The Ruling Passion
Henry van Dyke
Part 2 out of 3
disfigure him, roll over and over on the ground with him, like two
dogs tearing each other,--the thought was hateful. His gorge rose
at it. He would never do it, unless to save his life. Then? Well,
then, God must be his judge.
So it was that these two men stood against each other in Abbeville.
Just as strongly as Raoul was set to get into a fight, just so
strongly was Prosper set to keep out of one. It was a trial of
strength between two passions,--the passion of friendship and the
passion of fighting.
Two or three things happened to put an edge on Raoul's hunger for an
The first was the affair at the shanty on Lac des Caps. The wood-
choppers, like sailors, have a way of putting a new man through a
few tricks to initiate him into the camp. Leclere was bossing the
job, with a gang of ten men from St. Raymond under him.
Vaillantcoeur had just driven a team in over the snow with a load of
provisions, and was lounging around the camp as if it belonged to
him. It was Sunday afternoon, the regular time for fun, but no one
dared to take hold of him. He looked too big. He expressed his
opinion of the camp.
"No fun in this shanty, HE? I suppose that little Leclere he makes
you others work, and say your prayers, and then, for the rest, you
can sleep. HE! Well, I am going to make a little fun for you, my
boys. Come, Prosper, get your hat, if you are able to climb a tree."
He snatched the hat from the table by the stove and ran out into the
snow. In front of the shanty a good-sized birch, tall, smooth, very
straight, was still standing. He went up the trunk like a bear.
But there was a dead balsam that had fallen against the birch and
lodged on the lower branches. It was barely strong enough to bear
the weight of a light man. Up this slanting ladder Prosper ran
quickly in his moccasined feet, snatched the hat from Raoul's teeth
as he swarmed up the trunk, and ran down again. As he neared the
ground, the balsam, shaken from its lodgement, cracked and fell.
Raoul was left up the tree, perched among the branches, out of
breath. Luck had set the scene for the lumberman's favourite trick.
"Chop him down! chop him down" was the cry; and a trio of axes were
twanging against the birch tree, while the other men shouted and
laughed and pelted the tree with ice to keep the prisoner from
Prosper neither shouted nor chopped, but he grinned a little as he
watched the tree quiver and shake, and heard the rain of "SACRES!"
and "MAUDITS!" that came out of the swaying top. He grinned--until
he saw that a half-dozen more blows would fell the birch right on
the roof of the shanty.
"Are you crazy?" he cried, as he picked up an axe; "you know nothing
how to chop. You kill a man. You smash the cabane. Let go!" He
shoved one of the boys away and sent a few mighty cuts into the side
of the birch that was farthest from the cabin; then two short cuts
on the other side; the tree shivered, staggered, cracked, and swept
in a great arc toward the deep snow-drift by the brook. As the top
swung earthward, Raoul jumped clear of the crashing branches and
landed safely in the feather-bed of snow, buried up to his neck.
Nothing was to be seen of him but his head, like some new kind of
fire-work--sputtering bad words.
Well, this was the first thing that put an edge on Vaillantcoeur's
hunger to fight. No man likes to be chopped down by his friend,
even if the friend does it for the sake of saving him from being
killed by a fall on the shanty-roof. It is easy to forget that part
of it. What you remember is the grin.
The second thing that made it worse was the bad chance that both of
these men had to fall in love with the same girl. Of course there
were other girls in the village beside Marie Antoinette Girard--
plenty of them, and good girls, too. But somehow or other, when
they were beside her, neither Raoul nor Prosper cared to look at any
of them, but only at 'Toinette. Her eyes were so much darker and
her cheeks so much more red--bright as the berries of the mountain-
ash in September. Her hair hung down to her waist on Sunday in two
long braids, brown and shiny like a ripe hazelnut; and her voice
when she laughed made the sound of water tumbling over little
No one knew which of the two lovers she liked best. At school it was
certainly Raoul, because he was bigger and bolder. When she came
back from her year in the convent at Roberval it was certainly
Prosper, because he could talk better and had read more books. He
had a volume of songs full of love and romance, and knew most of
them by heart. But this did not last forever. 'Toinette's manners
had been polished at the convent, but her ideas were still those of
her own people. She never thought that knowledge of books could
take the place of strength, in the real battle of life. She was a
brave girl, and she felt sure in her heart that the man of the most
courage must be the best man after all.
For a while she appeared to persuade herself that it was Prosper,
beyond a doubt, and always took his part when the other girls
laughed at him. But this was not altogether a good sign. When a
girl really loves, she does not talk, she acts. The current of
opinion and gossip in the village was too strong for her. By the
time of the affair of the "chopping-down" at Lac des Caps, her heart
was swinging to and fro like a pendulum. One week she would walk
home from mass with Raoul. The next week she would loiter in the
front yard on a Saturday evening and talk over the gate with
Prosper, until her father called her into the shop to wait on
It was in one of these talks that the pendulum seemed to make its
last swing and settle down to its resting-place. Prosper was
telling her of the good crops of sugar that he had made from his
"The profit will be large--more than sixty piastres--and with that I
shall buy at Chicoutimi a new four-wheeler, of the finest, a
veritable wedding carriage--if you--if I--'Toinette? Shall we ride
His left hand clasped hers as it lay on the gate. His right arm
stole over the low picket fence and went around the shoulder that
leaned against the gate-post. The road was quite empty, the night
already dark. He could feel her warm breath on his neck as she
"If you! If I! If what? Why so many ifs in this fine speech? Of
whom is the wedding for which this new carriage is to be bought? Do
you know what Raoul Vaillantcoeur has said? 'No more wedding in
this parish till I have thrown the little Prosper over my
As she said this, laughing, she turned closer to the fence and
looked up, so that a curl on her forehead brushed against his cheek.
"BATECHE! Who told you he said that?"
"I heard him, myself."
"In the store, two nights ago. But it was not for the first time.
He said it when we came from the church together, it will be four
"What did you say to him?"
"I told him perhaps he was mistaken. The next wedding might be
after the little Prosper had measured the road with the back of the
longest man in Abbeville."
The laugh had gone out of her voice now. She was speaking eagerly,
and her bosom rose and fell with quick breaths. But Prosper's right
arm had dropped from her shoulder, and his hand gripped the fence as
he straightened up.
"'Toinette!" he cried, "that was bravely said. And I could do it.
Yes, I know I could do it. But, MON DIEU, what shall I say? Three
years now, he has pushed me, every one has pushed me, to fight. And
you--but I cannot. I am not capable of it."
The girl's hand lay in his as cold and still as a stone. She was
silent for a moment, and then asked, coldly, "Why not?"
"Why not? Because of the old friendship. Because he pulled me out
of the river long ago. Because I am still his friend. Because now
he hates me too much. Because it would be a black fight. Because
shame and evil would come of it, whoever won. That is what I fear,
Her hand slipped suddenly away from his. She stepped back from the
"TIENS! You have fear, Monsieur Leclere! Truly I had not thought
of that. It is strange. For so strong a man it is a little stupid
to be afraid. Good-night. I hear my father calling me. Perhaps
some one in the store who wants to be served. You must tell me
again what you are going to do with the new carriage. Good-night!"
She was laughing again. But it was a different laughter. Prosper,
at the gate, did not think it sounded like the running of a brook
over the stones. No, it was more the noise of the dry branches that
knock together in the wind. He did not hear the sigh that came as
she shut the door of the house, nor see how slowly she walked
through the passage into the store.
There seemed to be a great many rainy Saturdays that spring; and in
the early summer the trade in Girard's store was so brisk that it
appeared to need all the force of the establishment to attend to it.
The gate of the front yard had no more strain put upon its hinges.
It fell into a stiff propriety of opening and shutting, at the touch
of people who understood that a gate was made merely to pass
through, not to lean upon.
That summer Vaillantcoeur had a new hat--a black and shiny beaver--
and a new red-silk cravat. They looked fine on Corpus Christi day,
when he and 'Toinette walked together as fiancee's.
You would have thought he would have been content with that. Proud,
he certainly was. He stepped like the cure's big rooster with the
topknot--almost as far up in the air as he did along the ground; and
he held his chin high, as if he liked to look at things over his nose.
But he was not satisfied all the way through. He thought more of
beating Prosper than of getting 'Toinette. And he was not quite
sure that he had beaten him yet.
Perhaps the girl still liked Prosper a little. Perhaps she still
thought of his romances, and his chansons, and his fine, smooth
words, and missed them. Perhaps she was too silent and dull
sometimes, when she walked with Raoul; and sometimes she laughed too
loud when he talked, more at him than with him. Perhaps those St.
Raymond fellows still remembered the way his head stuck out of that
cursed snow-drift, and joked about it, and said how clever and quick
the little Prosper was. Perhaps--ah, MAUDIT! a thousand times
perhaps! And only one way to settle them, the old way, the sure
way, and all the better now because 'Toinette must be on his side.
She must understand for sure that the bravest man in the parish had
That was the summer of the building of the grand stone tower of the
church. The men of Abbeville did it themselves, with their own
hands, for the glory of God. They were keen about that, and the
cure was the keenest of them all. No sharing of that glory with
workmen from Quebec, if you please! Abbeville was only forty years
old, but they already understood the glory of God quite as well
there as at Quebec, without doubt. They could build their own
tower, perfectly, and they would. Besides, it would cost less.
Vaillantcoeur was the chief carpenter. He attended to the affair of
beams and timbers. Leclere was the chief mason. He directed the
affair of dressing the stones and laying them. That required a very
careful head, you understand, for the tower must be straight. In
the floor a little crookedness did not matter; but in the wall--that
might be serious. People have been killed by a falling tower. Of
course, if they were going into church, they would be sure of
heaven. But then think--what a disgrace for Abbeville!
Every one was glad that Leclere bossed the raising of the tower.
They admitted that he might not be brave, but he was assuredly
careful. Vaillantcoeur alone grumbled, and said the work went too
slowly, and even swore that the sockets for the beams were too
shallow, or else too deep, it made no difference which. That BETE
Prosper made trouble always by his poor work. But the friction
never came to a blaze; for the cure was pottering about the tower
every day and all day long, and a few words from him would make a
quarrel go off in smoke.
"Softly, my boys!" he would say; "work smooth and you work fast. The
logs in the river run well when they run all the same way. But when
two logs cross each other, on the same rock--psst! a jam! The whole
drive is hung up! Do not run crossways, my children."
The walls rose steadily, straight as a steamboat pipe--ten, twenty,
thirty, forty feet; it was time to put in the two cross-girders, lay
the floor of the belfry, finish off the stonework, and begin the
pointed wooden spire. The cure had gone to Quebec that very day to
buy the shining plates of tin for the roof, and a beautiful cross of
gilt for the pinnacle.
Leclere was in front of the tower putting on his overalls.
Vaillantcoeur came up, swearing mad. Three or four other workmen
were standing about.
