S. F. HARRISON,
[Transcriber's note: Author's full name is Susie Frances Harrison]
AUTHOR OF "THE FOREST OF BOURG-MARIE," "PINE, ROSE AND FLEURE DE LIS," "CROWDED OUT, AND OTHER SKETCHES," "THE CANADIAN BIRTHDAY BOOK," ETC.
THE MUSSON BOOK COMPANY, LIMITED
CHAPTER I THE HOLY WATERS
CHAPTER II THE WHITE PEACOCK
CHAPTER III THE MAN IN THE CHAIR
CHAPTER IV THE HOUSE OF CLAIRVILLE
CHAPTER V THE UNSEEN HAND
CHAPTER VI THE MISSIONARY
CHAPTER VII THE OXFORD MAN
CHAPTER VIII THE "PIC"
CHAPTER IX PAULINE
CHAPTER X THE PICNIC
CHAPTER XI "ANGEEL"
CHAPTER XII THE HEART OF POUSSETTE
CHAPTER XIII A SICK SEIGNEUR
CHAPTER XIV FATHER RIELLE
CHAPTER XV THE STORM
CHAPTER XVI IN THE BARN
CHAPTER XVII REVELRY BY NIGHT
CHAPTER XVIII A CONCERT DE LUXE
CHAPTER XIX REHABILITATION
CHAPTER XX A RURAL AUTOCRAT
CHAPTER XXI THE NATURAL MAN
CHAPTER XXII THE TROUSSEAU OF PAULINE
CHAPTER XXIII THE SEIGNEUR PASSES
CHAPTER XXIV RELAPSE
CHAPTER XXV THE TROUSSEAU AGAIN
CHAPTER XXVI THE GLISSADE
CHAPTER XXVII THE CARPET BAG
CHAPTER XXVIII THE HAVEN
CHAPTER XXIX THE WILL OF GOD
CHAPTER XXX THE QUEST OF HAPPINESS
THE HOLY WATERS
"...... the sounding cataract Haunted me like a passion."
In a country of cascades, a land of magnificent waterfalls, that watery hemisphere which holds Niagara and reveals to those who care to travel so far north the unhackneyed splendours of the Labrador, the noble fall of St. Ignace, though only second or third in size, must ever rank first in all that makes for majestic and perfect beauty.
It is not alone the wondrous sweep and curve of tumbling brown water that descends by three horseshoe ledges to a swirl of sparkling spray. It is not alone the great volume of the dark river above sent over, thrust down, nor the height from which the olive is hurled to the white below. So, too, plunge and sweep other falls—the Grand Loup in Terrebonne, the Petit Loup in Joliette, the Pleureuse, the Grand Lorette, the Tuque, the big and little Shawenigan, the half-dozen or so "Chaudiere," the Montmorenci or La Vache, but none of these can equal the St. Ignace in point of dignified, unspoilt approach and picturesque surroundings. For a mile above the cataract the river runs, an inky ribbon, between banks of amazing solitariness; no clearing is there, no sign of human habitation, hardly any vestige of animal life. The trees stand thick along the edges, are thick towards the high rocky table-land that lies on either side; it is, in short, a river flowing through a forest. And when it drops, it drops to meet the same impassable wooded banks; it is now a cataract in a forest. Rocks are turbulently heaped upon one hand; upon the other, the three great ledges meet the shock of the descending waters and define the leap by boldly curved thick masses of olive, topaz, and greenish jelly. Where it is brown, it is nearest the rocky bed; where olive, more water is going over; and where green, it is so solid that twice a yard measure alone will penetrate the reach of rock beneath. The white of its flowing spray is whiter than the summer cloud, and the dark green of the pines framing it, shows often black against the summer blue. Its voice—roar as of wind or steady thunder—calling always—has silenced other voices. Birds do not build, nor squirrels climb too near that deep reverberating note, although the blue heron, fearless, frequently stands in summer on the spray-washed rock and seems to listen. Below the filmy smoke of rainbowed arches there is quiet black water, with circles, oily, ominous, moving stealthily along, and below these—a quarter of a mile down—the rapids, swift, impetuous, flashing, ushering in the latter half of the St. Ignace, here at last the river of life and motion, bearing stout booms of great chained logs, with grassy clearings and little settlements at each side, curving into lilied bays, or breaking musically upon yellow beaches, a River of Life indeed, and no longer a river of Death and Negation!
