Part 2 out of 3
to tend the fire and change the position of the pans as the baking
Too small an oven had been built five years before, and ever since
then the family did not escape a weekly discussion about the new
oven it was imperative to construct, which unquestionably should
have been put in hand without delay; but on each trip to
the-village, by one piece of bad luck and another, someone forgot
the necessary cement; and so it happened that the oven bad to be
filled two or even three times to make weekly provision for the nine
mouths of the household.
Maria invariably took charge of the first baking; invariably too,
when the oven was ready for the second batch of bread and the
evening well advanced, her mother would say considerately:--"You
can go to bed, Maria, I will look after the second baking." And
Maria would reply never a word, knowing full well that the mother
would presently stretch herself on the bed for a little nap and not
awake till morning. She then would revive the smudge that smouldered
every evening in the damaged tin pail, install the second batch of
bread, and seat herself upon the door-step, her chin resting in her
hands, upheld through the long hours of the night by her
Twenty paces from the house the clay oven with its sheltering roof
of boards loomed dark, but the door of the fireplace fitted badly
and one red gleam escaped through the chink; the dusky border of the
forest stole a little closer in the night. Maria sat very still,
delighting in the quiet and the coolness, while a thousand vague
dreams circled about her like a flock of wheeling birds.
There was a time when this night-watch passed in drowsiness, as she
resignedly awaited the moment when the finished task would bring her
sleep; but since the coming of Francois Paradis the long weekly
vigil was very sweet to her, for she could think of him and of
herself with nothing to distract her dear imaginings. Simple they
were, these thoughts of hers, and never did they travel far afield.
In the springtime he will come back; this return of his, the joy of
seeing him again, the words he will say when they find themselves
once more alone, the first touch of hands and lips. Not easy was it
for Maria to make a picture for herself of how these things were to
Yet she essayed. First she repeated his full name two or three
times, formally, as others spoke it: Paradis, from St. Michel de
Mistassini ... Francois Paradis ... Then suddenly, with sweet
The evocation fails not. He stands before her tall and strong, bold
of eye, his face bronzed with sun and snow-glare. He is by her side,
rejoicing at the sight of her, rejoicing that he has kept his faith,
has lived the whole year discreetly, without drinking or swearing.
There are no blueberries yet to gather-it is only springtime-yet
some good reason they find for rambling off to the woods; he walks
beside her without word or joining of hands, through the massed
laurel flaming into blossom, and naught beyond does either need to
flush the cheek, to quicken the beating of the heart.
Now they are seated upon a fallen tree, and thus he speaks: "Were
you lonely without me, Maria?" Most surely it is the first question
he will put to her; but she is able to carry the dream no further
for the sudden pain stabbing her heart. Ah! dear God! how long will
she have been lonely for him before that moment comes! A summer to
be lived through, an autumn, and all the endless winter! She sighs,
but the steadfast patience of the race sustains her, and her
thoughts turn upon herself and what the future may be holding.
When she was at St. Prime, one of her cousins who was about to be
wedded spoke often to her of marriage. A young man from the village
and another from Normandin had both courted her; for long months
spending the Sunday evenings together at the house.
"I was fond of them both,"--thus she declared to Maria. "And I really
think I liked Zotique best; but he went off to the drive on the St.
Maurice, and he wasn't to be back till summer; then Romeo asked me
and I said, 'Yes.' I like him very well, too."
Maria made no answer, but even then her heart told her that all
marriages are not like that; now she is very sure. The love of
Francois Paradis for her, her love for him, is a thing apart-a thing
holy and inevitable--for she was unable to imagine that between
them it should have befallen otherwise; so must this love give
warmth and unfading colour to every day of the dullest life. Always
had she dim consciousness of such a presence-moving the spirit like
the solemn joy of chanted masses, the intoxication of a sunny windy
day, the happiness that some unlooked-for good fortune brings, the
certain promise of abundant harvest ...
In the stillness of the night the roar of the fall sounds loud and
near; the north-west wind sways the tops of spruce and fir with a
sweet cool sighing; again and again, farther away and yet farther,
an owl is hooting; the chill that ushers in the dawn is still
remote. And Maria, in perfect contentment, rests upon the step,
watching the ruddy beam from her fire-flickering, disappearing,
quickened again to birth.
She seems to remember someone long since whispering in her ear that
the world and life were cheerless and gray. The daily round,
brightened only by a few unsatisfying, fleeting pleasures; the slow
passage of unchanging years; the encounter with some young man, like
other young men, whose patient and hopeful courting ends by whining
affection; a marriage then, and afterwards a vista of days under
another roof, but scarce different from those that went before. So
does one live, the voice had told her. Naught very dreadful in the
prospect, and, even were it so, what possible but submission; yet
all level, dreary and chill as an autumn field.
It is not true! Alone there in the darkness Maria shakes her head, a
smile upon her lips, and knows how far from true it is. When she
thinks of Paradis, his look, his bearing, of what they are and will
be to one another, be and she, something within her bosom has
strange power to burn with the touch of fire, and yet to make her
shiver. All the strong youth of her, the long-suffering of her
sooth-fast heart find place in it; in the upspringing of hope and of
longing, this vision of her approaching miracle of happiness.
Below the oven the red gleam quivers and fails.
"The bread must be ready!" she murmurs to herself. But she cannot
bring herself at once to rise, loth as she is to end the fair dream
that seems only beginning.
A MEAGER REAPING
SEPTEMBER arrived, and the dryness so welcome for the hay-making
persisted till it became a disaster. According to the Chapdelaines,
never had the country been visited with such a drought as this, and
every day a fresh motive was suggested for the divine displeasure.
Oats and wheat took on a sickly colour ere attaining their growth; a
merciless sun withered the grass and the clover aftermath, and all
day long the famished cows stood lowing with their heads over the
fences. They had to be watched continually, for even the meager
standing crop was a sore temptation, and never a day went by but one
of them broke through the rails in the attempt to appease her hunger
among the grain.
Then, of a sudden one evening, as though weary of a constancy so
unusual, the wind shifted and in the morning came the rain. It fell
off and on for a week, and when it ceased and the wind hauled again
to the north-west, autumn had come.
The autumn! And it seemed as though spring were here but yesterday.
The grain was yet unripe, though yellowed by the drought; nothing
save the hay was in barn; the other crops could draw nutriment from
the soil only while the too brief summer warmed it, and already
autumn was here, the forerunner of relentless winter, of the frosts,
and soon the snows ...
Between the wet days there was still fine bright weather, hot toward
noon, when one might fancy that all was as it had been: the harvest
still unreaped, the changeless setting of spruces and firs, and ever
the same sunsets of gray and opal, opal and gold, and skies of misty
blue above the same dark woodland. But in the mornings the grass was
sometimes white with rime, and swiftly followed the earliest dry
frosts which killed and blackened the tops of the potatoes.
Then, for the first time, a film of ice appeared upon the
drinking-trough; melted by the afternoon sun it was there a few days
later, and yet a third time in the same week. Frequent changes of
wind brought an alternation of mild rainy days and frosty mornings;
but every time the wind came afresh from the north-west it was a
little colder, a little more remindful of the icy winter blasts.
Everywhere is autumn a melancholy season, charged with regrets for
that which is departing, with shrinking from what is to come; but
under the Canadian skies it is sadder and more moving than
elsewhere, as though one were bewailing the death of a mortal
summoned untimely by the gods before he has lived out his span.
Through the increasing cold, the early frosts, the threats of snow,
they held back their hands and put off the reaping from day to day,
encouraging the meager grain to steal a little nourishment from the
earth's failing veins and the spiritless sun. At length, harvest
they must, for October approached. About the time when the leaves of
birches and aspens were turning, the oats and the wheat were cut and
carried to the barn under a cloudless sky, but without rejoicing.
The yield of grain was poor enough, yet the hay-crop had been
excellent, so that the year as a whole gave occasion neither for
excess of joy nor sorrow. However, it was long before the
Chapdelaines, in evening talk, ceased deploring the unheard-of
August droughts, the unprecedented September frosts, which betrayed
their hopes. Against the miserly shortness of the summer and the
harshness of a climate that shows no mercy they did not rebel, were
even without a touch of bitterness; but they did not give up
contrasting the season with that other year of wonders which fond
imagination made the standard of their comparisons; and thus was
ever on their lips the countryman's perpetual lament, so reasonable
to the ear, but which recurs unfailingly: "Had it only been an
ENTRENCHED AGAINST WINTER
ONE October morning Maria's first vision on arising was of countless
snow-flakes sifting lazily from the skies. The ground was covered,
the trees white; verily it seemed that autumn was over, when in
other lands it had scarce begun.
But Edwige Legare thus pronounced sentence: "After the first
snowfall there is yet a month before winter sets in. The old folks
always so declared, and I believe it myself." He was right; for in
two days a rain carried off the snow and the dark soil again lay
bare. Still the warning was heeded, and they set about preparations;
the yearly defences against the snow that may not be trifled with,
and the piercing cold.
Esdras and Da'Be protected the foundation of their dwelling with
earth and sand, making an embankment at the foot of the walls; the
other men, armed with hammer and nails, went round the outside of
the house, nailing up, closing chinks, remedying as best they could
the year's wear and tear. Within, the women forced rags into the
crevices, pasted upon the wainscotting at the north-west side old
newspapers brought from the village and carefully preserved, tested
with their hands in every corner for draughts.
These things accomplished, the next task was to lay in the winter's
store of wood. Beyond the fields, at the border of the forest plenty
of dead trees yet were standing. Esdras and Legare took ax in hand
and felled for three days; the trunks were piled, awaiting another
fall of snow when they could be loaded on the big wood-sleigh.
All through October, frosty and rainy days came alternately, and
meanwhile the woods were putting on a dress of unearthly loveliness.
Five hundred paces from the Chapdelaine house the bank of the
Peribonka fell steeply to the rapid water and the huge blocks of
stone above the fall, and across the river the opposite bank rose in
the fashion of a rocky amphitheatre, mounting to loftier heights-an
amphitheatre trending in a vast curve to the northward. Of the
birches, aspens, alders and wild cherries scattered upon the slope,
October made splashes of many-tinted red and gold. Throughout these
weeks the ruddy brown of mosses, the changeless green of fir and
cypress, were no more than a background, a setting only for the
ravishing colours of those leaves born with the spring, that perish
with the autumn. The wonder of their dying spread over the hills and
unrolled itself, an endless riband following the river, ever as
beautiful, as rich in shades brilliant and soft, as enrapturing,
when they pawed into the remoteness of far northern regions and were
unseen by human eye.