"Look here, you Leclere," said he, "I tried one of the cross-girders
yesterday afternoon and it wouldn't go. The templet on the north is
crooked--crooked as your teeth. We had to let the girder down
again. I suppose we must trim it off some way, to get a level
bearing, and make the tower weak, just to match your sacre bad work,
"Well," said Prosper, pleasant and quiet enough, "I'm sorry for
that, Raoul. Perhaps I could put that templet straight, or perhaps
the girder might be a little warped and twisted, eh? What? Suppose
we measure it."
Sure enough, they found the long timber was not half seasoned and
had corkscrewed itself out of shape at least three inches.
Vaillantcoeur sat on the sill of the doorway and did not even look
at them while they were measuring. When they called out to him what
they had found, he strode over to them.
"It's a dam' lie," he said, sullenly. "Prosper Leclere, you slipped
the string. None of your sacre cheating! I have enough of it
already. Will you fight, you cursed sneak?"
Prosper's face went gray, like the mortar in the trough. His fists
clenched and the cords on his neck stood out as if they were ropes.
He breathed hard. But he only said three words:
"No! Not here."
"Not here? Why not? There is room. The cure is away. Why not
"It is the house of LE BON DIEU. Can we build it in hate?"
"POLISSON! You make an excuse. Then come to Girard's, and fight
Again Prosper held in for a moment, and spoke three words:
"No! Not now."
"Not now? But when, you heart of a hare? Will you sneak out of it
until you turn gray and die? When will you fight, little musk-rat?"
"When I have forgotten. When I am no more your friend."
Prosper picked up his trowel and went into the tower. Raoul bad-
worded him and every stone of his building from foundation to
cornice, and then went down the road to get a bottle of cognac.
An hour later he came back breathing out threatenings and slaughter,
strongly flavoured with raw spirits. Prosper was working quietly on
the top of the tower, at the side away from the road. He saw
nothing until Raoul, climbing up by the ladders on the inside,
leaped on the platform and rushed at him like a crazy lynx.
"Now!" he cried, "no hole to hide in here, rat! I'll squeeze the
lies out of you."
He gripped Prosper by the head, thrusting one thumb into his eye,
and pushing him backward on the scaffolding.
Blinded, half maddened by the pain, Prosper thought of nothing but
to get free. He swung his long arm upward and landed a heavy blow
on Raoul's face that dislocated the jaw; then twisting himself
downward and sideways, he fell in toward the wall. Raoul plunged
forward, stumbled, let go his hold, and pitched out from the tower,
arms spread, clutching the air.
Forty feet straight down! A moment--or was it an eternity?--of
horrible silence. Then the body struck the rough stones at the foot
of the tower with a thick, soft dunt, and lay crumpled up among
them, without a groan, without a movement.
When the other men, who had hurried up the ladders in terror, found
Leclere, he was peering over the edge of the scaffold, wiping the
blood from his eyes, trying to see down.
"I have killed him," he muttered, "my friend! He is smashed to
death. I am a murderer. Let me go. I must throw myself down!"
They had hard work to hold him back. As they forced him down the
ladders he trembled like a poplar.
But Vaillantcoeur was not dead. No; it was incredible--to fall
forty feet and not be killed--they talk of it yet all through the
valley of the Lake St. John--it was a miracle! But Vaillantcoeur
had broken only a nose, a collar-bone, and two ribs--for one like
him that was but a bagatelle. A good doctor from Chicoutimi, a few
months of nursing, and he would be on his feet again, almost as good
a man as he had ever been.
It was Leclere who put himself in charge of this.
"It is my affair," he said--"my fault! It was not a fair place to
fight. Why did I strike? I must attend to this bad work."
"MAIS, SACRE BLEU!" they answered, "how could you help it? He
forced you. You did not want to be killed. That would be a little
"No," he persisted, "this is my affair. Girard, you know my money
is with the notary. There is plenty. Raoul has not enough, perhaps
not any. But he shall want nothing--you understand--nothing! It is
my affair, all that he needs--but you shall not tell him--no! That
Prosper had his way. But he did not see Vaillantcoeur after he was
carried home and put to bed in his cabin. Even if he had tried to
do so, it would have been impossible. He could not see anybody.
One of his eyes was entirely destroyed. The inflammation spread to
the other, and all through the autumn he lay in his house, drifting
along the edge of blindness, while Raoul lay in his house slowly
The cure went from one house to the other, but he did not carry any
messages between them. If any were sent one way they were not
received. And the other way, none were sent. Raoul did not speak
of Prosper; and if one mentioned his name, Raoul shut his mouth and
made no answer.
To the cure, of course, it was a distress and a misery. To have a
hatred like this unhealed, was a blot on the parish; it was a shame,
as well as a sin. At last--it was already winter, the day before
Christmas--the cure made up his mind that he would put forth one
more great effort.
"Look you, my son," he said to Prosper, "I am going this afternoon
to Raoul Vaillantcoeur to make the reconciliation. You shall give
me a word to carry to him. He shall hear it this time, I promise
you. Shall I tell him what you have done for him, how you have
cared for him?"
"No, never," said Prosper; "you shall not take that word from me.
It is nothing. It will make worse trouble. I will never send it."
"What then?" said the priest. "Shall I tell him that you forgive
"No, not that," answered Prosper, "that would be a foolish word.
What would that mean? It is not I who can forgive. I was the one
who struck hardest. It was he that fell from the tower."
"Well, then, choose the word for yourself. What shall it be? Come,
I promise you that he shall hear it. I will take with me the
notary, and the good man Girard, and the little Marie Antoinette.
You shall hear an answer. What message?"
"Mon pere," said Prosper, slowly, "you shall tell him just this. I,
Prosper Leclere, ask Raoul Vaillantcoeur that he will forgive me for
not fighting with him on the ground when he demanded it."
Yes, the message was given in precisely those words. Marie
Antoinette stood within the door, Bergeron and Girard at the foot of
the bed, and the cure spoke very clearly and firmly. Vaillantcoeur
rolled on his pillow and turned his face away. Then he sat up in
bed, grunting a little with the pain in his shoulder, which was
badly set. His black eyes snapped like the eyes of a wolverine in a
"Forgive?" he said, "no, never. He is a coward. I will never
A little later in the afternoon, when the rose of sunset lay on the
snowy hills, some one knocked at the door of Leclere's house.
"ENTREZ!" he cried. "Who is there? I see not very well by this
light. Who is it?"
"It is me, said 'Toinette, her cheeks rosier than the snow outside,
"nobody but me. I have come to ask you to tell me the rest about
that new carriage--do you remember?"
The voice in the canoe behind me ceased. The rain let up. The
SLISH, SLISH of the paddle stopped. The canoe swung sideways to the
breeze. I heard the RAP, RAP, RAP of a pipe on the gunwale, and the
quick scratch of a match on the under side of the thwart.
"What are you doing, Ferdinand?"
"I go to light the pipe, m'sieu'."
"Is the story finished?"
"But yes--but no--I know not, m'sieu'. As you will."
"But what did old Girard say when his daughter broke her engagement
and married a man whose eyes were spoiled?"
"He said that Leclere could see well enough to work with him in the
"And what did Vaillantcoeur say when he lost his girl?"
"He said it was a cursed shame that one could not fight a blind
"And what did 'Toinette say?"
"She said she had chosen the bravest heart in Abbeville."
"And Prosper--what did he say?"
"M'sieu', I know not. He said it only to 'Toinette."
THE GENTLE LIFE
Do you remember that fair little wood of silver birches on the West
Branch of the Neversink, somewhat below the place where the Biscuit
Brook runs in? There is a mossy terrace raised a couple of feet
above the water of a long, still pool; and a very pleasant spot for
a friendship-fire on the shingly beach below you; and a plenty of
painted trilliums and yellow violets and white foam-flowers to adorn
your woodland banquet, if it be spread in the month of May, when
Mistress Nature is given over to embroidery.
It was there, at Contentment Corner, that Ned Mason had promised to
meet me on a certain day for the noontide lunch and smoke and talk,
he fishing down Biscuit Brook, and I down the West Branch, until we
came together at the rendezvous. But he was late that day--good old
Ned! He was occasionally behind time on a trout stream. For he
went about his fishing very seriously; and if it was fine, the sport
was a natural occasion of delay. But if it was poor, he made it an
occasion to sit down to meditate upon the cause of his failure, and
tried to overcome it with many subtly reasoned changes of the fly--
which is a vain thing to do, but well adapted to make one forgetful
of the flight of time.
So I waited for him near an hour, and then ate my half of the
sandwiches and boiled eggs, smoked a solitary pipe, and fell into a
light sleep at the foot of the biggest birch tree, an old and trusty
friend of mine. It seemed like a very slight sound that roused me:
the snapping of a dry twig in the thicket, or a gentle splash in the
water, differing in some indefinable way from the steady murmur of
the stream; something it was, I knew not what, that made me aware of
some one coming down the brook. I raised myself quietly on one
elbow and looked up through the trees to the head of the pool. "Ned
will think that I have gone down long ago," I said to myself; "I
will just lie here and watch him fish through this pool, and see how
he manages to spend so much time about it."
But it was not Ned's rod that I saw poking out through the bushes at
the bend in the brook. It was such an affair as I had never seen
before upon a trout stream: a majestic weapon at least sixteen feet
long, made in two pieces, neatly spliced together in the middle, and
all painted a smooth, glistening, hopeful green. The line that hung
from the tip of it was also green, but of a paler, more transparent
colour, quite thick and stiff where it left the rod, but tapering
down towards the end, as if it were twisted of strands of horse-
hair, reduced in number, until, at the hook, there were but two
hairs. And the hook--there was no disguise about that--it was an
unabashed bait-hook, and well baited, too. Gently the line swayed
to and fro above the foaming water at the head of the pool; quietly
the bait settled down in the foam and ran with the current around
the edge of the deep eddy under the opposite bank; suddenly the line
straightened and tautened; sharply the tip of the long green rod
sprang upward, and the fisherman stepped out from the bushes to play
Where had I seen such a figure before? The dress was strange and
quaint--broad, low shoes, gray woollen stockings, short brown
breeches tied at the knee with ribbons, a loose brown coat belted at
the waist like a Norfolk jacket; a wide, rolling collar with a bit
of lace at the edge, and a soft felt hat with a shady brim. It was
a costume that, with all its oddity, seemed wonderfully fit and
familiar. And the face? Certainly it was the face of an old
friend. Never had I seen a countenance of more quietness and
kindliness and twinkling good humour.
