leading
Charles Eugene dragging a tug-bar with a strong chain; this was
passed round the trunk and fastened, the horse bent his back, and
with the muscles of his hindquarters standing out, hauled away the
tree which scraped along the stumps and crushed the young alders to
the ground.

At noon Maria came out to the door-step and gave a long call to tell
them that dinner was ready. Slowly they straightened up among the
stumps, wiping away with the backs of their hands the drops of sweat
that ran into their eyes, and made their way to the house.

Already the pea-soup smoked in the plates. The five men set
themselves at table without haste, as if sensation were somewhat
dulled by the heavy work; but as they caught their breath a great
hunger awoke, and soon they began to eat with keen appetite. The two
women waited upon them, filling the empty plates, carrying about the
great dish of pork and boiled potatoes, pouring out the hot tea.
When the meat had vanished the diners filled their saucers with
molasses in which they soaked large pieces of bread; hunger was
quickly appeased, because they had eaten fast and without a word,
and then plates were pushed back and chairs tilted with sighs of
satisfaction, while hands were thrust into pockets for their pipes,
and the pigs' bladders bulging with tobacco.

Edwige Legare, seating himself on the door-step, proclaimed two or
three times:--"I have dined well ... I have dined well ...
with the air of a judge who renders an impartial decision; after
which he leaned against the post and let the smoke of his pipe and
the gaze of his small light-coloured eyes pursue the same
purposeless wanderings. The elder Chapdelaine sank deeper and deeper
into his chair, and ended by falling asleep; the others smoked and
chatted about their work.

"If there is anything," said the mother, "which could reconcile me
to living so far away in the woods, it is seeing my men-folk make a
nice bit of land-a nice bit of land that was all trees and stumps
and roots, which one beholds in a fortnight as bare as the back of
your hand, ready for the plough; surely nothing in the world can be
more pleasing or better worth doing." The rest gave assent with
nods, and were silent for a while, admiring the picture. Soon
however Chapdelaine awoke, refreshed by his sleep and ready for
work; then all arose and went out together.

The place where they had worked in the morning was yet full of
stumps and overgrown with alders. They set themselves to cutting and
uprooting the alders, gathering a sheaf of branches in the hand and
severing them with the ax, or sometimes digging the earth away about
the roots and tearing up the whole bush together. The alders
disposed of, there remained the stumps.

Legare and Esdras attacked the smaller ones with no weapons but
their axes and stout wooden Prizes. They first cut the roots
spreading on the surface, then drove a lever well home, and, chests
against the bar, threw all their weight upon it. When their efforts
could not break the hundred ties binding the tree to the soil Legare
continued to bear heavily that he might raise the stump a little,
and while he groaned and grunted under the strain Esdras hewed away
furiously level with the ground, severing one by one the remaining
roots.

A little distance away the other three men handled the
stumping-machine with the aid of Charles Eugene. The pyramidal
scaffolding was put in place above a large stump and lowered, the
chains which were then attached to the root passed over a pulley,
and the horse at the other end started away quickly, flinging
himself against the traces and showering earth with his hoofs. A
short and desperate charge, a mad leap often arrested after a few
feet as by the stroke of a giant fist; then the heavy steel blades a giant
would swing up anew, gleaming in the sun, and fall with a dull sound
upon the stubborn wood, while the horse took breath for a moment,
awaiting with excited eye the word that would launch him forward
again. And afterwards there was still the labour of hauling or
rolling the big stumps to the pile-at fresh effort of back, of
soil-stained hands with swollen veins, and stiffened arms that
seemed grotesquely striving with the heavy trunk and the huge
twisted roots.

The sun dipped toward the horizon, disappeared; the sky took on
softer hues above the forest's dark edge, and the hour of supper
brought to the house five men of the colour of the soil.

While waiting Upon them Madame Chapdelaine asked a hundred questions
about the day's work, and when the vision arose before her of this
patch of land they had cleared, superbly bare, lying ready for the
Plough, her spirit was possessed with something of a mystic's
rapture.

With hands upon her hips, refusing to seat herself at table, she
extolled the beauty Of the world as it existed for her: not the
beauty wherein human beings have no hand, which the townsman makes
such an ado about with his unreal ecstasies.-mountains, lofty and
bare, wild seas-but the quiet unaffected loveliness of the level
champaign, finding its charm in the regularity of the long furrow
and the sweetly-flowing stream--the naked champaign courting with
willing abandon the fervent embraces of the sun.

She sang the great deeds of the four Chapdelaines and Edwige Legare,
their struggle against the savagery of nature, their triumph of the
day. She awarded praises and displayed her own proper pride, albeit
the five men smoked their wooden or clay pipes in silence,
motionless as images after their long task; images of earthy hue,
hollow-eyed with fatigue.

"The stumps are hard to get out." at length said the elder
Chapdelaine, "the roots have not rotted in the earth so much as I
should have imagined. I calculate that we shall not be through for
three weeks." He glanced questioningly at Legare who gravely
confirmed him.

"Three weeks ... Yes, confound it! That is what I think too."

They fell silent again, patient and determined, like men who face a
long war.

The Canadian spring had but known a few weeks of life when, by
calendar, the summer was already come; it seemed as if the local
weather god had incontinently pushed the season forward with august
finger to bring it again into accord with more favoured lands to the
south. For torrid heat fell suddenly upon them, heat well-nigh as
unmeasured as was the winter's cold. The tops of the spruces and
cypresses, forgotten by the wind, were utterly still, and above the
frowning outline stretched a sky bare of cloud which likewise seemed
fixed and motionless. From dawn till nightfall a merciless sun
calcined the ground.

The five men worked on unceasingly, while from day to day the
clearing extended its borders by a little; deep wounds in the
uncovered soil showed the richness of it.

Maria went forth one morning to carry them water. The father and
Tit'Bé were cutting alders, Da'Be and Esdras piled the cut trees.
Edwige Legare was attacking a stump by himself; a hand against the
trunk, he had grasped a root with the other as one seizes the leg of
some gigantic adversary in a struggle, and he was fighting the
combined forces of wood and earth like a man furious at the
resistance of an enemy. Suddenly the stump yielded and lay upon the
ground; he passed a hand over his forehead and sat down upon a root,
running with sweat, overcome by the exertion. When Maria came near
him with her pail half full of water, the others having drunk, he
was still seated, breathing deeply and saying in a bewildered
way:--"I am done for ... Ah! I am done for." But he pulled himself
together on seeing her, and roared out--"Cold water! Perdition! Give
me cold water."

Seizing the bucket he drank half its contents and poured the rest
over his head and neck; still dripping, he threw himself afresh upon
the vanquished stump and began to roll it toward a pile as one
carries off a prize.

Maria stayed for a few moments looking at the work of the men and
the progress they had made, each day more evident, then hied her
back to the house swinging the empty bucket, happy to feel herself
alive and well under the bright sun, dreaming of all the joys that
were to be hers, nor could be long delayed if only she were earnest
and patient enough in her prayers. Even at a distance the voices of
the men came to her across the surface of the ground baked by the
heat; Esdras, his hands beneath a young jack pine, was saying in his
quiet tones:--"Gently ... together now!"

Legare was wrestling with some new inert foe, and swearing in his
half-stifled way:--"Perdition! I'll make you stir, so I will." His
gasps were nearly as audible as the words. Taking breath for a
second he rushed once more into the fray, arms straining, wrenching
with his great back. And yet again his voice was raised in oaths and
lamentations:-"I tell you that I'll have you ... Oh you rascal!
Isn't it hot? . . I'm pretty nearly finished ..." His complaints
ripened into one mighty cry:--"Boss! We are going to kill
ourselves making land."

Old Chapdelaine's voice was husky but still cheerful as he answered:
"Tough! Edwige, tough! The pea-soup will soon be ready."

And in truth it was not long before Maria, once more on the
door-step, shaping her hands to carry the sound, sent forth the
ringing call to dinner.

Toward evening a breeze arose and a delicious coolness fell upon the
earth like a pardon. But the sky remained cloudless.

"If the fine weather lasts," said mother Chapdelaine, "the
blueberries will be ripe for the feast of Ste. Anne."



CHAPTER V

THE VOWS

THE fine weather continued, and early in July the blueberries were
ripe.

Where the fire had passed, on rocky slopes, wherever the woods were
thin and the sun could penetrate, the ground had been clad in almost
unbroken pink by the laurel's myriad tufts of bloom; at first the
reddening blueberries contended with them in glowing colour, but
under the constant sun these slowly turned to pale blue, to royal
blue, to deepest purple, and when July brought the feast of Ste.
Anne the bushes laden with fruit were broad patches of violet amid
the rosy masses now beginning to fade.

The forests of Quebec are rich in wild berries; cranberries, Indian
pears, black currants, sarsaparilla spring up freely in the wake of
the great fires, but the blueberry, the bilberry or whortleberry of
France, is of all the most abundant and delicious. The gathering of
them, from July to September, is an industry for many families who
spend the whole day in the woods; strings of children down to the
tiniest go swinging their tin pails, empty in the morning, full and
heavy by evening. Others only gather the blueberries for their own
use, either to make jam or the famous pies national to French
Canada.

Two or three times in the very beginning of July Maria, with
Telesphore and Alma Rose, went to pick blueberries; but their day
had not come, and the gleanings barely sufficed for a few tarts of
proportions to excite a smile.

"On the feast of Ste. Anne," said their mother by way of
consolation, "we shall all go a-gathering; the men as well, and
whoever fails to bring back a full pail is not to have any."

But Saturday, the eve of Ste. Anne's day, was memorable to the
Chapdelaines; an evening of company such as their house in the
forest had never seen.

When the men returned from work Eutrope Gagnon was already there. He
had supped, he said, and while the others were at their meal he sat
by the door in the cooler air that entered, balancing his chair on
two legs. The pipes going, talk naturally turned toward the labours
of the soil, and the care of stock.

"With five men," said Eutrope, "you have a good bit of land to show
in a short while. But working alone, as I do, without a horse to
draw the heavy logs, one makes poor headway and has a hard time of
it. However you are always getting on, getting on."

Madame Chapdelaine, liking him, and feeling a great sympathy for his
solitary labour in this worthy cause, gave him a few words of
encouragement. "You don't make very quick progress by yourself, that
is true enough, but a man lives on very little when he is alone, and
then your brother Egide will be coming back from the drive with two
or three hundred dollars at least, in time for the hay-making and
the harvest, and, if you both stay here next winter, in less than
two years you will have a good farm."

Assenting with a nod, his glance found Maria, as though drawn
thither by the thought that in two years, fortune favouring, he
might hope.

"How does the drive go?" asked Esdras. "Is there any news from that
quarter?"

"I had word through Ferdina Larouche, a son of Thadee Larouche of
Honfleur, who got back from La Tuque last month. He said that things
were going well; the men were not having too bad a time."

The shanties, the drive, these are the two chief heads of the great
lumbering industry, even of greater importance for the Province of
Quebec than is farming. From October till April the axes never cease
falling, while sturdy horses draw the logs over the snow to the
banks of the frozen rivers; and, when spring comes, the piles melt
one after another into the rising waters and begin their long
adventurous journey through the rapids. At every abrupt turn, at
every fall, where logs jam and pile, must be found the strong and
nimble river-drivers, practised at the dangerous work, at making
their way across the floating timber, breaking the jams, aiding with
ax and pike-pole the free descent of this moving forest.

"A hard time!" exclaimed Legare with scorn. "The young fellows of
to-day don't know the meaning of the words. After three months in
the woods they are in a hurry to get home and buy yellow boots,
stiff hats and cigarettes, and to go and see their girls. Even in
the shanties, as things are now, they are as well fed as in a hotel,
with meat and potatoes all winter long. Now, thirty years ago ..."

He broke off for a moment, expressing with a shake of his head those
prodigious changes that the years had wrought.

"Thirty years ago, when the railway from Quebec was built, I was
there; that was something like hardship, I can tell you! I was only
sixteen years of age but I chopped with the rest of them to clear
the right of way, always twenty-five miles ahead of the steel, and
for fourteen months I never clapped eye on a house. We had no tents,
summer or winter, only shelters of boughs that we made for ourselves.
And from morning till night it was chop, chop, chop,--eaten by the
flies, and in the course of the same day soaked with rain and
roasted by the sun."

"Every Monday morning they opened a sack of flour and we made
ourselves a bucketful of pancakes, and all the rest of the week,
three times a day, one dug into that pail for something to eat. By
Wednesday, no longer any pancakes, because they were all stuck
together; nothing there but a mass of dough. One cut off a big chunk
of dough with one's knife, put that in his belly, and then chopped
and chopped again!"

"When we got to Chicoutimi where provisions could reach us by water
we were worse off than Indians, pretty nearly naked, all scratched
and torn, and I well remember some who began to cry when told they
could go home, because they thought they would find all their people
dead, so long had the time seemed to them. Hardship! That was
hardship if you like."

"That is so," said Chapdelaine, "I can recall those days. Not a
single house on the north side of the lake: no one but Indians and a
few trappers who made their way up here in summer by canoe and in
winter with dog-sleds, much as it is now in the Labrador."

The young folk were listening keenly to these tales of former times.
"And now," said Esdras, "here we are fifteen miles beyond the lake,
and when the Roberval boat is running we can get to the railway in
twelve hours."

They meditated upon this for a while without a word, contrasting
past and present; the cruel harshness of life as once it was, the
easy day's journey now separating them from the marvels of the iron
way, and the thought of it filled them with naive wonder.

All at once Chien set up a low growl; the sound was heard of
approaching footsteps. "Another visitor!" Madame Chapdelaine
announced in a tone mingling pleasure and astonishment.

Maria also arose, agitated, smoothing her hair with unconscious
hand; but it was Ephrem Surprenant of Honfleur who opened the door.

"We have come to pay you a visit!" He shouted this with the air of
one who announces a great piece of news. Behind him was someone
unknown to them, who bowed and smiled in a very mannerly way.

"My nephew Lorenzo," was Ephrem Surprenant's introduction, "a son of
my brother Elzear who died last autumn. You never met him, it is a
long time since he left this country for the States."

They were quick to find a chair for the young man from the States,
and the uncle undertook the duty of establishing the nephew's
genealogy on both sides of the house, and of setting forth his age,
trade and the particulars of his life, in obedience to the Canadian
custom. "Yes, a son of my brother Elzear who married a young
Bourglouis of Kiskisink. You should be able to recall that, Madame
Chapdelaine?"

From the depths of her memory mother Chapdelaine unearthed a number
of Surprenants and as many Bourglouis, and gave the list with their
baptismal names, successive places of residence and a full record of
their alliances.

"Right. Precisely right. Well, this one here is Lorenzo. He has
been in the States for many years, working in a factory."

Frankly interested, everyone took another good look at Lorenzo
Surprenant. His face was rounded, with well-cut features, eyes
gentle and unwavering, hands white; with his head a little on one
side he smiled amiably, neither superior nor embarrassed under this
concentrated gaze.

"He came here," continued his uncle, "to settle affairs after the
death of Elzear, and to try to sell the farm."

"He has no wish to hold on to the land and cultivate it?" questioned
the elder Chapdelaine.

Lorenzo Surprenant's smile broadened and he shook his head. "No, the
idea of settling down on the farm does not tempt me, not in
theleast. I earn good wages where I am and like the place very well;
I am used to the work."

He checked himself, but it was plain that after the kind of life he
had been living and what he had seen of the world, existence on a
farm between a humble little village and the forest seemed a thing
insupportable.

"When I was a girl," said mother Chapdelaine, "pretty nearly
everyone went off to the States. Farming did not pay as well as it
does now, prices were low, we were always hearing of the big wages
earned over there in the factories, and every year one family after
another sold out for next to nothing and left Canada. Some made a
lot of money, no doubt of that, especially those families with
plenty of daughters; but now it is different and they are not going
as once they did ... So you are selling the farm?"

"Yes, there has been some talk with three Frenchmen who came to
Mistook last month. I expect we shall make a bargain."

"And are there many Canadians where you are living? Do the people
speak French?"

"At the place I went to first, in the State of Maine, there were
more Canadians than Americans or Irish; everyone spoke French; but
where I live now, in the State of Massachusetts, there are not so
many families however; we call on one another in the evenings."

"Samuel once thought of going West," said Madame Chapdelaine, "but I
was never willing. Among people speaking nothing but English I
should have been unhappy all the rest of my days. I used to say to
him-'Samuel, we Canadians are always better off among Canadians.'"

When the French Canadian speaks of himself it is invariably and
simply as a "Canadian"; whereas for all the other races that
followed in his footsteps, and peopled the country across to the
Pacific, he keeps the name of origin: English, Irish, Polish,
Russian; never admitting for a moment that the children of these,
albeit born in the country, have an equal title to be called
"Canadians." Quite naturally, and without thought of offending, he
appropriates the name won in the heroic days of his forefathers.

"And is it a large town where you are?"

"Ninety thousand," said Lorenzo with a little affectation of
modesty.

"Ninety thousand! Bigger than Quebec!"

"Yes, and we are only an hour by train from Boston. A really big
place, that."

And he set himself to telling of the great American cities and their
magnificence, of the life filled with ease and plenty, abounding in
refinements beyond imagination, which is the portion of the well
paid artisan.

In silence they listened to his words. Framed in the open door-way
the last crimson of the sky, fading to Paler tints, rose above the
vague masses of the forest,-a column resting upon its base. The
Mosquitos began to arrive in their legions, and the humming of
innumerable wings filled the low clearing with continuous sound.

"Telesphore," directed the father, "make us a smudge. Take the old
tin pail." Telesphore covered the bottom of the leaky vessel with
earth, filling it then with dry chips and twigs which he set ablaze.
When the flame was leaping up brightly he returned with an armful of
herbs and leaves and smothered it; the volume of stinging smoke
which ascended was carried by the wind into the house and drove out
the countless horde. At length they were at peace, and with sighs of
relief could desist from the warfare. The very last mosquito settled
on the face of little Alma Rose. With great seriousness she
pronounced the ritual words-"Fly, fly, get off my face, my nose is
not a public place!" Then she made a swift end of the creature with
a slap. The smoke drifted obliquely through the door-way; within the
house, no longer stirred by the breeze, it spread in a thin cloud;
the walls became indistinct and far-off; the group seated between
door and stove resolved into a circle of dim faces hanging in a
white haze.

"Greetings to everyone!" The tones rang clear, and François Paradis,
emerging from the smoke, stood upon the threshold. For weeks Maria
had been expecting him. Half an hour earlier the sound of a step
without had sent the blood to her cheek, and yet the arrival of him
she awaited moved her with joyous surprise.

"Offer your chair, Da'Be!" cried mother Chapdelaine. Four callers
from three different quarters converging upon her, truly nothing
more was needed to fill her with delightful excitement. An evening
indeed to be remembered!

"There! You are forever saying that we are buried in the woods and
see no company," triumphed her husband. "Count them over: eleven
grown-up people!" Every chair in the house was filled; Esdras,
Tit'Bé and Eutrope Gagnon occupied the bench, Chapdelaine, a box
turned upside down; from the step Telesphore and Alma Rose watched
the mounting smoke.

"And look," said Ephrem Surprenant, "how many young fellows and only
one girl!" The young men were duly counted: three Chapdelaines,
Eutrope Gagnon, Lorenzo Surprenant, François Paradis. As for the one
girl ... Every eye was turned upon Maria, who smiled feebly and
looked down, confused.

"Had you a good trip, François?-He went up the river with strangers
to buy furs from the Indians," explained Chapdelaine; who presented
to the others with formality-"François Paradis, son of François
Paradis from St. Michel de Mistassini." Eutrope Gagnon knew him by
name, Ephrem Surprenant had met his father:--"A tall man, taller
still than he, of a strength not to be matched." it only remained to
account for Lorenzo Surprenant,-"who has come, home from the
States"-and all the conventions had been honoured.

"A good trip," answered François. "No, not very good. One of the
Belgians took a fever and nearly died. After that it was rather late
in the season; many Indian families had already gone down to Ste.
Anne de Chicoutimi and could not be found; and on top of it all a
canoe was wrecked when running a rapid on the way back, and it was
hard work fishing the pelts out of the river, without mentioning the
fact that one of the bosses was nearly drowned,-the same one that
had the fever. No, we were unlucky all through. But here we are none
the less, and it is always another job over and done with." A
gesture signified to the listeners that the task was completed, the
wages paid and the ultimate profits or losses not his affair.