For in the countryside, the paroisse of Juchereau de St. Ignace, the upper part or inky ribbon of the river was frequently called by that gloomy name; a Saguenay in miniature, icy cold, black, solitary, silent, River of Death, who shall live in sight of your blackness? Who may sing aloud at his toil, whether he dig, or plant, or plough, or trap, or fish? Beautiful though the grand sweep and headlong rush of the fall, the people of the settlement avoid its sombre majesty and farms were none and smaller clearings few along the upper St. Ignace. A quarter of a mile back from the fall lay the village, holding a cluster of poor houses, a shop or two, a blacksmith's forge, a large and well-conducted summer hotel patronized for the fishing, a sawmill, depending for power on the Riviere Bois Clair, a brighter, gayer stream than the St. Ignace, and lastly a magnificent stone church capable of containing 1500 people, with a Presbytere attached and quarters for some Recollet brothers.
Such was and is still, doubtless, with a few modifications, the hamlet of St. Ignace, fair type of the primitive Lower Canadian settlement, dominated by the church, its twin spires recalling the towers of Notre Dame, its tin roof shining like silver, the abode of contented ignorance and pious conservatism, the home of those who are best described as a patient peasantry earning a monotonous but steady livelihood, far removed from all understanding of society or the State as a whole. With each other, with Nature, and with the Church they had to do—and thought it enough to keep the peace with all three.
Yet change was in the air, destiny or fate inevitable. The moving on process or progressive spirit was about to infect the obscure, remote, ignorant, contented little paroisse of Juchereau de St. Ignace when one April morning there stood upon the edge of rock nearest the great fall, still partly frozen into stiff angular masses, two men of entirely different aspects, tastes, and habits, yet both strongly agreed upon one essential point, the importance of religion, and, more particularly, the kind of religion practised and set forth by the Methodist Church.
The elder was Monsieur Amable Poussette, owner of the sawmill at Bois Clair and proprietor of the summer hotel, a French Canadian by birth and descent and in appearance, but in clothes, opinions, and religious belief a curious medley of American and Canadian standards. Notwithstanding the variety of his occupations, one of which was supposed to debar him from joining the Methodist Church, he was an ardent member of that community. The younger man was a Methodist preacher, working as yet on the missionary circuit, and to him M. Poussette was holding forth with round black eyes rolling at the landscape and with gestures inimitably French.
"See, now," he was saying, standing perilously near the wet edge of rock, "there is no difficult thing! I own the ground. I give the money. I have it to give. My friend Romeo Desnoyers, of Three Rivers, he shall come at this place, at this point, and build the church. It will be for a great convenience, a great success. My guests, they will attend. I myself will see to that. I shall drive them over."
The younger man smiled faintly. It was necessary at times to restrain M. Poussette. He pulled him back now, but gently, from the slippery rock.
"In the summer—yes, of course, I see that. I see that it is needed then. The rest of the year——"
"The rest of the year! Bigosh—excusez,—I tell you, it is needed all the year round. Look at that big ugly barn full of bad pictures—yes, sir, I went to Mass regular, when I was a boy—petit garcon—well, every one was the same, sure. But now, ah!—excuse me. A seegar? Yes? You will thry one?"
The minister declined, but M. Poussette lit one of a large and overfragrant variety, while he frowned at the fall, rolled his large eyes around again and finally led the way through thick underbrush and across fallen logs to the deeply-rutted highroad where a horse and caleche awaited them. The prospective church builder took a long last look and then said:—
"And you—you shall preach the first sermon. How long does it take to build nice church, nice pretty Methodist church—not like that big stone barn I used to go to Mass in?"
At this the Reverend Joshua Ringfield did more than smile. He threw back his fine head and laughed heartily.
"Oh—Poussette!" he cried; "you're the funniest fellow, the funniest man alive! Ask somebody else how long it takes to build any kind of church—how should I know! But if you're in earnest, and I admire you for it if you are, and I wish there were more like you, I'll come and do the preaching with pleasure. You'll require a bigger man than I am, I'm afraid though."