"Well met, sir, and a pleasant day to you," cried the angler, as his
eyes lighted on me. "Look you, I have hold of a good fish; I pray
you put that net under him, and touch not my line, for if you do,
then we break all. Well done, sir; I thank you. Now we have him
safely landed. Truly this is a lovely one; the best that I have
taken in these waters. See how the belly shines, here as yellow as
a marsh-marigold, and there as white as a foam-flower. Is not the
hand of Divine Wisdom as skilful in the colouring of a fish as in
the painting of the manifold blossoms that sweeten these wild
"Indeed it is," said I, "and this is the biggest trout that I have
seen caught in the upper waters of the Neversink. It is certainly
eighteen inches long, and should weigh close upon two pounds and a
"More than that," he answered, "if I mistake not. But I observe
that you call it a trout. To my mind, it seems more like a char, as
do all the fish that I have caught in your stream. Look here upon
these curious water-markings that run through the dark green of the
back, and these enamellings of blue and gold upon the side. Note,
moreover, how bright and how many are the red spots, and how each
one of them is encircled with a ring of purple. Truly it is a fish
of rare beauty, and of high esteem with persons of note. I would
gladly know if it he as good to the taste as I have heard it reputed."
"It is even better," I replied; "as you shall find, if you will but
Then a curious impulse came to me, to which I yielded with as little
hesitation or misgiving, at the time, as if it were the most natural
thing in the world.
"You seem a stranger in this part of the country, sir," said I; "but
unless I am mistaken you are no stranger to me. Did you not use to
go a-fishing in the New River, with honest Nat. and R. Roe, many
years ago? And did they not call you Izaak Walton?"
His eyes smiled pleasantly at me and a little curve of merriment
played around his lips. "It is a secret which I thought not to have
been discovered here," he said; "but since you have lit upon it, I
will not deny it."
Now how it came to pass that I was not astonished nor dismayed at
this, I cannot explain. But so it was; and the only feeling of
which I was conscious was a strong desire to detain this visitor as
long as possible, and have some talk with him. So I grasped at the
only expedient that flashed into my mind.
"Well, then, sir," I said, "you are most heartily welcome, and I
trust you will not despise the only hospitality I have to offer. If
you will sit down here among these birch trees in Contentment
Corner, I will give you half of a fisherman's luncheon, and will
cook your char for you on a board before an open wood-fire, if you
are not in a hurry. Though I belong to a nation which is reported
to be curious, I will promise to trouble you with no inquisitive
questions; and if you will but talk to me at your will, you shall
find me a ready listener."
So we made ourselves comfortable on the shady bank, and while I
busied myself in splitting the fish and pinning it open on a bit of
board that I had found in a pile of driftwood, and setting it up
before the fire to broil, my new companion entertained me with the
sweetest and friendliest talk that I had ever heard.
"To speak without offence, sir," he began, "there was a word in your
discourse a moment ago that seemed strange to me. You spoke of
being 'in a hurry'; and that is an expression which is unfamiliar to
my ears; but if it mean the same as being in haste, then I must tell
you that this is a thing which, in my judgment, honest anglers
should learn to forget, and have no dealings with it. To be in
haste is to be in anxiety and distress of mind; it is to mistrust
Providence, and to doubt that the issue of all events is in wiser
hands than ours; it is to disturb the course of nature, and put
overmuch confidence in the importance of our own endeavours.
"For how much of the evil that is in the world cometh from this
plaguy habit of being in haste! The haste to get riches, the haste
to climb upon some pinnacle of worldly renown, the haste to resolve
mysteries--from these various kinds of haste are begotten no small
part of the miseries and afflictions whereby the children of men are
tormented: such as quarrels and strifes among those who would over-
reach one another in business; envyings and jealousies among those
who would outshine one another in rich apparel and costly equipage;
bloody rebellions and cruel wars among those who would obtain power
over their fellow-men; cloudy disputations and bitter controversies
among those who would fain leave no room for modest ignorance and
lowly faith among the secrets of religion; and by all these miseries
of haste the heart grows weary, and is made weak and dull, or else
hard and angry, while it dwelleth in the midst of them.
"But let me tell you that an angler's occupation is a good cure for
these evils, if for no other reason, because it gently dissuadeth us
from haste and leadeth us away from feverish anxieties into those
ways which are pleasantness and those paths which are peace. For an
angler cannot force his fortune by eagerness, nor better it by
discontent. He must wait upon the weather, and the height of the
water, and the hunger of the fish, and many other accidents of which
he has no control. If he would angle well, he must not be in haste.
And if he be in haste, he will do well to unlearn it by angling, for
I think there is no surer method.
"This fair tree that shadows us from the sun hath grown many years
in its place without more unhappiness than the loss of its leaves in
winter, which the succeeding season doth generously repair; and
shall we be less contented in the place where God hath planted us?
or shall there go less time to the making of a man than to the
growth of a tree? This stream floweth wimpling and laughing down to
the great sea which it knoweth not; yet it doth not fret because the
future is hidden; and doubtless it were wise in us to accept the
mysteries of life as cheerfully and go forward with a merry heart,
considering that we know enough to make us happy and keep us honest
for to-day. A man should be well content if he can see so far ahead
of him as the next bend in the stream. What lies beyond, let him
trust in the hand of God.
"But as concerning riches, wherein should you and I be happier, this
pleasant afternoon of May, had we all the gold in Croesus his
coffers? Would the sun shine for us more bravely, or the flowers
give forth a sweeter breath, or yonder warbling vireo, hidden in her
leafy choir, send down more pure and musical descants, sweetly
attuned by natural magic to woo and win our thoughts from vanity and
hot desires into a harmony with the tranquil thoughts of God? And
as for fame and power, trust me, sir, I have seen too many men in my
time that lived very unhappily though their names were upon all
lips, and died very sadly though their power was felt in many lands;
too many of these great ones have I seen that spent their days in
disquietude and ended them in sorrow, to make me envy their
conditions or hasten to rival them. Nor do I think that, by all
their perturbations and fightings and runnings to and fro, the world
hath been much bettered, or even greatly changed. The colour and
complexion of mortal life, in all things that are essential, remain
the same under Cromwell or under Charles. The goodness and mercy of
God are still over all His works, whether Presbytery or Episcopacy
be set up as His interpreter. Very quietly and peacefully have I
lived under several polities, civil and ecclesiastical, and under
all there was room enough to do my duty and love my friends and go
a-fishing. And let me tell you, sir, that in the state wherein I
now find myself, though there are many things of which I may not
speak to you, yet one thing is clear: if I had made haste in my
mortal concerns, I should not have saved time, but lost it; for all
our affairs are under one sure dominion which moveth them forward to
their concordant end: wherefore 'HE THAT BELIEVETH SHALL NOT MAKE
HASTE,' and, above all, not when he goeth a-angling.
"But tell me, I pray you, is not this char cooked yet? Methinks the
time is somewhat overlong for the roasting. The fragrant smell of
the cookery gives me an eagerness to taste this new dish. Not that
I am in haste, but--
"Well, it is done; and well done, too! Marry, the flesh of this
fish is as red as rose-leaves, and as sweet as if he had fed on
nothing else. The flavour of smoke from the fire is but slight, and
it takes nothing from the perfection of the dish, but rather adds to
it, being clean and delicate. I like not these French cooks who
make all dishes in disguise, and set them forth with strange foreign
savours, like a masquerade. Give me my food in its native dress,
even though it be a little dry. If we had but a cup of sack, now,
or a glass of good ale, and a pipeful of tobacco?
"What! you have an abundance of the fragrant weed in your pouch?
Sir, I thank you very heartily! You entertain me like a prince.
Not like King James, be it understood, who despised tobacco and
called it a 'lively image and pattern of hell'; nor like the Czar of
Russia who commanded that all who used it should have their noses
cut off; but like good Queen Bess of glorious memory, who disdained
not the incense of the pipe, and some say she used one herself;
though for my part I think the custom of smoking one that is more
fitting for men, whose frailty and need of comfort are well known,
than for that fairer sex whose innocent and virgin spirits stand
less in want of creature consolations.
"But come, let us not trouble our enjoyment with careful
discrimination of others' scruples. Your tobacco is rarely good;
I'll warrant it comes from that province of Virginia which was named
for the Virgin Queen; and while we smoke together, let me call you,
for this hour, my Scholar; and so I will give you four choice rules
for the attainment of that unhastened quietude of mind whereof we
did lately discourse.
"First: you shall learn to desire nothing in the world so much but
that you can be happy without it.
"Second: you shall seek that which you desire only by such means as
are fair and lawful, and this will leave you without bitterness
towards men or shame before God.
"Third: you shall take pleasure in the time while you are seeking,
even though you obtain not immediately that which you seek; for the
purpose of a journey is not only to arrive at the goal, but also to
find enjoyment by the way.
"Fourth: when you attain that which you have desired, you shall
think more of the kindness of your fortune than of the greatness of
your skill. This will make you grateful, and ready to share with
others that which Providence hath bestowed upon you; and truly this
is both reasonable and profitable, for it is but little that any of
us would catch in this world were not our luck better than our
"And to these Four Rules I will add yet another--Fifth: when you
smoke your pipe with a good conscience, trouble not yourself because
there are men in the world who will find fault with you for so
doing. If you wait for a pleasure at which no sour-complexioned
soul hath ever girded, you will wait long, and go through life with
a sad and anxious mind. But I think that God is best pleased with
us when we give little heed to scoffers, and enjoy His gifts with
thankfulness and an easy heart.
"Well, Scholar, I have almost tired myself, and, I fear, more than
almost tired you. But this pipe is nearly burned out, and the few
short whiffs that are left in it shall put a period to my too long
discourse. Let me tell you, then, that there be some men in the
world who hold not with these my opinions. They profess that a life
of contention and noise and public turmoil, is far higher than a
life of quiet work and meditation. And so far as they follow their
own choice honestly and with a pure mind, I doubt not that it is as
good for them as mine is for me, and I am well pleased that every
man do enjoy his own opinion. But so far as they have spoken ill of
me and my opinions, I do hold it a thing of little consequence,
except that I am sorry that they have thereby embittered their own
"For this is the punishment of men who malign and revile those that
differ from them in religion, or prefer another way of living; their
revilings, by so much as they spend their wit and labour to make
them shrewd and bitter, do draw all the sweet and wholesome sap out
of their lives and turn it into poison; and so they become vessels
of mockery and wrath, remembered chiefly for the evil things that
they have said with cleverness.
"For be sure of this, Scholar, the more a man giveth himself to
hatred in this world, the more will he find to hate. But let us
rather give ourselves to charity, and if we have enemies (and what
honest man hath them not?) let them be ours, since they must, but
let us not be theirs, since we know better.
"There was one Franck, a trooper of Cromwell's, who wrote ill of me,
saying that I neither understood the subjects whereof I discoursed
nor believed the things that I said, being both silly and
pretentious. It would have been a pity if it had been true. There
was also one Leigh Hunt, a maker of many books, who used one day a
bottle of ink whereof the gall was transfused into his blood, so
that he wrote many hard words of me, setting forth selfishness and
cruelty and hypocrisy as if they were qualities of my disposition.