"Always another job over and done with,"-he slowly repeated the
words. "The Belgians were in a hurry to reach Peribonka on Sunday,
tomorrow; but, as they had another man, I left them to finish the
journey without me so that I might spend the evening with you. It
does one's heart good to see a house again."

His glance strayed contentedly over the meager smoke-filled interior
and those who peopled it. In the circle of faces tanned by wind and
sun, his was the brownest and most weather-beaten; his garments
showed many rents, one side of the torn woollen jersey flapped upon
his shoulder, moccasins replaced the long boots he had worn in the
spring. He seemed to have brought back something of natures wildness
from the head-waters Of the rivers where the Indians and the great
creatures of the woods find sanctuary. And Maria, whose life would
not allow her to discern the beauty of that wilderness because it
lay too near her, yet felt that some strange charm was at work and
was throwing its influence about her.

Esdras had gone for the cards; cards with faded red backs and
dog-eared corners, where the lost queen of hearts was replaced by a
square of pink cardboard bearing the plainly-written legend dame de
coeur. They played at quatre-sept. The two Surprenants, uncle and
nephew, had Madame Chapdelaine and Maria for partners; after each
game the beaten couple left the table and gave place to
two other players. Night had fallen; some mosquitos made their way
through the open window and went hither and thither with their
stings and irritating music.

"Telesphore!" called out Esdras, "see to the smudge, the flies are
coming in." In a few minutes smoke pervaded the house again, thick,
almost stifling, but greeted with delight. The party ran its quiet
course. An hour of cards, some talk with a visitor who bears news
from the great world, these are still accounted happiness in the
Province of Quebec.

Between the games, Lorenzo Surprenant entertained Maria with a
description of his life and his journeyings; in turn asking
questions about her. He was far from putting on airs, yet she felt
disconcerted at finding so little to say, and her replies were
halting and timid.

The others talked among themselves or watched the play. Madame
recalled the many gatherings at St. Gedeon in the days of her
girlhood, and looked from one to the other, with unconcealed
pleasure at the fact that three young men should thus assemble
beneath her roof. But Maria sat at the table devoting herself to the
cards, and left it for some vacant seat near the door with scarcely
a glance about her. Lorenzo Surprenant was always by her side and
talking; she felt the continual regard of Eutrope Gagnon with that
familiar look of patient waiting; she was conscious of the handsome
bronzed face and fearless eyes of François Paradis who sat very
silent beyond the door, elbows on his knees.

"Maria is not at her best this evening," said Madame Chapdelaine by
way of excusing her, "she is really not used to having visitors you
see..." Had she but known! ...

Four hundred miles away, at the far headwaters of the rivers, those
Indians who have held aloof from missionaries and traders are
squatting round a fire of dry cypress before their lodges, and the
world they see about them, as in the earliest days, is filled with
dark mysterious powers: the giant Wendigo pursuing the trespassing
hunter; strange potions, carrying death or healing, which wise old
men know how to distil from roots and leaves; incantations and every
magic art. And here on the fringe of another world, but a day's
journey from the railway, in this wooden house filled with acrid
smoke, another all-conquering spell, charming and bewildering the
eyes of three young men, is being woven into the shifting cloud by a
sweet and guileless maid with downcast eyes.

The hour was late; the visitors departed; first the two Surprenants,
then Eutrope Gagnon, only François Paradis was left,--standing
there and seeming to hesitate.

"You will sleep here to-night, François?" asked the father.

His wife heard no reply. "Of course!" said she. "And to-morrow we
will all gather blueberries. It is the feast of Ste. Anne."

When a few moments later François mounted to the loft with the boys,
Maria's heart was filled with happiness. This seemed to bring him a
little nearer, to draw him within the family circle.

The morrow was a day of blue sky, a day when from the heavens some
of the sparkle and brightness descends to earth. The green of tender
grass and young wheat was of a ravishing delicacy, even the dun
woods borrowed something from the azure of the sky.

François came down in the morning looking a different man, in
clothes borrowed from Da'Be and Esdras, and after he had shaved and
washed Madame Chapdelaine complimented him on his appearance.

When breakfast was over and the hour of the mass come, all told
their chaplet together; and then the long delightful idle Sunday lay
before them. But the day's programme was already settled. Eutrope
Gagnon came in just as they were finishing dinner, which was early,
and at once they all set forth, provided with pails, dishes and tin
mugs of every shape and size.

The blueberries were fully ripe. In the burnt lands the purple of
the clusters and the green of the leaves now overcame the paling
rose of the laurels. The children began picking at once with cries
of delight, but their elders scattered through the woods in search
of the larger patches, where one might sit on one's heels and fill a
pail in an hour. The noise of footsteps on dry twigs, of rustling in
the alder bushes, the calls of Telesphore and Alma Rose to one
another, all faded slowly into the distance, and about each gatherer
was only the buzzing of flies drunk with sunshine, and the voice of
the wind in the young birches and aspens.

"There is a fine clump over here," said a voice. Maria's heart beat
faster as she arose and went toward François Paradis who was
kneeling behind the alders. Side by side they picked industriously
for a time, then plunged farther into the woods, stepping over
fallen trees, looking about them for the deep blue masses of the
ripe berries.

"There are very few this year," said François. "It was the spring
frosts that killed the blossoms." He brought to the berry-seeking
his woodsman's knowledge. "In the hollows and among the alders the
snow was lying longer and kept them from freezing."

They sought again and made some happy finds: broad clumps of bushes
laden with huge berries which they heaped into their pails. In the
space of an hour these were filled; they rose and went to sit on a
fallen tree to rest themselves.

Mosquitos swarmed and circled in the fervent afternoon heat. Every
moment the hand must be raised to scatter them; after a
panic-stricken flight they straightway returned, reckless and
pitiless, bent only on finding one tiny spot to plant a sting; with
their sharp note was blended that of the insatiate black-fly,
filling the woods with unceasing sound. Living trees there were not
many; a few young birches, some aspens, alder bushes were stirring
in the wind among the rows of lifeless and blackened trunks.

François Paradis looked about him as though to take his bearings.
"The others cannot be far away," he said.

"No," replied Maria in a low voice. But neither he nor she called to
summon them.

A squirrel ran down the bole of a dead birch tree and watched the
pair with his sharp eyes for some moments before venturing to earth.
The strident flight of heavy grasshoppers rose above the intoxicated
clamour of the flies; a wandering air brought the fall's dull
thunder through the alders.

François Paradis stole a glance at Maria, then turned his eyes away
and tightly clasped his hands. Ah, but she was good to look upon!
Thus to sit beside her, to catch these shy glimpses of the strong
bosom, the sweet face so modest and so patient, the utter simplicity
of attitude and of her rare gestures; a great hunger for her awoke
in him, and with it a new and marvellous tenderness, for he had
lived his life with other men, in hard give-and-take, among the wild
forests and on the snowy plains.

Well he knew she was one of those women who, giving themselves, give
wholly, reckoning not the cost; love of body and of soul, strength
of arm in the daily task, the unmeasured devotion of a spirit that
does not waver. So precious the gift appeared to him that he dared
not ask it.

"I am going down to Grand'Mere next week," he said, almost in a
whisper, "to work on the lumber-dam. But I will never take a glass,
not one, Maria!" Hesitating a moment he stammered out, eyes on the
ground: "Perhaps ... they have said something against me?"

"No."

"It is true that I used to drink a bit, when I got back from the
shanties and the drive; but that is all over now. You see when a
young fellow has been working in the woods for six months, with
every kind of hardship and no amusement, and gets out to La Tuque or
Jonquieres with all the winter's wages in his pocket, pretty often
he loses his head; he throws his money about and sometimes takes too
much ... But that is all over."

"And it is also true that I used to swear. When one lives all the
time with rough men in the woods or on the rivers one gets the
habit. Once I swore a good deal, and the cure, Mr. Tremblay, took me
to task because I said before him that I wasn't afraid of the devil.
But there is an end of that too, Maria. All the summer I am to be
working for two dollars and a half a day and you may be sure that I
shall save money. And in the autumn there will be no trouble finding
a job as foreman in a shanty, with big wages. Next spring I shall
have more than five hundred dollars saved, clear, and I shall come
back... ."

Again he hesitated, and the question he was about to put took
another form upon his lips. "You will be here still...next
spring?"

"Yes."

And after the simple question and simpler answer they fell silent
and so long remained, wordless and grave, for they had exchanged
their vows.



CHAPTER VI

THE STUFF OF DREAMS

IN July the hay was maturing, and by the middle of August it was
only a question of awaiting a few dry days to cut and-store it. But
after many weeks of fine weather the frequent shifts of wind which
are usual in Quebec once more ruled the skies.

Every morning the men scanned the heavens and took counsel together.
"The wind is backing to the sou'east. Bad luck! Beyond question it
will rain again," said Edwige Legare with a gloomy face. Or it was
old Chapdelaine who followed the movement of the white clouds that
rose above the tree-tops, sailed in glad procession across the
clearing, and disappeared behind the dark spires on the other side.

"If the nor'west holds till to-morrow we shall begin," he announces.
But next day the wind had backed afresh, and the cheerful clouds of
yesterday, now torn and shapeless, straggling in disorderly rout,
seemed to be fleeing like the wreckage of a broken army.

Madame Chapdelaine foretold inevitable misfortune. "Mark my words,
we shall not have good hay-making weather. They say that down by the
end of the lake some people of the same parish have gone to law with
one another. Of a certainty the good God does not like that sort of
thing!"

Yet the Power at length was pleased to show indulgence, and the
north-west wind blew for three days on end, steady and strong,
promising a rainless week. The scythes were long since sharpened and
ready, and the five men set to work on the morning of the third day.
Legare, Esdras and the father cut; Da'Be and Tit'Bé followed close
on their heels, raking the hay together. Toward evening all five
took their forks in hand and made it into cocks, high and carefully
built, lest a change of wind should bring rain. But the sunshine
lasted. For five days they carried on, swinging the scythe steadily
from right to left with that broad free movement that seems so easy
to the practised hand, and is in truth the hardest to learn and the
most fatiguing of all the labours known to husbandry.

Flies and mosquitos rose in swarms from the cut hay, stinging and
tormenting the workers; a blazing sun scorched their necks, and
smarting sweat ran into their eyes; when evening came, such was the
ache of backs continually bent, they could not straighten themselves
without making wry faces. Yet they toiled from dawn to nightfall
without loss of a second, hurrying their meals, feeling nothing but
gratitude and happiness that the weather stood fair.

Three or four times a day Maria or Telesphore brought them a bucket
of water which they stood in a shady spot to keep it cool; and when
throats became unbearably dry with heat, exertion and the dust of
the hay, they went by turns to swallow great-draughts and deluge
wrists or head.

In five days all the hay was cut, and, the drought persisting, on
the morning of the sixth day they began to break and scatter the
cocks they intended lodging in the barn before night. The scythes
had done their work and the forks came into play. They threw down
the cocks, spread the hay in the sun, and toward the end of the
afternoon, when dry, heaped it anew in piles of such a size that a
man could just lift one with a single motion to the level of a
well-filled hay-cart.

Charles Eugene pulled gallantly between the shafts; the cart was
swallowed up in the barn, stopped beside the mow, and once again the
forks were plunged into the hard-packed hay, raised a thick mat of
it with strain of wrist and back, and unloaded it to one side. By
the end of the week the hay, well-dried and of excellent colour, was
all under cover; the men stretched themselves and took long breaths,
knowing the fight was over and won.

"It may rain now if it likes," said Chapdelaine. "It will be all
the same to us." But it appeared that the sunshine had not been
timed with exact relation to their peculiar needs, for the wind held
in the north-west and fine days followed one upon the other in
unbroken succession.

The women of the Chapdelaine household had no part in the work of
the fields. The father and his three tall sons, all strong and
skilled in farm labour, could have managed everything by themselves;
if they continued to employ Legare and to pay him wages it was
because he had entered their service eleven years before, when the
children were young, and they kept him now, partly through habit,
partly because they were loth to lose the help of so tremendous a
worker. During the hay-making then, Maria and her mother had only
their usual tasks: housework, cooking, washing and mending, the
milking of three cows and the care of the hens, and once a week the
baking which often lasted well into the night.

On the eve of a baking Telesphore was sent to hunt up the bread-pans
which habitually found their way into all corners of the house and
shed-being in daily use to measure oats for the horse or Indian corn
for the fowls, not to mention twenty other casual purposes they were
continually serving. By the time all were routed out and scrubbed
the dough was rising, and the women hastened to finish other work
that their evening watch might be shortened.

Telesphore made a blazing fire below the Oven with branches of gummy
cypress that smelled of resin, then fed it with tamarack logs,
giving a steady and continuous heat. When the oven was hot enough,
Maria slipped in the pans of dough; after which nothing remained but
to tend the fire and change the position of the pans as the baking
required.

Too small an oven had been built five years before, and ever since
then the family did not escape a weekly discussion about the new
oven it was imperative to construct, which unquestionably should
have been put in hand without delay; but on each trip to
the-village, by one piece of bad luck and another, someone forgot
the necessary cement; and so it happened that the oven had to be
filled two or even three times to make weekly provision for the nine
mouths of the household.

Maria invariably took charge of the first baking; invariably too,
when the oven was ready for the second batch of bread and the
evening well advanced, her mother would say considerately:--"You
can go to bed, Maria, I will look after the second baking." And
Maria would reply never a word, knowing full well that the mother
would presently stretch herself on the bed for a little nap and not
awake till morning. She then would revive the smudge that smouldered
every evening in the damaged tin pail, install the second batch of
bread, and seat herself upon the door-step, her chin resting in her
hands, upheld through the long hours of the night by her
inexhaustible patience.

Twenty paces from the house the clay oven with its sheltering roof
of boards loomed dark, but the door of the fireplace fitted badly
and one red gleam escaped through the chink; the dusky border of the
forest stole a little closer in the night. Maria sat very still,
delighting in the quiet and the coolness, while a thousand vague
dreams circled about her like a flock of wheeling birds.

There was a time when this night-watch passed in drowsiness, as she
resignedly awaited the moment when the finished task would bring her
sleep; but since the coming of François Paradis the long weekly
vigil was very sweet to her, for she could think of him and of
herself with nothing to distract her dear imaginings. Simple they
were, these thoughts of hers, and never did they travel far afield.
In the springtime he will come back; this return of his, the joy of
seeing him again, the words he will say when they find themselves
once more alone, the first touch of hands and lips. Not easy was it
for Maria to make a picture for herself of how these things were to
come about.

Yet she essayed. First she repeated his full name two or three
times, formally, as others spoke it: François Paradis, from St. Michel de
Mistassini ... François Paradis ... Then suddenly, with sweet
intimacy,--François!

The evocation fails not. He stands before her tall and strong, bold
of eye, his face bronzed with sun and snow-glare. He is by her side,
rejoicing at the sight of her, rejoicing that he has kept his faith,
has lived the whole year discreetly, without drinking or swearing.
There are no blueberries yet to gather-it is only springtime-yet
some good reason they find for rambling off to the woods; he walks
beside her without word or joining of hands, through the massed
laurel flaming into blossom, and naught beyond does either need to
flush the cheek, to quicken the beating of the heart.

Now they are seated upon a fallen tree, and thus he speaks: "Were
you lonely without me, Maria?" Most surely it is the first question
he will put to her; but she is able to carry the dream no further
for the sudden pain stabbing her heart. Ah! dear God! how long will
she have been lonely for him before that moment comes! A summer to
be lived through, an autumn, and all the endless winter! She sighs,
but the steadfast patience of the race sustains her, and her
thoughts turn upon herself and what the future may be holding.

When she was at St. Prime, one of her cousins who was about to be
wedded spoke often to her of marriage. A young man from the village
and another from Normandin had both courted her; for long months
spending the Sunday evenings together at the house.

"I was fond of them both,"--thus she declared to Maria. "And I really
think I liked Zotique best; but he went off to the drive on the St.
Maurice, and he wasn't to be back till summer; then Romeo asked me
and I said, 'Yes.' I like him very well, too."

Maria made no answer, but even then her heart told her that all
marriages are not like that; now she is very sure. The love of
François Paradis for her, her love for him, is a thing apart-a thing
holy and inevitable--for she was unable to imagine that between
them it should have befallen otherwise; so must this love give
warmth and unfading colour to every day of the dullest life. Always
had she dim consciousness of such a presence-moving the spirit like
the solemn joy of chanted masses, the intoxication of a sunny windy
day, the happiness that some unlooked-for good fortune brings, the
certain promise of abundant harvest ...

In the stillness of the night the roar of the fall sounds loud and
near; the north-west wind sways the tops of spruce and fir with a
sweet cool sighing; again and again, farther away and yet farther,
an owl is hooting; the chill that ushers in the dawn is still
remote. And Maria, in perfect contentment, rests upon the step,
watching the ruddy beam from her fire-flickering, disappearing,
quickened again to birth.

She seems to remember someone long since whispering in her ear that
the world and life were cheerless and gray. The daily round,
brightened only by a few unsatisfying, fleeting pleasures; the slow
passage of unchanging years; the encounter with some young man, like
other young men, whose patient and hopeful courting ends by winning
affection; a marriage then, and afterwards a vista of days under
another roof, but scarce different from those that went before. So
does one live, the voice had told her. Naught very dreadful in the
prospect, and, even were it so, what possible but submission; yet
all level, dreary and chill as an autumn field.

It is not true! Alone there in the darkness Maria shakes her head, a
smile upon her lips, and knows how far from true it is. When she
thinks of Paradis, his look, his bearing, of what they are and will
be to one another, he and she, something within her bosom has
strange power to burn with the touch of fire, and yet to make her
shiver. All the strong youth of her, the long-suffering of her
sooth-fast heart find place in it; in the upspringing of hope and of
longing, this vision of her approaching miracle of happiness.

Below the oven the red gleam quivers and fails.

"The bread must be ready!" she murmurs to herself. But she cannot
bring herself at once to rise, loth as she is to end the fair dream
that seems only beginning.



CHAPTER VII

A MEAGER REAPING

SEPTEMBER arrived, and the dryness so welcome for the hay-making
persisted till it became a disaster. According to the Chapdelaines,
never had the country been visited with such a drought as this, and
every day a fresh motive was suggested for the divine displeasure.

Oats and wheat took on a sickly colour ere attaining their growth; a
merciless sun withered the grass and the clover aftermath, and all
day long the famished cows stood lowing with their heads over the
fences. They had to be watched continually, for even the meager
standing crop was a sore temptation, and never a day went by but one
of them broke through the rails in the attempt to appease her hunger
among the grain.

Then, of a sudden one evening, as though weary of a constancy so
unusual, the wind shifted and in the morning came the rain. It fell
off and on for a week, and when it ceased and the wind hauled again
to the north-west, autumn had come.

The autumn! And it seemed as though spring were here but yesterday.
The grain was yet unripe, though yellowed by the drought; nothing
save the hay was in barn; the other crops could draw nutriment from
the soil only while the too brief summer warmed it, and already
autumn was here, the forerunner of relentless winter, of the frosts,
and soon the snows ...

Between the wet days there was still fine bright weather, hot toward
noon, when one might fancy that all was as it had been: the harvest
still unreaped, the changeless setting of spruces and firs, and ever
the same sunsets of gray and opal, opal and gold, and skies of misty
blue above the same dark woodland. But in the mornings the grass was
sometimes white with rime, and swiftly followed the earliest dry
frosts which killed and blackened the tops of the potatoes.

Then, for the first time, a film of ice appeared upon the
drinking-trough; melted by the afternoon sun it was there a few days
later, and yet a third time in the same week. Frequent changes of
wind brought an alternation of mild rainy days and frosty mornings;
but every time the wind came afresh from the north-west it was a
little colder, a little more remindful of the icy winter blasts.
Everywhere is autumn a melancholy season, charged with regrets for
that which is departing, with shrinking from what is to come; but
under the Canadian skies it is sadder and more moving than
elsewhere, as though one were bewailing the death of a mortal
summoned untimely by the gods before he has lived out his span.

Through the increasing cold, the early frosts, the threats of snow,
they held back their hands and put off the reaping from day to day,
encouraging the meager grain to steal a little nourishment from the
earth's failing veins and the spiritless sun. At length, harvest
they must, for October approached. About the time when the leaves of
birches and aspens were turning, the oats and the wheat were cut and
carried to the barn under a cloudless sky, but without rejoicing.