But ere long there sweeps from out the cold north a mighty wind like
a final sentence of death, the cruel ending to a reprieve, and soon
the poor leaves, brown, red and golden, shaken too unkindly, strow
the ground; the snow covers them, and the white expanse has only for
adornment the sombre green of trees that alter not their
garb-triumphing now, as do those women inspired with bitter wisdom
who barter their right to beauty for life everlasting.
In November Esdras, Da'Be and Edwige Legare went off again to the
shanties. The father and Tit'Be harnessed Charles Eugene to the
wood-sleigh, and laboured at hauling in the trees that had been cut,
and piling them near the house; that done, the two men took the
double-handed saw and sawed, sawed, sawed from morning till night;
it was then the turn of the axes, and the logs were split as their
size required. Nothing remained but to cord the split wood in the
shed beside the house, where it was sheltered from the snow; the
huge piles mingling the resinous cypress which gives a quick hot
flame, spruce and red birch, burning steadily and longer,
close-grained white birch with its marble-like surface, slower yet
to be consumed and leaving red embers in the morning after a long
The moment for laying in wood is also that of the slaughtering.
After entrenching against cold comes the defence against hunger. The
quarters of pork went into the brine-tub; from a beam in the shed
there hung the side of a fat heifer-the other half sold to people in
Honfleur-which the cold would keep fresh till spring; sacks of flour
were piled in a corner of the house, and Tit'Be, provided with a
spool of brass wire, set himself to making nooses for hares.
After the bustle of summer they relapsed into easy-going ways, for
the summer is painfully short and one must:-not lose a single hour
of those precious weeks when it is possible to work on the land,
whereas the winter drags slowly and gives all too much time for the
tasks it brings.
The house became the centre of the universe; in truth the only spot
where life could be sustained, and more than ever the great
cast-iron stove was the soul of it. Every little while some member
of the family fetched a couple of logs from under the staircase;
cypress in the morning, spruce throughout the day, in the evening
birch, pushing them in upon the live coals. Whenever the heat
failed, mother Chapdelaine might be heard saying anxiously.-" Don't
let the fire out, children." Whereupon Maria, Tit'Be or Telesphore
would open the little door, glance in and hasten to the pile of
In the mornings Tit'Be jumped out of bed long before daylight to see
if the great sticks of birch had done their duty and burned all
night; should, unluckily, the fire be out he lost no time in
rekindling it with birch-bark and cypress branches, placed heavier
pieces on the mounting flame, and ran back to snuggle under the
brown woollen blankets and patchwork quilt till the comforting
warmth once more filled the house.
Outside, the neighbouring forest, and even the fields won from it,
were an alien unfriendly world, upon which they looked wonderingly
through the little square windows. And sometimes this world was
strangely beautiful in its frozen immobility, with a sky of flawless
blue and a brilliant sun that sparkled on the snow; but the
immaculateness of the blue and the white alike was pitiless and gave
hint of the murderous cold.
Days there were when the weather was tempered and the snow fell
straight from the clouds, concealing all; the ground and the low
growth was covered little by little, the dark line of the woods was
hidden behind the curtain of serried flakes. Then in the morning the
sky was clear again, but the fierce northwest wind swayed the
heavens. Powdery snow, whipped from the ground, drove across the
burnt lands and the clearings in blinding squalls, and heaped itself
behind whatever broke the force of the gale. To the south-east of
the house it built an enormous cone, and between house and stable
raised a drift five feet high through which the shovel had to carve
a path; but to windward the ground was bare, scoured by the
On such days as these the men scarcely left the house except to care
for the beasts, and came back on the run, their faces rasped with
the cold and shining-wet with snow-crystals melted by the heat of
the house. Chapdelaine would pluck the icicles from his moustache,
slowly draw off his sheepskin-lined coat and settle himself by the
stove with a satisfied sigh. "The pump is not frozen?" he asks.
"Is there plenty of wood in the house?"
Assured that the frail wooden fortress is provided with water, wood
and food, he gives himself up to the indolences of winter quarters,
smoking pipes innumerable while the women-folk are busy with the
evening meal. The cold snaps the nails in the plank walls with
reports like pistol-shots; the stove crammed with birch roars
lustily; the howling of the wind without is like the cries of a
"It must be a bad day in the woods!" thinks Maria to herself; and
then perceives that she has spoken aloud.
"In the woods they are better off than we are here," answers her
father. "Up there where the trees stand close together one does not
feel the wind. You can be sure that Esdras and Da'Be are all right."
But it was not of Esdras and Da'Be that she had just been thinking.
ONE THOUSAND AVES
SINCE the coming of winter they had often talked at the Chapdelaines
about the holidays, and now these were drawing near.
"I am wondering whether we shall have any callers on New Year's
Day," said Madame Chapdelaine one evening. She went over the list of
all relatives and friends able to make the venture. "Azalma Larouche
does not live so far away, but she--she is not very energetic. The
people at St. Prime would not me to take the journey. Possibly
Wilfrid or Ferdinand might drive from St. Gedeon if the ice on the
lake were in good condition." A sigh disclosed that she still was
dreaming of the coming and going in the old parishes at the time of
the New Year, the family dinners, the unlooked-for visits of kindred
arriving by sleigh from the next village, buried under rugs and
furs, behind a horse whom coat was white with frost.
Maria's thoughts were turning in another direction. "If the roads
are as bad as they were last year," said she, "we shall not be able
to attend the midnight mass. And yet I should so much have liked it
this time, and father promised ..."
Through the little window they looked on the gray sky, and found
little to cheer them. To go to midnight mass is the natural and
strong desire of every French-Canadian peasant, even of those living
farthest from the settlements. What do they not face to accomplish
it I Arctic cold, the woods at night, obliterated roads, great
distances do but add to the impressiveness and the mystery. This
anniversary of the birth of Jesus is more to them than a mere
fixture in the calendar with rites appropriate; it signifies the
renewed promise of salvation, an occasion of deep rejoicing, and
those gathered in the wooden church are imbued with sincerest
fervour, are pervaded with a deep sense of the supernatural. This
year, more than ever, Maria yearned to attend the-mass after many
weeks of remoteness from houses and from churches; the favours she
would fain demand seemed more likely to be granted were she able to
prefer them before the altar, aided in heavenward flight by the
wings of music.
But toward the middle of December much snow fell, dry and fine as
dust, and three days before Christmas the north-west wind arose and
made an end of the roads. On the morrow of the storm Chapdelaine
harnessed Charles Eugene to the heavy sleigh and departed with
Tit'Be; they took shovels to clear the way or lay out another route.
The two men returned by noon, worn out, white with snow, asserting
that there would be no breaking through for several days. The
disappointment must be borne; Maria sighed, but the idea came to her
that there might be other means of attaining the divine goodwill.
"Is it true, mother," she asked as evening was falling, "that if you
repeat a thousand Aves on the day before Christmas you are always
granted the thing you seek?"
"Quite true," her mother reverently answered. "One desiring a
favour who says her thousand Aves properly before midnight on
Christmas Eve, very seldom fails to receive what she asks."
On Christmas Eve the weather was cold but windless. The two men went
out betimes in another effort to beat down the road, with no great
hope of success; but long before they left, and indeed long before
daylight, Maria began to recite her Aves. Awakening very early, she
took her rosary from beneath the pillow and swiftly repeated the
prayer, passing from the last word to the first without stopping,
and counting, bead by bead.
The others were still asleep; but Chien left his place at the stove
when he saw that she moved, and came to sit beside the bed, gravely
reposing his head upon the coverings. Maria's glance wandered over
the long white muzzle resting upon the brown wool, the liquid eyes
filled with the dumb creature's pathetic trustfulness, the drooping
glossy ears; while she ceased not to murmur the sacred words.-" Hail
Mary, full of grace ..."
Soon Tit'Be jumped from bed to put wood upon the fire; an impulse of
shyness caused Maria to turn away and hide her rosary under the
coverlet as she continued to pray. The stove roared; Chien went back
to his usual spot, and for another half-hour nothing was stirring in
the house save the fingers of Maria numbering the boxwood beads, and
her lips as they moved rapidly in the task she had laid upon
Then must she arise, for the day was dawning; make the porridge and
the pancakes while the men went to the stable to care for the
animals, wait upon them when they returned, wash the dishes, sweep
the house. What time she attended to these things, Maria was ever
raising a little higher toward heaven the monument of her Aves; but
the rosary had to be laid aside and it was hard to keep a true
reckoning. As the morning advanced however, no urgent duty calling,
she was able to sit by the window and steadily pursue her
Noon; and already three hundred Aves. Her anxiety lessens, for now
she feels almost sure of finishing in time. It comes to her mind
that fasting would give a further title to heavenly consideration,
and might, with reason, turn hopes into certainties; wherefore she
ate but little, foregoing all those things she liked the best.
Throughout the afternoon she must knit the woollen garment designed
for her father as a New Year's gift, and though the faithful
repetition ceased not, the work of her fingers was something of a
distraction and a delay; then came the long preparations for supper,
and finally Tit'Be brought his mittens to be mended, so all this
time the Ayes made slow and impeded progress, like some devout
procession brought to halt by secular interruption.
But when it was evening and the tasks of the day were done, she
could resume her seat by the window where the feeble light of the
lamp did not invade the darkness, look forth upon the fields hidden
beneath their icy cloak, take the rosary once more in her hands and
throw her heart into the prayer. She was happy that so many Ayes
were left to be recited, since labour and difficulty could only add
merit to her endeavour; even did she wish to humble herself further
and give force to her prayer by some posture that would bring
uneasiness and pain, by some chastening of the flesh.
Her father and Tit'Be smoked, their feet against the stove; her
mother sewed new ties to old moose-hide moccasins. Outside, the moon
had risen, flooding the chill whiteness with colder light, and the
heavens were of a marvellous purity and depth, sown with stars that
shone like that wondrous star of old.
"Blessed art Thou amongst women..."
Through repeating the short prayer oftentimes and quickly she grew
confused and sometimes stopped, her dazed mind lost among the
well-known words. It is only for a moment; sighing she closes her
eyes, and the phrase which rises at once to her memory and her lips
ceases to be mechanical, detaches itself, again stands forth in all
its hallowed meaning.