God knew, even then, whether these things were true of me; and if
they were not true, it would have been a pity to have answered them;
but it would have been still more a pity to be angered by them. But
since that time Master Hunt and I have met each other; yes, and
Master Franck, too; and we have come very happily to a better
"Trust me, Scholar, it is the part of wisdom to spend little of your
time upon the things that vex and anger you, and much of your time
upon the things that bring you quietness and confidence and good
cheer. A friend made is better than an enemy punished. There is
more of God in the peaceable beauty of this little wood-violet than
in all the angry disputations of the sects. We are nearer heaven
when we listen to the birds than when we quarrel with our fellow-
men. I am sure that none can enter into the spirit of Christ, his
evangel, save those who willingly follow his invitation when he
says, 'COME YE YOURSELVES APART INTO A LONELY P1ACE, AND REST A
WHILE.' For since his blessed kingdom was first established in the
green fields, by the lakeside, with humble fishermen for its
subjects, the easiest way into it hath ever been through the wicket-
gate of a lowly and grateful fellowship with nature. He that feels
not the beauty and blessedness and peace of the woods and meadows
that God hath bedecked with flowers for him even while he is yet a
sinner, how shall he learn to enjoy the unfading bloom of the
celestial country if he ever become a saint?
"No, no, sir, he that departeth out of this world without perceiving
that it is fair and full of innocent sweetness hath done little
honour to the every-day miracles of divine beneficence; and though
by mercy he may obtain an entrance to heaven, it will be a strange
place to him; and though he have studied all that is written in
men's books of divinity, yet because he hath left the book of Nature
unturned, he will have much to learn and much to forget. Do you
think that to be blind to the beauties of earth prepareth the heart
to behold the glories of heaven? Nay, Scholar, I know that you are
not of that opinion. But I can tell you another thing which perhaps
you knew not. The heart that is blest with the glories of heaven
ceaseth not to remember and to love the beauties of this world. And
of this love I am certain, because I feel it, and glad because it is
a great blessing.
"There are two sorts of seeds sown in our remembrance by what we
call the hand of fortune, the fruits of which do not wither, but
grow sweeter forever and ever. The first is the seed of innocent
pleasures, received in gratitude and enjoyed with good companions,
of which pleasures we never grow weary of thinking, because they
have enriched our hearts. The second is the seed of pure and gentle
sorrows, borne in submission and with faithful love, and these also
we never forget, but we come to cherish them with gladness instead
of grief, because we see them changed into everlasting joys. And
how this may be I cannot tell you now, for you would not understand
me. But that it is so, believe me: for if you believe, you shall
one day see it yourself.
"But come, now, our friendly pipes are long since burned out. Hark,
how sweetly the tawny thrush in yonder thicket touches her silver
harp for the evening hymn! I will follow the stream downward, but
do you tarry here until the friend comes for whom you were waiting.
I think we shall all three meet one another, somewhere, after sunset."
I watched the gray hat and the old brown coat and long green rod
disappear among the trees around the curve of the stream. Then
Ned's voice sounded in my ears, and I saw him standing above me
"Hallo, old man," he said, "you're a sound sleeper! I hope you've
had good luck, and pleasant dreams."
A FRIEND OF JUSTICE
It was the black patch over his left eye that made all the trouble.
In reality he was of a disposition most peaceful and propitiating, a
friend of justice and fair dealing, strongly inclined to a domestic
life, and capable of extreme devotion. He had a vivid sense of
righteousness, it is true, and any violation of it was apt to heat
his indignation to the boiling-point. When this occurred he was
strong in the back, stiff in the neck, and fearless of consequences.
But he was always open to friendly overtures and ready to make peace
Singularly responsive to every touch of kindness, desirous of
affection, secretly hungry for caresses, he had a heart framed for
love and tranquillity. But nature saw fit to put a black patch over
his left eye; wherefore his days were passed in the midst of
conflict and he lived the strenuous life.
How this sinister mark came to him, he never knew. Indeed it is not
likely that he had any idea of the part that it played in his
career. The attitude that the world took toward him from the
beginning, an attitude of aggressive mistrust,--the role that he was
expected and practically forced to assume in the drama of existence,
the role of a hero of interminable strife,--must have seemed to him
altogether mysterious and somewhat absurd. But his part was fixed
by the black patch. It gave him an aspect so truculent and
forbidding that all the elements of warfare gathered around him as
hornets around a sugar barrel, and his appearance in public was like
the raising of a flag for battle.
"You see that Pichou," said MacIntosh, the Hudson's Bay agent at
Mingan, "you see yon big black-eye deevil? The savages call him
Pichou because he's ugly as a lynx--'LAID COMME UN PICHOU.' Best
sledge-dog and the gurliest tyke on the North Shore. Only two years
old and he can lead a team already. But, man, he's just daft for
the fighting. Fought his mother when he was a pup and lamed her for
life. Fought two of his brothers and nigh killed 'em both. Every
dog in the place has a grudge at him, and hell's loose as oft as he
takes a walk. I'm loath to part with him, but I'll be selling him
gladly for fifty dollars to any man that wants a good sledge-dog,
eh?--and a bit collie-shangie every week."
Pichou had heard his name, and came trotting up to the corner of the
store where MacIntosh was talking with old Grant the chief factor,
who was on a tour of inspection along the North Shore, and Dan
Scott, the agent from Seven Islands, who had brought the chief down
in his chaloupe. Pichou did not understand what his master had been
saying about him: but he thought he was called, and he had a sense
of duty; and besides, he was wishful to show proper courtesy to
well-dressed and respectable strangers. He was a great dog, thirty
inches high at the shoulder; broad-chested, with straight, sinewy
legs; and covered with thick, wavy, cream-coloured hair from the
tips of his short ears to the end of his bushy tail--all except the
left side of his face. That was black from ear to nose--coal-black;
and in the centre of this storm-cloud his eye gleamed like fire.
What did Pichou know about that ominous sign? No one had ever told
him. He had no looking-glass. He ran up to the porch where the men
were sitting, as innocent as a Sunday-school scholar coming to the
superintendent's desk to receive a prize. But when old Grant, who
had grown pursy and nervous from long living on the fat of the land
at Ottawa, saw the black patch and the gleaming eye, he anticipated
evil; so he hitched one foot up on the porch, crying "Get out!" and
with the other foot he planted a kick on the side of the dog's head.
Pichou's nerve-centres had not been shaken by high living. They
acted with absolute precision and without a tremor. His sense of
justice was automatic, and his teeth were fixed through the leg of
the chief factor's boot, just below the calf.
For two minutes there was a small chaos in the post of the
Honourable Hudson's Bay Company at Mingan. Grant howled bloody
murder; MacIntosh swore in three languages and yelled for his dog-
whip; three Indians and two French-Canadians wielded sticks and
fence-pickets. But order did not arrive until Dan Scott knocked the
burning embers from his big pipe on the end of the dog's nose.
Pichou gasped, let go his grip, shook his head, and loped back to
his quarters behind the barn, bruised, blistered, and intolerably
perplexed by the mystery of life.
As he lay on the sand, licking his wounds, he remembered many
strange things. First of all, there was the trouble with his mother
She was a Labrador Husky, dirty yellowish gray, with bristling neck,
sharp fangs, and green eyes, like a wolf. Her name was Babette.
She had a fiendish temper, but no courage. His father was supposed
to be a huge black and white Newfoundland that came over in a
schooner from Miquelon. Perhaps it was from him that the black
patch was inherited. And perhaps there were other things in the
inheritance, too, which came from this nobler strain of blood
Pichon's unwillingness to howl with the other dogs when they made
night hideous; his silent, dignified ways; his sense of fair play;
his love of the water; his longing for human society and friendship.
But all this was beyond Pichou's horizon, though it was within his
nature. He remembered only that Babette had taken a hate for him,
almost from the first, and had always treated him worse than his
all-yellow brothers. She would have starved him if she could. Once
when he was half grown, she fell upon him for some small offence and
tried to throttle him. The rest of the pack looked on snarling and
slavering. He caught Babette by the fore-leg and broke the bone.
She hobbled away, shrieking. What else could he do? Must a dog let
himself be killed by his mother?
As for his brothers--was it fair that two of them should fall foul
of him about the rabbit which he had tracked and caught and killed?
He would have shared it with them, if they had asked him, for they
ran behind him on the trail. But when they both set their teeth in
his neck, there was nothing to do but to lay them both out: which he
did. Afterward he was willing enough to make friends, but they
bristled and cursed whenever he came near them.
It was the same with everybody. If he went out for a walk on the
beach, Vigneau's dogs or Simard's dogs regarded it as an insult, and
there was a fight. Men picked up sticks, or showed him the butt-end
of their dog-whips, when he made friendly approaches. With the
children it was different; they seemed to like him a little; but
never did he follow one of them that a mother did not call from the
house-door: "Pierre! Marie! come away quick! That bad dog will
bite you!" Once when he ran down to the shore to watch the boat
coming in from the mail-steamer, the purser had refused to let the
boat go to land, and called out, "M'sieu' MacIntosh, you git no
malle dis trip, eef you not call avay dat dam' dog."
True, the Minganites seemed to take a certain kind of pride in his
reputation. They had brought Chouart's big brown dog, Gripette,
down from the Sheldrake to meet him; and after the meeting was over
and Gripette had been revived with a bucket of water, everybody,
except Chouart, appeared to be in good humour. The purser of the
steamer had gone to the trouble of introducing a famous BOULE-DOGGE
from Quebec, on the trip after that on which he had given such a
hostile opinion of Pichon. The bulldog's intentions were
unmistakable; he expressed them the moment he touched the beach; and
when they carried him back to the boat on a fish-barrow many
flattering words were spoken about Pichou. He was not insensible to
them. But these tributes to his prowess were not what he really
wanted. His secret desire was for tokens of affection. His
position was honourable, but it was intolerably lonely and full of
trouble. He sought peace and he found fights.
While he meditated dimly on these things, patiently trying to get
the ashes of Dan Scott's pipe out of his nose, his heart was cast
down and his spirit was disquieted within him. Was ever a decent
dog so mishandled before? Kicked for nothing by a fat stranger, and
then beaten by his own master!
In the dining-room of the Post, Grant was slowly and reluctantly
allowing himself to be convinced that his injuries were not fatal.
During this process considerable Scotch whiskey was consumed and
there was much conversation about the viciousness of dogs. Grant
insisted that Pichou was mad and had a devil. MacIntosh admitted
the devil, but firmly denied the madness. The question was, whether
the dog should be killed or not; and over this point there was like
to be more bloodshed, until Dan Scott made his contribution to the
argument: "If you shoot him, how can you tell whether he is mad or
not? I'll give thirty dollars for him and take him home."
"If you do," said Grant, "you'll sail alone, and I'll wait for the
steamer. Never a step will I go in the boat with the crazy brute
that bit me."
"Suit yourself," said Dan Scott. "You kicked before he bit."