The yield of grain was poor enough, yet the hay-crop had been
excellent, so that the year as a whole gave occasion neither for
excess of joy nor sorrow. However, it was long before the
Chapdelaines, in evening talk, ceased deploring the unheard-of
August droughts, the unprecedented September frosts, which betrayed
their hopes. Against the miserly shortness of the summer and the
harshness of a climate that shows no mercy they did not rebel, were
even without a touch of bitterness; but they did not give up
contrasting the season with that other year of wonders which fond
imagination made the standard of their comparisons; and thus was
ever on their lips the countryman's perpetual lament, so reasonable
to the ear, but which recurs unfailingly: "Had it only been an
ordinary year!"



CHAPTER VIII

ENTRENCHED AGAINST WINTER

ONE October morning Maria's first vision on arising was of countless
snow-flakes sifting lazily from the skies. The ground was covered,
the trees white; verily it seemed that autumn was over, when in
other lands it had scarce begun.

But Edwige Legare thus pronounced sentence: "After the first
snowfall there is yet a month before winter sets in. The old folks
always so declared, and I believe it myself." He was right; for in
two days a rain carried off the snow and the dark soil again lay
bare. Still the warning was heeded, and they set about preparations;
the yearly defences against the snow that may not be trifled with,
and the piercing cold.

Esdras and Da'Be protected the foundation of their dwelling with
earth and sand, making an embankment at the foot of the walls; the
other men, armed with hammer and nails, went round the outside of
the house, nailing up, closing chinks, remedying as best they could
the year's wear and tear. Within, the women forced rags into the
crevices, pasted upon the wainscotting at the north-west side old
newspapers brought from the village and carefully preserved, tested
with their hands in every corner for draughts.

These things accomplished, the next task was to lay in the winter's
store of wood. Beyond the fields, at the border of the forest plenty
of dead trees yet were standing. Esdras and Legare took ax in hand
and felled for three days; the trunks were piled, awaiting another
fall of snow when they could be loaded on the big wood-sleigh.

All through October, frosty and rainy days came alternately, and
meanwhile the woods were putting on a dress of unearthly loveliness.
Five hundred paces from the Chapdelaine house the bank of the
Peribonka fell steeply to the rapid water and the huge blocks of
stone above the fall, and across the river the opposite bank rose in
the fashion of a rocky amphitheatre, mounting to loftier heights-an
amphitheatre trending in a vast curve to the northward. Of the
birches, aspens, alders and wild cherries scattered upon the slope,
October made splashes of many-tinted red and gold. Throughout these
weeks the ruddy brown of mosses, the changeless green of fir and
cypress, were no more than a background, a setting only for the
ravishing colours of those leaves born with the spring, that perish
with the autumn. The wonder of their dying spread over the hills and
unrolled itself, an endless riband following the river, ever as
beautiful, as rich in shades brilliant and soft, as enrapturing,
when they passed into the remoteness of far northern regions and were
unseen by human eye.

But ere long there sweeps from out the cold north a mighty wind like
a final sentence of death, the cruel ending to a reprieve, and soon
the poor leaves, brown, red and golden, shaken too unkindly, strow
the ground; the snow covers them, and the white expanse has only for
adornment the sombre green of trees that alter not their
garb-triumphing now, as do those women inspired with bitter wisdom
who barter their right to beauty for life everlasting.

In November Esdras, Da'Be and Edwige Legare went off again to the
shanties. The father and Tit'Bé harnessed Charles Eugene to the
wood-sleigh, and laboured at hauling in the trees that had been cut,
and piling them near the house; that done, the two men took the
double-handed saw and sawed, sawed, sawed from morning till night;
it was then the turn of the axes, and the logs were split as their
size required. Nothing remained but to cord the split wood in the
shed beside the house, where it was sheltered from the snow; the
huge piles mingling the resinous cypress which gives a quick hot
flame, spruce and red birch, burning steadily and longer,
close-grained white birch with its marble-like surface, slower yet
to be consumed and leaving red embers in the morning after a long
winter's night.

The moment for laying in wood is also that of the slaughtering.
After entrenching against cold comes the defence against hunger. The
quarters of pork went into the brine-tub; from a beam in the shed
there hung the side of a fat heifer-the other half sold to people in
Honfleur-which the cold would keep fresh till spring; sacks of flour
were piled in a corner of the house, and Tit'Bé, provided with a
spool of brass wire, set himself to making nooses for hares.

After the bustle of summer they relapsed into easy-going ways, for
the summer is painfully short and one must:-not lose a single hour
of those precious weeks when it is possible to work on the land,
whereas the winter drags slowly and gives all too much time for the
tasks it brings.

The house became the centre of the universe; in truth the only spot
where life could be sustained, and more than ever the great
cast-iron stove was the soul of it. Every little while some member
of the family fetched a couple of logs from under the staircase;
cypress in the morning, spruce throughout the day, in the evening
birch, pushing them in upon the live coals. Whenever the heat
failed, mother Chapdelaine might be heard saying anxiously.--"Don't
let the fire out, children." Whereupon Maria, Tit'Bé or Telesphore
would open the little door, glance in and hasten to the pile of
wood.

In the mornings Tit'Bé jumped out of bed long before daylight to see
if the great sticks of birch had done their duty and burned all
night; should, unluckily, the fire be out he lost no time in
rekindling it with birch-bark and cypress branches, placed heavier
pieces on the mounting flame, and ran back to snuggle under the
brown woollen blankets and patchwork quilt till the comforting
warmth once more filled the house.

Outside, the neighbouring forest, and even the fields won from it,
were an alien unfriendly world, upon which they looked wonderingly
through the little square windows. And sometimes this world was
strangely beautiful in its frozen immobility, with a sky of flawless
blue and a brilliant sun that sparkled on the snow; but the
immaculateness of the blue and the white alike was pitiless and gave
hint of the murderous cold.

Days there were when the weather was tempered and the snow fell
straight from the clouds, concealing all; the ground and the low
growth was covered little by little, the dark line of the woods was
hidden behind the curtain of serried flakes. Then in the morning the
sky was clear again, but the fierce northwest wind swayed the
heavens. Powdery snow, whipped from the ground, drove across the
burnt lands and the clearings in blinding squalls, and heaped itself
behind whatever broke the force of the gale. To the south-east of
the house it built an enormous cone, and between house and stable
raised a drift five feet high through which the shovel had to carve
a path; but to windward the ground was bare, scoured by the
persistent blast.

On such days as these the men scarcely left the house except to care
for the beasts, and came back on the run, their faces rasped with
the cold and shining-wet with snow-crystals melted by the heat of
the house. Chapdelaine would pluck the icicles from his moustache,
slowly draw off his sheepskin-lined coat and settle himself by the
stove with a satisfied sigh. "The pump is not frozen?" he asks.
"Is there plenty of wood in the house?"

Assured that the frail wooden fortress is provided with water, wood
and food, he gives himself up to the indolences of winter quarters,
smoking pipes innumerable while the women-folk are busy with the
evening meal. The cold snaps the nails in the plank walls with
reports like pistol-shots; the stove crammed with birch roars
lustily; the howling of the wind without is like the cries of a
besieging host.

"It must be a bad day in the woods!" thinks Maria to herself; and
then perceives that she has spoken aloud.

"In the woods they are better off than we are here," answers her
father. "Up there where the trees stand close together one does not
feel the wind. You can be sure that Esdras and Da'Be are all right."

"Yes?"

But it was not of Esdras and Da'Be that she had just been thinking.



CHAPTER IX

ONE THOUSAND AVES

SINCE the coming of winter they had often talked at the Chapdelaines
about the holidays, and now these were drawing near.

"I am wondering whether we shall have any callers on New Year's
Day," said Madame Chapdelaine one evening. She went over the list of
all relatives and friends able to make the venture. "Azalma Larouche
does not live so far away, but she--she is not very energetic. The
people at St. Prime would not care to take the journey. Possibly
Wilfrid or Ferdinand might drive from St. Gedeon if the ice on the
lake were in good condition." A sigh disclosed that she still was
dreaming of the coming and going in the old parishes at the time of
the New Year, the family dinners, the unlooked-for visits of kindred
arriving by sleigh from the next village, buried under rugs and
furs, behind a horse whose coat was white with frost.

Maria's thoughts were turning in another direction. "If the roads
are as bad as they were last year," said she, "we shall not be able
to attend the midnight mass. And yet I should so much have liked it
this time, and father promised ..."

Through the little window they looked on the gray sky, and found
little to cheer them. To go to midnight mass is the natural and
strong desire of every French-Canadian peasant, even of those living
farthest from the settlements. What do they not face to accomplish
it! Arctic cold, the woods at night, obliterated roads, great
distances do but add to the impressiveness and the mystery. This
anniversary of the birth of Jesus is more to them than a mere
fixture in the calendar with rites appropriate; it signifies the
renewed promise of salvation, an occasion of deep rejoicing, and
those gathered in the wooden church are imbued with sincerest
fervour, are pervaded with a deep sense of the supernatural. This
year, more than ever, Maria yearned to attend the-mass after many
weeks of remoteness from houses and from churches; the favours she
would fain demand seemed more likely to be granted were she able to
prefer them before the altar, aided in heavenward flight by the
wings of music.

But toward the middle of December much snow fell, dry and fine as
dust, and three days before Christmas the north-west wind arose and
made an end of the roads. On the morrow of the storm Chapdelaine
harnessed Charles Eugene to the heavy sleigh and departed with
Tit'Bé; they took shovels to clear the way or lay out another route.
The two men returned by noon, worn out, white with snow, asserting
that there would be no breaking through for several days. The
disappointment must be borne; Maria sighed, but the idea came to her
that there might be other means of attaining the divine goodwill.

"Is it true, mother," she asked as evening was falling, "that if you
repeat a thousand Aves on the day before Christmas you are always
granted the thing you seek?"

"Quite true," her mother reverently answered. "One desiring a
favour who says her thousand Aves properly before midnight on
Christmas Eve, very seldom fails to receive what she asks."

On Christmas Eve the weather was cold but windless. The two men went
out betimes in another effort to beat down the road, with no great
hope of success; but long before they left, and indeed long before
daylight, Maria began to recite her Aves. Awakening very early, she
took her rosary from beneath the pillow and swiftly repeated the
prayer, passing from the last word to the first without stopping,
and counting, bead by bead.

The others were still asleep; but Chien left his place at the stove
when he saw that she moved, and came to sit beside the bed, gravely
reposing his head upon the coverings. Maria's glance wandered over
the long white muzzle resting upon the brown wool, the liquid eyes
filled with the dumb creature's pathetic trustfulness, the drooping
glossy ears; while she ceased not to murmur the sacred words.--"Hail
Mary, full of grace ..."

Soon Tit'Bé jumped from bed to put wood upon the fire; an impulse of
shyness caused Maria to turn away and hide her rosary under the
coverlet as she continued to pray. The stove roared; Chien went back
to his usual spot, and for another half-hour nothing was stirring in
the house save the fingers of Maria numbering the boxwood beads, and
her lips as they moved rapidly in the task she had laid upon
herself.

Then must she arise, for the day was dawning; make the porridge and
the pancakes while the men went to the stable to care for the
animals, wait upon them when they returned, wash the dishes, sweep
the house. What time she attended to these things, Maria was ever
raising a little higher toward heaven the monument of her Aves; but
the rosary had to be laid aside and it was hard to keep a true
reckoning. As the morning advanced however, no urgent duty calling,
she was able to sit by the window and steadily pursue her
undertaking.

Noon; and already three hundred Aves. Her anxiety lessens, for now
she feels almost sure of finishing in time. It comes to her mind
that fasting would give a further title to heavenly consideration,
and might, with reason, turn hopes into certainties; wherefore she
ate but little, foregoing all those things she liked the best.

Throughout the afternoon she must knit the woollen garment designed
for her father as a New Year's gift, and though the faithful
repetition ceased not, the work of her fingers was something of a
distraction and a delay; then came the long preparations for supper,
and finally Tit'Bé brought his mittens to be mended, so all this
time the Aves made slow and impeded progress, like some devout
procession brought to halt by secular interruption.

But when it was evening and the tasks of the day were done, she
could resume her seat by the window where the feeble light of the
lamp did not invade the darkness, look forth upon the fields hidden
beneath their icy cloak, take the rosary once more in her hands and
throw her heart into the prayer. She was happy that so many Aves
were left to be recited, since labour and difficulty could only add
merit to her endeavour; even did she wish to humble herself further
and give force to her prayer by some posture that would bring
uneasiness and pain, by some chastening of the flesh.

Her father and Tit'Bé smoked, their feet against the stove; her
mother sewed new ties to old moose-hide moccasins. Outside, the moon
had risen, flooding the chill whiteness with colder light, and the
heavens were of a marvellous purity and depth, sown with stars that
shone like that wondrous star of old.

"Blessed art Thou amongst women..."

Through repeating the short prayer oftentimes and quickly she grew
confused and sometimes stopped, her dazed mind lost among the
well-known words. It is only for a moment; sighing she closes her
eyes, and the phrase which rises at once to her memory and her lips
ceases to be mechanical, detaches itself, again stands forth in all
its hallowed meaning.

"Blessed art Thou amongst women ..."

At length a heaviness weighs upon her, and the holy words are spoken
with greater effort and slowly; yet the beads pass through her
fingers in endless succession, and each one launches the offering of
an Ave to that sky where Mary the compassionate is surely seated on
her throne, hearkening to the music of prayers that ever rise, and
brooding over the memory of that blest night.

"The Lord is with Thee ..."

The fence-rails were very black upon the white expanse palely
lighted by the moon; trunks of birch trees standing against the dark
background of forest were like the skeletons of living creatures
smitten with the cold and stricken by death; but the glacial night
was awesome rather than affrighting.

"With the roads as they are we will not be the only ones who have to
stay at home this evening," said Madame Chapdelaine. "But is there
anything more lovely than the midnight mass at Saint Coeur de Marie,
with Yvonne Boilly playing the harmonium, and Pacifique Simard who
sings the Latin so beautifully!" She was very careful to say nothing
that might seem reproachful or complaining on such a night as this,
but in spite of herself the words and tone had a sad ring of
loneliness and remoteness. Her husband noticed it, and, himself
under the influence of the day, was quick to take the blame.

"It is true enough, Laura, that you would have had a happier life
with some other man than me, who lived on a comfortable farm, near
the settlements."

"No, Samuel; what the good God does is always right. I grumble ...
Of course I grumble. Is there anyone who hasn't something to grumble
about? But we have never been unhappy, we two; we have managed to
live without faring over-badly; the boys are fine boys,
hard-working, who bring us nearly all they earn; Maria too is a good
girl..."

Affected by these memories of the past, they also were thinking of
the candles already lit, of the hymns soon to be raised in honour of
the Saviour's birth. Life had always been a simple and a
straightforward thing for them; severe but inevitable toil, a good
understanding between man and wife, obedience alike to the laws of
nature and of the Church. Everything was drawn into the same woof;
the rites of their religion and the daily routine of existence so
woven together that they could not distinguish the devout emotion
possessing them from the mute love of each for each.

Little Alma Rose heard praises in the air and hastened to demand her
portion. "I have been a good girl too, haven't I, father?"

"Certainly ... Certainly. A black sin indeed if one were naughty
on the day when the little Jesus was born."

To the children, Jesus of Nazareth was ever "the little Jesus," the
curly-headed babe of the sacred picture; and in truth, for the
parents as well, such was the image oftenest brought to mind by the
Name. Not the sad enigmatic Christ of the Protestant, but a being
more familiar and less august, a newborn infant in his mother's
arms, or at least a tiny child who might be loved without great
effort of the mind or any thought of the coming sacrifice.

"Would you like me to rock you?"

"Yes."

He took the little girl on his knees and began to swing her back and
forth.

"And are we going to sing too?"

"Yes."

"Very well; now sing with me:"

    Dans son etable,
    Que Jesus est charmant!
    Qu'il est aimable
    Dans son abaissement

He began in quiet tones that he might not drown the other slender
voice; but soon emotion carried him away and he sang with all his
might, his gaze dreamy and remote. Telesphore drew near and looked
at him with worshipping eyes. To these children brought up in a
lonely house, with only their parents for companions, Samuel
Chapdelaine embodied all there was in the world of wisdom and might.
As he was ever gentle and patient, always ready to take the children
on his knee and sing them hymns, or those endless old songs he
taught them one by one, they loved him with a rare affection.

    ... Tous les palais des rois
    N'ont rien de comparable
    Aux beautes que je vois
    Dans cette etable.

"Once more? Very well."

This time the mother and Tit'Bé joined in. Maria could not resist
staying her prayers for a few moments that she might look and
hearken; but the words of the hymn renewed her ardour, and she soon
took up the task again with a livelier faith ... "Hail Mary, full of
grace ..."

    Trois gros navires sont arrives,
    Charges d'avoine, charges de ble.
    Nous irons sur l'eau nous y prom-promener,
    Nous irons jouer dans l'ile...

"And now? Another song: which?" Without waiting for a reply he
struck in ... "No? not that one ... Claire Fontaine? Ah! That's
a beautiful one, that is! We shall all sing it together."

He glanced at Maria, but seeing the beads ever slipping through her
fingers he would not intrude.

    A la claire fontaine
    M'en allant promener,
    J'ai trouve l'eau si belle
    Que je m'y suis baigne ...
    Il y a longtemps que je t'aime,
    Jamais je ne t'oublierai...

Words and tune alike haunting; the unaffected sadness of the refrain
lingering in the ear, a song that well may find its way to any
heart.

    .. Sur la plus haute branche,
    Le rossignol chantait.
    Chante, rossignol, chante,
    Toi qui a le coeur gai ...
    Il y a longtemps que je t'aime
    Jamais je ne t'oublierai ...

The rosary lay still in the long fingers. Maria did not sing with
the others; but she was listening, and this lament of a love that
was unhappy fell very sweetly and movingly on her spirit a little
weary with prayer.

    ... Tu as le coeur a rire,
    Moi je l'ai a pleurer,
    J'ai perdu ma maitresse
    Sans pouvoir la r'trouver,
    Pour un bouquet de roses
    Que je lui refusai
    Il y a longtemps que je t'aime,
    Jamais je ne t'oublierai.

Maria looked through the window at the white fields circled by
mysterious forest; the passion of religious feeling, the tide of
young love rising within her, the sound of the familiar voices,
fused in her heart to a single emotion. Truly the world was filled
with love that evening, with love human and divine, simple in nature
and mighty in strength, one and the other most natural and right; so
intermingled that the beseeching of heavenly favour upon dear ones
was scarcely more than the expression of an earthly affection, while
the artless love songs were chanted with solemnity of voice and
exaltation of spirit fit for addresses to another world.

    .. Je voudrais que la rose
    Fut encore au rosier,
    Et que le rosier meme
    A la mer fut jete.
    Il y a longtemps, que je t'aime,
    Jamais je ne t'oublierai . .

"Hail Mary, full of grace ..."

The song ended, Maria forthwith resumed her prayers with zeal
refreshed, and once again the tale of the Aves mounted.

Little Alma Rose, asleep on her father's knee, was undressed and put
to bed; Telesphore followed; Tit'Bé arose in turn, stretched
himself, and filled the stove with green birch logs; the father made
a last trip to the stable and came back running, saying that the
cold was increasing. Soon all had retired, save Maria.

"You won't forget to put out the lamp?"

"No, father."

Forthwith she quenched the light, preferring it so, and seated
herself again by the window to repeat the last Aves. When she had
finished, a scruple assailed her, and a fear lest she had erred in
the reckoning, because it had not always been possible to count the
beads of her rosary. Out of prudence she recited yet another fifty
and then was silent-jaded, weary, but full of happy confidence, as
though the moment had brought her a promise inviolable.

The world outside was lit; wrapped in that frore splendour which the
night unrolls over lands of snow when the sky is clear and the moon
is shining. Within the house was darkness, and it seemed that wood
and field had illumined themselves to signal the coming of the holy
hour.

"The thousand Aves have been said," murmured Maria to herself, "but
I have not yet asked for anything ... not in words." She had
thought that perhaps it were not needful; that the Divinity might
understand without hearing wishes shaped by lips--Mary above all ...
Who had been a woman upon earth. But at the last her simple mind
was taken with a doubt, and she tried to find speech for the favour
she was seeking.

François Paradis ... Most surely it concerns François Paradis.
Hast Thou already guessed it, O Mary, full of grace? How might she
frame this her desire without impiety? That he should be spared
hardship in the woods ... That he should be true to his word and
give up drinking and swearing ... That he return in the spring.