"Blessed art Thou amongst women ..."
At length a heaviness weighs upon her, and the holy words are spoken
with greater effort and slowly; yet the beads pass through her
fingers in endless succession, and each one launches the offering of
an Ave to that sky where Mary the compassionate is surely seated on
her throne, hearkening to the music of prayers that ever rise, and
brooding over the memory of that blest night.
"The Lord is with Thee ..."
The fence-rails were very black upon the white expanse palely
lighted by the moon; trunks of birch trees standing against the dark
background of forest were like the skeletons of living creatures
smitten with the cold and stricken by death; but the glacial night
was awesome rather than affrighting.
"With the roads as they are we will not be the only ones who have to
stay at home this evening," said Madame Chapdelaine. "But is there
anything more lovely than the midnight mass at Saint Coeur de Marie,
with Yvonne Boilly playing the harmonium, and Pacifique Simard who
sings the Latin so beautifully!" She was very careful to say nothing
that might seem reproachful or complaining on such a night as this,
but in spite of herself the words and tone had a sad ring of
loneliness and remoteness. Her husband noticed it, and, himself
under the influence of the day, was quick to take the blame.
"It is true enough, Laura, that you would have had a happier life
with some other man than me, who lived on a comfortable farm, near
"No, Samuel; what the good God does is always right. I grumble ...
Of course I grumble. Is there anyone who hasn't something to grumble
about? But we have never been unhappy, we two; we have managed to
live without faring over-badly; the boys are fine boys,
hard-working, who bring us nearly all they earn; Maria too is a good
Affected by these memories of the past, they also were thinking of
the candles already lit, of the hymns soon to be raised in honour of
the Saviour's birth. Life had always been a simple and a
straightforward thing for them; severe but inevitable toil, a good
understanding between man and wife, obedience alike to the laws of
nature and of the. Church. Everything was drawn into the same woof;
the rites of their religion and the daily routine of existence so
woven together that they could not distinguish the devout emotion
possessing them from the mute love of each for each.
Little Alma Rose heard praises in the air and hastened to demand her
portion. "I have been a good girl too, haven't I, father?"
"Certainly ... Certainly. A black sin indeed if one were naughty
on the day when the little Jesus was born."
To the children, Jesus of Nazareth was ever "the little Jesus," the
curly-headed babe of the sacred picture; and in truth, for the
parents as well, such was the image oftenest brought to mind by the
Name. Not the sad enigmatic Christ of the Protestant, but a being
more familiar and less august, a newborn infant in his mother's
arms, or at least a tiny child who might be loved without great
effort of the mind or any thought of the coming sacrifice.
"Would you like me to rock you?"
He took the little girl on his knees and began to swing her back and
"And are we going to sing too?"
"Very well; now sing with me:"
Dans son etable,
Que Jesus est charmant!
Qu'il est aimable
Dans son abaissement
He began in quiet tones that he might not drown the other slender
voice; but soon emotion carried him away and he sang with all his
might, his gaze dreamy and remote. Telesphore drew near and looked
at him with worshipping eyes. To these children brought up in a
lonely house, with only their parents for companions, Samuel
Chapdelaine embodied all there was in the world of wisdom and might.
As he was ever gentle and patient, always ready to take the children
on his knee and sing them hymns, or those endless old songs he
taught them one by one, they loved him with a rare affection.
... Tous les palais des rois
N'ont rien de comparable
Aux beautes que je vois
Dans cette etable.
"Once more? Very well."
This time the mother and Tit'Be joined in. Maria could not resist
staying her prayers for a few moments that she might look and
hearken; but the words of the hymn renewed her ardour, and she soon
took up the task again with a livelier faith ... "Hail Mary, full of
Trois gros navires sont arrives,
Charges d'avoine, charges de ble.
Nous irons sur l'eau nous y prom-promener,
Nous irons jouer dans l'ile...
"And now? Another song: which?" With out waiting for a reply he
struck in ... "No? not that one ... Claire Fontaine? Ah! That's
a beautiful one, that is! We shall all sing it together."
He glanced at Maria, but seeing the beads ever slipping through her
fingers he would not intrude.
A la claire fontaine
M'en allant promener,
J'ai trouve l'eau si belle
Que je m'y suis baigne ...
Il y a longtemps que je t'aime,
Jamais je ne t'oublierai...
Words and tune alike haunting; the unaffected sadness of the refrain
lingering in the ear, a song that well may find its way to any
.. Sur la plus haute branche,
Le rossignol chantait.
Chante, rossignol, chante,
Toi qui a le coeur gai ...
Il y a longtemps que je t'aime
Jamais je ne t'oublierai ...
The rosary lay still in the long fingers. Maria did not sing with
the others; but she was listening, and this lament of a love that
was unhappy fell very sweetly and movingly on her spirit a little
weary with prayer.
... Tu as le coeur a rire,
Moi je l'ai a pleurer,
J'ai perdu ma maitresse
Sans pouvoir la r'trouver,
Pour un bouquet de roses
Que je lui refusai
Il y a longtemps que je t'aime,
Jamais je ne t'oublierai.
Maria looked through the window at the white fields circled by
mysterious forest; the passion of religious feeling, the tide of
young love rising within her, the sound of the familiar voices,
fused in her heart to a single emotion. Truly the world was filled
with love that evening, with love human and divine, simple in nature
and mighty in strength, one and the other most natural and right; so
intermingled that the beseeching of heavenly favour upon dear ones
was scarcely more than the expression of an earthly affection, while
the artless love songs were chanted with solemnity of voice and
exaltation of spirit fit for addresses to another world.
.. Je voudrais que la rose
Fut encore au rosier,
Et que le rosier meme
A la mer fut jete.
Il y a longtemps, que je t'aime,
Jamais je ne t'oublierai . .
"Hail Mary, full of grace ..."
The song ended, Maria forthwith resumed her prayers with zeal
refreshed, and once again the tale of the Aves mounted.
Little Alma Rose, asleep on her father's knee, was undressed and put
to bed; Telesphore followed; Tit'Be arose in turn, stretched
himself, and fined the stove with green birch logs; the father made
a last trip to the stable and came back running, saying that the
cold was increasing. Soon all had retired, save Maria.
"You won't forget to put out the lamp?"
Forthwith she quenched the light, preferring it so, and seated
herself again by the window to repeat the last Aves. When she had
finished, a scruple assailed her, and a fear lest she had erred in
the reckoning, because it had not always been possible to count the
beads of her rosary. Out of prudence she recited yet another fifty
and then was silent-jaded, weary, but full of happy confidence, as
though the moment had brought her a promise inviolable.
The world outside was lit; wrapped in that frore splendour which the
night unrolls over lands of snow when the sky is clear and the moon
is shining. Within the house was darkness, and it seemed that wood
and field had illumined themselves to signal the coming of the holy
"The thousand Aves have been said," murmured Maria to herself, "but
I have not yet asked for anything ... not in words." She bad
thought that perhaps it were not needful; that the Divinity might
understand without hearing wishes shaped by lips--Mary above all ...
Who had been a woman upon earth. But at the last her simple mind
was taken with a doubt, and she tried to find speech for the favour
she was seeking.
Francois Paradis ... Most surely it concerns Francois Paradis.
Hast Thou already guessed it, O Mary, full of grace? How might she
frame this her desire without impiety? That he should be spared
hardship in the woods ... That he should be true to his word and
give up drinking and swearing ... That he return in the spring
That he return in the spring ... She goes no further, for it seems
to her that when be is with her again, his promise kept, all the
happiness in the world must he within their reach, unaided ...
almost unaided ... If it be not presumptuous so to think ...
That he return in the spring ... Dreaming of his return, of
Francois, the handsome sunburnt face turned to hers, Maria forgets
all else, and looks long with unseeing eyes at the snow-covered
ground which the moonlight has turned into a glittering fabric of
ivory and mother-of-pearl-at the black pattern of the fences
outlined upon it, and the menacing ranks of the dark forest.
NEW YEAR'S DAY, and not a single caller! Toward evening the mother
of the family, a trifle cast down, hid her depression behind a mask
of extra cheeriness. "Even if no one comes," said she, "that is no
reason for allowing ourselves to be unhappy. We are going to make la
The children exclaimed with delight, and followed the preparations
with impatient eyes. Molasses and brown sugar were set on the stove
to boil, and when this had proceeded far enough Telesphore brought
in a large dish of lovely white snow. They all gathered about the
table as a few drops of the boiling syrup were allowed to fall upon
the snow where they instantly became crackly bubbles, deliciously
Each was helped in turn, the big people making a merry pretence of
the children's unfeigned greed; but soon, and very wisely, the
tasting was checked, that appetite might not be in peril for the
real la fire, the confection of which had only begun. After further
cooking, and just at the proper moment, the cooling toffee must be
pulled for a long time. The mother's strong hands plied unceasingly
for five minutes, folding and drawing out the sugary skein; the
movement became slower and slower, until, stretched for the last
time to the thickness of a finger, it was cut into lengths with
scissors-not too easily, for it was already hard. The la tire was
The children were busy with their first portions, when a knocking
was heard on the door. "Eutrope Gagnon," at once declared
Chapdelaine. "I was just saying to myself that it would be an odd
thing if he did not come and spend the evening with us."
Eutrope Gagnon it was in truth. Entering, he bade them all good
evening, and laid his woollen cap upon the table. Maria looked at
him, a blush upon her cheek. Custom ordains that on the first day of
the year the young men shall kiss the women-folk, and Maria knew
well enough that Eutrope, shy as he was, would exercise his
privilege; she stood motionless by the table, unprotesting, yet
thinking of another kiss she would have dearly welcomed. But the
young man took the chair offered him and sat down, his eyes upon the
"You are the only visitor who has come our way to-day," said
Chapdelaine, "and I suppose you have seen no one either. I felt
pretty certain you would be here this evening."
"Naturally ... I would not let New Year's Day go by without
paying you a visit. But, besides that, I have news to tell."
Under the questioning eyes of the household he did not raise his
"By your face I am afraid you have bad news."
With a start of fear the mother half rose. "Not about the boys?"
"No, Madame Chapdelaine. Esdras and Da'Be are well, if that be
God's pleasure. The word I bring is not of them-not of your own kin.
It concerns a young man you know." Pausing a moment he spoke a name
under his breath. :--"Francois Paradis."