At daybreak he whistled the dog down to the chaloupe, hoisted sail,
and bore away for Seven Islands. There was a secret bond of
sympathy between the two companions on that hundred-mile voyage in
an open boat. Neither of them realized what it was, but still it
Dan Scott knew what it meant to stand alone, to face a small hostile
world, to have a surfeit of fighting. The station of Seven Islands
was the hardest in all the district of the ancient POSTES DU ROI.
The Indians were surly and crafty. They knew all the tricks of the
fur-trade. They killed out of season, and understood how to make a
rusty pelt look black. The former agent had accommodated himself to
his customers. He had no objection to shutting one of his eyes, so
long as the other could see a chance of doing a stroke of business
for himself. He also had a convenient weakness in the sense of
smell, when there was an old stock of pork to work off on the
savages. But all of Dan Scott's senses were strong, especially his
sense of justice, and he came into the Post resolved to play a
straight game with both hands, toward the Indians and toward the
Honourable H. B. Company. The immediate results were reproofs from
Ottawa and revilings from Seven Islands. Furthermore the free
traders were against him because he objected to their selling rum to
It must be confessed that Dan Scott had a way with him that looked
pugnacious. He was quick in his motions and carried his shoulders
well thrown back. His voice was heavy. He used short words and few
of them. His eyebrow's were thick and they met over his nose. Then
there was a broad white scar at one corner of his mouth. His
appearance was not prepossessing, but at heart he was a
philanthropist and a sentimentalist. He thirsted for gratitude and
affection on a just basis. He had studied for eighteen months in
the medical school at Montreal, and his chief delight was to
practise gratuitously among the sick and wounded of the
neighbourhood. His ambition for Seven Islands was to make it a
northern suburb of Paradise, and for himself to become a full-
fledged physician. Up to this time it seemed as if he would have to
break more bones than he could set; and the closest connection of
Seven Islands appeared to be with Purgatory.
First, there had been a question of suzerainty between Dan Scott and
the local representative of the Astor family, a big half-breed
descendant of a fur-trader, who was the virtual chief of the Indians
hunting on the Ste. Marguerite: settled by knock-down arguments.
Then there was a controversy with Napoleon Bouchard about the right
to put a fish-house on a certain part of the beach: settled with a
stick, after Napoleon had drawn a knife. Then there was a running
warfare with Virgile and Ovide Boulianne, the free traders, who were
his rivals in dealing with the Indians for their peltry: still
unsettled. After this fashion the record of his relations with his
fellow-citizens at Seven Islands was made up. He had their respect,
but not their affection. He was the only Protestant, the only
English-speaker, the most intelligent man, as well as the hardest
hitter in the place, and he was very lonely. Perhaps it was this
that made him take a fancy to Pichou. Their positions in the world
were not unlike. He was not the first man who has wanted sympathy
and found it in a dog.
Alone together, in the same boat, they made friends with each other
easily. At first the remembrance of the hot pipe left a little
suspicion in Pichou's mind; but this was removed by a handsome
apology in the shape of a chunk of bread and a slice of meat from
Dan Scott's lunch. After this they got on together finely. It was
the first time in his life that Pichou had ever spent twenty-four
hours away from other dogs; it was also the first time he had ever
been treated like a gentleman. All that was best in him responded
to the treatment. He could not have been more quiet and steady in
the boat if he had been brought up to a seafaring life. When Dan
Scott called him and patted him on the head, the dog looked up in
the man's face as if he had found his God. And the man, looking
down into the eye that was not disfigured by the black patch, saw
something that he had been seeking for a long time.
All day the wind was fair and strong from the southeast. The
chaloupe ran swiftly along the coast past the broad mouth of the
River Saint-Jean, with its cluster of white cottages past the hill-
encircled bay of the River Magpie, with its big fish-houses past the
fire-swept cliffs of Riviere-au-Tonnerre, and the turbulent, rocky
shores of the Sheldrake: past the silver cascade of the Riviere-aux-
Graines, and the mist of the hidden fall of the Riviere Manitou:
past the long, desolate ridges of Cap Cormorant, where, at sunset,
the wind began to droop away, and the tide was contrary So the
chaloupe felt its way cautiously toward the corner of the coast
where the little Riviere-a-la-Truite comes tumbling in among the
brown rocks, and found a haven for the night in the mouth of the
There was only one human dwelling-place in sight As far as the eye
could sweep, range after range of uninhabitable hills covered with
the skeletons of dead forests; ledge after ledge of ice-worn granite
thrust out like fangs into the foaming waves of the gulf. Nature,
with her teeth bare and her lips scarred: this was the landscape.
And in the midst of it, on a low hill above the murmuring river,
surrounded by the blanched trunks of fallen trees, and the blackened
debris of wood and moss, a small, square, weather-beaten palisade of
rough-hewn spruce, and a patch of the bright green leaves and white
flowers of the dwarf cornel lavishing their beauty on a lonely
grave. This was the only habitation in sight--the last home of the
Englishman, Jack Chisholm, whose story has yet to be told.
In the shelter of this hill Dan Scott cooked his supper and shared
it with Pichou. When night was dark he rolled himself in his
blanket, and slept in the stern of the boat, with the dog at his
side. Their friendship was sealed.
The next morning the weather was squally and full of sudden anger.
They crept out with difficulty through the long rollers that barred
the tiny harbour, and beat their way along the coast. At Moisie
they must run far out into the gulf to avoid the treacherous shoals,
and to pass beyond the furious race of white-capped billows that
poured from the great river for miles into the sea. Then they
turned and made for the group of half-submerged mountains and
scattered rocks that Nature, in some freak of fury, had thrown into
the throat of Seven Islands Bay. That was a difficult passage. The
black shores were swept by headlong tides. Tusks of granite tore
the waves. Baffled and perplexed, the wind flapped and whirled
among the cliffs. Through all this the little boat buffeted bravely
on till she reached the point of the Gran Boule. Then a strange
The water was lumpy; the evening was growing thick; a swirl of the
tide and a shift of the wind caught the chaloupe and swung her
suddenly around. The mainsail jibed, and before he knew how it
happened Dan Scott was overboard. He could swim but clumsily. The
water blinded him, choked him, dragged him down. Then he felt
Pichou gripping him by the shoulder, buoying him up, swimming
mightily toward the chaloupe which hung trembling in the wind a few
yards away. At last they reached it and the man climbed over the
stern and pulled the dog after him. Dan Scott lay in the bottom of
the boat, shivering, dazed, until he felt the dog's cold nose and
warm breath against his cheek. He flung his arm around Pichon's
"They said you were mad! God, if more men were mad like you!"
Pichou's work at Seven Islands was cut out for him on a generous
scale. It is true that at first he had no regular canine labour to
perform, for it was summer. Seven months of the year, on the North
Shore, a sledge-dog's occupation is gone. He is the idlest creature
in the universe.
But Pichou, being a new-comer, had to win his footing in the
community; and that was no light task. With the humans it was
comparatively easy. At the outset they mistrusted him on account of
his looks. Virgile Boulianne asked: "Why did you buy such an ugly
dog?" Ovide, who was the wit of the family, said: "I suppose
M'sieu' Scott got a present for taking him."
"It's a good dog," said Dan Scott. "Treat him well and he'll treat
you well. Kick him and I kick you."
Then he told what had happened off the point of Gran' Boule. The
village decided to accept Pichou at his master's valuation.
Moderate friendliness, with precautions, was shown toward him by
everybody, except Napoleon Bouchard, whose distrust was permanent
and took the form of a stick. He was a fat, fussy man; fat people
seemed to have no affinity for Pichou.
But while the relations with the humans of Seven Islands were soon
established on a fair footing, with the canines Pichou had a very
different affair. They were not willing to accept any
recommendations as to character. They judged for themselves; and
they judged by appearances; and their judgment was utterly hostile
They decided that he was a proud dog, a fierce dog, a bad dog, a
fighter. He must do one of two things: stay at home in the yard of
the Honourable H. B. Company, which is a thing that no self-
respecting dog would do in the summer-time, when cod-fish heads are
strewn along the beach; or fight his way from one end of the village
to the other, which Pichou promptly did, leaving enemies behind
every fence. Huskies never forget a grudge. They are malignant to
the core. Hatred is the wine of cowardly hearts. This is as true
of dogs as it is of men.
Then Pichou, having settled his foreign relations, turned his
attention to matters at home. There were four other dogs in Dan
Scott's team. They did not want Pichou for a leader, and he knew
it. They were bitter with jealousy. The black patch was loathsome
to them. They treated him disrespectfully, insultingly, grossly.
Affairs came to a head when Pecan, a rusty gray dog who had great
ambitions and little sense, disputed Pichou's tenure of a certain
ham-bone. Dan Scott looked on placidly while the dispute was
terminated. Then he washed the blood and sand from the gashes on
Pecan's shoulder, and patted Pichou on the head.
"Good dog," he said. "You're the boss."
There was no further question about Pichou's leadership of the team.
But the obedience of his followers was unwilling and sullen. There
was no love in it. Imagine an English captain, with a Boer company,
campaigning in the Ashantee country, and you will have a fair idea
of Pichou's position at Seven Islands.
He did not shrink from its responsibilities. There were certain
reforms in the community which seemed to him of vital importance,
and he put them through.
First of all, he made up his mind that there ought to be peace and
order on the village street. In the yards of the houses that were
strung along it there should be home rule, and every dog should deal
with trespassers as he saw fit. Also on the beach, and around the
fish-shanties, and under the racks where the cod were drying, the
right of the strong jaw should prevail, and differences of opinion
should be adjusted in the old-fashioned way. But on the sandy road,
bordered with a broken board-walk, which ran between the houses and
the beach, courtesy and propriety must be observed. Visitors walked
there. Children played there. It was the general promenade. It
must be kept peaceful and decent. This was the First Law of the
Dogs of Seven Islands. If two dogs quarrel on the street they must
go elsewhere to settle it. It was highly unpopular, but Pichou
enforced it with his teeth.
The Second Law was equally unpopular: No stealing from the
Honourable H. B. Company. If a man bought bacon or corned-beef or
any other delicacy, and stored it an insecure place, or if he left
fish on the beach over night, his dogs might act according to their
inclination. Though Pichou did not understand how honest dogs could
steal from their own master, he was willing to admit that this was
their affair. His affair was that nobody should steal anything from
the Post. It cost him many night watches, and some large battles to
carry it out, but he did it. In the course of time it came to pass
that the other dogs kept away from the Post altogether, to avoid
temptations; and his own team spent most of their free time
wandering about to escape discipline.
The Third Law was this. Strange dogs must be decently treated as
long as they behave decently. This was contrary to all tradition,
but Pichou insisted upon it. If a strange dog wanted to fight he
should be accommodated with an antagonist of his own size. If he
did not want to fight he should be politely smelled and allowed to
This Law originated on a day when a miserable, long-legged, black
cur, a cross between a greyhound and a water-spaniel, strayed into
Seven Islands from heaven knows where--weary, desolate, and
bedraggled. All the dogs in the place attacked the homeless beggar.