That he return in the spring ... She goes no further, for it seems
to her that when he is with her again, his promise kept, all the
happiness in the world must be within their reach, unaided ...
almost unaided ... If it be not presumptuous so to think ...

That he return in the spring ... Dreaming of his return, of
François, the handsome sunburnt face turned to hers, Maria forgets
all else, and looks long with unseeing eyes at the snow-covered
ground which the moonlight has turned into a glittering fabric of
ivory and mother-of-pearl-at the black pattern of the fences
outlined upon it, and the menacing ranks of the dark forest.



CHAPTER X

STRAYING TRACKS

NEW YEAR'S DAY, and not a single caller! Toward evening the mother
of the family, a trifle cast down, hid her depression behind a mask
of extra cheeriness. "Even if no one comes," said she, "that is no
reason for allowing ourselves to be unhappy. We are going to make la
tire."

The children exclaimed with delight, and followed the preparations
with impatient eyes. Molasses and brown sugar were set on the stove
to boil, and when this had proceeded far enough Telesphore brought
in a large dish of lovely white snow. They all gathered about the
table as a few drops of the boiling syrup were allowed to fall upon
the snow where they instantly became crackly bubbles, deliciously
cold.

Each was helped in turn, the big people making a merry pretence of
the children's unfeigned greed; but soon, and very wisely, the
tasting was checked, that appetite might not be in peril for the
real la tire, the confection of which had only begun. After further
cooking, and just at the proper moment, the cooling toffee must be
pulled for a long time. The mother's strong hands plied unceasingly
for five minutes, folding and drawing out the sugary skein; the
movement became slower and slower, until, stretched for the last
time to the thickness of a finger, it was cut into lengths with
scissors-not too easily, for it was already hard. The la tire was
made.

The children were busy with their first portions, when a knocking
was heard on the door. "Eutrope Gagnon," at once declared
Chapdelaine. "I was just saying to myself that it would be an odd
thing if he did not come and spend the evening with us."

Eutrope Gagnon it was in truth. Entering, he bade them all good
evening, and laid his woollen cap upon the table. Maria looked at
him, a blush upon her cheek. Custom ordains that on the first day of
the year the young men shall kiss the women-folk, and Maria knew
well enough that Eutrope, shy as he was, would exercise his
privilege; she stood motionless by the table, unprotesting, yet
thinking of another kiss she would have dearly welcomed. But the
young man took the chair offered him and sat down, his eyes upon the
floor.

"You are the only visitor who has come our way to-day," said
Chapdelaine, "and I suppose you have seen no one either. I felt
pretty certain you would be here this evening."

"Naturally ... I would not let New Year's Day go by without
paying you a visit. But, besides that, I have news to tell."

"News?"

Under the questioning eyes of the household he did not raise his
eyes.

"By your face I am afraid you have bad news."

"Yes."

With a start of fear the mother half rose. "Not about the boys?"

"No, Madame Chapdelaine. Esdras and Da'Be are well, if that be
God's pleasure. The word I bring is not of them-not of your own kin.
It concerns a young man you know." Pausing a moment he spoke a name
under his breath:--"François Paradis."

His glance was lifted to Maria and as quickly fell, but she did not
so much as see his look of honest distress. Deep stillness weighed
upon the house-upon the whole universe. Everything alive and dead
was breathlessly awaiting news of such dreadful moment-touching him
that was for her the one man in all the world ...

"This is what happened. You knew perhaps that he was foreman in a
shanty above La Tuque, on the Vermilion River. About the middle of
December he suddenly told the boss that he was going off to spend
Christmas and New Year at Lake St. John-up here. The boss objected,
naturally enough; for if the men take ten or fifteen days' leave
right in the middle of the winter you might as well stop the work
altogether. The boss did not wish him to go and said so plainly; but
you know François-a man not be thwarted when a notion entered his
head. He answered that he was set on going to the lake for the
holidays, and that go he would. Then the boss let him have his way,
afraid to lose a man useful beyond the common, and of such
experience in the bush."

Eutrope Gagnon was speaking with unusual ease, slowly, but without
seeking words, as though his story had been shaped beforehand. Amid
her overwhelming grief the thought flitted through Maria's
heart:--"François wished to come here ... to me," and a fugitive joy
touched it as a swallow in flight ruffles the water with his wing.

"The shanty was not very far in the woods, only two days' journey
from the Transcontinental which passes La Tuque. But as the luck was,
something had happened to the line and the trains were not running.
I heard all this through Johnny Niquette of St. Henri, who arrived
from La Tuque two days ago."

"Yes."

"When François found that he could not take the train he burst into
a laugh, and in that sort of a humour said that as it was a case of
walking he would walk all the way-reaching the lake by following the
rivers, first the Croche and then the Ouatchouan which falls in near
Roberval."

"That is so," said Chapdelaine. "It can be done. I have gone that
way."

"Not at this time of year, Mr. Chapdelaine, certainly not just at
this time. Everyone there told François that it would be foolhardy
to attempt such a trip in midwinter, about Christmas, with the cold
as great as it was, some four feet of snow lying in the woods, and
alone. But he only laughed and told them that he was used to the
woods and that a little difficulty was not going to frighten him,
because he was bound to get to the upper side of the lake for the
holidays, and that where the Indians were able to cross he could
make the crossing too. Only--you know it very well, Mr.
Chapdelaine--when the Indians take that journey it is in company, and
with their dogs. François set of alone, on snow-shoes, pulling his
blankets and provisions on a toboggan." No one had uttered a word to
hasten or check the speaker. They listened as to him whose story's
end stalks into view, before the eyes but darkly veiled, like a
figure drawing near who hides his face.

"You will remember the weather a week before Christmas-the heavy
snow that fell, and after it the nor'west gale. It happened that François was
then in the great burnt lands, where the fine snow drives and drifts
so terribly. In such a place the best of men have little chance when
it is very cold and the storm lasts. And, if you recall it, the
nor'wester was blowing for three days on end, stiff enough-to flay
you."

"Yes, and then?"

The narrative he had framed did not carry him further, or perhaps he
could not bring himself to speak the final words, for it was some
time before the low-voiced answer came--"He went astray ..."

Those who have passed their lives within the shadow of the Canadian
forests know the meaning but too well. The daring youths to whom
this evil fortune happens in the woods, who go astray-are lost-but
seldom return. Sometimes a search-party finds their bodies in the
spring, after the melting of the snows. In Quebec, and above all in
the far regions of the north, the very word, ecarte, has taken on a
new and sinister import, from the peril overhanging him who loses
his way, for a short day only, in that limitless forest.

"He went astray ... The storm caught him in the burnt country and
he halted for a day. So much we know, for the Indians found a
shelter of fir branches he had made for himself, and they saw his
tracks. He set out again because his provisions were low and he was
in haste to reach the end of his journey, as I suppose; but the
weather did not mend, snow was falling, the nor'west wind never
eased, and it is likely he caught no glimpse of the sun to guide
him, for the Indians said that his tracks turned off from the river
Croche which he had been following and wandered away, straight to
the north."

There was no further speech; neither from the two men who had
listened with assenting motions of their heads while they followed
every turn of Eutrope's grim story; nor from the mother whose hands
were clasped upon her knees,--as in a belated supplication; nor from
Maria . .

"When they heard this, men from Ouatchouan set forth after the
weather was a little better. But all his footsteps were covered, and
they returned saying that they had found no trace; that was three
days ago... He is lost ..."

The listeners stirred, and broke the stillness with a sigh; the tale
was told, nor was there a word that, anyone might speak. The fate of
François Paradis was as mournfully sure as though he were buried in
the cemetery at St. Michel de Mistassini to the sound of chants,
with the blessing of a priest.

Silence fell upon the house and all within it. Chapdelaine was leaning
forward, elbows on his knees, his face working,--mechanically striking
one fist upon the other. At length he spoke:--"It shows we are but
little children in the hand of the good God. François was one of the
best men of these parts in the woods, and at finding his way; people
who came here used to take him as guide, and always did he bring them
back without mishap. And now he himself is lost. We are but little
children. Some there be who think themselves pretty strong-able to
get on without God's help in their houses and on their lands...but
in the bush..." With solemn voice and slowly-moving head he repeated:
"We are but little children."

"A good man he was," said Eutrope Gagnon, "in very truth a good
man, strong and brave, with ill-will to none.'

"Indeed that is true. I am not saying that the good God had cause
to send him to his death-him more than another. He was a fine
fellow, hard-working, and I loved him well. But it shows you ..."

"No one ever had a thing against him." Eutrope's generous
insistence carried him on. "A man hard to match for work, afraid of
nothing and obliging withal. Everyone who knew him was fond of
him. You will not find his like."

Raising his eyes to Maria he repeated with emphasis:--"He was a
good man, you will not find his like."

"When we were at Mistassini," began Madame Chapdelaine, "seven years
ago, he was only a lad, but very strong and quick and as tall as he
is now--I mean as he was when he came here last summer. Always
good-natured too. No one could help liking him."

They all looked straight before them in speaking, and yet what they
said seemed to be for Maria alone, as if the dear secret of her
heart were open to them. But she spoke not, nor moved, her eyes
fixed upon the frosted panes of the little window, impenetrable as
the wall.

Eutrope Gagnon did not linger. The Chapdelaines, left to themselves,
were long without speech. At last the father said in a halting
voice:--"François Paradis was almost alone in the world; now, as
we all had an affection for him, we perhaps might have a mass or two
said. What do you think, Laura?"

"Yes indeed. Three high masses with music, and when the boys return
from the woods--in health, if such be the will of the good
God-three more for the repose of his soul, poor lad! And every
Sunday we shall, say a prayer for him."

"He was like the rest of us," Chapdelaine continued, "not without
fault, of course, but kindly and well-living. God and the Holy
Virgin will have pity on him."

Again silence. Maria well knew it was for her they said these
things-aware of her grief and seeking to assuage it; but she was not
able to speak, either to praise the dead or utter.-her sorrow. A
hand had fastened upon her throat, stifling her, as the narrative
unfolded and the end loomed inevitable; and now this hand found its
way into her breast and was crushing her heart. Presently she would
know a yet more intolerable pain, but now she only felt the deadly
grasp of those five fingers closed about her heart.

Other words were said, but they scarce reached her ear; then came
the familiar evening stir of preparation for the night, the father's
departure on a last visit to the stable and his swift return, face
red with the cold, slamming the door hastily in a swirl of frosty
vapour.

"Come, Maria." The mother called her very gently, and laid a hand
upon her shoulder. She rose and went to kneel and pray with the
others. Voice answered to voice for ten minutes, murmuring the
sacred words in low monotone.

The usual prayer at an end, the mother whispered:--"Yet five
Paters and five Aves for the souls of those who have suffered
misfortune in the forest." And the voices again rose, this time more
subdued, breaking sometimes to a sob.

When they were silent, and all had risen after the last sign of the
cross, Maria went back to the window. The frost upon the panes made
of them so many fretted squares through which the eye could not
penetrate, shutting away the outside world; but Maria saw them not,
for the tears welled to her eyes and blinded her. She stood there
motionless, with arms hanging piteously by her side, a stricken
figure of grief; then a sudden anguish yet keener and more
unbearable seized upon her; blindly she opened the door and went out
upon the step.

The world that lay beyond the threshold, sunk in moveless white
repose, was of an immense serenity; but when Maria passed from the
sheltering walls the cold smote her like the hungry blade of a sword
and the forest leaped toward her in menace, its inscrutable face
concealing a hundred dreadful secrets which called aloud to her in
lamentable voices. With a little moan she drew back, and closing the
door sat shivering beside the stove. Numbness was yielding, sorrow
taking on an edge, and the hand that clutched her heart set itself
to devising new agonies, each one subtler and more cruel than the
last.

How he must have suffered, far off there amid the snows! So thought
she, as still her own face remembered the sting of the bitter air.
Men threatened by this fate had told her that death coming in such a
guise smote with gentle and painless hand-a hand that merely lulled
to sleep; but she could not make herself believe it, and all the
sufferings that François, might have endured before giving up and
falling to the white ground passed before her eyes.

No need for her to see the spot, too well she knew the winter
terrors of the great forest, the snow heaped to the firs' lower
branches, alders almost buried beneath it, birches and aspens naked
as skeletons and shuddering in the icy wind, a sunless sky above the
massed and gloomy spires of green. She sees François making his way
through the close-set trees, limbs stiffened with the cold, his skin
raw with that pitiless nor'wester, gnawed by hunger, stumbling with
fatigue, his feet so weary that with no longer strength to lift them
his snowshoes often catch the snow and throw him to his knees.

Doubtless when the storm abated he saw his error, knew that he was
walking toward the barren northland, turned at once and took the
right course--he so experienced, the woods his home from boyhood.
But his food is nearly gone, the cold tortures him; with lowered
head and clenched teeth he fights the implacable winter, calling to
aid his every reserve of strength and high courage. He thinks of the
road he must follow, the miles to be overcome, measures his chances
of life; and fitful memories arise of a house, so warm and snug,
where all will greet him gladly; of Maria who, knowing what he has
dared for her sake, will at length raise to him her truthful eyes
shining with love.

Perhaps he fell for the last time when succour was near, a few yards
only from house or shanty. Often so it happens. Cold and his
ministers of death flung themselves upon him as their prey; they
have stilled the strong limbs forever, covered his open handsome
face with snow, closed the fearless eyes without gentleness or pity,
changed his living body into a thing of ice ... Maria has no more
tears that she may shed, but she shivers and trembles as he must
have trembled and shivered before he sank into merciful
unconsciousness; horror and pity in her face, Maria draws nearer the
stove as though she might thus bring him warmth and shield his dear
life against the assassin.

"O Christ Jesus, who didst stretch forth Thine arm to those in need,
why didst Thou not disperse the snows with those pale hands of
Thine? Holy Virgin, why didst Thou not sustain him by Thy power
when, for the last time, his feet were stumbling? In all the legions
of heaven why was there found no angel to show him the way?"

But it is her grief that utters these reproaches, and the steadfast
heart of Maria is fearful of having sinned in yielding to it.
Another dread is soon to assail her. Perhaps François Paradis was
not able quite faithfully to keep the promises he made to her. In
the shanty, among rough and careless men, may he not have had
moments of weakness; blasphemed or taken the names of the saints in
vain, and thus have gone to his death with sin upon his conscience,
under the weight of divine wrath.

Her parents had promised but a little ago that masses should be
said. How good they were! Having guessed her secret how kindly had
they been silent! But she herself might help with prayers the poor
soul in torment. Her beads still lay upon the table; she takes them
in her hands, and forthwith the words of the Ave mount to her
lips,--"Hail Mary, full of grace..."

Did you doubt of her, O mother of the Galilean? Since that only
eight days before she strove to reach your ear with her thousand
prayers, and you but clothed yourself in divine impassivity while
fate accomplished its purpose, think you that she questions your
goodness or your power? It would indeed have been to misjudge her.
As once she sought your aid for a man, so now she asks your pardon
for a soul, in the same words, with the same humility and boundless
faith.

"Blessed art Thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of Thy
womb, Jesus."

But still she cowers by the great stove, and though the fire's heat
strikes through her, she ceases not to shudder as she thinks of the
frozen world about her, of Paradis, who cannot be insentient, who
must be so bitter cold in his bed of snow.



CHAPTER XI

THE INTERPRETER OF GOD

ONE evening in February Samuel Chapdelaine said to his daughter:
"The roads are passable; if you wish it, Maria, we shall go to La
Pipe on Sunday for the mass."

"Very well, father;" but she replied in a voice so dejected, almost
indifferent, that her parents exchanged glances behind her back.

Country folk do not die for love, nor spend the rest of their days
nursing a wound. They are too near to nature, and know too well the
stern laws that rule their lives. Thus it is perhaps, that they are
sparing of high-sounding words; choosing to say "liking" rather than
"loving" ... "ennui" rather than "grief," that so the joys and
sorrows of the heart may bear a fit proportion to those more anxious
concerns of life which have to do with their daily toil, the yield
of their lands, provision for the future.

Maria did not for a moment dream that life for her was over, or that
the world must henceforward be a sad wilderness, because Francis
Paradis would not return in the spring nor ever again. But her heart
was aching, and while sorrow possessed it the future held no promise
for her.

When Sunday arrived, father and daughter early began to make ready
for the two hours' journey which would bring them to St. Henri de
Taillon, and the church. Before half-past seven Charles Eugene was
harnessed, and Maria, still wearing a heavy winter cloak, had
carefully deposited in her purse the list of her mother's
commissions. A few minutes later the sleigh-bells were tinkling, and
the rest of the family grouped themselves at the little square
window to watch the departure.

For the first hour the horse could not go beyond a walk, sinking
knee-deep in snow; for only the Chapdelaines used this road, laid
out and cleared by themselves, and not enough travelled to become
smooth and hard. But when they reached the beaten highway Charles
Eugene trotted along briskly.

They passed through Honfleur, a hamlet of eight scattered houses,
and then re-entered the woods. After a time they came upon
clearings, then houses appeared dotted along the road; little by
little the dusky ranks of the forest retreated, and soon they were
in the village with other sleighs before and following them, all
going toward the church.

Since the beginning of the year Maria had gone three times to hear
mass at St. Henri de Taillon, which the people of the country
persist in calling La Pipe, as in the gallant days of the first
settlers. For her, besides being an exercise of piety, this was
almost the only distraction possible and her father sought to
furnish it whenever he could do so, believing that the impressive
rites of the church and a meeting with acquaintances in the village
would help to banish her grief.

On this occasion when the mass was ended, instead of paying visits
they went to the curees house. It was already thronged with members
of the congregation from remote farms, for the Canadian priest not
only has the consciences of his flock in charge, but is their
counsellor in all affairs, and the composer of their disputes; the
solitary individual of different station to whom they can resort for
the solving of their difficulties.

The cure of St. Henri sent none away empty who asked his advice;
some he dealt with in a few swift words amidst a general
conversation where he bore his cheerful part; others at greater
length in the privacy of an adjoining room. When the turn of the
Chapdelaines came he looked at his watch.

"We shall have dinner first. What say you, my good friends? You
must have found an appetite on the road. As for myself, singing mass
makes me hungry beyond anything you could believe."

He laughed heartily, more tickled than anyone at his own joke, and
led his guests into the dining-room. Another priest was there from a
neighbouring parish, and two or three farmers. The meal was one long
discussion about husbandry, with a few amusing stories and bits of
harmless gossip thrown in; now and then one of the farmers, suddenly
remembering where he was, would labour some pious remark which the
priests acknowledged with a nod or an absent-minded "Yes! Yes!"

The dinner over at last, some of the guests departed after lighting
their pipes. The cure, catching a glance from Chapdelaine, seemed to
recall something; arising, he motioned to Maria, and went before her
into the next room which served him both for visitors and as his
office.

A small harmonium stood against the wall; on the other side was a
table with agricultural journals, a Civil Code and a few books bound
in black leather; on the walls hung a portrait of Pius X., an
engraving of the Holy Family, the coloured broadside of a Quebec
merchant with sleighs and threshing-machines side by side, and a
number of official notices as to precautions against forest fires
and epidemics amongst cattle.

Turning to Maria, the cure said kindly enough;--"So it appears that
you are distressing yourself beyond what is reasonable and right?"

She looked at him humbly, not far from believing that the priest's
supernatural power had divined her trouble without need of telling.
He inclined his tall figure, and bent toward her his thin peasant
face; for beneath the robe was still the tiller of the soil: the
gaunt and yellow visage, the cautious eyes, the huge bony shoulders.
Even his hands--hands wont to dispense the favours of Heaven-were
those of the husbandman, with swollen veins beneath the dark skin.
But Maria saw in him only the priest, the cure of the parish,
appointed of God to interpret life to her and show her the path of
duty.

"Be seated there," he said, pointing to a chair. She sat down
somewhat like a schoolgirl who is to have a scolding, somewhat like
a woman in a sorcerer's den who awaits in mingled hope and dread the
working of his unearthly spells... ... ...

An hour later the sleigh was speeding over the hard snow.
Chapdelaine drowsed, and the reins were slipping from his open
hands. Rousing himself and lifting his head, he sang again in
full-voiced fervour the hymn he was singing as they left the
village:--

    ... Adorons-le dans le ciel.
    Adorons-le sur l'autel ...

Then he fell silent, his chin dropping slowly toward his breast, and
the only sound upon the road was the tinkle of sleigh-bells.