His glance was lifted to Maria and as quickly fell, but she did not
so much as see his look of honest distress. Deep stillness weighed
upon the house-upon the whole universe. Everything alive and dead
was breathlessly awaiting news of such dreadful moment-touching him
that was for her the one man in all the world ...
"This is what happened. You knew perhaps that he was foreman in a
shanty above La Tuque, on the Vermilion River. About the middle of
December he suddenly told the boss that he was going off to spend
Christmas and New Year at Lake St. John-up here. The boss objected,
naturally enough; for if the men take ten or fifteen days' leave
right in the middle of the winter you might as well stop the work
altogether. The boss did not wish him to go and said so plainly; but
you know Francois-a man not be thwarted when a notion entered his
head. He answered that he was set on going to the lake for the
holidays, and that go he would. Then the boss let him have his way,
afraid to lose a man useful beyond the common, and of such
experience in the bush."
Eutrope Gagnon was speaking with unusual ease, slowly, but without
seeking words, as though his story had been shaped beforehand. Amid
her overwhelming grief the thought flitted through Maria's heart:--
"Francois wished to come here ... to me," and a fugitive joy
touched it as a swallow in flight ruffles the water with his wing.
"The shanty was not very far in the woods, only two days' journey
from the Transcontinental which passes La Tuque. Butastheluck was,
something had happened to the line and the trains were not running.
I heard all this through Johnny Niquette of St. Henri, who arrived
from La Tuque two days ago."
"When Francois found that he could not take the train he burst into
a laugh, and in that sort of a humour said that as it was a case of
walking he would walk all the way-reaching the lake by following the
rivers, first the Croche and then the Ouatchouan which falls in near
"That is so," said Chapdelaine. "It can be done. I have gone that
"Not at this time of year, Mr. Chapdelaine, certainly not just at
this time. Everyone there told Francois that it would be foolhardy
to attempt such a trip in midwinter, about Christmas, with the cold
as great as it was, some four feet of snow lying in the woods, and
alone. But he only laughed and told them that he was used to the
woods and that a little difficulty was not going to frighten him,
because he was bound to get to the upper side of the lake for the
holidays, and that where the Indians were able to cross he could
make the crossing too. Only-you know it very well, Mr.
Chapdelaine-when the Indians take that journey it is in company, and
with their dogs. Francois set of alone, on snow-shoes, pulling his
blankets and provisions on a toboggan." No one had uttered a word to
hasten or check the speaker. They listened as to him whose story's
end stalks into view, before the eyes but darkly veiled, like a
figure drawing near who hides his face.
"You will remember the weather a week before Christmas-the heavy
snow that fell, and after it the nor'west gale. It happened that was
then in the great burnt lands, where the fine snow drives and drifts
so terribly. In such a place the best of men have little chance when
it is very cold and the storm lasts. And, if you recall it, the
nor'wester was blowing for three days on end, stiff enough-to flay
"Yes, and then?"
The narrative he had framed did not carry him further, or perhaps he
could not bring himself to speak the final words, for it was some
time before the low-voiced answer came-" He went astray ..."
Those who have passed their lives within the shadow of the Canadian
forests know the meaning but too well. The daring youths to whom
this evil fortune happens in the woods, who go astray-are lost-but
seldom return. Sometimes a search-party finds their bodies in the
spring, after the melting of the snows. In Quebec, and above all in
the far regions of the north, the very word, ecarte, has taken on a
new and sinister import, from the peril overhanging him who loses
his way, for a short day only, in that limitless forest.
"He went astray ... The storm caught him in the burnt country and
he halted for a day. So much we know, for the Indians found a
shelter of fir branches he had made for himself, and they saw his
tracks. He set out again because his provisions were low and he was
in haste to reach the end of his journey, as I suppose; but the
weather did not mend, snow was falling, the nor'west wind never
eased, and it is likely he caught no glimpse of the sun to guide
him, for the Indians said that his tracks turned off from the river
Croche which he had been following and wandered away, straight to
There was no further speech; neither from the two men who had
listened with assenting motions of their heads while they followed
every turn of Eutrope's grim story; nor from the mother whose hands
were clasped upon her knees,--as in a belated supplication; nor from
Maria . .
"When they heard this, men from Ouatchouan set forth after the
weather was a little better. But all his footsteps were covered, and
they returned saying that they had found no trace; that was three
days ago is lost ..."
The listeners stirred, and broke the stillness with a sigh; the tale
was told, nor was there a word that, anyone might speak. The fate of
Francois Paradis was as mournfully sure as though he were buried in
the cemetery at St. Michel de Mistassini to the sound of chants,
with the blessing of a priest.
Silence fell upon the house and all within it. Chapdelaine was
leaning forward, elbows on his knees, his face working,--
mechanically striking one fist upon the other. At length he
spoke:--"It shows we are but little children in the hand of the good
God. Francois was one of the best men of these parts in the woods,
and at finding his way; people who came here used to take him as
guide, and always did he bring them back without mishap. And now he
himself is lost. We are but little children. Some there be who think
themselves pretty strong-able to get on without God's help in their
houses and on their lands...but in the bush..." With solemn
voice and slowly-moving head he repeated: "We are but little
"A good man he was," said Eutrope Gagnon, "in very truth a good
man, strong and brave, with ill-will to none.'
"Indeed that is true. I am not saying that the good God had cause
to send him to his death-him more than another. He was a fine
fellow, hard-working, and I loved him well. But it shows you ..."
"No one ever had a thing against him." Eutrope's generous
insistence carried him on. "A man hard to match for work, afraid of
nothing and obliging withal. Everyone who knew him was fond of
him. You will not find his like."
Raising his eyes to Maria he repeated with emphasis:--"He was a
good man, you will. not find his like."
"When we were at Mistassini," began Madame Chapdelaine, "seven years
ago, he was only a lad, but very strong and quick and as tall. as he
is now-I mean as he was when he came here last summer. Always
good-natured too. No one could help liking him."
They all looked straight before them in speaking, and yet what they
said seemed to be for Maria alone, as if the dear secret of her
heart were open to them. But she spoke not, nor moved, her eyes
fixed upon the frosted panes of the little window, impenetrable as
Eutrope Gagnon did not linger. The Chapdelaines, left to themselves,
were long without speech. At last the father said in a halting
voice:--" Francois Paradis was almost alone in the world; now, as
we all had an affection for him, we perhaps might have a mass or two
said. What do you think, Laura?"
"Yes indeed. Three high masses with music, and when the boys return
from the woods--in health, if such be the will of the good
God-three more for the repose of his soul, poor lad! And every
Sunday we shall, say I a prayer for him."
"He was like the rest of us," Chapdelaine continued, "not without
fault, of course, but kindly and well-living. God and the Holy
Virgin will have pity on him."
Again silence. Maria well. knew it was for her they said these
things-aware of her grief and seeking to assuage it; but she was not
able to speak, either to praise the dead or utter.-her sorrow. A
hand had fastened upon her throat, stifling her, as the narrative
unfolded and the end loomed inevitable; and now this hand found its
way into her breast and was crushing her heart. Presently she would
know a yet more intolerable pain, but now she only felt the deadly
grasp of those five fingers closed about her heart.
Other words were said, but they scarce reached her ear; then came
the familiar evening stir of preparation for the night, the father's
departure on a last visit to the stable and his swift return, face
red with the cold, slamming the door hastily in a swirl of frosty
"Come, Maria." The mother called her very gently, and laid a hand
upon her shoulder. She rose and went to kneel and pray with the
others. Voice answered to voice for ten minutes, murmuring the
sacred words in low monotone.
The usual prayer at an end, the mother whispered:--" Yet five
Paters and five Aves for the souls of those who have suffered
misfortune in the forest." And the voices again rose, this time more
subdued, breaking sometimes to a sob.
When they were silent, and all had risen after the last sign of the
cross, Maria went back to the window. The frost upon the panes made
of them so many fretted squares through which the eye could not
penetrate, shutting away the outside world; but Maria saw them not,
for the tears welled to her eyes and blinded her. She stood there
motionless, with arms hanging piteously by her side, a stricken
figure of grief; then a sudden anguish yet keener and more
unbearable seized upon her; blindly she opened the door and went out
upon the step.
The world that lay beyond the threshold, sunk in moveless white
repose, was of an immense serenity; but when Maria passed from the
sheltering walls the cold smote her like the hungry blade of a sword
and the forest leaped toward her in menace, its inscrutable face
concealing a hundred dreadful secrets which called aloud to her in
lamentable voices. With a little moan she drew back, and closing the
door sat shivering beside the stove. Numbness was yielding, sorrow
taking on an edge, and the hand that clutched her heart set itself
to devising new agonies, each one subtler and more cruel than the
How he must have suffered, far off there amid the snows! So thought
she, as still her own face remembered the sting of the bitter air.
Men threatened by this fate had told her that death coming in such a
guise smote with gentle and painless hand-a hand that merely lulled
to sleep; but she could not make herself believe it, and all the
sufferings that Francois, might have endured before giving up and
falling to the white ground passed before her eyes.
No need for her to see the spot, too well she knew the winter
terrors of the great forest, the snow heaped to the firs' lower
branches, alders almost buried beneath it, birches and aspens naked
as skeletons and shuddering in the icy wind, a sunless sky above the
massed and gloomy spires of green. She sees Francois making his way
through the close-set trees, limbs stiffened with the cold, his skin
raw with that pitiless nor'wester, gnawed by hunger, stumbling with
fatigue, his feet so weary that with no longer strength to lift them
his snowshoes often catch the snow and throw him to his knees.
Doubtless when the storm abated he saw his error, knew that he was
walking toward the barren northland, turned at once and took the
right course--he so experienced, the woods his home from boyhood.
But his food is nearly gone, the cold tortures him; with lowered
head and clenched teeth he fights the implacable winter, calling to
aid his every reserve of strength and high courage. He thinks of the
road he must follow, the miles to be overcome, measures his chances
of life; and fitful memories arise of a house, so warm and snug,
where all will greet him gladly; of Maria who, knowing what he has
dared for her sake, will at length raise to him her truthful eyes
shining with love.