There was a howling fracas on the beach; and when Pichou arrived,
the trembling cur was standing up to the neck in the water, facing a
semicircle of snarling, snapping bullies who dared not venture out
any farther. Pichou had no fear of the water. He swam out to the
stranger, paid the smelling salute as well as possible under the
circumstances, encouraged the poor creature to come ashore, warned
off the other dogs, and trotted by the wanderer's side for miles
down the beach until they disappeared around the point. What reward
Pichou got for this polite escort, I do not know. But I saw him do
the gallant deed; and I suppose this was the origin of the well-
known and much-resisted Law of Strangers' Rights in Seven Islands.
The most recalcitrant subjects with whom Pichou had to deal in all
these matters were the team of Ovide Boulianne. There were five of
them, and up to this time they had been the best team in the
village. They had one virtue: under the whip they could whirl a
sledge over the snow farther and faster than a horse could trot in a
day. But they had innumerable vices. Their leader, Carcajou, had a
fleece like a merino ram. But under this coat of innocence he
carried a heart so black that he would bite while he was wagging his
tail. This smooth devil, and his four followers like unto himself,
had sworn relentless hatred to Pichou, and they made his life
But his great and sufficient consolation for all toils and troubles
was the friendship with his master. In the long summer evenings,
when Dan Scott was making up his accounts in the store, or studying
his pocket cyclopaedia of medicine in the living-room of the Post,
with its low beams and mysterious green-painted cupboards, Pichou
would lie contentedly at his feet. In the frosty autumnal mornings,
when the brant were flocking in the marshes at the head of the bay,
they would go out hunting together in a skiff. And who could lie so
still as Pichou when the game was approaching? Or who could spring
so quickly and joyously to retrieve a wounded bird? But best of all
were the long walks on Sunday afternoons, on the yellow beach that
stretched away toward the Moisie, or through the fir-forest behind
the Pointe des Chasseurs. Then master and dog had fellowship
together in silence. To the dumb companion it was like walking with
his God in the garden in the cool of the day.
When winter came, and snow fell, and waters froze, Pichou's serious
duties began. The long, slim COMETIQUE, with its curving prow, and
its runners of whalebone, was put in order. The harness of caribou-
hide was repaired and strengthened. The dogs, even the most vicious
of them, rejoiced at the prospect of doing the one thing that they
could do best. Each one strained at his trace as if he would drag
the sledge alone. Then the long tandem was straightened out, Dan
Scott took his place on the low seat, cracked his whip, shouted
"POUITTE! POUITTE!" and the equipage darted along the snowy track
like a fifty-foot arrow.
Pichou was in the lead, and he showed his metal from the start. No
need of the terrible FOUET to lash him forward or to guide his
course. A word was enough. "Hoc! Hoc! Hoc!" and he swung to the
right, avoiding an air-hole. "Re-re! Re-re!" and he veered to the
left, dodging a heap of broken ice. Past the mouth of the Ste.
Marguerite, twelve miles; past Les Jambons, twelve miles more; past
the River of Rocks and La Pentecote, fifteen miles more; into the
little hamlet of Dead Men's Point, behind the Isle of the Wise
Virgin, whither the amateur doctor had been summoned by telegraph to
attend a patient with a broken arm--forty-three miles for the first
day's run! Not bad. Then the dogs got their food for the day, one
dried fish apiece; and at noon the next day, reckless of bleeding
feet, they flew back over the same track, and broke their fast at
Seven Islands before eight o'clock. The ration was the same, a
single fish; always the same, except when it was varied by a cube of
ancient, evil-smelling, potent whale's flesh, which a dog can
swallow at a single gulp. Yet the dogs of the North Shore are never
so full of vigour, courage, and joy of life as when the sledges are
running. It is in summer, when food is plenty and work slack, that
they sicken and die.
Pichou's leadership of his team became famous. Under his discipline
the other dogs developed speed and steadiness. One day they made
the distance to the Godbout in a single journey, a wonderful run of
over eighty miles. But they loved their leader no better, though
they followed him faster. And as for the other teams, especially
Carcajou's, they were still firm in their deadly hatred for the dog
with the black patch.
It was in the second winter after Pichou's coming to Seven Islands
that the great trial of his courage arrived. Late in February an
Indian runner on snowshoes staggered into the village. He brought
news from the hunting-parties that were wintering far up on the Ste.
Marguerite--good news and bad. First, they had already made a good
hunting: for the pelletrie, that is to say. They had killed many
otter, some fisher and beaver, and four silver foxes--a marvel of
fortune. But then, for the food, the chase was bad, very bad--no
caribou, no hare, no ptarmigan, nothing for many days. Provisions
were very low. There were six families together. Then la grippe
had taken hold of them. They were sick, starving. They would
probably die, at least most of the women and children. It was a bad
Dan Scott had peculiar ideas of his duty toward the savages. He was
not romantic, but he liked to do the square thing. Besides, he had
been reading up on la grippe, and he had some new medicine for it,
capsules from Montreal, very powerful--quinine, phenacetine, and
morphine. He was as eager to try this new medicine as a boy is to
fire off a new gun. He loaded the Cometique with provisions and the
medicine-chest with capsules, harnessed his team, and started up the
river. Thermometer thirty degrees below zero; air like crystal;
snow six feet deep on the level.
The first day's journey was slow, for the going was soft, and the
track, at places, had to be broken out with snow-shoes. Camp was
made at the foot of the big fall--a hole in snow, a bed of boughs, a
hot fire and a blanket stretched on a couple of sticks to reflect
the heat, the dogs on the other side of the fire, and Pichou close
to his master.
In the morning there was the steep hill beside the fall to climb,
alternately soft and slippery, now a slope of glass and now a
treacherous drift of yielding feathers; it was a road set on end.
But Pichou flattened his back and strained his loins and dug his
toes into the snow and would not give back an inch. When the rest
of the team balked the long whip slashed across their backs and
recalled them to their duty. At last their leader topped the ridge,
and the others struggled after him. Before them stretched the great
dead-water of the river, a straight white path to No-man's-land.
The snow was smooth and level, and the crust was hard enough to
bear. Pichou settled down to his work at a glorious pace. He
seemed to know that he must do his best, and that something
important depended on the quickness of his legs. On through the
glittering solitude, on through the death-like silence, sped the
COMETIQUE, between the interminable walls of the forest, past the
mouths of nameless rivers, under the shadow of grim mountains. At
noon Dan Scott boiled the kettle, and ate his bread and bacon. But
there was nothing for the dogs, not even for Pichou; for discipline
is discipline, and the best of sledge-dogs will not run well after
he has been fed.
Then forward again, along the lifeless road, slowly over rapids,
where the ice was rough and broken, swiftly over still waters, where
the way was level, until they came to the foot of the last lake, and
camped for the night. The Indians were but a few miles away, at the
head of the lake, and it would be easy to reach them in the morning.
But there was another camp on the Ste. Marguerite that night, and it
was nearer to Dan Scott than the Indians were. Ovide Boulianne had
followed him up the river, close on his track, which made the going
"Does that sacre bourgeois suppose that I allow him all that
pelletrie to himself and the Compagnie? Four silver fox, besides
otter and beaver? NON, MERCI! I take some provision, and some
whiskey. I go to make trade also." Thus spoke the shrewd Ovide,
proving that commerce is no less daring, no less resolute, than
philanthropy. The only difference is in the motive, and that is not
always visible. Ovide camped the second night at a bend of the
river, a mile below the foot of the lake. Between him and Dan Scott
there was a hill covered with a dense thicket of spruce.
By what magic did Carcajou know that Pichou, his old enemy, was so
near him in that vast wilderness of white death? By what mysterious
language did he communicate his knowledge to his companions and stir
the sleeping hatred in their hearts and mature the conspiracy of
Pichou, sleeping by the fire, was awakened by the fall of a lump of
snow from the branch of a shaken evergreen. That was nothing. But
there were other sounds in the forest, faint, stealthy, inaudible to
an ear less keen than his. He crept out of the shelter and looked
into the wood. He could see shadowy forms, stealing among the
trees, gliding down the hill. Five of them. Wolves, doubtless! He
must guard the provisions. By this time the rest of his team were
awake. Their eyes glittered. They stirred uneasily. But they did
not move from the dying fire. It was no concern of theirs what
their leader chose to do out of hours. In the traces they would
follow him, but there was no loyalty in their hearts. Pichou stood
alone by the sledge, waiting for the wolves.
But these were no wolves. They were assassins. Like a company of
soldiers, they lined up together and rushed silently down the slope.
Like lightning they leaped upon the solitary dog and struck him
down. In an instant, before Dan Scott could throw off his blanket
and seize the loaded butt of his whip, Pichou's throat and breast
were torn to rags, his life-blood poured upon the snow, and his
murderers were slinking away, slavering and muttering through the
Dan Scott knelt beside his best friend. At a glance he saw that the
injury was fatal. "Well done, Pichou!" he murmured, "you fought a
And the dog, by a brave effort, lifted the head with the black patch
on it, for the last time, licked his master', hand, and then dropped
back upon the snow--contented, happy, dead.
There is but one drawback to a dog's friendship. It does not last
End of the story? Well, if you care for the other people in it, you
shall hear what became of them. Dan Scott went on to the head of
the lake and found the Indians, and fed them and gave them his
medicine, and all of them got well except two, and they continued to
hunt along the Ste. Marguerite every winter and trade with the
Honourable H. B. Company. Not with Dan Scott, however, for before
that year was ended he resigned his post, and went to Montreal to
finish his course in medicine; and now he is a respected physician
in Ontario. Married; three children; useful; prosperous. But
before he left Seven Islands he went up the Ste. Marguerite in the
summer, by canoe, and made a grave for Pichou's bones, under a
blossoming ash tree, among the ferns and wild flowers. He put a
cross over it.
"Being French," said he, "I suppose he was a Catholic. But I'll
swear he was a Christian."
THE WHITE BLOT
The real location of a city house depends upon the pictures which
hang upon its walls. They are its neighbourhood and its outlook.
They confer upon it that touch of life and character, that power to
beget love and bind friendship, which a country house receives from
its surrounding landscape, the garden that embraces it, the stream
that runs near it, and the shaded paths that lead to and from its
By this magic of pictures my narrow, upright slice of living-space
in one of the brown-stone strata on the eastward slope of Manhattan
Island is transferred to an open and agreeable site. It has windows
that look toward the woods and the sunset, watergates by which a
little boat is always waiting, and secret passageways leading into
fair places that are frequented by persons of distinction and charm.
No darkness of night obscures these outlets; no neighbour's house
shuts off the view; no drifted snow of winter makes them impassable.