Maria was thinking of the priest's words: "If there was affection
between you it is very proper that you should know regret. But you
were not pledged to one another, because neither you nor he had
spoken to your parents; therefore it is not befitting or right that
you should sorrow thus, nor feel so deep a grief for a young man
who, after all is said, was nothing to you..."

And again: "That masses should be sung, that you should pray for
him, such things are useful and good, you could do no better. Three
high masses with music, and three more when the boys return from the
woods, as your father has asked me, most assuredly these will help
him, and also you may be certain they will delight him more than
your lamentations, since they will shorten by so much his time of
expiation. But to grieve like this, and to go about casting gloom
over the household is not well, nor is it pleasing in the sight of
God."

He did not appear in the guise of a comforter, nor of one who gives
counsel in the secret affairs of the heart, but rather as a man of
the law or a chemist who enunciates his bald formulas, invariable
and unfailing.

"The duty of a girl like you--good-looking, healthy, active withal
and a clever housewife--is in the first place to help her old
parents, and in good time to marry and bring up a Christian family
of her own. You have no call to the religious life? No. Then you
must give up torturing yourself in this fashion, because it is a
sacrilegious thing and unseemly, seeing that the young man was
nothing whatever to you. The good God knows what is best for us; we
should neither rebel nor complain ..."

In all this, but one phrase left Maria a little doubting, it was the
priest's assurance that François Paradis, in the place where now he
was, cared only for masses to repose his soul, and never at all for
the deep and tender regrets lingering behind him. This she could not
constrain herself to believe. Unable to think of him otherwise in
death than in life, she felt it must bring him something of
happiness and consolation that her sorrow was keeping alive their
ineffectual love for a little space beyond death. Yet, since the
priest had said it ...

The road wound its way among the trees rising sombrely from the
snow. Here and there a squirrel, alarmed by the swiftly passing
sleigh and the tinkling bells, sprang upon a trunk and scrambled
upward, clinging to the bark. From the gray sky a biting cold was
falling and the wind stung the cheek, for this was February, with
two long months of winter yet to come.

As Charles Eugene trotted along the beaten road, bearing the
travellers to their lonely house, Maria, in obedience to the words
of the cure at St. Henri, strove to drive away gloom and put
mourning from her; as simple-mindedly as she would have fought the
temptation of a dance, of a doubtful amusement or anything that was
plainly wrong and hence forbidden.

They reached home as night was falling. The coming of evening was
only a slow fading of the light, for, since morning, the heavens had
been overcast, the sun obscured. A sadness rested upon the pallid
earth; the firs and cypresses did not wear the aspect of living
trees and the naked birches seemed to doubt of the springtime. Maria
shivered as she left the sleigh, and hardly noticed Chien, barking
and gambolling a welcome, or the children who called to her from the
door-step. The world seemed strangely empty, for this evening at
least. Love was snatched away, and they forbade remembrance. She
went swiftly into the house without looking about her, conscious of
a new dread and hatred for the bleak land, the forest's eternal
shade, the snow and the cold,--for all those things she had lived her
life amongst, which now had wounded her.



CHAPTER XII

LOVE BEARING GIFTS

MARCH came, and one day Tit'Bé brought the news from Honfleur that
there would be a large gathering in the evening at Ephrem
Surprenant's to which everyone was invited.

But someone must stay to look after the house, and as Madame
Chapdelaine had set her heart on this little diversion after being
cooped up for all these months, it was Tit'Bé himself who was left
at home. Honfleur, the nearest village to their house, was eight
miles away; but what were eight miles over the snow and through the
woods compared with the delight of hearing songs and stories, and of
talk with people from afar?

A numerous company was assembled under the Surprenant roof: several
of the villagers, the three Frenchmen who had bought his nephew
Lorenzo's farm, and also, to the Chapdelaines' great surprise,
Lorenzo himself, back once more from the States upon business that
related to the sale and the settling of his father's affairs. He
greeted Maria very warmly, and seated himself beside her.

The men lit their pipes; they chatted about the weather, the
condition of the roads, the country news; but the conversation
lagged, as though all were looking for it to take some unusual turn.
Their glances sought Lorenzo and the three Frenchmen, expecting
strange and marvellous tales of distant lands and unfamiliar manners
from an assembly so far out of the common. The Frenchmen, only a few
months in the country, apparently felt a like curiosity, for they
listened, and spoke but little.

Samuel Chapdelaine, who was meeting them for the first time, deemed
himself called upon to put them through a catechism in the ingenuous
Canadian fashion.

"So you have come here to till the land. How do you like Canada?"

"It is a beautiful country, new and so vast ... In the
summer-time there are many flies, and the winters are trying; but I
suppose that one gets used to these things in time."

The father it was who made reply, his sons only nodding their heads
in assent with eyes glued to the floor. Their appearance alone would
have served to distinguish them from the other dwellers in the
village, but as they spoke the gap widened, and the words that fell
from their lips had a foreign ring. There was none of the slowness
of the Canadian speech, nor of that indefinable accent found in no
corner of France, which is only a peasant blend of the different
pronunciations of former emigrants. They used words and turns of
phrase one never hears in Quebec, even in the towns, and which to
these simple men seemed fastidious and wonderfully refined.

"Before coming to these parts were you farmers in your own country?"

"No."

"What trade then did you follow?"

The Frenchman hesitated a moment before replying; possibly thinking
that what he was about to say would be novel, and hard for them to
understand. "I was a tuner myself, a piano-tuner; my two sons here
were clerks, Edmond in an office, Pierre in a shop."

Clerks--that was plain enough for anyone; but their minds were a
little hazy as to the father's business.

However Ephrem Surprenant chimed in with.--"Piano-tuner; that was
it, just so!" And his glance at Conrad Neron his neighbour was a
trifle superior and challenging, as though intimating.--"You would
not believe me, and maybe you don't know what it means, but now you
see ..."

"Piano-tuner," Samuel Chapdelaine echoed in turn, slowly grasping
the meaning of the words. "And is that a good trade? Do you earn
handsome wages? Not too handsome, eh! ... At any rate you are well
educated, you and your sons; you can read and write and cipher? And
here am I, not able even to read!"

"Nor I!" struck in Ephrem Surprenant, and Conrad Neron and Egide
Racicot added: "Nor I!" "Nor I!" in chorus, whereupon the whole of
them broke out laughing.

A motion of the Frenchman's hand told them indulgently that they
could very well dispense with these accomplishments; to himself of
little enough use at the moment.

"You were not able to make a decent living out of your trades over
there. That is so, is it not? And therefore you came here?"

The question was put simply, without thought of offence, for he was
amazed that anyone should abandon callings that seemed so easy and
so pleasant for this arduous life on the land.

Why indeed had they come? ... A few months earlier they would have
discovered a thousand reasons and clothed them in words straight
from the heart: weariness of the footway and the pavement, of the
town's sullied air; revolt against the prospect of lifelong slavery;
some chance stirring word of an irresponsible speaker preaching the
gospel of vigour and enterprise, of a free and healthy life upon a
fruitful soil. But a few months ago they could have found glowing
sentences to tell it all ... Now their best was a sorry effort to
evade the question, as they groped for any of the illusions that
remained to them.

"People are not always happy in the cities," said the father.
"Everything is dear, and one is confined."

In their narrow Parisian lodging it had seemed so wonderful a thing
to them, the notion that in Canada they would spend their days out
of doors, breathing the taintless air of a new country, close beside
the mighty forest. The black-flies they had not foreseen, nor
comprehended the depth of the winter's cold; the countless ill turns
of a land that has no pity were undivined.

"Did you picture it to yourselves as you have found it," Chapdelaine
persisted, "the country here, the life?"

"Not exactly," replied the Frenchman in a low voice. "No, not
exactly ..." And a shadow crossed his face which brought from
Ephrem. Surprenant:--"It is rough here, rough and hard!"

Their heads assented, and their eyes fell: three narrow-shouldered
men, their faces with the pallor of the town still upon them after
six months on the land; three men whom a fancy had torn from
counter, office, piano-stool-from the only lives for which they were
bred. For it is not the peasant alone who suffers by uprooting from
his native soil. They were seeing their mistake, and knew they were
too unlike in grain to copy those about them; lacking the strength,
the rude health, the toughened fibre, that training for every task
which fits the Canadian to be farmer, woodsman or carpenter,
according to season and need.

The father was dreamily shaking his head, lost in thought; one of
the sons, elbows on knees, gazed wonderingly at the palms of his
delicate hands, calloused by the rough work of the fields. All three
seemed to be turning over and over in their minds the melancholy
balance-sheet of a failure. Those about them were thinking--"Lorenzo
sold his place for more than it was worth; they have but little
money left and are in hard case; men like these are not built for
living on the land."

Madame Chapdelaine, partly in pity and partly for the honour of
farming, let fall a few encouraging words:--"It is something of a
struggle at the beginning-if you are not used to it; but when your
land is in better order you will see that life becomes easier."

"It is a queer thing," said Conrad Neron, "how every man finds it
equally hard to rest content. Here are three who left their homes
and came this long way to settle and farm, and here am I always
saying to myself that nothing would be so pleasant as to sit quietly
in an office all the day, a pen behind my ear, sheltered from cold
wind and hot sun."

"Everyone to his own notion," declared Lorenzo Surprenant, with
unbiassed mind.

"And your notion is not to stick in Hon-fleur sweating over the
stumps," added Racicot with a loud laugh.

"You are quite right there, and I make no bones about it; that sort
of thing would never have suited me. These men here bought my land-a
good farm, and no one can gainsay it. They wanted to buy a farm and
I sold them mine. But as for myself, I am well enough where I am,
and have no wish to return."

Madame Chapdelaine shook her head. "There is no better life than the
life of a farmer who has good health and owes no debts. He is a free
man, has no boss, owns his beasts, works for his own profit ...
The finest life there is!"

"I hear them all say that," Lorenzo retorted, "one is free, his own
master. And you seem to pity those who work in factories because
they have a boss, and must do as they are told. Free-on the
land-come now!" He spoke defiantly, with more and more animation.

"There is no man in the world less free than a farmer ... When you
tell of those who have succeeded, who are well provided with
everything needful on a farm, who have had better luck than others,
you say.--'Ah, what a fine life they lead! They are comfortably off,
own good cattle.' That is not how to put it. The truth is that their
cattle own them. In all the world there is no 'boss' who behaves as
stupidly as the beasts you favour. Pretty nearly every day they give
you trouble or do you some mischief. Now it is a skittish horse that
runs away or lashes out with his heels; then it is a cow, however
good-tempered, that won't keep still to be milked and tramples on
your toes when the flies annoy her. And even if by good fortune they
don't harm you, they are forever finding a way to destroy your
comfort and to vex you..."

"I know how it is; I was brought up on a farm. And you, most of you
farmers, know how it is too. All the morning you have worked hard,
and go to your house for dinner and a little rest. Then, before you
are well seated at table, a child is yelling:--'The cows are over
the fence;' or 'The sheep are in the crop,' and everyone jumps up
and runs, thinking of the oats or the barley it has been such a
trouble to raise, that these miserable fools are ruining. The men
dash about brandishing sticks till they are out of breath; the women
stand screaming in the farm-yard. And when you have managed to drive
the cows or the sheep into their paddock and put up the rails, you
get back to the house nicely 'rested' to find the pea-soup cold and
full of flies, the pork under the table gnawed by dogs and cats, and
you eat what you can lay your hands on, watching for the next trick
the wretched animals are getting ready to play on you."

"You are their slaves; that's what you are. You tend them, you
clean them, you gather up their dung as the poor do the rich man's
crumbs. It is you who must keep them alive by hard work, because the
earth is miserly and the summer so short. That is the way of it, and
there is no help, as you cannot get on without them; but for cattle
there would be no living on the land. But even if you could ...
even if you could ... still would you have other masters: the
summer, beginning too late and ending too soon; the winter, eating
up seven long months of the year and bringing in nothing; drought
and rain which always come just at the wrong moment..."

"In the towns these things do not matter; but here you have no
defence against them and they do you hurt; and I have not taken into
account the extreme cold, the badness of the roads, the loneliness
of being far away from everything, with no amusements. Life is one
kind of hardship on top of another from beginning to end. It is
often said that only those make a real success who are born and
brought up on the land, and of course that is true; as for the
people in the cities, small danger that they would ever be foolish
enough to put up with such a way of living."

He spoke with heat and volubly--a man of the town who talks every
day with his equals, reads the papers, hears public speakers. The
listeners, of a race easily moved by words, were carried away by his
plaints and criticisms; the very real harshness of their lives was
presented in such a new and startling light as to surprise even
themselves.

However Madame Chapdelaine again shook her head. "Do not say such
things as that; there is no happier life in the world than the life
of a farmer who owns good land."

"Not in these parts, Madame Chapdelaine. You are too far north; the
summer is too short; the grain is hardly up before the frosts come.
Each time that I return from the States, and see the tiny wooden
houses lost in this wilderness-so far from one another that they
seem frightened at being alone-and the woods hemming you in on every
side ... By Heaven! I lose heart for you, I who live here no
longer, and I ask myself how it comes about that all you folk did
not long ago seek a kinder climate where you would find everything
that makes for comfort, where you could go out for a walk in the
winter-time without being in fear of death ..."

Without being in fear of death! Maria shuddered as the thought
swiftly awoke of those dark secrets hidden beneath the ever-lasting
green and white of the forest. Lorenzo Surprenant was right in what
he had been saying; it was a pitiless ungentle land. The menace
lurking just outside the door-the cold-the shrouding snows-the blank
solitude-forced a sudden entrance and crowded about the stove, an
evil swarm sneering presages of ill or hovering in a yet more
dreadful silence:--"Do you remember, my sister, the men, brave and
well-beloved, whom we have slain and hidden in the woods? Their
souls have known how to escape us; but their bodies, their-bodies,
their bodies, none shall ever snatch them from our hands ..."

The voice of the wind at the corners of the house was loud with
hollow laughter, and to Maria it seemed that all gathered within the
wooden walls huddled and spoke low, like men whose lives are under a
threat and who go in dread.

A burden of sadness was upon the rest of the evening, at least for
her. Racicot told stories of the chase: of trapped bears struggling
and growling so fiercely at the sight of the trapper that he loses
courage and falls a-trembling; and then, giving up suddenly when the
hunters come in force and the deadly guns are aimed--giving up,
covering their heads with their paws and whimpering with groans and
outcries almost human, very heart-rending and pitiful.

After these tales came others of ghosts and apparitions; of
blood-curdling visitations or solemn warnings to men who had
blasphemed or spoken ill of the priests. Then, as no one could be
persuaded to sing, they played at cards and the conversation dropped
to more commonplace themes. The only memory that Maria carried away
of the later talk, as the sleigh bore them homeward through the
midnight woods, was of Lorenzo Surprenant extolling the United
States and the magnificence of its great cities, the easy and
pleasant life, the never-ending spectacle of the fine straight
streets flooded with light at evening.

Before she departed Lorenzo said in quiet tones, almost in her
ear.--"To-morrow is Sunday; I shall be over to see you in the
afternoon."

A few short hours of night, a morning of sunlight on the snow, and
again he is by her side renewing his tale of wonders, his
interrupted plea. For it was to her he had been speaking the evening
before; Maria knew it well. The scorn he showed for a country life,
his praises of the town, these were but a preface to the allurements
he was about to offer in all their varied forms, as one shows the
pictures in a book, turning page by page.

"Maria," he began, "you have not the faintest idea! As yet, the most
wonderful things you ever saw were the shops in Roberval, a high
mass, an evening entertainment at the convent with acting. City
people would laugh to think of it! You simply cannot imagine ...
Just to stroll through the big streets in the evening--not on little
plank-walks like those of Roberval, but on fine broad asphalt
pavements as level as a table--just that and no more, what with the
lights, the electric cars coming and going continually, the shops
and the crowds, you would find enough there to amaze you for weeks
together. And then all the amusements one has: theatres, circusses,
illustrated papers, and places everywhere that you can go into for a
nickel--five cents--and pass two hours laughing and crying. To
think, Maria, you do not even know what the moving pictures are!"

He stopped for a little, reviewing in his mind the marvels of the
cinematograph, asking himself whether he could hope to describe
convincingly the fare it provided:--those thrilling stories of young
girls, deserted or astray, which crowd the screen with twelve
minutes of heart-rending misery and three of amends and heavenly
reward in surroundings of incredible luxury;--the frenzied galloping
of cowboys in pursuit of Indian ravishers; the tremendous fusillade;
the rescue at the last conceivable second by soldiers arriving in a
whirlwind, waving triumphantly the star-spangled banner ... after
pausing in doubt he shook his head, conscious that he had no words
to paint such glories.

They walked on snow-shoes side by side over the snow, through the
burnt lands that lie on the Peribonka's high bank above the fall.
Lorenzo had used no wile to secure Maria's company, he simply
invited her before them all, and now he told of his love, in the
same straightforward practical way.

"The first day I saw you, Maria, the very first day ... that is
only the truth! For a long time I had not been back in this country,
and I was thinking what a miserable place it was to live in, that
the men were a lot of simpletons who had never seen anything and the
girls not nearly so quick and clever as they are in the States ...
And then, the moment I set eyes on you, there was I saying to myself
that I was the simpleton, for neither at Lowell nor Boston had I
ever met a girl like yourself. When I returned I used to be thinking
a dozen times a day that some wretched farmer would make love to you
and carry you off, and every time my heart sank. It was on your
account that I came back, Maria, came up here from near Boston,
three days' journey! The business I had, I could have done it all by
letter; it was you I wished to see, to tell you what was in my heart
to say and to hear the answer you would give me."

Wherever the snow was clear for a few yards, free of dead trees and
stumps, and he could lift his eyes without fear of stumbling, they
were fixed upon Maria; between the woollen cap and the long woollen
jersey curving to her vigorous form he saw the outline of her face,
downward turned, expressing only gentleness and patience. Every
glance gave fresh reason for his love but brought him no hint of a
response.

"This ... this is no place for you, Maria. The country is too
rough, the work too hard; barely earning one's bread is killing
toil. In a factory over there, clever and strong as you are, soon
you would be in the way of making nearly as much as I do; but no
need of that if you were my wife. I earn enough for both of us, and
we should have every comfort: good clothes to wear, a pretty flat in
a brick house with gas and hot water, and all sorts of contrivances
you never heard of to save you labour and worry every moment of the
day. And don't let the idea enter your head that all the people are
English. I know many Canadian families who work as I do or even keep
shops. And there is a splendid church with a Canadian priest as
cure--Mr. Tremblay from St. Hyacinthe. You would never be lonesome ..."

Pausing again he surveyed the white plain with its ragged crop of
brown stumps, the bleak plateau dropping a little farther in a long
slope to the levels of the frozen river; meanwhile ransacking his
mind for some final persuasive word.

"I hardly know what to say ... You have always lived here and it
is not possible for you to guess what life is elsewhere, nor would I
be able to make you understand were I to talk forever. But I love
you, Maria, I earn a good wage and I never touch a drop. If you will
marry me as I ask I will take you off to a country that will open
your eyes with astonishment--a fine country, not a bit like this,
where we can live in a decent way and be happy for the rest of our
days."

Maria still was silent, and yet the sentences of Lorenzo Surprenant
beat upon her heart as succeeding waves roll against the shore. It
was not his avowals of love, honest and sincere though they were,
but the lures he used which tempted her. Only of cheap pleasures had
he spoken, of trivial things ministering to comfort or vanity, but
of these alone was she able to conjure up a definite idea. All
else--the distant glamour of the city, of a life new and
incomprehensible to her, full in the centre of the bustling world
and no longer at its very confines--enticed her but the more in its
shimmering remoteness with the mystery of a great light that shines
from afar.

Whatsoever there may be of wonder and exhilaration in the sight and
touch of the crowd; the rich harvests of mind and sense for which
the city dweller has bartered his rough heritage of pride in the
soil, Maria was dimly conscious of as part of this other life in a
new world, this glorious re-birth for which she was already
yearning. But above all else the desire was strong upon her now to
flee away, to escape.

The wind from the east was driving before it a host of melancholy
snow-laden clouds. Threateningly they swept over white ground and
sullen wood, and the earth seemed awaiting another fold of its
winding-sheet; cypress, spruce and fir, close side by side and
motionless, were passive in their attitude of uncomplaining
endurance. The stumps above the snow were like floating wreckage on
a dreary sea. In all the landscape there was naught that spoke of a
spring to come--of warmth and growth; rather did it seem a shard of
some disinherited planet under the eternal rule of deadly cold.