Perhaps he fell for the last time when succour was near, a few yards
only from house or shanty. Often so it happens. Cold and his
ministers of death flung themselves upon him as their prey; they
have stilled the strong limbs forever, covered his open handsome
face with snow, closed the fearless eyes without gentleness or pity,
changed his living body into a thing of ice ... Maria has no more
tears that she may shed, but she shivers and trembles as he must
have trembled and shivered before he sank into merciful
unconsciousness; horror and pity in her face, Maria draws nearer the
stove as though she might thus bring him warmth and shield his dear
life against the assassin.
"O Christ Jesus, who didst stretch forth Thine arm to those in need,
why didst Thou not disperse the snows with those pale hands of
Thine? Holy Virgin, why didst Thou not sustain him by Thy power
when, for the last time, his feet were stumbling? In all the legions
of heaven why was there found no angel to show him the way?"
But it is her grief that utters these reproaches, and the steadfast
heart of Maria is fearful of having sinned in yielding to it.
Another dread is soon to assail her. Perhaps Francois Paradis was
not able quite faithfully to keep the promises he made to her. In
the shanty, among rough and careless men, may he not have had
moments of weakness; blasphemed or taken the names of the saints in
vain, and thus have gone to his death with sin upon his conscience,
under the weight of divine wrath.
Her parents had promised but a little ago that masses should be
said. How good they were! Having guessed her secret how kindly had
they been silent! But she herself might help with prayers the poor
soul in torment. Her beads still lay upon the table; she takes them
in her hands, and forthwith the words of the Ave mount to her
lips,--"Hail Mary, full of grace..."
Did you doubt of her, O mother of the Galilean? Since that only
eight days before she strove to reach your ear with her thousand
prayers, and you but clothed yourself in divine impassivity while
fate accomplished its purpose, think you that she questions your
goodness or your power? It would indeed have been to misjudge her.
As once she sought your aid for a man, so now she asks your pardon
for a soul, in the same words, with the same humility and boundless
"Blessed art Thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of Thy
But still she cowers by the great stove, and though the fire's heat
strikes through her, she ceases not to shudder as she thinks of the
frozen world about her, of Paradis, who cannot be insentient, who
must be so bitter cold in his bed of snow
THE INTERPRETER OF GOD
ONE evening in February Samuel Chapdelaine said to his daughter:
"The roads are passable; if you wish it, Maria, we shall go to La
Pipe on Sunday for the mass." "Very well, father;" but she replied
in a voice so dejected, almost indifferent, that her parents
exchanged glances behind her back.
Country folk do not die for love, nor spend the rest of their days
nursing a wound. They are too near to nature, and know too well the
stern laws that rule their lives. Thus it is perhaps, that they are
sparing of high-sounding words; choosing to say "liking" rather than
"loving ... .. ennui" rather than "grief," that so the joys and
sorrows of the heart may bear a fit proportion to those more anxious
concerns of life which have to do with their daily toil, the yield
of their lands, provision for the future.
Maria did not for a moment dream that life for her was over, or that
the world must henceforward be a sad wilderness, because Francis
Paradis would not return in the spring nor ever again. But her heart
was aching, and while sorrow possessed it the future held no promise
When Sunday arrived, father and daughter early began to make ready
for the two hours' journey which would bring them to St. Henri de
Taillon, and the church. Before half-past seven Charles Eugene was
harnessed, and Maria, still wearing a heavy winter cloak, had
carefully deposited in her purse the list of her mother's
commissions. A few minutes later the sleigh-bells were tinkling, and
the rest of the family grouped themselves at the little square
window to watch the departure.
For the first hour the horse could not go beyond a walk, sinking
knee-deep in snow; for only the Chapdelaines used this road, laid
out and cleared by themselves, and not enough travelled to become
smooth and hard. But when they reached the beaten highway Charles
Eugene trotted along briskly.
They passed through Honfleur, a hamlet of eight scattered houses,
and then re-entered the woods. After a time they came upon
clearings, then houses appeared dotted along the road; little by
little the dusky ranks of the forest retreated, and soon they were
in the village with other sleighs before and following them, all
going toward the church.
Since the beginning of the year Maria had gone three times to hear
mass at St. Henri de Taillon, which the people of the country
persist in calling La Pipe, as in the gallant days of the first
settlers. For her, besides being an exercise of piety, this was
almost the only distraction possible and her father sought to
furnish it whenever he could do so, believing that the impressive
rites of the church and a meeting with acquaintances in the village
would help to banish her grief.
On this occasion when the mass was ended, instead of paying visits
they went to the curees house. It was already thronged with members
of the congregation from remote farms, for the Canadian priest not
only has the consciences of his flock in charge, but is their
counsellor in all affairs, and the composer of their disputes; the
solitary individual of different station to whom they can resort for
the solving of their difficulties.
The cure of St. Henri sent none away empty who asked his advice;
some he dealt with in a few swift words amidst a general
conversation where he bore his cheerful part; others at greater
length in the privacy of an adjoining room. When the turn of the
Chapdelaines came he looked at his watch.
"We shall. have dinner first. What say you, my good friends? You
must have found an appetite on the road. As for myself, singing mass
makes me hungry beyond anything you could believe."
He laughed heartily, more tickled than anyone at his own joke, and
led his guests into the dining-room. Another priest was there from a
neighbouring parish, and two or three farmers. The meal was one long
discussion about husbandry, with a few amusing stories and bits of
harmless gossip thrown in; now and then one of the farmers, suddenly
remembering where he was, would labour some pious remark which the
priests acknowledged with a nod or an absent-minded "Yes! Yes!"
The dinner over at last, some of the guests departed after lighting
their pipes. The cure, catching a glance from Chapdelaine, seemed to
recall something; arising, he motioned to Maria, and went before her
into the next room which served him both for visitors and as his
A small harmonium stood against the wall; on the other side was a
table with agricultural journals, a Civil Code and a few books bound
in black leather; on the walls hung a portrait of Pius X., an
engraving of the Holy Family, the coloured broadside of a Quebec
merchant with sleighs and threshing-machines side by side, and a
number of official notices as to precautions against forest fires
and epidemics amongst cattle.
Turning to Maria, the cure said kindly enough;--"So it appears that
you are distressing yourself beyond what is reasonable and right?"
She looked at him humbly, not far from believing that the priest's
supernatural power had divined her trouble without need of telling.
He inclined his tall figure, and bent toward her his thin peasant
face; for beneath the robe was still the tiller of the soil: the
gaunt and yellow visage, the cautious eyes, the huge bony shoulders.
Even his hands--hands wont to dispense the favours of Heaven-were
those of the husbandman, with swollen veins beneath the dark skin.
But Maria saw in him only the priest, the cure of the parish,
appointed of God to interpret life to her and show her the path of
"Be seated there," he said, pointing to a chair. She sat down
somewhat like a schoolgirl who is to have a scolding, somewhat like
a woman in a sorcerer's den who awaits in mingled hope and dread the
working of his unearthly spells... ... ...
An hour later the sleigh was speeding over the hard snow.
Chapdelaine drowsed, and the reins were slipping from his open
hands. Rousing himself and lifting his head, he sang again in
full-voiced fervour the hymn he was singing as they left the
... Adorons-le dans le ciel.
Adorons-le sur l'autel ...
Then he fell silent, his chin dropping slowly toward his breast, and
the only sound upon the road was the tinkle of sleigh-bells.
Maria was thinking of the priest's words: "If there was affection
between you it is very proper that you should know regret. But you
were not pledged to one another, because neither you nor he had
spoken to your parents; therefore it is not befitting or right that
you should sorrow thus, nor feel so deep a grief for a young man
who, after all is said, was nothing to you..."
And again: "That masses should be sung, that you should pray for
him, such things are useful and good, you could do no better. Three
high masses with music, and three more when the boys return from the
woods, as your father has asked me, most assuredly these will help
him, and also you may be certain they will delight him more than
your lamentations, since they will shorten by so much his time of
expiation. But to grieve like this, and to go about casting gloom
over the household is not well, nor is it pleasing in the sight of
He did not appear in the guise of a comforter, nor of one who gives
counsel in the secret affairs of the heart, but rather as a man of
the law or a chemist who enunciates his bald formulas, invariable
"The duty of a girl like you--good-looking, healthy, active withal
and a clever housewife--is in the first place to help her old
parents, and in good time to marry and bring up a Christian family
of her own. You have no call to the religious life? No. Then you
must give up torturing yourself in this fashion, because it is a
sacrilegious thing and unseemly, seeing that the young man was
nothing whatever to you. The good God knows what is best for us; we
should neither rebel nor complain ..."
In all this, but one phrase left Maria a little doubting, it was the
priest's assurance that Francois Paradis, in the place where now he
was, cared only for masses to repose his soul, and never at all for
the deep and tender regrets lingering behind him. This she could not
constrain herself to believe. Unable to think of him otherwise in
death than in life, she felt it must bring him something of
happiness and consolation that her sorrow was keeping alive their
ineffectual love for a little space beyond death. Yet, since the
priest had said it ...
The road wound its way among the trees rising sombrely from the
snow. Here and there a squirrel, alarmed by the swiftly passing
sleigh and the tinkling bells, sprang upon a trunk and scrambled
upward, clinging to the bark. From the gray sky a biting cold was
falling and the wind stung the cheek, for this was February, with
two long months of winter yet to come.
As Charles Eugene trotted along the beaten road, bearing the
travellers to their lonely house, Maria, in obedience to the words
of the cure at St. Henri, strove to drive away gloom and put
mourning from her; as simple-mindedly as she would have fought the
temptation of a dance, of a doubtful amusement or anything that was
plainly wrong and hence forbidden.
They reached home as night was falling. The coming of evening was
only a slow fading of the light, for, since morning, the heavens had
been overcast, the sun obscured. A sadness rested upon the pallid
earth; the firs and cypresses did not wear the aspect of living
trees and the naked birches seemed to doubt of the springtime. Maria
shivered as she left the sleigh, and hardly noticed Chien, barking
and gambolling a welcome, or the children who called to her from the
door-step. The world seemed strangely empty, for this evening at
least. Love was snatched away, and they forbade remembrance. She
went swiftly into the house without looking about her, conscious of
a new dread and hatred for the bleak land, the forest's eternal
shade, the snow and the cold,--for all those things she had lived her
life amongst, which now had wounded her.
LOVE BEARING GIFTS
MARCH came, and one day Tit'Be brought the news from Honfleur that
there would be a large gathering in the evening at Ephrem
Surprenant's to which everyone was invited.