They are always free, and through them I go out and in upon my
One of these picture-wanderings has always appeared to me so
singular that I would like, if it were possible, to put it into
It was Pierrepont who first introduced me to the picture--Pierrepont
the good-natured: of whom one of his friends said that he was like
Mahomet's Bridge of Paradise, because he was so hard to cross: to
which another added that there was also a resemblance in the fact
that he led to a region of beautiful illusions which he never
entered. He is one of those enthusiastic souls who are always
discovering a new writer, a new painter, a new view from some old
wharf by the river, a new place to obtain picturesque dinners at a
grotesque price. He swung out of his office, with his long-legged,
easy stride, and nearly ran me down, as I was plodding up-town
through the languor of a late spring afternoon, on one of those
duty-walks which conscience offers as a sacrifice to digestion.
"Why, what is the matter with you?" he cried as he linked his arm
through mine, "you look outdone, tired all the way through to your
backbone. Have you been reading the 'Anatomy of Melancholy,' or
something by one of the new British female novelists? You will have
la grippe in your mind if you don't look out. But I know what you
need. Come with me, and I will do you good."
So saying, he drew me out of clanging Broadway into one of the side
streets that run toward the placid region of Washington Square.
"No, no," I answered, feeling, even in the act of resistance, the
pleasure of his cheerful guidance, "you are altogether wrong. I
don't need a dinner at your new-found Bulgarian table-d'hote--seven
courses for seventy-five cents, and the wine thrown out; nor some of
those wonderful Mexican cheroots warranted to eradicate the tobacco-
habit; nor a draught of your South American melon sherbet that cures
all pains, except these which it causes. None of these things will
help me. The doctor suggests that they do not suit my temperament.
Let us go home together and have a shower-bath and a dinner of
herbs, with just a reminiscence of the stalled ox--and a bout at
backgammon to wind up the evening. That will be the most
"But you mistake me," said he; "I am not thinking of any creature
comforts for you. I am prescribing for your mind. There is a
picture that I want you to see; not a coloured photograph, nor an
exercise in anatomical drawing; but a real picture that will rest
the eyes of your heart. Come away with me to Morgenstern's gallery,
and be healed."
As we turned into the lower end of Fifth Avenue, it seemed as if I
were being gently floated along between the modest apartment-houses
and old-fashioned dwellings, and prim, respectable churches, on the
smooth current of Pierrepont's talk about his new-found picture.
How often a man has cause to return thanks for the enthusiasms of
his friends! They are the little fountains that run down from the
hills to refresh the mental desert of the despondent.
"You remember Falconer," continued Pierrepont, "Temple Falconer,
that modest, quiet, proud fellow who came out of the South a couple
of years ago and carried off the landscape prize at the Academy last
year, and then disappeared? He had no intimate friends here, and no
one knew what had become of him. But now this picture appears, to
show what he has been doing. It is an evening scene, a revelation
of the beauty of sadness, an idea expressed in colours--or rather, a
real impression of Nature that awakens an ideal feeling in the
heart. It does not define everything and say nothing, like so many
paintings. It tells no story, but I know it fits into one. There
is not a figure in it, and yet it is alive with sentiment; it
suggests thoughts which cannot be put into words. Don't you love
the pictures that have that power of suggestion--quiet and strong,
like Homer Martin's 'Light-house' up at the Century, with its
sheltered bay heaving softly under the pallid greenish sky of
evening, and the calm, steadfast glow of the lantern brightening
into readiness for all the perils of night and coming storm? How
much more powerful that is than all the conventional pictures of
light-houses on inaccessible cliffs, with white foam streaming from
them like the ends of a schoolboy's comforter in a gale of wind! I
tell you the real painters are the fellows who love pure nature
because it is so human. They don't need to exaggerate, and they
don't dare to be affected. They are not afraid of the reality, and
they are not ashamed of the sentiment. They don't paint everything
that they see, but they see everything that they paint. And this
picture makes me sure that Falconer is one of them."
By this time we had arrived at the door of the house where
Morgenstern lives and moves and makes his profits, and were admitted
to the shrine of the Commercial Apollo and the Muses in Trade.
It has often seemed to me as if that little house were a silent
epitome of modern art criticism, an automatic indicator, or perhaps
regulator, of the aesthetic taste of New York. On the first floor,
surrounded by all the newest fashions in antiquities and BRIC-A-
BRAC, you will see the art of to-day--the works of painters who are
precisely in the focus of advertisement, and whose names call out an
instant round of applause in the auction-room. On the floors above,
in degrees of obscurity deepening toward the attic, you will find
the art of yesterday--the pictures which have passed out of the
glare of popularity without yet arriving at the mellow radiance of
old masters. In the basement, concealed in huge packing-cases, and
marked "PARIS--FRAGILE,"--you will find the art of to-morrow; the
paintings of the men in regard to whose names, styles, and personal
traits, the foreign correspondents and prophetic critics in the
newspapers, are now diffusing in the public mind that twilight of
familiarity and ignorance which precedes the sunrise of marketable
The affable and sagacious Morgenstern was already well acquainted
with the waywardness of Pierrepont's admiration, and with my own
persistent disregard of current quotations in the valuation of works
of art. He regarded us, I suppose, very much as Robin Hood would
have looked upon a pair of plain yeomen who had strayed into his
lair. The knights of capital, and coal barons, and rich merchants
were his natural prey, but toward this poor but honest couple it
would be worthy only of a Gentile robber to show anything but
courteous and fair dealing.
He expressed no surprise when he heard what we wanted to see, but
smiled tolerantly and led the way, not into the well-defined realm
of the past, the present, or the future, but into a region of
uncertain fortunes, a limbo of acknowledged but unrewarded merits, a
large back room devoted to the works of American painters. Here we
found Falconer's picture; and the dealer, with that instinctive tact
which is the best part of his business capital, left us alone to
look at it.
It showed the mouth of a little river: a secluded lagoon, where the
shallow tides rose and fell with vague lassitude, following the
impulse of prevailing winds more than the strong attraction of the
moon. But now the unsailed harbour was quite still, in the pause of
the evening; and the smooth undulations were caressed by a hundred
opalescent hues, growing deeper toward the west, where the river
came in. Converging lines of trees stood dark against the sky; a
cleft in the woods marked the course of the stream, above which the
reluctant splendours of an autumnal day were dying in ashes of
roses, while three tiny clouds, poised high in air, burned red with
the last glimpse of the departed sun.
On the right was a reedy point running out into the bay, and behind
it, on a slight rise of ground, an antique house with tall white
pillars. It was but dimly outlined in the gathering shadows; yet
one could imagine its stately, formal aspect, its precise garden
with beds of old-fashioned flowers and straight paths bordered with
box, and a little arbour overgrown with honeysuckle. I know not by
what subtlety of delicate and indescribable touches--a slight
inclination in one of the pillars, a broken line which might
indicate an unhinged gate, a drooping resignation in the foliage of
the yellowing trees, a tone of sadness in the blending of subdued
colours--the painter had suggested that the place was deserted. But
the truth was unmistakable. An air of loneliness and pensive sorrow
breathed from the picture; a sigh of longing and regret. It was
haunted by sad, sweet memories of some untold story of human life.
In the corner Falconer had put his signature, T. F., "LARMONE," 189-,
and on the border of the picture he had faintly traced some words,
which we made out at last--
"A spirit haunts the year's last hours."
Pierrepont took up the quotation and completed it--
"A spirit haunts the year's last hours,
Dwelling amid these yellowing bowers:
To himself he talks;
For at eventide, listening earnestly,
At his work you may hear him sob and sigh,
In the walks;
Earthward he boweth the heavy stalks
Of the mouldering flowers:
Heavily hangs the broad sunflower
Over its grave i' the earth so chilly;
Heavily hangs the hollyhock,
Heavily hangs the tiger-lily."
"That is very pretty poetry, gentlemen," said Morgenstern, who had
come in behind us, "but is it not a little vague? You like it, but
you cannot tell exactly what it means. I find the same fault in the
picture from my point of view. There is nothing in it to make a
paragraph about, no anecdote, no experiment in technique. It is
impossible to persuade the public to admire a picture unless you can
tell them precisely the points on which they must fix their
admiration. And that is why, although the painting is a good one, I
should be willing to sell it at a low price."
He named a sum of money in three figures, so small that Pierrepont,
who often buys pictures by proxy, could not conceal his surprise.
"Certainly I should consider that a good bargain, simply for
investment," said he. "Falconer's name alone ought to be worth more
than that, ten years from now. He is a rising man."
"No, Mr. Pierrepont," replied the dealer, "the picture is worth what
I ask for it, for I would not commit the impertinence of offering a
present to you or your friend; but it is worth no more. Falconer's
name will not increase in value. The catalogue of his works is too
short for fame to take much notice of it; and this is the last. Did
you not hear of his death last fall? I do not wonder, for it
happened at some place down on Long Island--a name that I never saw
before, and have forgotten now. There was not even an obituary in
"And besides," he continued, after a pause, "I must not conceal from
you that the painting has a blemish. It is not always visible,
since you have failed to detect it; but it is more noticeable in
some lights than in others; and, do what I will, I cannot remove it.
This alone would prevent the painting from being a good investment.
Its market value will never rise."
He turned the canvas sideways to the light, and the defect became
It was a dim, oblong, white blot in the middle distance; a nebulous
blur in the painting, as if there had been some chemical impurity in
the pigment causing it to fade, or rather as if a long drop of some
acid, or perhaps a splash of salt water, had fallen upon the canvas
while it was wet, and bleached it. I knew little of the possible
causes of such a blot, but enough to see that it could not be erased
without painting over it, perhaps not even then. And yet it seemed
rather to enhance than to weaken the attraction which the picture
had for me.
"Your candour does you credit, Mr. Morgenstern," said I, "but you
know me well enough to be sure that what you have said will hardly
discourage me. For I have never been an admirer of 'cabinet finish'
in works of art. Nor have I been in the habit of buying them, as a
Circassian father trains his daughters, with an eye to the market.
They come into my house for my own pleasure, and when the time
arrives that I can see them no longer, it will not matter much to me
what price they bring in the auction-room. This landscape pleases
me so thoroughly that, if you will let us take it with us this
evening, I will send you a check for the amount in the morning."
So we carried off the painting in a cab; and all the way home I was
in the pleasant excitement of a man who is about to make an addition
to his house; while Pierrepont was conscious of the glow of virtue
which comes of having done a favour to a friend and justified your
own critical judgment at one stroke.
After dinner we hung the painting over the chimney-piece in the room
called the study (because it was consecrated to idleness), and sat
there far into the night, talking of the few times we had met
Falconer at the club, and of his reticent manner, which was broken
by curious flashes of impersonal confidence when he spoke not of
himself but of his art. From this we drifted into memories of good
comrades who had walked beside us but a few days in the path of
life, and then disappeared, yet left us feeling as if we cared more
for them than for the men whom we see every day; and of young
geniuses who had never reached the goal; and of many other glimpses
of "the light that failed," until the lamp was low and it was time
to say good-night.
For several months I continued to advance in intimacy with my
picture. It grew more familiar, more suggestive; the truth and
beauty of it came home to me constantly. Yet there was something in
it not quite apprehended; a sense of strangeness; a reserve which I
had not yet penetrated.