All of her life had Maria known this cold, this snow, the land's
death-like sleep, these austere and frowning woods; now was she
coming to view them with fear and hate. A paradise surely must it
be, this country to the south where March is no longer winter and in
April the leaves are green! At midwinter one takes to the road
without snowshoes, unclad in furs, beyond sight of the cruel forest.
And the cities ... the pavements ...

Questions framed themselves upon her lips. She would know if lofty
houses and shops stood unbrokenly on both sides of the streets, as
she had been told; if the electric cars ran all the year round; if
the living was very dear ... And the answers to her questions
would have satisfied but a little of this eager curiosity, would
scarcely have disturbed the enchanting vagueness of her illusion.

She was silent, however, dreading to speak any word that might seem
like the foreshadowing of a promise. Though Lorenzo gazed at her
long as they walked together across the snow, he was able to guess
nothing of what was passing in her heart.

"You will not have me, Maria? You have no liking for me, or is it,
perhaps, that you cannot make up your mind?" As still she gave no
reply he clung to this idea, fearing that she might hastily refuse
him.

"No need whatever that you should say 'Yes' at once. You have not
known me very long ... But think of what I have said to you. I
will come back, Maria. It is a long journey and costly, but I will
come. And if only you give thought to it, you will see there is no
young fellow here who could give you such a future as I can; because
if you marry me we shall live like human beings, and not have to
kill ourselves tending cattle and grubbing in the earth in this
out-of-the-way corner of the world."

They returned to the house. Lorenzo gossiped a little about his
journey to the States, where the springtime would have arrived
before him, of the plentiful and well-paid work to which his good
clothes and prosperous air bore witness. Then he bade them adieu,
and Maria, whose eyes had carefully been avoiding his, seated
herself by the window, and watched the night and the snow falling
together as she pondered in the deep unrest of her spirit.



CHAPTER XIII

LOVE BEARING CHAINS

No one asked Maria any questions that evening, or on the following
evenings; but some member of the family must have told Eutrope
Gagnon of Lorenzo Surprenant's visit and his evident intentions, for
the next Sunday after dinner came Eutrope in turn, and Maria heard
another suitor declare his love.

François had come in the full tide of summer, from the land of
mystery at the headwaters of the rivers; the memory of his artless
words brought back the dazzling sunshine, the ripened blueberries
and the last blossoms of the laurel fading in the undergrowth; after
him appeared Lorenzo Surprenant offering other gifts,--visions of
beautiful distant cities, of a life abounding in unknown wonders.
When Eutrope spoke, it was in a shamefaced halting way, as though he
foresaw defeat, knowing full well that he bore little in his hands
wherewith to tempt her.

Boldly enough he asked Maria to walk with him, but when they were
dressed and outside the door, they saw that snow was falling. Maria
stood dubiously on the step, a hand on the latch as though she would
return; and Eutrope, unwilling to lose his chance, began forthwith
to speak--hastening as though doubtful that he would be able to say
all that was in his mind.

"You know very well, Maria, how I feel toward you. I said nothing
before as my farm was not so forward that we could live there
comfortably, and moreover I guessed that you liked François Paradis
better than me. But as François is no longer here, and this young
fellow from the States is courting you, I said to myself that I,
too, might try my fortune ..."

The snow was coming now in serried flakes, fluttering whitely for an
instant against the darkly-encircling forest, on the way to join
that other snow with which five months of winter had burdened the
earth.

"It is true enough that I am not rich; but I have two lots of my
own, paid for out and out, and you know the soil is good. I shall
work on it all spring, take the stumps out of the large field below
the ridge of rock, put up some fences, and by May there will be a
fine big field ready for seeding. I shall sow a hundred and thirty
bushels, Maria,--a hundred and thirty bushels of wheat, barley and
oats, without reckoning an acre of mixed grain for the cattle. All
the seed, the best seed-grain, I am going to buy at Roberval,
settling for it on the spot ... I have the money put aside; I
shall pay cash, without running into debt to a soul, and if only we
have an average season there will be a fine crop to harvest. Just
think of it, Maria, a hundred and thirty bushels of good seed in
first-rate land! And in the summer before the hay-making, and then
again before the harvest, will be the best chance for building a
nice tight warm little house, all of tamarack. I have the wood
ready, cut and piled behind my barn; my brother will help me,
perhaps Esdras and Da'Be as well, when they get home. Next winter I
shall go to the shanties, taking a horse with me, and in the spring
I shall bring back not less than two hundred dollars in my pocket.
Then, should you be willing to wait so long for me, would be the
time ..."

Maria was leaning against the door, a hand still upon the latch, her
eyes turned away. Eutrope Gagnon had just this and no more to offer
her: after a year of waiting that she should become his wife, and
live as now she was doing in another wooden house on another
half-cleared farm ... Should do the household work and the
cooking, milk the cows, clean the stable when her man was
away--labour in the fields perhaps, since she was strong and there
would be but two of them ... Should spend her evenings at the
spinning-wheel or in patching old clothes ... Now arid then in
summer resting for half an hour, seated on the door-step, looking
across their scant fields girt by the measureless frowning woods; or
in winter thawing a little patch with her breath on the windowpane,
dulled with frost, to watch the snow falling on the wintry earth and
the forest ... The forest ... Always the inscrutable, inimical
forest, with a host of dark things hiding there--closed round them
with a savage grip that must be loosened little by little, year by
year; a few acres won each spring and autumn as the years pass,
throughout all the long days of a dull harsh life ... No, that she
could not face ...

"I know well enough that we shall have to work hard at first,"
Eutrope went on, "but you have courage, Maria, and are well used to
labour, as I am. I have always worked hard; no one can say that I
was ever lazy, and if only you will marry me it will be my joy to
toil like an ox all the day long to make a thriving place of it, so
that we shall be in comfort before old age comes upon us. I do not
touch drink, Maria, and truly I love you ..."

His voice quivered, and he put out his hand toward the latch to take
hers, or perhaps to hinder her from opening the door and leaving him
without his answer.

"My affection for you ... of that I am not able to speak ..."

Never a word did she utter in reply. Once more a young man was
telling his love, was placing in her hands all he had to give; and
once more she could but hearken in mute embarrassment, only saved
from awkwardness by her immobility and silence. Town-bred girls had
thought her stupid, when she was but honest and truthful; very close
to nature which takes no account of words. In other days when life
was simpler than now it is, when young men paid their
court--masterfully and yet half bashfully--to some deep-bosomed girl
in the ripe fullness of womanhood who had not heard nature's
imperious command, she must have listened thus, in silence; less
attentive to their pleading than to the inner voice, guarding
herself by distance against too ardent a wooing, whilst she awaited
... The three lovers of Maria Chapdelaine were not drawn to her by any charm of gracious
speech, but by her sheer comeliness, and the transparent honest
heart dwelling in her bosom; when they spoke to her of love she was
true to herself, steadfast and serene, saying no word where none was
needful to be said, and for this they loved her only the more.

"This young fellow from the States was ready with fine speeches, but
you must not be carried away by them ..." He caught a hint of
dissent and changed his tone.

"Of course you are quite free to choose, and I have not a word to
say against him. But you would be happier here, Maria, amongst
people like yourself."

Through the falling snow Maria gazed at the rude structure of
planks, between stable and barn, which her father and brother had
thrown together five years before; unsightly and squalid enough it
appeared, now that her fancy had begun to conjure up the stately
buildings of the town. Close and ill-smelling, the floor littered
with manure and foul straw, the pump in one corner that was so hard
to work and set the teeth on edge with its grinding; the
weather-beaten outside, buffeted by wind and never-ending snow--sign
and symbol of what awaited her were she to marry one like Eutrope
Gagnon, and accept as her lot a lifetime of rude toil in this sad
and desolate land ... She shook her head.

"I cannot answer, Eutrope, either yes or no; not just now. I have
given no promise. You must wait."

It was more than she had said to Lorenzo Surprenant, and yet Lorenzo
had gone away with hope in his heart, while Eutrope felt that he had
made his throw and lost. Departing alone, the snow soon hid him. She
entered the house.

* * * * *

March dragged through its melancholy days; cold winds drove the gray
clouds back and forth across the sky, and swept the snow hither and
thither; one must needs consult the calendar of the Roberval grain
merchant to get an inkling that spring was drawing near.

Succeeding days were to Maria like those that had gone before, each
one bringing its familiar duties and the same routine; but the
evenings were different, and were filled with pathetic strivings to
think. Beyond doubt her parents had guessed the truth; but they were
unwilling to force her reserve with their advice, nor did she seek
it. She knew that it rested with her alone to make a choice, to
settle the future course of her life, and she, felt like a child at
school, standing on a platform before watchful eyes, bidden to find
by herself the answer to some knotty question.

And this was her problem: when a girl is grown to womanhood, when
she is good-looking, healthy and strong, clever in all that pertains
to the household and the farm, young men come and ask her to marry,
and she must say "Yes" to this one and "No" to another.

If only François Paradis had not vanished forever in the great
lonely woods, all were then so plain. No need to ask herself what
she ought to do; she would have gone straight to him, guided by a
wise instinct that she might not gainsay, sure of doing what was
right as a child that obeys a command. But François was gone;
neither in the promised springtime nor ever again to return, and the
cure of St. Henri forbade regrets that would prolong the awaiting.

Ah, dear God! How happy had been the early days of this awaiting! As
week followed week something quickened in her heart and shot upward,
like a rich and beauteous sheaf whose opening ears bend low under
their weight. Happiness beyond any dream came dancing to her ...
No, it was stronger and keener yet, this joy of hers. It had been a
great light shining in the twilight of a lonely land, a beacon
toward which one journeys, forgetful of the tears that were about to
flow, saying with glad defiance: "I knew it well--knew that
somewhere on the earth was such a thing as this ..." It was over.
Yes, the gleam was gone. Henceforth must she forget that once it had
shone upon her path, and grope through the dark with faltering
steps.

Chapdelaine and Tit'Bé were smoking in silence by the stove; the
mother knitted stockings; Chien, stretched out with his head between
his paws, blinked sleepily in enjoyment of the good warmth.
Telesphore had dozed off with the catechism open on his knees, and
the little Alma Rose, not yet in bed, was hovering in doubt between
the wish to draw attention to her brother's indolence, and a sense
of shame at thus betraying him.

Maria looked down again, took her work in hand, and her simple mind
pursued a little further its puzzling train of thought. When a girl
does not feel, or feels no longer, that deep mysterious impulse
toward a man singled out from all the rest of the world, what is
left to guide her? For what things should she seek in her marriage?
For a satisfying life, surely; to make a happy home for herself ...

Her parents would like her to marry Eutrope Gagnon--that she
felt--because she would live near them, and again because this life
upon the land was the only one they knew, and they naturally thought
it better than any other. Eutrope was a fine fellow, hard-working
and of kindly disposition, and he loved her; but Lorenzo Surprenant
also loved her; he, likewise, was steady and a good worker; he was a
Canadian at heart, not less than those amongst whom she lived; he
went to church ... And he offered as his splendid gift a world
dazzling to the eye, all the wonders of the city. He would rescue
her from this oppression of frozen earth and gloomy forest.

She could not as yet resolve to say to herself: "I will marry
Lorenzo Surprenant," but her heart had made its choice. The cruel
north-west wind that heaped the snow above François Paradis at the
foot of some desolate cypress bore also to her on its wings the
frown and the harshness of the country wherein she dwelt, and filled
her with hate of the northern winter, the cold, the whitened ground
and the loneliness, of that boundless forest unheedful of the
destinies of men where every melancholy tree is fit to stand in a
home of the dead. Love--all-compelling love--for a brief space had
dwelt within her heart ... Mighty flame, scorching and bright,
quenched now, and never to revive. It left her spirit empty and
yearning; she was fain to seek forgetfulness and cure in that life
afar, among the myriad paler lights of the city.



CHAPTER XIV

INTO THE DEEP SILENCE

There came an evening in April when Madame Chapdelaine would not
take her place at the supper table with the others.

"There are pains through my body and I have no appetite," she said,
"I must have strained myself to-day lifting a bag of flour when I
was making bread. Now something catches me in the back, and I am not
hungry."

No one answered her. Those living sheltered lives take quick alarm
when the mechanism of one of their number goes wrong, but people who
wrestle with the earth for a living feel little surprise if their
labours are too much for them now and then, and the body gives way
in some fibre.

While father and children supped, Madame Chapdelaine sat very still
in her chair beside the stove. She drew her breath hard, and her
broad face was working.

"I am going to bed," she said presently. "A good night's sleep, and
to-morrow morning I shall be all right again; have no doubt of that.
You will see to the baking, Maria."

And indeed in the morning she was up at her usual hour, but when she
had made the batter for the pancakes pain overcame her, and she had
to lie down again. She stood for a minute beside the bed, with both
hands pressed against her back, and made certain that the daily
tasks would be attended to.

"You will give the men their food, Maria, and your father will lend
you a hand at milking the cows if you wish it. I am not good for
anything this morning."

"It will be all right, mother; it will be all right. Take it
quietly; we shall have no trouble."

For two days she kept her bed, with a watchful eye over everything,
directing all the household affairs.

"Don't be in the least anxious," her husband urged again and again.
"There is hardly anything to be done in the house beyond the
cooking, and Maria is quite fit to look after that--everything else
too, by thunder! She is not a little child any longer, and is as
capable as yourself. Lie there quietly, without stirring; and be
easy in your mind, instead of tossing about all the time under the
blankets and making yourself worse...."

On the third day she gave up thinking about the cares of the house
and began to bemoan herself.

"Oh my God!" she wailed. "I have pains all over my body, and my
head is burning. I think that I am going to die."

Her husband tried to cheer her with his Clumsy pleasantries. "You
are going to die when the good God wills it, and according to my way
of thinking that will not be for a while yet. What would He be doing
with you? Heaven is all cluttered with old women, and down here we
have only the one, and she is able to make herself a bit useful,
every now and then ..." But he was beginning to feel anxious, and
took counsel with his daughter.

"I could put the horse in and go as far as La Pipe," he suggested.
"It may be that they have some medicine for this sickness at the
store; or I might talk things over with the cure, and he would tell
me what to do."

Before they had made up their minds night had fallen, and Tit'Bé,
who had been at Eutrope Gagnon's helping him to saw his firewood,
came back bringing Eutrope along with him.

"Eutrope has a remedy," said he. They all gathered round Eutrope, who
took a little tin box from his pocket and opened it deliberately.

"This is what I have," he announced rather dubiously. "They are
little pills. When my brother was bad with his kidneys three years
ago he saw an advertisement in a paper about these pills, and it
said they were the proper thing, so he sent the money for a box, and
he declares it is a good medicine. Of course his trouble did not
leave him at once, but he says that this did him good. It comes from
the States ..."

Without word said they looked at the little gray pills rolling about
on the bottom of the box ... A remedy compounded by some man in a
distant land famed for his wisdom ... And they felt the awe of the
savage for his broth of herbs simmered on a night of the full moon
beneath the medicineman's incantations.

Maria asked doubtfully: "Is it certain that her trouble has only to
do with the kidneys?"

"I thought it was just that, from what Tit'Bé told me."

A motion of Chapdelaine's hand eked out his words.--"She strained
herself lifting a bag of flour, as she says; and now she has pains
everywhere. How can we tell ..."

"The newspaper that spoke of this medicine," Eutrope Gagnon went on,
"put it that whenever a person falls sick and is in pain it is
always the kidneys; and for trouble in the kidneys these pills here
are first-rate. That is what the paper said, and my brother as
well."

"Even if they are not for this very sickness," said Tit'Bé
deferentially, "they are a remedy all the same."

"She suffers, that is one thing certain; we cannot let her go on
like this."

They drew near the bed where the sick woman was moaning and
breathing heavily, attempting from time to time to make slight
movements which were followed by sharper outcries.

"Eutrope has brought you a cure, Laura."

"I have no faith in your cures," she groaned out. But yet she was
ready to look at the little gray pills ever running round in the tin
box as if they were alive.

"My brother took some of these three years ago when he had the
kidney trouble so badly that he was hardly able to work at all, and
he says that they cured him. It is a fine remedy, Madame
Chapdelaine, there is not a question of it!" His former doubts had
vanished in speech and he felt wholly confident. "This is going to
cure you, Madame Chapdelaine, as surely as the good God is above us.
It is a medicine of the very first class; my brother had it sent
expressly from the States. You may be sure that you would never find
a medicine like this in the store at La Pipe."

"It cannot make her worse?" Maria asked, some doubt lingering. "It
is not a poison, or anything of that sort?"

With one voice, in an indignant tone, the three men protested: "Do
harm? Tiny pills no bigger than that!"

"My brother took nearly a box of them, and according to his account
it was only good they did him."

When Eutrope departed he left the box of pills; the sick woman had
not yet agreed to try them, but her objections grew weaker with
their urging. In the middle of the night she took a couple, and two
more in the morning, and as the hours passed they all waited in
confidence for the virtue of the medicine to declare itself. But
toward midday they had to bow to the facts: she was no easier and
did not cease her moaning. By evening the box was empty, and at the
falling of the night her groans were filling the household with
anguished distress, all the keener as they had no medicine now in
which to place their trust.

Maria was up several times in the night, aroused by her mother's
more piercing cries; she always found her lying motionless on her
side, and this position seemed to increase the suffering and the
stiffness, so that her groans were pitiful to hear.

"What ails you, mother? Are you not feeling any better?"

"Ah God, how I suffer! How I do suffer! I cannot stir myself, not
the least bit, and even so the pain is as bad as ever. Give me some
cold water, Maria; I have the most terrible thirst."

Several times Maria gave her mother water, but at last she became
afraid. "Maybe it is not good for you to drink so much. Try to bear
the thirst for a little."

"But I cannot bear it, I tell you-the thirst and the pain all
through my body, and my head that bums like fire ... My God! It is
certain that I am to die."

A little before daylight they both fell asleep; but soon Maria was
awakened by her father who laid his hand upon her shoulder and
whispered:--"I am going to harness the horse to go to Mistook for
the doctor, and on the way through La Pipe I shall also speak to the
cure. It is heart-breaking to hear her moan like this."

Her eyes open in the ghostly dawn, Maria gave ear to the sounds of
his departure: the banging of the stable door against the wall; the
horse's hoofs thudding on the wood of the alley; muffled commands to
Charles Eugene: "Hold up, there! Back ... Back up! Whoa!" Then the
tinkle of the sleigh-bells. In the silence that followed, the sick
woman groaned two or three times in her sleep; Maria watched the wan
light stealing into the house and thought of her father's journey,
trying to reckon up the distances he must travel.

From their house to Honfleur, eight miles; from Honfleur to La Pipe,
six. There her father would speak with the cure, and then pursue his
way to Mistook. She corrected herself, and for the ancient Indian
name that the people of the country use, gave it the official one
bestowed in baptism by the church--St. Coeur de Marie. From La Pipe
to St. Coeur de Marie, eight miles ... --Eight and six and then eight.
Growing confused, she said to herself--"Anyway it is far, and the
roads will be heavy."

Again she felt affrighted at their loneliness, which once hardly
gave her a thought. All was well enough when people were in health
and merry, and one had no need of help; but with trouble or sickness
the woods around seemed to shut them cruelly away from all
succour--the woods where horses sink to the chest in snow, where
storms smother one in mid-April.

The mother strove to turn in her sleep, waked with a cry of anguish,
and the continual moaning began anew. Maria rose and sat by the bed,
thinking of the long day just beginning in which she would have
neither help nor counsel.

All the dragging hours were burdened with lamentable sound; the
groaning from the bed where the sick woman lay never ceased, and
haunted the narrow wooden dwelling. Now and then some household
noise broke in upon it: the clashing of plates, the clang of the
opened stove door, the sound of feet on the planking, Tit'Bé
stealing into the house, clumsy and anxious, to ask for news.

"Is she no better?"

Maria answered by a movement of the head. They both stood gazing for
a time at the motionless figure under the woollen blankets, giving
ear to the sounds of distress; then Tit'Bé departed to his small
outdoor duties. When Maria had put the house in order she took up
her patient watching, and the sick woman's agonizing wails seemed to
reproach her.

From hour to hour she kept reckoning the times and the distances.
"My father should not be far from St. Coeur de Marie ... If the
doctor is there they will rest the horse for a couple of hours and
come back together. But the roads must be very bad; at this time, in
the spring, they are sometimes hardly passable."