"No, no," pronounced Poussette with fierce and friendly emphasis, driving away at a reckless pace. "See now, this is it. This is my affair. It will be my church, and my friend, Mister Romeo Desnoyers of Three Rivers, shall build it. Bigosh—excusez; I'll have only friends in it; you're my friend, I am good Methodist since I hear you preach, and Goddam,—well, excusez again, sir, I'll have you and no other. We'll say July, and you will have one, two, three months to get the sermon ready. Get on there, m'rch donc, animal-l-l! I am too long away from my business."
Ringfield, who was right in supposing that his friend and patron had tasted of the "viskey blanc" before starting, refrained from any criticism of the scheme, promising his services merely, should they be required, and that evening saw him depart for the west to attend a course of lectures at a theological college. Before many hours the tumbling, foaming Fall, the lonely river, the Bois Clair settlement and Poussette were almost forgotten. A camping trip with friendly Ontarians succeeded the lectures, then ensued a fortnight of hard reading and preparation for the essay or thesis which his Church demanded from him as token of his standing and progress, he being as yet a probationer, and thus the summer passed by until on the 6th of August a letter reached him from the Lower Province bidding him attend at the opening services of the new Methodist church recently built at St. Ignace through the enterprise and liberality of M. Amable Poussette. The letter, in Canadian French, had an English postscript; "I pay all expense. Me, Amable Poussette, of Juchereau de St. Ignace."
Ringfield put the letter away with a frown. He was busy, in demand, ambitious. Born in one of the Maritime Provinces, he owed all he was to Ontario, and now—Ontario claimed him. Return he might some day to the rapid rivers, the lonely hills, the great forests and the remote villages, but not now. Now, just as he was beginning to fill his place, to feel his power, to live and work, and above all preach, a man among men, a man for men, he resented any interruption in his plan of existence, in his scheme of self-consecration. The big bustling cities of Western Ontario and of the State of Ohio, where some of his holidays had been spent, were very far away from the hamlet of Juchereau de St. Ignace, a mere handful of souls—yes, Souls, and here Ringfield stopped and reconsidered. After all, there was his word, and Poussette, though rough, was not a bad fellow. It would take, say, three or four days out of his last week of recreation, but still, he was engaged, earnestly and sincerely engaged in the work of bringing souls to Christ, and, no small thing, his expenses would be paid. The better counsel, as it seemed, prevailed, and he went east the next night.
Meanwhile the energetic Poussette, mill owner of Bois Clair, rich man and patron of the countryside, had put his plan into execution, and in the space of three months a tract of rocky ground on the north side of the Fall had been cleared and a neat, convenient church erected from the native woods, furnished with benches, a table and chair for the minister, and a harmonium. St. Ignace was quite excited, for the thing seemed pure imbecility to the French, who were to a man true Catholics, but Poussette stoutly asserted his belief that before long conversions to Methodism would be numerous and for the present there were his "guests," a couple of families from Beaulac, the foreman of the mill—voila un congregation tres distingue! Much, too, would depend upon the choice of a preacher, and Poussette was cherishing the hope that some inducement might be held out to retain Ringfield in their midst.
Of this the younger man was at first ignorant. Impatience at detention in such a place warred with strict conceptions of duty, yet his excellent training in subservience to his Church and a ready gift of oratory assisted him in a decision to do the best he could for the new paroisse, heretofore so distinctively Catholic, of Juchereau de St. Ignace. That M. Poussette's congregation was more distingue than numerous did not for a moment affect the preacher on the warm, rainy Sunday when he stood within sound of the great Fall and read from the forty-seventh chapter of the Prophet Ezekiel. Romeo Desnoyers, thin, keen, professional looking; Poussette and his wife, the latter an anaemic, slightly demented person who spoke no English; Mr. Patrick Maccartie, foreman of the mill, who likewise was ignorant of English, despite his name, and the Methodist contingent from Beaulac were planted along the front seats at markedly wide intervals, for Poussette had erected his church on a most generous scale. Summer visitors of all denominations trickled in out of the moist forest arcades, so that when Ringfield rose to conduct the service he was facing seventy or eighty people, far more than he or the architect had expected to see, although doubtless inferior in numbers to the great throngs existing in the imagination of M. Poussette.
The opening hymn and prayer over, the young man took his Bible and read in natural colloquial tones but with considerable emphasis as follows:—
"Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the fore-front of the house stood towards the east, and the waters came down from under, from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar".