But someone must stay to look after the house, and as Madame
Chapdelaine had set her heart on this little diversion after being
cooped up for all these months, it was Tit'Be himself who was left
at home. Honfleur, the nearest village to their house, was eight
miles away; but what were eight miles over the snow and through the
woods compared with the delight of hearing songs and stories, and of
talk with people from afar?
A numerous company was assembled under the Surprenant roof: several
of the villagers, the three Frenchmen who had bought his nephew
Lorenzo's farm, and also, to the Chapdelaines' great surprise,
Lorenzo himself, back once more from the States upon business that
related to the sale and the settling of his father's affairs. He
greeted Maria very warmly, and seated himself beside her.
The men lit their pipes; they chatted about the weather, the
condition of the roads, the country news; but the conversation
lagged, as though all were looking for it to take some unusual turn.
Their glances sought Lorenzo and the three Frenchmen, expecting
strange and marvellous tales of distant lands and unfamiliar manners
from an assembly so far out of the common. The Frenchmen, only a few
months in the country, apparently felt a like curiosity, for they
listened, and spoke but little.
Samuel Chapdelaine, who was meeting them for the first time, deemed
himself called upon to put them through a catechism in the ingenuous
"So you have come here to till the land. How do you like Canada?"
"It is a beautiful country, new and so vast ... In the
summer-time there are many flies, and the winters are trying; but I
suppose that one gets used to these things in time."
The father it was who made reply, his sons only nodding their heads
in assent with eyes glued to the floor. Their appearance alone would
have served to distinguish them from the other dwellers in the
village, but as they spoke the gap widened, and the words that fell
from their lips had a foreign ring. There was none of the slowness
of the Canadian speech, nor of that indefinable accent found in no
comer of France, which is only a peasant blend of the different
pronunciations of former emigrants. They used words and turns of
phrase one never hears in Quebec, even in the towns, and which to
these simple men seemed fastidious and wonderfully refined.
"Before coming to these parts were you farmers in your own country?"
"What trade then did you follow?"
The Frenchman hesitated a moment before. replying; possibly thinking
that what he was about to say would be novel, and hard for them to
understand. "I was a tuner myself, a piano-tuner; my two sons here
were clerks, Edmond in an office, Pierre in a shop."
Clerks--that was plain enough for anyone; but their minds were a
little hazy as to the father's business.
However Ephrem Surprenant chimed in with.--" Piano-tuner; that was
it, just so!" And his glance at Conrad Neron his neighbour was a
trifle superior and challenging, as though intimating.--" You would
not believe me, and maybe you don't know what it means, but now you
"Piano-tuner," Samuel Chapdelaine echoed in turn, slowly grasping
the meaning of the words. "And is that a good trade? Do you earn
handsome wages? Not too handsome, eh! ... At any rate you are well
educated, you and your sons; you can read and write and cipher? And
here am I, not able even to read!"
"Nor I!" struck in Ephrem Surprenant, and Conrad Neron and Egide
Racicot added: "Nor I!" "Nor I!" in chorus, whereupon the whole of
them broke out laughing.
A motion of the Frenchman's hand told them indulgently that they
could very well dispense with these accomplishments; to himself of
little enough use at the moment.
"You were not able to make a decent living out of your trades over
there. That is so, is it not? And therefore you came here?"
The question was put simply, without thought of offence, for he was
amazed that anyone should abandon callings that seemed so easy and
so pleasant for this arduous life on the land.
Why indeed had they come? ... A few months earlier they would have
discovered a thousand reasons and clothed them in words straight
from the heart: weariness of the footway and the pavement, of the
town's sullied air; revolt against the prospect of lifelong slavery;
some chance stirring word of an irresponsible speaker preaching the
gospel of vigour and enterprise, of a free and healthy life upon a
fruitful soil. But a few months ago they could have found glowing
sentences to tell it all ... Now their best was a sorry effort to
evade the question, as they groped for any of the illusions that
remained to them.
"People are not always happy in the cities," said the father.
"Everything is dear, and one is confined."
In their narrow Parisian lodging it had seemed so wonderful a thing
to them, the notion that in Canada they would spend their days out
of doors, breathing the taintless air of a new country, close beside
the mighty forest. The black-flies they had not foreseen, nor
comprehended the depth of the winter's cold; the countless ill turns
of a land that has no pity were undivined.
"Did you picture it to yourselves as you have found it," Chapdelaine
persisted, "the country here, the life?"
"Not exactly," replied the Frenchman in a low voice. "No, not
exactly ..." And a shadow crossed his face which brought from
Ephrem. Surprenant:--"It is rough here, rough and hard!"
Their heads assented, and their eyes fell: three narrow-shouldered
men, their faces with the pallor of the town still upon them after
six months on the land; three men whom a fancy had torn from
counter, office, piano-stool-from the only lives for which they were
bred. For it is not the peasant alone who suffers by uprooting from
his native soil. They were seeing their mistake, and knew they were
too unlike in grain to copy those about them; lacking the strength,
the rude health, the toughened fibre, that training for every task
which fits the Canadian to be farmer, woodsman or carpenter,
according to season and need.
The father was dreamily shaking his head, lost in thought; one of
the sons, elbows on knees, gazed wonderingly at the palms of his
delicate hands, calloused by the rough work of the fields. All three
seemed to be turning over and over in their minds the melancholy
balance-sheet of a failure. Those about them were thinking--
"Lorenzo sold his place for more than it was worth; they have but
little money left and are in hard case; men like these are not built
for living on the land."
Madame Chapdelaine, partly in pity and partly for the honour of
farming, let fall a few encouraging words:--" It is something of a
struggle at the beginning-if you are not used to it; but when your
land is in better order you will see that life becomes easier."
"It is a queer thing," said Conrad Neron, "how every man finds it
equally hard to rest content. Here are three who left their homes
and came this long way to settle and farm, and here am I always
saying to myself that nothing would be so pleasant as to sit quietly
in an office all the day, a pen behind my ear, sheltered from cold
wind and hot sun."
"Everyone to his own notion," declared Lorenzo Surprenant, with
"And your notion is not to stick in Hon-fleur sweating over the
stumps," added Racicot with a loud laugh.
"You are quite right there, and I make no bones about it; that sort
of thing would never have suited me. These men here bought my land-a
good farm, and no one can gainsay it. They wanted to buy a farm and
I sold them mine. But as for myself, I am well enough where I am,
and have no wish to return."
Madame Chapdelaine shook her head. "There is no better life than the
life of a farmer who has good health and owes no debts. He is a free
man, has no boss, owns his beasts, works for his own profit ...
The finest life there is!"
"I hear them all say that," Lorenzo retorted, one is free, his own
master. And you seem to pity those who work in factories because
they have a boss, and must do as they are told. Free-on the
land-come now!" He spoke defiantly, with more and more animation.
"There is no man in the world less free than a farmer ... When you
tell of those who have succeeded, who are well provided with
everything needful on a farm, who have had better luck than others,
you say.--'Ah, what a fine life they lead! They are comfortably off,
own good cattle.' That is not how to put it. The truth is that their
cattle own them. In all the world there is no 'boss' who behaves as
stupidly as the beasts you favour. Pretty nearly every day they give
you trouble or do you some mischief. Now it is a skittish horse that
runs away or lashes out with his heels; then it is a cow, however
good-tempered, that won't keep still to be milked and tramples on
your toes when the flies annoy her. And even if by good fortune they
don't harm you, they are forever finding a way to destroy your
comfort and to vex you..."
"I know how it is; I was brought up on a farm. And you, most of you
farmers, know how it is too. All the morning you have worked hard,
and go to your house for dinner and a little rest. Then, before you
are well seated at table, a child is yelling:--'The cows are over
the fence;' or 'The sheep are in the crop,' and everyone jumps up
and runs, thinking of the oats or the barley it has been such a
trouble to raise, that these miserable fools are ruining. The men
dash about brandishing sticks till they are out of breath; the women
stand screaming in the farm-yard. And when you have managed to drive
the cows or the sheep into their paddock and put up the rails, you
get back to the house nicely 'rested' to find the pea-soup cold and
full of flies, the pork under the table gnawed by dogs and cats, and
you eat what you can lay your hands on, watching for the next trick
the wretched animals are getting ready to play on you."
"You are their slaves; that's what you are. You tend them, you
clean them, you gather up their dung as the poor do the rich man's
crumbs. It is you who must keep them alive by hard work, because the
earth is miserly and the summer so short. That is the way of it, and
there is no help, as you cannot get on without them; but for cattle
there would be no living on the land. But even if you could ...
even if you could ... still would you have other masters: the
summer, beginning too late and ending too soon; the winter, eating
up seven long months of the year and bringing in nothing; drought
and rain which always come just at the wrong moment..."
"In the towns these things do not matter; but here you have no
defence against them and they do you hurt; and I have not taken into
account the extreme cold, the badness of the roads, the loneliness
of being far away from everything, with no amusements. Life is one
kind of hardship on top of another from beginning to end. It is
often said that only those make a real success who are born and
brought up on the land, and of course that is true; as for the
people in the cities, small danger that they would ever be foolish
enough to put up with such a way of living."
He spoke with heat and volubly--a man of the town who talks every
day with his equals, reads the papers, hears public speakers. The
listeners, of a race easily moved by words, were carried away by his
plaints and criticisms; the very real harshness of their lives was
presented in such a new and startling light as to surprise even
However Madame Chapdelaine again shook her head. "Do not say such
things as that; there is no happier life in the world than the life
of a farmer who owns good land."
"Not in these parts, Madame Chapdelaine. You are too far north; the
summer is too short; the grain is hardly up before the frosts come.
Each time that I return from the States, and see the tiny wooden
houses lost in this wilderness-so far from one another that they
seem frightened at being alone-and the woods hemming you in on every
side ... By Heaven! I lose heart for you, I who live here no
longer, and I ask myself how it comes about that all you folk did
not long ago seek a kinder climate where you would find everything
that makes for comfort, where you could go out for a walk in the
winter-time without being in fear of death ..."
Without being in fear of death! Maria shuddered as the thought
swiftly awoke of those dark secrets hidden beneath the ever-lasting
green and white of the forest. Lorenzo Surprenant was right in what
he had been saying; it was a pitiless ungentle land. The menace
lurking just outside the door-the cold-the shrouding snows-the blank
solitude-forced a sudden entrance and crowded about the stove, an
evil swarm sneering presages of ill or hovering in a yet more
dreadful silence:--"Do you remember, my sister, the men, brave and
well-beloved, whom we have stain and hidden in the woods? Their
souls have known how to escape us; but their bodies, their-bodies,
their bodies, none shall ever snatch them from our hands ..."