And then a little later:--"They should have left; perhaps in
going through La Pipe they will stop to speak to the cure; perhaps
again he may have started as soon as he heard, without waiting for
them. In that case he might be here at any moment."

But the fall of night brought no one, and it was only about seven
o'clock that the sound of sleigh-bells was heard, and her father and
the doctor arrived. The latter came into the house alone, put his
bag on the table and began to pull off his overcoat, grumbling all
the while.

"With the roads in this condition," said he, "it is no small affair
to get about and visit the sick. And as for you folk, you seem to
have hidden yourselves as far in the woods as you could. Great
Heavens! You might very well all die without a soul coming to help
you."

After warming himself for a little while at the stove he approached
the bedside. "Well, good mother, so we have taken the notion to be
sick, just like people who have money to spend on such things!"

But after a brief examination he ceased to jest, saying:--"She
really is sick, I do believe."

It was with no affectation that he spoke in the fashion of the
peasantry; his grandfather and his father were tillers of the soil,
and he had gone straight from the farm to study medicine in Quebec,
amongst other young fellows for the most part like himself--grandsons,
if not sons of farmers--who had all clung to the plain country manner
and the deliberate speech of their fathers. He was tall and heavily
built, with a grizzled moustache, and his large face wore the
slightly aggrieved expression of one whose native cheerfulness is
being continually dashed through listening to the tale of others'
ills for which he is bound to show a decent sympathy.

Chapdelaine came in when he had unharnessed and fed the horse. He
and his children sat at a little distance while the doctor was going
through his programme.

Every one of them was thinking:--"Presently we shall know what is
the matter, and the doctor will give her the right medicines." But
when the examination was ended, instead of turning to the bottles in
his bag, he seemed uncertain and began to ask interminable
questions. How had it happened, and where, particularly, did she
feel pain ... Had she ever before suffered from the same trouble ...
The answers did not seem to enlighten him very much; then he
turned to the sick woman herself, only to receive confused
statements and complaints.

"If it is just a wrench that she has given herself," at length he
announced, "she will get well without any meddling; there is nothing
for her to do but to stay quietly in bed. But if there is some
injury within, to the kidneys or another organ, it may be a grave
affair." He was conscious that his state of doubt was disappointing
to the Chapdelaines, and was anxious to restore his medical
reputation.

"Internal lesions are serious things, and often one cannot detect
them. The wisest man in the world could tell you no more than I. We
shall have to wait ... But perhaps it is not that we have to deal
with." After some further investigation he shook his head. "Of
course I can give something that will keep her from suffering like
this."

The leather bag now disclosed its wonderworking phials; fifteen
drops of a yellowish drug were diluted with two fingers of water,
and the sick woman, lifted up in bed, managed to swallow this with
sharp cries of pain. Then there was apparently nothing more to be
done; the men lit their pipes, and the doctor, with his feet against
the stove, held forth as to his professional labours and the cures
he had wrought.

"Illnesses like these," said he, "where one cannot discover
precisely what is the matter, are more baffling to a doctor than the
gravest disorders--like pneumonia now, or even typhoid fever which
carry off three-quarters of the people hereabouts who do not die of
old age. Well, typhoid and pneumonia, I cure these every month in
the year. You know Viateur Tremblay, the postmaster at St. Henri ..."

He seemed a little hurt that Madame Chapdelaine should be the victim
of an obscure malady, hard to diagnose, and had not been taken down
with one of the two complaints he was accustomed to treat with such
success, and he gave an account by chapter and verse of the manner
in which he had cured the postmaster of St. Henri. From that they
passed on to the country news--news carried by word of mouth from
house to house around Lake St. John, and greeted a thousandfold more
eagerly than tidings of wars and famines, since the gossipers always
manage to connect it with friend or relative in a country where all
ties of kinship, near or far, are borne scrupulously in mind.

Madame Chapdelaine ceased moaning and seemed to be asleep. The
doctor, considering that he had done all that was expected of him,
for the evening at least, knocked the ashes out of his pipe and rose
to go.

"I shall sleep at Honfleur," said he, "I suppose your horse is fit
to take me so far? There is no need for you to come, I know the
road. I shall stay with Ephrem, Surprenant, and come back in the
morning."

Chapdelaine was a little slow to make reply, recalling the stiff
day's work his old beast had already accomplished, but at the end he
went out to harness Charles Eugene once more. In a few minutes the
doctor was on the road, leaving the family to themselves as usual.

A great stillness reigned in the house. The comfortable thought was
with them all:--"Anyway the medicine he has given her is a good
one; she groans no longer." But scarce an hour had gone by before
the sick woman ceased to feel the effect of the too feeble drug,
became conscious again, tried to turn herself in bed and screamed
out with pain. They were all up at once and crowding about her in
their concern; she opened her eyes, and after groaning in an
agonized way began to weep unrestrainedly.

"O Samuel, I am dying, there can be no doubt of it."

"No! No! You must not think that."

"Yes, I know that I am dying. I feel it. The doctor is only an old
fool, and he cannot tell what to do. He is not even able to say what
the trouble is, and the medicine he gave me is useless; it has done
me no good. I tell you I am dying."

The failing words were hindered with her groaning, and tears coursed
down the heavy cheeks. Husband and children looked at her, struck to
the very earth with grief. The footstep of death was sounding in the
house. They knew themselves cut off from all the world, helpless,
remote, without even a horse to bring them succour. The cruel
treachery of it all held them speechless and transfixed, with
streaming eyes.

In their midst appeared Eutrope Gagnon.

"And I who was thinking to find her almost well. This doctor, now ..."

Chapdelaine broke out, quite beside himself:--"This doctor is not
a bit of use, and I shall tell him so plainly, myself. He came here,
he gave her a drop of some miserable stuff worth nothing at all in
the bottom of a cup, and he is off to sleep in the village as if his
pay was earned! Not a thing has he done but tire out my horse, but
he shall not have a copper from me, not a single copper..."

Eutrope's face was very grave, and he shook his head as he
declared:--"Neither have I any faith in doctors. Now if we had only
thought of fetching a bone-setter--such a man as Tit'Sebe of
St. Felicien ..." Every face was turned to him and the tears ceased
flowing.

"Tit'Sebe!" exclaimed Maria. "And you think he could help in a case
like this?" Both Eutrope and Chapdelaine hastened to avow their
trust in him.

"There is no doubt whatever that Tit'Sebe can make people well. He
was never through the schools, but he knows how to cure. You heard
of Nazaire Gaudreau who fell from the top of a barn and broke his
back. The doctors came to see him, and the best they could do was to
give the Latin name for his hurt and say that he was going to die.
Then they went and fetched Tit'Sebe, and Tit'Sebe cured him." Every
one of them knew the healer's repute and hope sprang up again in
their hearts.

"Tit'Sebe is a first-rate man, and a man who knows how to make sick
people well. Moreover he is not greedy for money. You go and you
fetch him, you pay him for his time, and he cures you. It was he who
put little Romeo Boilly on his legs again after being run over by a
wagon loaded with planks."

The sick woman had relapsed into stupor, and was moaning feebly with
her eyes closed.

"I will go and get him if you like," suggested Eutrope.

"But what will you do for a horse?" asked Maria. "The doctor has
Charles Eugene at Honfleur."

Chapdelaine clenched his fist in wrath and swore through his
teeth:--"The old rascal!"

Eutrope thought a moment before speaking. "It makes no difference. I
will go just the same. If I walk to Honfleur, I shall easily find
someone there who will lend me a horse and sleigh--Racicot, or
perhaps old Neron."

"It is thirty-five miles from here to St. Felicien and the roads
are heavy."

"I will go just the same."

He, departed forthwith, thinking as he went at a jog-trot over the
snow of the grateful look that Maria had given him. The family made
ready for the night, computing meanwhile these new distances ...
Seventy miles there and back ... Roads deep in snow. The lamp was
left burning, and till morning the voice from the bed was never
hushed. Sometimes it was sharp with pain; sometimes it weakly strove
for breath. Two hours after daylight the doctor and the cure of St.
Henri appeared together.

"It was impossible for me to come sooner," the cure explained, "but
I am here at last, and I picked up the doctor in the village." They
sat at the bedside and talked in low tones. The doctor made a fresh
examination, but it was the cure who told the result of it. "There
is little one can say. She does not seem any worse, but this is not
an ordinary sickness. It is best that I should confess her and give
her absolution; then we shall both go away and be back again the day
after to-morrow."

He returned to the bed, and the others went over and sat by the
window. For some, minutes the two voices were heard in question and
response; the one feeble and broken by suffering; the other
confident, grave, scarcely lowered for the solemn interrogation.
After some inaudible words a hand was raised in a gesture which
instantly bowed the heads of all those in the house. The priest
rose.

Before departing the doctor gave Maria a little bottle with
instructions. "Only if she should suffer greatly, so that she cries
out, and never more than fifteen drops at a time. And do not let her
have any cold water to drink."

She saw them to the door, the bottle in her hand. Before getting
into the sleigh the cure took Maria aside and spoke a few words to
her. "Doctors do what they can," said he in a simple unaffected way,
"but only God Himself has knowledge of disease. Pray with all your
heart, and I shall say a mass for her to-morrow--a high mass with
music, you understand."

All day long Maria strove to stay the hidden advances of the
disorder with her prayers, and every time that she returned to the
bedside it was with a half hope that a miracle had been wrought,
that the sick woman would cease from her groaning, sleep for a few
hours and awake restored to health. It was not so to be; the moaning
ceased not, but toward evening it died away to sighing, continual
and profound--nature's protest against a burden too heavy to be
borne, or the slow inroad of death-dealing poison.

About midnight came Eutrope Gagnon, bringing Tit'Sebe the
bone-setter. He was a little, thin, sad-faced man with very kind
eyes. As always when called to a sick-bed, he wore his clothes of
ceremony, of dark wellworn cloth, which he bore with the awkwardness
of the peasant in Sunday attire. But the strong brown hands beyond
the thread-bare sleeves moved in a way to inspire confidence. They
passed over the limbs and body of Madame Chapdelaine with the most
delicate care, nor did they draw from her a single cry of pain;
thereafter he sat for a long time motionless beside the couch,
looking at her as though awaiting guidance from a source beyond
himself. But when at last he broke the silence it was to say: "Have
you sent for the cure? ... He has been here. And will he return?
To-morrow; that is well."

After another pause he made his frank avowal.--"There is nothing I
can do for her. Something has gone wrong within, about which I know
nothing; were there broken bones I could have healed them. I should
only have had to feel them with my hands, and then the good God
would have told me what to do and I should have cured her. But in
this sickness of hers I have no skill. I might indeed put a blister
on her back, and perhaps that would draw away-the blood and relieve
her for a time. Or I could give her a draught made from beaver
kidneys; it is useful when the kidneys are affected, as is well
known. But I think that neither the blister nor the draught would
work a cure."

His speech was so honest and straightforward that he made them one
and all feel what manner of thing was a disorder of the human
frame--the strangeness and the terror of what is passing behind the
closed door, which those without can only fight clumsily as they
grope in dark uncertainty.

"She will die if that be God's pleasure."

Maria broke into quiet tears; her father, not yet understanding, sat
with his mouth half-open, and neither moved nor spoke. The
bone-setter, this sentence given, bowed his head and held his
pitiful eyes for long upon the sick woman. The browned hands that
now availed him not lay upon his knees; leaning forward a little,
his back bent, the gentle sad spirit seemed in silent communion with
its maker--"Thou hast bestowed upon me the gift of healing bones
that are broken, and I have healed them; but Thou hast denied me
power over such ills as these; so must I let this poor woman die."

For the first time now the deep marks of illness upon the mother's
face appeared to husband and children as more than the passing
traces of suffering, as imprints from the hand of death. The
hard-drawn breath rattling in her throat no longer betokened
conscious pain, but was the last blind remonstrance of the body rent
by nearing dissolution.

"You do not think she will die before the cure comes back?" Maria
asked.

Tit'Sebe's head and hand showed that he was helpless to answer. "I
cannot tell ... If your horse is able you would do well to seek
him with the daylight."

Their eyes searched the window, as yet only a square of darkness,
and then returned to her who lay upon the bed ... But five days
ago a hearty, high-spirited woman, in full health of mind and body
... It could not be that she was to die so soon as that. ... But
knowing now the sad inevitableness, every glance found a subtle
change, some fresh token that this bed-ridden woman groaning in her
blindness was no more the wife and mother they had known so long.

Half an hour went by; after casting his eyes toward the window
Chapdelaine arose hurriedly, saying.--"I am going to put the
horse in."

Tit'Sebe nodded. "That is well; you had better harness; it is near
day."

"Yes. I am going to put the horse in," Chapdelaine repeated. But at
the moment of his departure it swept over him suddenly that in going
to bring the Blessed Sacrament he would be upon a solemn and a final
errand, significant of death. The thought held him still irresolute.
"I am going to put the horse in." Shifting from foot to foot, he
gave a last look at his wife and at length went out.

Not long after the coming of day the wind rose, and soon was
sounding hoarsely about the house. "It is from the nor'west; there
will be a blow," said Tit'Sebe.

Maria looked toward the window and sighed. "Only two days ago snow
fell, and now it will be raised and drift. The roads were heavy
enough before; father and the cure are going to have trouble getting
through."

But the bone-setter shook his head. "They may have a little
difficulty on the road, but they will get here all the same. A
priest who brings the Blessed Sacrament has more than the strength
of a man." His mild eyes shone with the faith that knows no bounds.

"Yes, power beyond the strength of a man has a priest bearing the
Blessed Sacrament. It was three years ago that they summoned me to
care for a sick man on the lower Mistassini; at once I saw that I
could do nothing for him, and I bade them go fetch a priest. It was
night-time and there was not a man in the house, the father himself
being sick and his boys quite young. And so at the last it was I
that went. On the way back we had to cross the river; the ice had
just gone out--it was in the spring--and as yet not a boat had been
put into the water. We found a great heavy tub that had been lying
in the sand all winter, and when we tried to run her down to the
water she was buried so deep in the sand and was so heavy that the
four of us could not so much as make her budge. Simon Martel was
there, big Lalancette of St. Methode, a third I cannot call to mind,
and myself; and we four, hauling and shoving to break our hearts as
we thought of this poor fellow on the other side of the river who
was in the way of dying like a heathen, could not stir that boat a
single inch. Well, the cure came forward; he laid his hand on the
gunwale--just laid his hand on the gunwale, like that--'Give one
more shove,' said he; and the boat seemed to start of herself and
slipped down to the water as though she were alive. The sick man
received the sacrament all right, and died like a Christian just as
day was breaking. Yes, a priest has strength beyond the strength of
men."

Maria was still sighing, but her heart discovered a melancholy peace
in the certainty and nearness of death. This unknown disorder, the
dread of what might be coming, these were dark and terrifying
phantoms against which one strove blindly, uncomprehendingly. But
when one was face to face with death itself all to be done was
plain--ordained these many centuries by laws beyond dispute. By day
or night, from far or near, the cure comes bearing the Holy
Sacrament-across angry rivers in the spring, over the treacherous
ice, along roads choked with snow, fighting the bitter north-west
wind; aided by miracles, he never fails; he fulfils his sacred
office, and thenceforward there is room for neither doubt nor fear.
Death is but a glorious preferment, a door that opens to the joys
unspeakable of the elect.

The wind had risen and was shaking the Partitions as window-panes
rattle in a sudden gust. The nor'wester came howling over the dark
tree-tops, fell upon the clearing about the little wooden
buildings--house, stable, barn--in' squalls and-wicked whirlwinds
that sought to lift the roof and smote the walls like a
battering-ram, before sweeping onward to the forest in a baffled
fury. The house trembled from base to chimneytop, and swayed on its
foundation in such a fashion that the inmates, feeling the
onslaught, hearing the roar and shriek of the foe, were almost as
sensible of the terrors of the storm as though they were exposed to
it; lacking the consciousness of safe retreat that belongs to those
who are sheltered by strong walls of stone.

Tit'Sebe cast his eyes about. "A good house you have here; tightly
made and warm. Your father and the boys built it, did they not?
Moreover, you must have a good bit of land cleared by this time ..."

So loud was the wind that they did not hear the sound of
sleigh-bells, and suddenly the door flew open against the wall and
the cure of St. Henri entered, bearing the Host in his raised hands.
Maria and Tit'Sebe fell upon their knees; Tit'Bé ran to shut the
door, then also knelt. The priest put off the heavy fur coat and the
cap white with snow drawn down to his eyes, and instantly approached
the sick-bed as heaven's envoy bringing pardon and peace.

Ah! the assurance, the comfort of the divine promise which dispels
the awful mists of death! While the priest performed the sacred
rites, and his low words mingled with the sighs of the dying woman,
Samuel Chapdelaine and his children were praying with bended heads;
in some sort consoled, released from anxiousness and doubt,
confident that a sure pact was then concluding with the Almighty for
the blue skies of Paradise spangled with stars of gold as a rightful
heritage.

Afterwards the cure warmed himself by the stove; then they prayed
together for a time, kneeling by the bed.

Toward four o'clock the wind leaped to the south-east, and the storm
ended swiftly as a broken wave sinks backward from the shore; in the
strange deep silence after the tumult the mother sighed, sighed once
again, and died.



CHAPTER XV

THAT WE PERISH NOT

EPHREM SURPRENANT pushed open the door and stood upon the threshold.

"I have come." He found no other words, and waited there motionless
for a few seconds, tongue-tied, while his eyes travelled from
Chapdelaine to Maria, from Maria to the children who sat very still
and quiet by the table; then he plucked off his cap hastily, as if
in amends for his forgetfulness, shut the door behind him and moved
across to the bed where the dead woman lay.

They had altered its place, turning the head to the wall and the
foot toward the centre of the house, so that it might be approached
on both sides. Close to the wall two lighted candles stood on
chairs; one of them set in a large candlestick of white metal which
the visitors to the Chapdelaine home had never seen before, while
for holding the other Maria had found nothing better than a glass
bowl used in the summer time for blueberries and wild raspberries,
on days of ceremony.

The candlestick shone, the bowl sparkled in the flames which lighted
but feebly the face of the dead. The days of suffering through which
she had passed, or death's final chill had given the features a
strange pallor and delicacy, the refinement of a woman bred in the
city. Father and children were at first amazed, and then perceived
in this the tremendous consequence of her translation beyond and far
above them.

Ephrem. Surprenant bent his eyes upon the face for a little, and
then kneeled. The prayers he began to murmur were inaudible, but
when Maria and Tit'Bé came and knelt beside him he drew from a
pocket his string of large beads and began to tell them in a low
voice. The chaplet ended, he sat himself in silence by the table,
shaking his head sadly from time to time as is seemly in the house
of mourning, and because his own grief was deep and sincere.

At last he discovered speech. "It is a heavy loss. You were
fortunate in your wife, Samuel; no one may question that. Truly you
were fortunate in your wife."

This said, he could go no further; he sought in vain for some words
of sympathy, and at the end stumbled into other talk. "The weather
is quite mild this evening; we soon shall have rain. Everyone is
saying that it is to be an early spring."

To the countryman, all things touching the soil which gives him
bread, and the alternate seasons which lull the earth to sleep and
awaken it to life, are of such moment that one may speak of them
even in the presence of death with no disrespect. Their eyes turned
quite naturally to the square of the little window, but the night
was black and they could discern nothing.

Ephrem Surprenant began anew to praise her who was departed. "In
all the parish there was not a braver-spirited woman than she, nor a
cleverer housewife. How friendly too, and what a kind welcome she
always gave a visitor! In the old parishes--yes! and even in the
towns on the railway, not many would be found to match her. It is
only the truth to say that you were rarely suited in your wife ...
Soon afterwards he rose, and, leaving the house, his face was dark
with sorrow.

A long silence followed, in which Samuel Chapdelaine's head nodded
slowly towards his breast and it seemed as though he were falling
asleep. Maria spoke quickly to him, in fear of his
offending:--"Father! Do not sleep!"

"No! No!" He sat up straight on his chair and squared his shoulders
but since his eyes were closing in spite of him, he stood up
hastily, saying:--"Let us recite another chaplet."

Kneeling together beside the bed, they told the chaplet bead by
bead. Rising from their knees they heard the rain patter against the
window and on the shingles. It was the first spring rain and
proclaimed their freedom: the winter ended, the soil soon to
reappear, rivers once more running their joyous course, the earth
again transformed like some lovely girl released at last from an
evil spell by touch of magic wand. But they did not allow themselves
to be glad in this house of death, nor indeed did they feel the
happiness of it in the midst of their hearts' deep affliction.