A slight pause was here made by the reader and caused a rustling in the porch to be the more distinctly heard, as a late comer, a lady, evidently afraid of the weather because of cloak and veil, moved to a seat near the door and sat down. The reader, seeing only a female figure merge itself in the congregation, resumed.
"Then brought he me out of the way of the gate northward, and led me about the way without unto the outer gate by the way that looketh eastward; and behold, there ran out waters on the right side."
Again there was that slight pause, and again, too, a rustling as of silken feminine garments. Ringfield caught Poussette's eye, but it was somewhat vacant; evidently the analogy of the picture was lost upon him.
"And when the man that had the line in his hand went forth eastward, he measured a thousand cubits and he brought me through the waters; the waters were to the ankles. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through the waters; the waters were to the knees. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through; the waters were to the loins. Afterward he measured a thousand; and it was a River that I could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a River that could not be passed over. And he said unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen this? Then he brought me, and caused me to return to the brink of the river."
With the climactic force and aptness of the description his voice had grown louder till it completely filled the building. His fine head erect, his steady passionless blue-gray eyes fastened more on the dark sopping cedars outside the window than upon the people in front, his large but as yet undeveloped frame denoting strength, vigour, rude health—all testified to his unsullied manhood, to the perfection of sane mind in pure body which it was his highest joy and duty to retain.
There is an asceticism among Methodists of his class which does not differ greatly from that enforced by other religious orders. Thus Ringfield, handsome, healthy, with pulsing vitality, active senses and strong magnetic personality, was consecrated to preaching and to what was called "leading souls to Christ" as much as any severe, wedded-to-silence, befrocked and tonsured priest. And over and beyond this self-consecration there was the pleasure involved in fulfilling his mission, and herein perhaps he differed from the conventional and perfunctory Roman. The sound of his own voice, the knowledge that he was bound to interest, to convince, even to convert, the very attitude in which he stood, with chest inflated, head thrown back, hand uplifted, all these things delighted him, communicated to his lively sentient side many delightful and varying sensations. As the prima donna among women so is the popular preacher among men.
"Now, when I had returned, behold, at the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other. Then said he unto me, ... everything that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live; and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, ... And it shall come to pass, that the fishers shall stand upon it ... they shall be a place to spread forth nets: their fish shall be according to their kinds, exceeding many.... And by the river, upon the bank ... shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaves shall not fade, ... because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for a medicine."
This concluded the customary reading of a portion of Scripture, but when the second hymn had been sung and the preacher began his sermon he asked the congregation to let their minds revert for a moment to that Vision of the Holy Waters which he was about to take as a text. Yet, although throughout the sometimes flowery, sometimes didactic, but always eloquent address which followed, more than one present looked for a reference to the landscape outside, so markedly similar to that pictured by the prophet, nothing of the kind occurred. The four thousand years of religious growth, the spread of Gospel knowledge and counsel, the healing qualities of the Stream of Salvation flowing down the ages through a dark world of sin and affliction, the medicine for the soul of man and the spiritual food for his spiritual nature—these were the thoughts so warmly sketched and the lessons so skilfully drawn from the passage in question.
At the conclusion of the service, Ringfield was moving out quietly behind the others, with that sense of slight collapse upon him which frequently follows oratorical efforts, when Poussette and the architect, Desnoyers, turned back and shook hands with him.
Madame Poussette, standing irresolutely near the door, weak, vacant-eyed, badly dressed, was staring at another woman, the veiled and cloaked figure who had rustled in during the reading of Scripture, but the veil was lifted now and the cloak hanging over her arm. The face and form were undoubtedly those of a most attractive, youthful and well-dressed person, in fine, a lady, and Ringfield at once recollected her presence in the congregation. So mutual was their recognition, that, accustomed to being sought in this manner, he was about to inquire if she wished to speak with him, when Poussette came between them, taking his wife's arm, and the opportunity was lost. In a few moments they were driving along the road to Bois Clair, and the young minister, looking back, could discern no trace of the lady. So little did he connect her with the remote wildness of the place, so different did she appear even in a moment's glimpse from the natives and visitors alike, who had made up the morning assembly, that he did not ask M. Poussette for any information. As for the latter, no achievement had ever put him into such good humour with himself as the building of the new church; and the Sunday dinner at which M. Romeo Desnoyers and the Rev. Joshua Ringfield were guests of honour, was eaten with the utmost relish and hilarity. Cabbage soup, the French Canadian staple; young Beauport ducks, dressed plentifully with onions; deep pies in earthern bowls containing jointed chickens and liver cut in shapes; apples and pears baked in the oven with wine and cream; good butter, better bread, and indifferent ice cream, creme d'office, made up one of the characteristic meals for which "Poussette's" was famous, and it need not detract from Ringfield's high mental capacities to state that having partaken of this typical and satisfying fare, he was compelled, when he could escape the importunities of his French friends, to walk away by himself along the muddy highroad for the benefit of his health.