The voice of the wind at the comers of the house was loud with
hollow laughter, and to Maria it seemed that all gathered within the
wooden walls huddled and spoke low, like men whose lives are under a
threat and who go in dread.
A burden of sadness was upon the rest of the evening, at least for
her. Racicot told stories of the chase: of trapped bears struggling
and growling so fiercely at the sight of the trapper that he loses
courage and falls a-trembling; and then, giving up suddenly when the
hunters come in force and the deadly guns are aimed--giving up,
covering their heads with their paws and whimpering with groans and
outcries almost human, very heart-rending and pitiful.
After these tales came others of ghosts and apparitions; of
blood-curdling visitations or solemn warnings to men who had
blasphemed or spoken ill of the priests. Then, as no one could be
persuaded to sing, they played at cards and the conversation dropped
to more commonplace themes. The only memory that Maria carried away
of the later talk, as the sleigh bore them homeward through the
midnight woods, was of Lorenzo Surprenant extolling the United
States and the magnificence of its great cities, the easy and
pleasant life, the never-ending spectacle of the fine straight
streets flooded with light at evening.
Before she departed Lorenzo said in quiet tones, almost in her
ear.--"To-morrow is Sunday; I shall be over to see you in the
A few short hours of night, a morning of sunlight on the snow, and
again he is by her side renewing his tale of wonders, his
interrupted plea. For it was to her he had been speaking the evening
before; Maria knew it well. The scorn he showed for a country life,
his praises of the town, these were but a preface to the allurements
he was about to offer in all their varied forms, as one shows the
pictures in a book, turning page by page.
"Maria," he began, "you have not the faintest idea! As yet, the most
wonderful things you ever saw were the shops in Roberval, a high
mass, an evening entertainment at the convent with acting. City
people would laugh to think of it! You simply cannot imagine ...
Just to stroll through the big streets in the evening--not on little
plank-walks like those of Roberval, but on fine broad asphalt
pavements as level as a table--just that and no more, what with the
lights, the electric cars coming and going continually, the shops
and the crowds, you would find enough there to amaze you for weeks
together. And then all the amusements one has: theatres, circusses,
illustrated papers, and places everywhere that you can go into for a
nickel--five cents--and pass two hours laughing and crying. To
think, Maria, you do not even know what the moving pictures are!"
He stopped for a little, reviewing in his mind the marvels of the
cinematograph, asking himself whether he could hope to describe
convincingly the fare it provided:--those thrilling stories of young
girls, deserted or astray, which crowd the screen with twelve
minutes of heart-rending misery and three of amends and heavenly
reward in surroundings of incredible luxury;--the frenzied galloping
of cowboys in pursuit of Indian ravishers; the tremendous fusillade;
the rescue at the last conceivable second by soldiers arriving in a
whirlwind, waving triumphantly the star-spangled banner ... after
pausing in doubt he shook his head, conscious that he had no words
to paint such glories.
They walked on snow-shoes side by side over the snow, through the
burnt lands that lie on the Peribonka's high bank above the fall.
Lorenzo had used no wile to secure Maria's company, he simply
invited her before them all, and now he told of his love, in the
same straightforward practical way.
"The first day I saw you, Maria, the very first day ... that is
only the truth! For a long time I had not been back in this country,
and I was thinking what a miserable place it was to live in, that
the men were a lot of simpletons who had never seen anything and the
girls not nearly so quick and clever as they are in the States ...
And then, the moment I set eyes on you, there was I saying to myself
that I was the simpleton, for neither at Lowell nor Boston had I
ever met a girl like yourself. When I returned I used to be thinking
a dozen times a day that some wretched farmer would make love to you
and carry you off, and every time my heart sank. It was on your
account that I came back, Maria, came up here from near Boston,
three days' journey! The business I had, I could have done it all by
letter; it was you I wished to see, to tell you what was in my heart
to say and to hear the answer you would give me."
Wherever the snow was clear for a few yards, free of dead trees and
stumps, and be could lift his eyes without fear of stun-Ning, they
were fixed upon Maria; between the woollen cap and the long woollen
jersey curving to her vigorous form he saw the outline of her face,
downward turned, expressing only gentleness and patience. Every
glance gave fresh reason for his love but brought him no hint of a
"This ... this is no place for you, Maria. The country is too
rough, the work too hard; barely earning one's bread is killing
toil. In a factory over there, clever and strong as you are, soon
you would be in the way of making nearly as much as I do; but no
need of that if you were my wife. I earn enough for both of us, and
we should have every comfort: good clothes to wear, a pretty flat in
a brick house with gas and hot water, and all sorts of contrivances
you never heard of to save you labour and worry every moment of the
day. And don't let the idea enter your head that all the people are
English. I know many Canadian families who work as I do or even keep
shops. And there is a splendid church with a Canadian priest as
cure--Mr. Tremblay from St. Hyacinthe. You would never be lonesome ..."
Pausing again he surveyed the white plain with its ragged crop of
brown stumps, the bleak plateau dropping a little farther in a long
slope to the levels of the frozen river; meanwhile ransacking his
mind for some final persuasive word.
"I hardly know what to say ... You have always lived here and it
is not possible for you to guess what life is elsewhere, nor would I
be able to make you understand were I to talk forever. But I love
you, Maria, I earn a good wage and I never touch a drop. If you will
marry me as I ask I will take you off to a country that will open
your eyes with astonishment--a fine country, not a bit like this,
where we can live in a decent way and be happy for the rest of our
Maria still was silent, and yet the sentences of Lorenzo Surprenant
beat upon her heart as succeeding waves roll against the shore. It
was not his avowals of love, honest and sincere though they were,
but the lures he used which tempted her. Only of cheap pleasures had
he spoken, of trivial things ministering to comfort or vanity, but
of these alone was she able to conjure up a definite idea. All
else--the distant glamour of the city, of a life new and
incomprehensible to her, full in the centre of the bustling world
and no longer at its very confines--enticed her but the more in its
shimmering remoteness with the mystery of a great light that shines
Whatsoever there may be of wonder and exhilaration in the sight and
touch of the crowd; the rich harvests of mind and sense for which
the city dweller has bartered his rough heritage of pride in the
soil, Maria was dimly conscious of as part of this other life in a
new world, this glorious re-birth for which she was already
yearning. But above all else the desire was strong upon her now to
flee away, to escape.
The wind from the cast was driving before it a host of melancholy
snow-laden clouds. Threateningly they swept over white ground and
sullen wood, and the earth seemed awaiting another fold of its
winding-sheet; cypress, spruce and fir, close side by side and
motionless, were passive in their attitude of uncomplaining
endurance. The stumps above the snow were like floating wreckage on
a dreary sea. In all the landscape there was naught that spoke of a
spring to come--of warmth and growth; rather did it seem a shard of
some disinherited planet under the eternal rule of deadly cold.
All of her life had Maria known this cold, this snow, the land's
death-like sleep, these austere and frowning woods; now was she
coming to view them with fear and hate. A paradise surely must it
be, this country to the south where March is no longer winter and in
April the leaves are green! At midwinter one takes to the road
without snowshoes, unclad in furs, beyond sight of the cruel forest.
And the cities ... the pavements ...
Questions framed themselves upon her lips. She would know if lofty
houses and shops stood unbrokenly on both sides of the streets, as
she had been told; if the electric cars ran all the year round; if
the living was very dear ... And the answers to her questions
would have satisfied but a little of this eager curiosity, would
scarcely have disturbed the enchanting vagueness of her illusion.
She was silent, however, dreading to speak any word that might seem
like the foreshadowing of a promise. Though Lorenzo gazed at her
long as they walked together across the snow, he was able to guess
nothing of what was passing in her heart.
"You will not have me, Maria? You have no liking for me, or is it,
perhaps, that you cannot make up your mind?" As still she gave no
reply he clung to this idea, fearing that she might hastily refuse
"No need whatever that you should say 'Yes' at once. You have not
known me very long ... But think of what I have said to you. I
will come back, Maria. It is a long journey and costly, but I will
come. And if only you give thought to it, you will see there is no
young fellow here who could give you such a future as I can; because
if you marry me we shall live like human beings, and not have to
kill ourselves tending cattle and grubbing in the earth in this
out-of-the-way comer of the world."
They returned to the house. Lorenzo gossiped a little about his
journey to the States, where the springtime would have arrived
before him, of the plentiful and well-paid work to which his good
clothes and prosperous air bore witness. Then he bade them adieu,
and Maria, whose eyes had carefully been avoiding his, seated
herself by the window, and watched the night and the snow falling
together as she pondered in the deep unrest of her spirit.
LOVE BEARING CHAINS
No one asked Maria any questions that evening, or on the following
evenings; but some member of the family must have told Eutrope
Gagnon of Lorenzo Surprenant's visit and his evident intentions, for
the next Sunday after dinner came Eutrope in turn, and Maria heard
another suitor declare his love.
Francois had come in the full tide of summer, from the land of
mystery at the headwaters of the rivers; the memory of his artless
words brought back the dazzling sunshine, the ripened blueberries
and the last blossoms of the laurel fading in the undergrowth; after
him appeared Lorenzo Surprenant offering other gifts,--visions of
beautiful distant cities, of a life abounding in unknown wonders.
When Eutrope spoke, it was in a shamefaced halting way, as though he
foresaw defeat, knowing full well that he bore little in his hands
wherewith to tempt her.
Boldly enough he asked Maria to walk with him, but when they were
dressed and outside the door, they saw that snow was falling. Maria
stood dubiously on the step, a hand on the latch as though she would
return; and Eutrope, unwilling to lose his chance, began forthwith
to speak--hastening as though doubtful that he would be able to say
all that was in his mind.
"You know very well, Maria, how I feel toward you. I said nothing
before as my farm was not so forward that we could live there
comfortably, and moreover I guessed that you liked Francois Paradis
better than me. But as Francois is no longer here, and this young
fellow from the States is courting you, I said to myself that I,
too, might try my fortune ..."