Opening the window they moved back to it and hearkened to the
tapping of the great drops upon the roof. Maria saw that her
father's head had fallen, and that he was very still; she thought
his evening drowsiness was mastering him again, but when about to
waken him with a word, he it was who sighed and began to speak.

"Ephrem. Surprenant said no more than the truth. Your mother was a
good woman, Maria; you will not find her like."

Maria's head answered him "Yes," but her lips were pressed close.

"Full of courage and good counsel, that she has been throughout her
life; but it was chiefly in the early days after we were married,
and then again when Esdras and yourself were little, that she showed
herself the woman she was. The wife of a small farmer looks for no
easy life, but women who take to their work as well and as
cheerfully as she did in those days, Maria, are hard to find."

Maria faltered:--"I know, father; I know it well;" and she dried
her eyes for her heart was melting into tears.

"When we took up our first land at Normandin we had two cows and
very little pasture for them, as nearly all our lot was in standing
timber and hard to win for the plough. As for me, I picked up my ax
and I said to her:--'Laura, I am going to clear land for you.' And
from morning till night it was chop, chop, chop, without ever coming
back to the house except for dinner; and all that time she did the
work of the house and the cooking, she looked after the cattle,
mended the fences, cleaned the cow-shed, never rested from her
toiling; and then half-a-dozen times a day she would come outside
the door and stand for a minute looking at me, over there by the
fringe of the woods, where I was putting my back into felling the
birches and the spruce to make a patch of soil for her.

"Then in the month of July our well must needs dry up; the cows had
not a drop of water to slake their thirst and they almost stopped
giving milk. So when I was hard at it in the woods the mother went
off to the river with a pail in either hand, and climbed the steep
bluff eight or ten times together with these brimming, and her feet
that slipped back in the running sand, till she had filled a barrel;
and when the barrel was full she got it on a wheelbarrow, and
wheeled it off herself to empty it into the big tub in the
cow-pasture more than three hundred yards from the house, just below
the rocks. It was not a woman's work, and I told her often enough to
leave it to me, but she always spoke up briskly:--'Don't you think
about that--don't think about anything--clear a farm for me.' And
she would laugh to cheer me up, but I saw well enough this was too
much for her, and that she was all dark under the eyes with the
labour of it.

"Well, I caught up my ax and was off to the woods; and I laid into
the birches so lustily that chips flew as thick as your wrist, all
the time saying to myself that the wife I had was like no other, and
that if the good God only kept me in health I would make her the
best farm in the countryside."

The rain was ever sounding on the roof now and then a gust drove
against the window great drops which ran down the panes like
slow-falling tears. Yet a few hours of rain and the soil would be
bare, streams would dance down every slope; a few more days and they
would hear the thundering of the falls.

"When we took up other land above Mistassini," Samuel Chapdelaine
continued, "it was the same thing over again; heavy work and
hardship for both of us alike; but she was always full of courage
and in good heart ... We were in the midst of the forest, but as
there were some open spaces of rich grass among the rocks we took to
raising sheep. One evening He was silent for a little, and when he
began speaking again his eyes were fixed intently upon Maria, as
though he wished to make very clear to her what he was about to say.

"It was in September; the time when all the great creatures of the
woods become dangerous. A man from Mistassini who was coming down
the river in a canoe landed near our place and spoke to us
thiswise:--'Look after your sheep; the bears came and killed a
heifer last week quite close to the houses.' So your mother and I
went off that evening to the pasture to drive the sheep into the pen
for the night so that the bears would not devour them.

"I took one side and she the other, as the sheep used to scatter
among the alders. It was growing dark, and suddenly I heard Laura
cry out: 'Oh, the scoundrels!' Some animals were moving in the
bushes, and it was plain to see they were not sheep, because in the
woods toward evening sheep are white patches. So, ax in hand, I
started off running as hard as I could. Later on, when we were on
the way back to the house, your mother told me all about it. She had
come across a sheep lying dead, and two bears that were just going
to eat it. Now it takes a pretty good man, one not easily frightened
and with a gun in his hand, to face a bear in September; as for a
woman empty-handed, the best thing she can do is to run for it and
not a soul will blame her. But your mother snatched a stick from the
ground and made straight for the bears, screaming at them:--'Our
beautiful fat sheep! Be off with you, you ugly thieves, or I will do
for you!' I got there at my best speed, leaping over the stumps;
but by that time the bears had cleared off into the woods without
showing fight, scared as could be, because she had put the fear of
death into them."

Maria listened breathlessly; asking herself if it was really her
mother who had done this thing-the mother whom she had always known
so gentle and tender-hearted; who had never given Telesphore a
little rap on the head without afterwards taking him on her knees to
comfort him, adding her own tears to his, and declaring that to slap
a child was something to break one's heart.

The brief spring shower was already spent; through the clouds the
moon was showing her face--eager to discover what was left of the
winter's snow after this earliest rain. As yet the ground was
everywhere white; the night's deep silence told them that many days
must pass before they would hear again the dull roaring of the
cataract; but the tempered breeze whispered of consolation and
promise.

Samuel Chapdelaine lapsed into silence for a while, his head bowed,
his hands resting upon his knees, dreaming of the past with its
toilsome years that were yet so full of brave hopes. When he took up
his tale it was in a voice that halted, melancholy with
self-reproach.

"At Normandin, at Mistassini and the other places we have lived I
always worked hard; no one can say nay to that. Many an acre of
forest have I cleared and I have built houses and barns, always
saying to myself that one day we should have a comfortable farm
where your mother would live as do the women in the old parishes,
with fine smooth fields all about the house as far as the eye could
see, a kitchen garden, handsome well-fed cattle in the farm-yard ...
And, after it all, here is she dead in this half-savage spot,
leagues from other houses and churches, and so near the bush that
some nights one can hear the foxes bark. And it is my fault that she
has died so ... My fault ... My fault." Remorse seized him; he
shook his head at the pity of it, his eyes upon the floor.

"Many times it happened, after we had spent five or six years in
one place and all had gone well, that we were beginning to get
together a nice property--good pasturage, broad fields ready for
sowing, a house lined inside with pictures from the papers ...
Then people came and settled about us; we had but to wait a little,
working on quietly, and soon we should have been in the midst of a
well-to-do settlement where Laura could have passed the rest of her
days in happiness ... And then all of a sudden I lost heart; I
grew sick and tired of my work and of the countryside; I began to
hate the very faces of those who had taken up land near-by and used
to come to see us, thinking that we should be pleased to have a
visitor after being so long out of the way of them. I heard people
saying that farther off toward the head of the Lake there was good
land in the forest; that some folk from St. Gedeon spoke of settling
over on that side; and forthwith I began to hunger and thirst for
this spot they were talking about, that I had never seen in my life
and where not a soul lived, as for the place of my birth ...

"Well, in those days, when the work was done, instead of smoking
beside the stove I would go out to the door-step and sit there
without moving, like a man homesick and lonely; and everything I saw
in front of me--the place I had made with these two hands after so
much of labour and sweat--the fields, the fences, over to the rocky
knoll that shut us in--I detested them all till I seemed ready to go
out of my mind at the very sight of them.

"And then your mother would come quietly up behind me. She also
would look out across our place, and I knew that she was pleased
with it to the bottom of her heart because it was beginning to look
like the old parish where she had grown up, and where she would so
gladly have spent her days. But instead of telling me that I was no
better than a silly old fool for wishing to leave--as most women
would have done-and finding hard things to say about my folly, she
only sighed a little as she thought of the drudgery that was to
begin all over again somewhere back in the woods, and kindly and
softly she would say to me:--'Well, Samuel! Are we soon to be on the
move once more?' When she said that I could not answer, for I was
speechless with very shame at thinking of the wretched life I had
given her; but I knew well enough that it would end in our moving
again and pushing on to the north, deeper into the woods, and that
she would be with me and take her share in this hard business of
beginning anew--as cheerful and capable and good-humoured as ever,
without one single word of reproach or spitefulness."

He was silent after that, and seemed to ponder long his sorrow and
the things which might have been. Maria, sighing, passed a hand
across her face as though she would brush away a disquieting vision;
but in very truth there was nothing she wished to forget. What she
heard had moved her profoundly, and she felt in a dim and troubled
way that this story of a hard life so bravely lived had for her a
deep and timely significance and held some lesson if only she might
understand it.

"How little do we know people!" was the thought that filled her
mind. Since her mother had crossed the threshold of death she seemed
to wear a new aspect, not of this world; and now all the homely and
familiar traits endearing her to them were being overshadowed by
other virtues well-nigh heroic in their quality.

To pass her days in these lonely places when she would have dearly
loved the society of other human beings and the unbroken peace of
village life; to strive from dawn till nightfall, spending all her
strength in a thousand heavy tasks, and yet from dawn till nightfall
never losing patience nor her happy tranquillity; continually to see
about her only the wilderness, the great pitiless forest, and to
hold in the midst of it all an ordered way of life, the gentleness
and the joyousness which are the fruits of many a century sheltered
from such rudeness--was it not surely a hard thing and a worthy? And
the recompense? After death, a little word of praise.

Was it worth the cost? The question scarcely framed itself with such
clearness in her mind, but so her thoughts were tending. Thus to
live, as hardly, as courageously, and to be so sorely missed when
she departed, few women were fit for this. As for herself ...

The sky, flooded with moonlight, was of a wonderful lambency and
depth; across the whole arch of heaven a band of cloud, fashioned
strangely into carven shapes, defiled in solemn march. The white
ground no longer spoke of chill and desolateness, for the air was
soft; and by some magic of the approaching spring the snow appeared
to be only a mask covering the earth's face, in nowise terrifying--a
mask one knew must soon be lifted.

Maria seated by the little window fixed her unconscious eyes upon
the sky and the fields stretching away whitely to the environing
woods, and of a sudden it was borne to her that the question she was
asking herself had just received its answer. To dwell in this land
as her mother had dwelt, and, dying thus, to leave behind her a
sorrowing husband and a record of the virtues of her race, she knew
in her heart she was fit for that. In reckoning with herself there
was no trace of vanity; rather did the response seem from without.
Yes, she was able; and she was filled with wonderment as though at
the shining of some unlooked-for light.

Thus she too could live; but ... it was not as yet in her heart so
to do ... In a little while, this season of mourning at an end,
Lorenzo Surprenant would come back from the States for the third
time and would bear her away to the unknown delights of the
city--away from the great forest she hated--away from that cruel
land where men who go astray perish helplessly, where women endure
endless torment the while ineffectual aid is sought for them over
the long roads buried in snow. Why should she stay here to toil and
suffer when she might escape to the lands of the south and a happier
life.

The soft breeze telling of spring came against the window, bringing
a confusion of gentle sounds; the swish and sigh of branches swaying
and touching one another, the distant hooting of an owl. Then the
great silence reigned once more. Samuel Chapdelaine was sleeping;
but in this repose beside the dead was nothing unseemly or wanting
in respect; chin fallen on his breast, hands lying open on his
knees, he seemed to be plunged into the very depths of sorrow or
striving to relinquish life that he might follow the departed a
little way into the shades.

Again Maria asked herself:--"Why stay here, to toil and suffer
thus? Why? ..." And when she found no answer, it befell at length
that out of the silence and the night voices arose.

No miraculous voices were these; each of us hears them when he goes
apart and withdraws himself far enough to escape from the petty
turmoil of his daily life. But they speak more loudly and with
plainer accents to the simple-hearted, to those who dwell among the
great northern woods and in the empty places of the earth. While yet
Maria was dreaming of the city's distant wonders the first voice
brought murmuringly to her memory a hundred forgotten charms of the
land she wished to flee.

The marvel of the reappearing earth in the springtime after the long
months of winter ... The dreaded snow stealing away in prankish
rivulets down every slope; the tree-roots first resurgent, then the
mosses drenched with wet, soon the ground freed from its burden
whereon one treads with delighted glances and sighs of happiness
like the sick man who feels glad life returning to his veins ...
Later yet, the birches, alders, aspens swelling into bud; the laurel
clothing itself in rosy bloom ... The rough battle with the soil a
seeming holiday to men no longer condemned to idleness; to draw the
hard breath of toil from morn till eve a gracious favour ...

--The cattle, at last set free from their shed, gallop to the
pasture and glut themselves with the fresh grass. All the new-born
creatures--the calves, the fowls, the lambs, gambol in the sun and
add daily to their stature like the hay and the barley. The poorest
farmer sometimes halts in yard or field, hands in pockets, and
tastes the great happiness of knowing that the sun's heat, the warm
rain, the earth's unstinted alchemy--every mighty force of
nature--is working as a humble slave for him ... for him.

--And then, the summertide; the glory of sunny noons, the heated
quivering air that blurs the horizon and the outline of the forest,
the flies swarming and circling in the sun's rays, and but three
hundred paces from the house the rapids and the fall--white foam
against dark water--the mere sight of it filling one with a
delicious coolness. In its due time the harvest; the grain that
gives life heaped into the barns; then autumn and soon the returning
winter ... But here was the marvel of it, that the winter seemed
no longer abhorrent or terrifying; it brought in its train the sweet
intimacies of a house shut fast, and beyond the door, with the
sameness and the soundlessness of deep-drifted snow, peace, a great
peace . .

In the cities were the strange and wonderful things whereof Lorenzo
Surprenant had told, with others that she pictured to herself
confusedly: wide streets suffused with light, gorgeous shops, an
easy life of little toil with a round of small pleasures and
distractions. Perhaps, though, one would come to tire of this
restlessness, and, yearning some evening only for repose and quiet,
where would one discover the tranquillity of field and wood, the
soft touch of that cooler air that draws from the north-west after
set of sun, the wide-spreading peacefulness that settles on the
earth sinking to untroubled sleep.

"And yet they must be beautiful!" thought she, still dreaming of
those vast American cities ... As though in answer, a second voice
was raised.

--Over there was it not a stranger land where people of an alien
race spoke of unfamiliar things in another tongue, sang other songs?
Here ...

--The very names of this her country, those she listened to every
day, those heard but once, came crowding to memory: a thousand names
piously bestowed by peasants from France on lakes, on rivers, on
the settlements of the new country they were discovering and
peopling as they went--lac a l'Eau-Claire--la
Famine--Saint-Coeur--de-Marie--Trois-Pistoles--Sainte
Rose-du-Degel--Pointe-aux-Outardes--Saint-Andre-de-l' Epouvante ...
An uncle of Eutrope Gagnon's lived at Saint-Andre-de-l'Epouvante;
Racicot of Honfleur spoke often of his son who was a stoker on a
Gulf coaster, and every time new names were added to the old;
names of fishing villages and little harbours on the St. Lawrence,
scattered here and there along those shores between which the ships
of the old days had boldly sailed toward an unknown
land--Pointe-Mille-Vaches--les Escoumins--Notre-Dame-du-Portage--les
Grandes-Bergeronnes--Gaspe.

--How sweet to hear these names where one was talking of distant
acquaintance and kinsfolk, or telling of far journeys! How dear and
neighbourly was the sound of them, with a heart-warming friendly
ring that made one feel as he spoke them:--"Throughout all this
land we are at home ... at home ..."

--Westward, beyond the borders of the Province; southward, across
the line were everywhere none but English names. In time one might
learn to speak them, even might they at last come familiarly to the
ear; but where should one find again the happy music of the French
names?

--Words of a foreign speech from every lip, on every street, in
every shop ... Little girls taking hands to dance a round and
singing a song one could not understand ... Here ...

Maria turned toward her father who still slept with his chin sunk on
his breast, looking like a man stricken down by grief whose
meditation is of death; and the look brought her swift memory of the
hymns and country songs he was wont to teach his children in the
evenings.

    A la claire fontaine
    M'en allant promener ...

In those cities of the States, even if one taught the children how
to sing them would they not straightway forget!

The clouds a little while ago drifting singly across a moonlit sky
were now spread over the heavens in a vast filmy curtain, and the
dim light passing through it was caught by the earth's pale coverlet
of melting snow; between the two wan expanses the ranks of the
forest darkly stretched their long battle-front.

Maria shuddered; the emotion which had glowed in her heart was
dying; once again she said to herself: "And yet it is a harsh
land, this land of ours ... Why should I linger here?"

Then it was that a third voice, mightier than the others, lifted
itself up in the silence: the voice of Quebec--now the song of a
woman, now the exhortation of a priest. It came to her with the
sound of a church bell, with the majesty of an organ's tones, like a
plaintive love-song, like the long high call of woodsmen in the
forest. For verily there was in it all that makes the soul of the
Province: the loved solemnities of the ancestral faith; the lilt of
that old speech guarded with jealous care; the grandeur and the
barbaric strength of this new land where an ancient race has again
found its youth.

Thus spake the voice.--"Three hundred years ago we came, and we
have remained ... They who led us hither might return among us
without knowing shame or sorrow, for if it be true that we have
little learned, most surely nothing is forgot.

"We bore oversea our prayers and our songs; they are ever the same.
We carried in our bosoms the hearts of the men of our fatherland,
brave and merry, easily moved to pity as to laughter, of all human
hearts the most human; nor have they changed. We traced the
boundaries of a new continent, from Gaspe to Montreal, from St. Jean
d'Iberville to Ungava, saying as we did it.--Within these limits
all we brought with us, our faith, our tongue, our virtues, our very
weaknesses are henceforth hallowed things which no hand may touch,
which shall endure to the end.

"Strangers have surrounded us whom it is our pleasure to call
foreigners; they have taken into their hands most of the rule, they
have gathered to themselves much of the wealth; but in this land of
Quebec nothing has changed. Nor shall anything change, for we are
the pledge of it. Concerning ourselves and our destiny but one duty
have we clearly understood: that we should hold fast--should endure.
And we have held fast, so that, it may be, many centuries hence the
world will look upon us and say:--These people are of a race that
knows not how to perish ... We are a testimony.

"For this is it that we must abide in that Province where our
fathers dwelt, living as they have lived, so to obey the unwritten
command that once shaped itself in their hearts, that passed to
ours, which we in turn must hand on to descendants innumerable:--In
this land of Quebec naught shall die and naught shall suffer
change ..."

The veil of gray cloud which hid-the whole heavens had become
heavier and more louring, and suddenly the rain began afresh,
bringing yet a little nearer that joyous hour when the earth would
lie bare and the rivers be freed. Samuel Chapdelaine slept
profoundly, his head sunk upon his breast, an old man yielding at
last to the long fatigues of his lifetime of toil. Above the
candlestick of metal and the glass bowl the candle flames wavered
under gentle breaths from the window, and shadows flitting across
the face of the dead woman made her lips seem to be moving in prayer
or softly telling secrets.

Maria Chapdelaine awaked from her dream to the thought:--"So I
shall stay--shall. stay here after all!" For the voices had spoken
commandingly and she knew she could not choose but obey. It was only
then that the recollection of other duties came, after she had
submitted, and a sigh had passed her lips. Alma Rose was still a
child; her mother dead, there must be a woman in the house. But in
truth it was the voices which had told her the way.

The rain was pattering on the roof, and nature, rejoicing that
winter was past, sent soft little wandering airs through the
casement as though she were sighing in content. Throughout the hours
of the night Maria moved not; with hands folded in her lap, patient
of spirit and without bitterness, yet dreaming a little wistfully of
the far-off wonders her eyes would never behold and of the land
wherein she was bidden to live with its store of sorrowful memories;
of the living flame which her heart had known awhile and lost
forever, and the deep snowy woods whence too daring youths shall no
more return.



CHAPTER XVI

PLEDGED TO THE RACE

ESDRAS and Da'Be came down from the shanties in May, and their
grieving brought freshly to the household the pain of bereavement.
But the naked earth was lying ready for the seed, and mourning must
not delay the season's labours.

Eutrope Gagnon was there one evening to pay them a visit, and a
glance he stole at Maria's face perhaps told him of a change in her,
for when, they were alone he put the question:--"Maria, do you
still think of going away?"

Her eyes were lowered, as with a motion of her head she signified
"No."

"Then ... I know well that this is no time to speak of such
things, but if only you could say there would be a chance for me one
day, then could I bear the waiting better."

And Maria answered him:--"Yes ... If you wish I will marry you
as you asked me to ... In the spring--the spring after this spring
now--when the men come back from the woods for the sowing."





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