THE WHITE PEACOCK
"Nor shall the aerial powers Dissolve that beauty—destined to endure White, radiant, spotless, exquisitely pure, Thro' all vicissitudes."
Rocky slabs and mounds of Laurentian gneiss, forest trees and a young wood interspersed with mats of juniper constituted the chief scenic attraction in the vicinity of the Fall, so that it might truly be said, all roads at St. Ignace lead to the Fall—it was so much more directly beautiful. But Ringfield from choice walked away from the river and struck inland by a miry sloppy path which was nevertheless beautiful too, bordered by splendid ferns, mossy trunks upholding miniature pines in their rich brown crevices, plants of aromatic teaberry, and at intervals shallow golden pools where the wild white arum bloomed alongside the pinkish purple of other water flowers.
His thoughts were not, however, upon all the lovely detail at his feet, for just at present he found himself more interesting than the landscape. A very unusual thing had occurred. Poussette, during the drive home, had anticipated a more serious proposal on the morrow by asking him briefly and to the point whether he would remain in the Province, at St. Ignace in fact, and become pastor of the new church. The small stipend which in all probability the Methodist Church would cheerfully pay was to be augmented by Poussette's own gift. Not content with presenting his favourite denomination with a building out of debt and ready for use, he proposed also to equip it with a pastor after his own heart, for he combined thoroughness with an impulsive nature in a manner peculiar to himself. This Poussette was indeed a character, an original. Very fat and with every indication of becoming fatter still, fond of tweed suits and white waistcoats, and quick at picking up English in a locality where the tongue was not prominent, he owed much of his progressive spirit to the teachings of a certain French Canadian named Magloire le Caron, born in the county of Yamachiche but latterly an American citizen. This Magloire or Murray Carson, as he was known in Topeka, Kansas, had numbered the young Poussette among his hearers some ten years before when on tour in his native country in the interests of a Socialistic order. The exodus of French Canadians to the neighbouring "States" is frequently followed by a change of name, so that, M. Lapierre or St. Pierre becomes Mr. Stone, M. Dupont Mr. Bridge, M. Leblanc Mr. White, M. Lenoir Mr. Black, Leroy, King, and so on.
Poussette was, to his credit, among those who gauged Le Caron's sentiments fairly correctly, and he had no wish either to leave his country or to change his name. Succeed he would—and did; make money above all, but make it just as well in St. Ignace or Bois Clair as in the States; learn English but not forget French, both were necessary; become "beeg man," "reech man," but marry and live where his name would be carried down most easily and quickly. As for his change of religion, it was a good evening's entertainment to "seet roun," in the bar and listen to Poussette's illustrated lecture entitled "How I became a Methodist"; the illustrations being repeated sips of whisky and water, imitations of different priests and anecdotes of indifferent preachers.
Most of this Ringfield was familiar with, but while Poussette as a sort of accepted "character," a chartered entertainer, was one thing, Poussette as a patron, importunate, slightly quarrelsome, and self-willed, was another. For a few months the arrangement might work well enough, but for the entire winter—he thought of the cold, of the empty church at service time, of the great snowdrifts lasting for weeks and weeks, and more than this too, he thought of his plans for self-improvement, the lectures he would miss, the professors and learned men he would not meet, the companionship of other students he must perforce renounce.