The snow was coming now in serried flakes, fluttering whitely for an
instant against the darkly-encircling forest, on the way to join
that other snow with which five months of winter had burdened the
"It is true enough that I am not rich; but I have two lots of my
own, paid for out and out, and you know the soil is good. I shall
work on it all spring, take the stumps out of the large field below
the ridge of rock, put up some fences, and by May there will be a
fine big field ready for seeding. I shall sow a hundred and thirty
bushels, Maria,--a hundred and thirty bushels of wheat, barley and
oats, without reckoning an acre of mixed grain for the cattle. All
the seed, the best seed-grain, I am going to buy at Roberval,
settling for it on the spot ... I have the money put aside; I
shall pay cash, without running into debt to a soul, and if only we
have an average season there will be a fine crop to harvest. Just
think of it, Maria, a hundred and thirty bushels of good seed in
first-rate land! And in the summer before the hay-making, and then
again before the harvest, will be the best chance for building a
nice tight warm little house, all of tamarack. I have the wood
ready, cut and piled behind my barn; my brother will help me,
perhaps Esdras and Da'Be as well, when they get home. Next winter I
shall go to the shanties, taking a horse with me, and in the spring
I shall bring back not less than two hundred dollars in my pocket.
Then, should you be willing to wait so long for me, would be the
Maria was leaning against the door, a hand still upon the latch, her
eyes turned away. Eutrope Gagnon had just this and no more to offer
her: after a year of waiting that she should become his wife, and
live as now she was doing in another wooden house on another
half-cleared farm ... Should do the household work and the
cooking, milk the cows, clean the stable when her man was
away--labour in the fields perhaps, since she was strong and there
would be but two of them ... Should spend her evenings at the
spinning-wheel or in patching old clothes ... Now arid then in
summer resting for half an hour, seated on the door-step, looking
across their scant fields girt by the measureless frowning woods; or
in winter thawing a little patch with her breath on the windowpane,
dulled with frost, to watch the snow falling on the wintry earth and
the forest ... The forest ... Always the inscrutable, inimical
forest, with a host of dark things hiding there--closed round them
with a savage grip that must be loosened little by little, year by
year; a few acres won each spring and autumn as the years pass,
throughout all the long days of a dull harsh life ... No, that she
could not face ...
"I know well enough that we shall have to work hard at first,"
Eutrope went on, "but you have courage, Maria, and are well used to
labour, as I am. I have always worked hard; no one can say that I
was ever lazy, and if only you will marry me it will be my joy to
toil like an ox all the day long to make a thriving place of it, so
that we shall be in comfort before old age comes upon us. I do not
touch drink, Maria, and truly I love you ..."
His voice quivered, and he put out his hand toward the latch to take
hers, or perhaps to hinder her from opening the door and leaving him
without his answer.
"My affection for you ... of that I am not able to speak ..."
Never a word did she utter in reply. Once more a young man was
telling his love, was placing in her hands all he had to give; and
once more she could but hearken in mute embarrassment, only saved
from awkwardness by her immobility and silence. Town-bred girls had
thought her stupid, when she was but honest and truthful; very close
to nature which takes no account of words. In other days when life
was simpler than now it is, when young men paid their
court--masterfully and yet half bashfully--to some deep-bosomed girl
in the ripe fullness of womanhood who had not heard nature's
imperious command, she must have listened thus, in silence; less
attentive to their pleading than to the inner voice, guarding
herself by distance against too ardent a wooing, whilst she awaited
... Chapdelaine were not drawn to her by any charm of gracious
speech, but by her sheer comeliness, and the transparent honest
heart dwelling in her bosom; when they spoke to her of love she was
true to herself, steadfast and serene, saying no word where none was
needful to be said, and for this they loved her only the more.
"This young fellow from the States was ready with fine speeches, but
you must not be carried away by them ..." He caught a hint of
dissent and changed his tone.
"Of course you are quite free to choose, and I have not a word to
say against him. But you would be happier here, Maria, amongst
people like yourself."
Through the falling snow Maria gazed at the rude structure of
planks, between stable and barn, which her father and brother had
thrown together five years before; unsightly and squalid enough it
appeared, now that her fancy had begun to conjure up the stately
buildings of the town. Close and ill-smelling, the floor littered
with manure and foul straw, the pump in one comer that was so hard
to work and set the teeth on edge with its grinding; the
weather-beaten outside, buffeted by wind and never-ending snow--sign
and symbol of what awaited her were she to marry one like Eutrope
Gagnon, and accept as her lot a lifetime of rude toil in this sad
and desolate land ... She shook her head.
"I cannot answer, Eutrope, either yes or no; not just now. I have
given no promise. You must wait."
It was more than she had said to Lorenzo Surprenant, and yet Lorenzo
had gone away with hope in his heart, while Eutrope felt that he had
made his throw and lost. Departing alone, the snow soon hid him. She
entered the house.
* * * * * * *
March dragged through its melancholy days; cold winds drove the gray
clouds back and forth across the sky, and swept the snow hither and
thither; one must needs consult the calendar of the Roberval grain
merchant to get an inkling that spring was drawing near.
Succeeding days were to Maria like those that had gone before, each
one bringing its familiar duties and the same routine; but the
evenings were different, and were filled with pathetic strivings to
think. Beyond doubt her parents had guessed the truth; but they were
unwilling to force her reserve with their advice, nor did she seek
it. She knew that it rested with her alone to make a choice, to
settle the future course of her life, and she, felt like a child at
school, standing on a platform before watchful eyes, bidden to find
by herself the answer to some knotty question.
And this was her problem: when a girl is grown to womanhood, when
she is good-looking, healthy and strong, clever in all that pertains
to the household and the farm, young men come and ask her to marry,
and she must say "Yes" to this one and "No" to another.
If only Francois Paradis had not vanished forever in the great
lonely woods, all were then so plain. No need to ask herself what
she ought to do; she would have gone straight to him, guided by a
wise instinct that she might not gainsay, sure of doing what was
right as a child that obeys a command. But Francois was gone;
neither in the promised springtime nor ever again to return, and the
cure of St. Henri forbade regrets that would prolong the awaiting.
Ah, dear God! How happy had been the early days of this awaiting! As
week followed week something quickened in her heart and shot upward,
like a rich and beauteous sheaf whose opening ears bend low under
their weight. Happiness beyond any dream came dancing to her ...
No, it was stronger and keener yet, this joy of hers. It had been a
great light shining in the twilight of a lonely land, a beacon
toward which one journeys, forgetful of the tears that were about to
flow, saying with glad defiance: "I knew it well--knew that
somewhere on the earth was such a thing as this ..." It was over.
Yes, the gleam was gone. Henceforth must she forget that once it had
shone upon her path, and grope through the dark with faltering
Chapdelaine and Tit'Be were smoking in silence by the stove; the
mother knitted stockings; Chien, stretched out with his head between
his paws, blinked sleepily in enjoyment of the good warmth.
Telesphore had dozed off with the catechism open on his knees, and
the little Alma Rose, not yet in bed, was hovering in doubt between
the wish to draw attention to her brother's indolence, and a sense
of shame at thus betraying him.
Maria looked down again, took her work in hand, and her simple mind
pursued a little further its puzzling train of thought. When a girl
does not feel, or feels no longer, that deep mysterious impulse
toward a man singled out from all the rest of the world, what is
left to guide her? For what things should she seek in her marriage?
For a satisfying life, surely; to make a happy home for herself ...
Her parents would like her to marry Eutrope Gagnon--that she
felt--because she would live near them, and again because this life
upon the land was the only one they knew, and they naturally thought
it better than any other. Eutrope was a fine fellow, hard-working
and of kindly disposition, and he loved her; but Lorenzo Surprenant
also loved her; he, likewise, was steady and a good worker; he was a
Canadian at heart, not less than those amongst whom she lived; he
went to church ... And he offered as his splendid gift a world
dazzling to the eye, all the wonders of the city. He would rescue
her from this oppression of frozen earth and gloomy forest.
She could not as yet resolve to say to herself: "I will marry
Lorenzo Surprenant," but her heart had made its choice. The cruel
north-west wind that heaped the snow above Francois Paradis at the
foot of some desolate cypress bore also to her on its wings the
frown and the harshness of the country wherein she dwelt, and filled
her with hate of the northern winter, the cold, the whitened ground
and the loneliness, of that boundless forest unheedful of the
destinies of men where every melancholy tree is fit to stand in a
home of the dead. Love--all-compelling love--for a brief space had
dwelt within her heart ... Mighty flame, scorching and bright,
quenched now, and never to revive. It left her spirit empty and
yearning; she was fain to seek forgetfulness and cure in that life
afar, among the myriad paler lights of the city.
INTO THE DEEP SILENCE
There came an evening in April when Madame Chapdelaine would not
take her place at the supper table with the others.
"There are pains through my body and I have no appetite," she said,
"I must have strained myself to-day lifting a bag of flour when I
was making bread. Now something catches me in the back, and I am not
No one answered her. Those living sheltered lives take quick alarm
when the mechanism of one of their number goes wrong, but people who
wrestle with the earth for a living feel little surprise if their
labours are too much for them now and then, and the body gives way
in some fibre.
While father and children supped, Madame Chapdelaine sat very still
in her chair beside the stove. She drew her breath hard, and her
broad face was working.
"I am going to bed," she said presently. "A good night's sleep, and
to-morrow morning I shall be all right again; have no doubt of that.
You will see to the baking, Maria."
And indeed in the morning she was up at her usual hour, but when she
had made the batter for the pancakes pain overcame her, and she had
to lie down again. She stood for a minute beside the bed, with both
hands pressed against her back, and made certain that the daily
tasks would be attended to.
"You will give the men their food, Maria, and your father will lend
you a hand at milking the cows if you wish it. I am not good for
anything this morning."
"It will be all right, mother; it will be all right. Take it
quietly; we shall have no trouble."
For two days she kept her bed, with a watchful eye over everything,
directing all the household affairs.
"Don't be in the least anxious," her husband urged again and again.
"There is hardly anything to be done in the house beyond the
cooking, and Maria is quite fit to look after that--everything else
too, by thunder! She is not a little child any longer, and is as
capable as yourself. Lie there quietly, without stirring; and be
easy in your mind, instead of tossing about all the time under the
blankets and making yourself worse...."
On the third day she gave up thinking about the cares of the house
and began to bemoan herself.
"Oh my God!" she wailed. "I have pains all over my body, and my
bead is burning. I think that I am going to die."
Her husband tried to cheer her with his Clumsy pleasantries. "You
are going to die when the good God wills it, and according to my way
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