Part 1 out of 3
Edited by Charles Aldarondo Aldarondo@yahoo.com
A TALE OF THE
LAKE ST. JOHN COUNTRY
W. H. BLAKE
Author of "Brown Waters," etc.
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
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
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
"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
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
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 Francois 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.
"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
"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.
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 cur'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.
"Francois Paradis!" exclaimed Chapdelaine.
"This is indeed a bit of luck, for I haven't seen you this long
while, Francois. 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 Francois Paradis of Mistassini, Maria? He has changed
"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
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.
"Francois Paradis! ... Why surely, father, I remember Francois
Paradis." And Francois, content, gave answer to the questions of a
"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
"That is good, Francois, 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
"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
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
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.
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
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 Urn with exaltation. In a little he began to
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
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
"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
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 tile forest, a mounting column of smoke, the bark of a
"They will be glad to see you again, Maria," said her father. "They
have been lonesome for you, every one of them."
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'Be, 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
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 comer 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
comer 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 bay 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
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
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'Be 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 afford 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
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'Be, 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
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
"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
"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
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.
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
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--"Franc 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
Ten days later he came, long after nightfall. The women were alone
in the house with Tit'Be 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'Be 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'Be 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 bad 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 seem 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
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
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
"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-Francois Paradis of Mistassini,' said he to them,
will not forget what you have done ... Francois 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,
Francois 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
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
Scarcely was gone when the two women and Tit'Be 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
Ayes, the Acts, and then a long responsive Litany.
"Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our
"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 whip filled the
house. Tit'Be 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
Francois Paradis twice since she was a child, and she felt ashamed
at the beating of her heart.
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 be 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 beard their
real names pronounced; always had they been called by the
affectionate diminutives of childhood, Da'Be and Tit'Be. 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 m 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
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
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, TAW 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
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 fight-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
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 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
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 the 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
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
"Three weeks ... Yes, confound it! That is what I think too."
They fell silent again, patient and determined, like men who face a
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'Be 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."
THE fine weather continued, and early in July the blueberries were
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
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
"How does the drive go?" asked Esdras. "Is there any news from that
"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 bad 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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Ninety thousand! Bigger than Quebec!"
"Yes, and we are only an hour by train from Boston. A really big
And he set himself to telling of the great American cities and their
magnificence, of the life filled with case and plenty, abounding in
refinements beyond imagination, which is the portion of the well
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
"Greetings to everyone!" The tones rang clear, and Francois 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'Be 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, Francois Paradis. As for the one
girl ... Every eye was turned upon Maria, who smiled feebly and
looked down, confused.
"Had you a good trip, Francois?-He went up the river with strangers
to buy furs from the Indians," explained Chapdelaine; who presented
to the others with formality-"Francois Paradis, son of Francois
Paradis from St. Michel de Mistassini." Eutrope Gagnon knew him by
name, Ephrem Surprenant had met his father:--"A tall mall, 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 Francois. "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
cour. They played at quatre-sept. The two Surprenants, uncle and
nephew, had Madame Chapdelaine and Maria for partners; after each
table and 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 Francois 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 Francois Paradis was left,--standing
there and seeming to hesitate.
"You will sleep here to-night, Francois?" 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 Francois 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.
Francois 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 Francois 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
"There are very few this year," said Francois. "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.
Francois 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
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.
Francois 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?"
"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
Again he hesitated, and the question he was about to put took
another form upon his lips. "You will be here still...next
And after the simple question and simpler answer they fell silent
and so long remained, wordless and grave, for they had exchanged
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
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'Be 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 bay 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
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
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 comers 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
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