One night in August I found myself practically alone, so far as
human intercourse was concerned, in the populous, weary city. A
couple of hours of writing had produced nothing that would bear the
test of sunlight, so I anticipated judgment by tearing up the
spoiled sheets of paper, and threw myself upon the couch before the
empty fireplace. It was a dense, sultry night, with electricity
thickening the air, and a trouble of distant thunder rolling far
away on the rim of the cloudy sky--one of those nights of restless
dulness, when you wait and long for something to happen, and yet
feel despondently that nothing ever will happen again. I passed
through a region of aimless thoughts into one of migratory and
unfinished dreams, and dropped from that into an empty gulf of
How late it was when I drifted back toward the shore of
consciousness, I cannot tell. But the student-lamp on the table had
burned out, and the light of the gibbous moon was creeping in
through the open windows. Slowly the pale illumination crept up the
eastern wall, like a tide rising as the moon declined. Now it
reached the mantel-shelf and overflowed the bronze heads of Homer
and the Indian Bacchus and the Egyptian image of Isis with the
infant Horus. Now it touched the frame of the picture and lapped
over the edge. Now it rose to the shadowy house and the dim garden,
in the midst of which I saw the white blot more distinctly than ever
It seemed now to have taken a new shape, like the slender form of a
woman, robed in flowing white. And as I watched it through half-
closed eyes, the figure appeared to move and tremble and wave to and
fro, as if it were a ghost.
A haunted picture! Why should it not be so? A haunted ruin, a
haunted forest, a haunted ship,--all these have been seen, or
imagined, and reported, and there are learned societies for
investigating such things. Why should not a picture have a ghost in
My mind, in that curiously vivid state which lies between waking and
sleeping, went through the form of careful reasoning over the
question. If there may be some subtle connection between a house
and the spirits of the people who have once lived in it,--and wise
men have believed this,--why should there be any impassable gulf
between a picture and the vanished lives out of which it has grown?
All the human thought and feeling which have passed into it through
the patient toil of art, remain forever embodied there. A picture
is the most living and personal thing that a man can leave behind
him. When we look at it we see what he saw, hour after hour, day
after day, and we see it through his mood and impression, coloured
by his emotion, tinged with his personality. Surely, if the spirits
of the dead are not extinguished, but only veiled and hidden, and if
it were possible by any means that their presence could flash for a
moment through the veil, it would be most natural that they should
come back again to hover around the work into which their experience
and passion had been woven. Here, if anywhere, they would "Revisit
the pale glimpses of the moon." Here, if anywhere, we might catch
fleeting sight, as in a glass darkly, of the visions that passed
before them while they worked.
This much of my train of reasoning along the edge of the dark, I
remember sharply. But after this, all was confused and misty. The
shore of consciousness receded. I floated out again on the ocean of
forgotten dreams. When I woke, it was with a quick start, as if my
ship had been made fast, silently and suddenly, at the wharf of
reality, and the bell rang for me to step ashore.
But the vision of the white blot remained clear and distinct. And
the question that it had brought to me, the chain of thoughts that
had linked themselves to it, lingered through the morning, and made
me feel sure that there was an untold secret in Falconer's life and
that the clew to it must be sought in the history of his last
But how to trace the connection? Every one who had known Falconer,
however slightly, was out of town. There was no clew to follow.
Even the name "Larmone" gave me no help; for I could not find it on
any map of Long Island. It was probably the fanciful title of some
old country-place, familiar only to the people who had lived there.
But the very remoteness of the problem, its lack of contact with the
practical world, fascinated me. It was like something that had
drifted away in the fog, on a sea of unknown and fluctuating
currents. The only possible way to find it was to commit yourself
to the same wandering tides and drift after it, trusting to a
propitious fortune that you might be carried in the same direction;
and after a long, blind, unhurrying chase, one day you might feel a
faint touch, a jar, a thrill along the side of your boat, and,
peering through the fog, lay your hand at last, without surprise,
upon the very object of your quest.
As it happened, the means for such a quest were at my disposal. I
was part owner of a boat which had been built for hunting and
fishing cruises on the shallow waters of the Great South Bay. It
was a deliberate, but not inconvenient, craft, well named the
Patience; and my turn for using it had come. Black Zekiel, the
captain, crew, and cook, was the very man that I would have chosen
for such an expedition. He combined the indolent good-humour of the
negro with the taciturnity of the Indian, and knew every shoal and
channel of the tortuous waters. He asked nothing better than to set
out on a voyage without a port; sailing aimlessly eastward day after
day, through the long chain of landlocked bays, with the sea
plunging behind the sand-dunes on our right, and the shores of Long
Island sleeping on our left; anchoring every evening in some little
cove or estuary, where Zekiel could sit on the cabin roof, smoking
his corn-cob pipe, and meditating on the vanity and comfort of life,
while I pushed off through the mellow dusk to explore every creek
and bend of the shore, in my light canoe.
There was nothing to hasten our voyage. The three weeks' vacation
was all but gone, when the Patience groped her way through a narrow,
crooked channel in a wide salt-meadow, and entered the last of the
series of bays. A few houses straggled down a point of land; the
village of Quantock lay a little farther back. Beyond that was a
belt of woods reaching to the water; and from these the south-
country road emerged to cross the upper end of the bay on a low
causeway with a narrow bridge of planks at the central point. Here
was our Ultima Thule. Not even the Patience could thread the eye of
this needle, or float through the shallow marsh-canal farther to the
We anchored just in front of the bridge, and as I pushed the canoe
beneath it, after supper, I felt the indefinable sensation of having
passed that way before. I knew beforehand what the little boat
would drift into. The broad saffron light of evening fading over a
still lagoon; two converging lines of pine trees running back into
the sunset; a grassy point upon the right; and behind that a
neglected garden, a tangled bower of honeysuckle, a straight path
bordered with box, leading to a deserted house with a high, white-
pillared porch--yes, it was Larmone.
In the morning I went up to the village to see if I could find trace
of my artist's visit to the place. There was no difficulty in the
search, for he had been there often. The people had plenty of
recollections of him, but no real memory, for it seemed as if none
of them had really known him.
"Queer kinder fellow," said a wrinkled old bayman with whom I walked
up the sandy road, "I seen him a good deal round here, but 'twan't
like havin' any 'quaintance with him. He allus kep' himself to
himself, pooty much. Used ter stay round 'Squire Ladoo's place most
o' the time--keepin' comp'ny with the gal I guess. Larmone? Yaas,
that's what THEY called it, but we don't go much on fancy names down
here. No, the painter didn' 'zactly live there, but it 'mounted to
the same thing. Las' summer they was all away, house shet up,
painter hangin' round all the time, 's if he looked fur 'em to come
back any minnit. Purfessed to be paintin', but I don' see's he did
much. Lived up to Mort Halsey's; died there too; year ago this
fall. Guess Mis' Halsey can tell ye most of any one 'bout him."
At the boarding-house (with wide, low verandas, now forsaken by the
summer boarders), which did duty for a village inn, I found Mrs.
Halsey; a notable housewife, with a strong taste for ancestry, and
an uncultivated world of romance still brightening her soft brown
eyes. She knew all the threads in the story that I was following;
and the interest with which she spoke made it evident that she had
often woven them together in the winter evenings on patterns of her
Judge Ledoux had come to Quantock from the South during the war, and
built a house there like the one he used to live in. There were
three things he hated: slavery and war and society. But he always
loved the South more than the North, and lived like a foreigner,
polite enough, but very retired. His wife died after a few years,
and left him alone with a little girl. Claire grew up as pretty as
a picture, but very shy and delicate. About two years ago Mr.
Falconer had come down from the city; he stayed at Larmone first,
and then he came to the boarding-house, but he was over at the
Ledoux' house almost all the time. He was a Southerner too, and a
relative of the family; a real gentleman, and very proud though he
was poor. It seemed strange that he should not live with them, but
perhaps he felt more free over here. Every one thought he must be
engaged to Claire, but he was not the kind of a man that you could
ask questions about himself. A year ago last winter he had gone up
to the city and taken all his things with him. He had never stayed
away so long before. In the spring the Ledoux had gone to Europe;
Claire seemed to be falling into a decline; her sight seemed to be
failing, and her father said she must see a famous doctor and have a
change of air.
"Mr. Falconer came back in May," continued the good lady, "as if he
expected to find them. But the house was shut up and nobody knew
just where they were. He seemed to be all taken aback; it was queer
if he didn't know about it, intimate as he had been; but he never
said anything, and made no inquiries; just seemed to be waiting, as
if there was nothing else for him to do. We would have told him in
a minute, if we had anything to tell. But all we could do was to
guess there must have been some kind of a quarrel between him and
the Judge, and if there was, he must know best about it himself.
"All summer long he kept going over to the house and wandering
around in the garden. In the fall he began to paint a picture, but
it was very slow painting; he would go over in the afternoon and
come back long after dark, damp with the dew and fog. He kept
growing paler and weaker and more silent. Some days he did not
speak more than a dozen words, but always kind and pleasant. He was
just dwindling away; and when the picture was almost done a fever
took hold of him. The doctor said it was malaria, but it seemed to
me more like a trouble in the throat, a kind of dumb misery. And
one night, in the third quarter of the moon, just after the tide
turned to run out, he raised up in the bed and tried to speak, but
he was gone.
"We tried to find out his relations, but there didn't seem to be
any, except the Ledoux, and they were out of reach. So we sent the
picture up to our cousin in Brooklyn, and it sold for about enough
to pay Mr. Falconer's summer's board and the cost of his funeral.
There was nothing else that he left of any value, except a few
books; perhaps you would like to look at them, if you were his
"I never saw any one that I seemed to know so little and like so
well. It was a disappointment in love, of course, and they all said
that he died of a broken heart; but I think it was because his heart
was too full, and wouldn't break.
"And oh!--I forgot to tell you; a week after he was gone there was a
notice in the paper that Claire Ledoux had died suddenly, on the
last of August, at some place in Switzerland. Her father is still
away travelling. And so the whole story is broken off and will
never be finished. Will you look at the books?"
Nothing is more pathetic, to my mind, than to take up the books of
one who is dead. Here is his name, with perhaps a note of the place
where the volume was bought or read, and the marks on the pages that
he liked best. Here are the passages that gave him pleasure, and
the thoughts that entered into his life and formed it; they became
part of him, but where has he carried them now?
Falconer's little library was an unstudied choice, and gave a hint
of his character. There was a New Testament in French, with his
name written in a slender, woman's hand; three or four volumes of
stories, Cable's "Old Creole Days," Allen's "Kentucky Cardinal,"
Page's "In Old Virginia," and the like; "Henry Esmond" and Amiel's
"Journal" and Lamartine's "Raphael"; and a few volumes of poetry,
among them one of Sidney Lanier's, and one of Tennyson's earlier
There was also a little morocco-bound book of manuscript notes.
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