Reflections of this kind were continuing to occupy him when he suddenly saw through the trees on the right hand the gleam of open water. He had reached Five Mile Lake or Lac Calvaire, a spot he had heard of in connexion with fabulous catches of fish, and on the opposite side of the shining water he also discerned the roof of a large house, painted red, and somewhat unusual in shape. That is, unusual in the eyes of the person who saw it, for the steep, sloping roof, the pointed windows, the stone walls, and painted doors, are everyday objects in French Canada. The house at Lac Calvaire was a type of the superior farm-house built in the eighteenth century by thrifty and skilful fur-traders, manufacturers and lesser seigneurs, differing rather in appearance and construction from the larger chateaux or manoirs, a few of which at one time existed along the banks of the St. Laurent, but of which now only three well-preserved examples survive. As the size of the original grants of land or seigneuries varied, some eighteen, twenty and twenty-five miles long by six, eight, twelve miles wide, others less, certainly few larger, so the lesser properties, accounts of which are rare among works dealing with the state of society at the time, varied also. While numerous collections of facts pertaining to the original fiefs or seigneuries (usually called cadastres) exist, it is not so common to meet with similar attempts to define and describe the exact position of others in the early colony beside the seigneurs. The large land-holder figures prominently in colonial documents, but the rise of the trader, the merchant, the notary, the teacher, the journalist, is difficult to follow. Very often the seigneur was also the merchant; to be grand marchand de Canada in the new colony signified solid pecuniary success.
As far back as the year 1682 the Sieur de la Chinay et autres marchands de Canada equipped, it is presumed at their own expense, several ships, and proceeded to Port Nelson, raiding and burning the Hudson Bay Post, and carrying away sixteen subjects of His Majesty. The Sieur de Caen gave his name to the Society of Merchants still farther back, in 1627. Henry, in 1598, and Francis, in 1540, each granted letters patent and edicts confirming certain Court favourites and nobles in possession of the great fur-bearing districts of Hochelaga, Terres Neuves, and also of "La Baye du Nord de Canada oui a ete depuis appelle Hudson est comprise". It is plain that commerce had as much to do with early colonization as the love of conquest, ecclesiastical ambition, or the desire on the part of jaded adventurers and needy nobles for pastures new. From the Sieur de Roberval to the merchant princes of Montreal is an unbroken line of resolute men of business enterprise, bearing in mind only that what the French began, the English, or rather the Scotch, "lifted" with increasing vigour. In 1677 royal permission was given to open mines in Canada in favour of the Sieur de Lagny. The "Compagnie du Castor de Canada," carried on what even at this day would be regarded as an immense trade in beaver skins. "La Manon," wrecked about 1700, carried beaver skins amounting to 107,000,587 livres. The Sieur Guigne, known as the Farmer of the Western Domain, paid at one time the sum of 75,000 livres per annum on account of beavers.
In lesser degree the same was true of moose skins and of the finer furs for apparel and ornament, and thus for many a long year honourable names and well-descended families were found among those who bought and sold and quarrelled and went to law in the spacious marketplace of Le Bas Canada, with the wide and only partially known or understood Atlantic rolling between them and the final court of appeal—His Most Christian Matie in France.
Nothing, it is certain, of this was in Ringfield's mind as he looked at the steep roof and the stone walls of the house at Lac Calvaire. The dwelling, like the country surrounding it, held little attraction, still less what is called romance or glamour for him, for his was not a romantic nature. Yet neither was he dull, and therefore the aspect of the house moved him, out of curiosity alone, to skirt the banks of the reed-fringed lake and find a nearer view of what struck him as unusual. This was not difficult, as the lake was a short oval in shape, and before he walked five or six hundred yards he came to the low stone wall or fence which appeared to completely surround the manor and over which he soon was desultorily leaning. The garden grew in front of him somewhat fantastically, with irregular beds marked out with white stones, and directly facing him was a badly hewn, clumsily scooped fountain half filled with weeds and dirty water. Behind the house were trim rows of dark poplars, and there appeared to be a long chain of barns and other farm buildings extending into the very heart of a dense plantation of pine. As he looked, still leaning on the low wall, the place kindled into life and activity. Pigeons came from some point near and settled on the rim of the fountain. From a door at the side issued an old woman with a dish in her hand, followed by a couple of dogs and four cats. These all disappeared among the barns. A minute later a wagon came lazily along the road, driven by a dark-eyed, habitant-hatted man who turned in at a gate without taking much notice of the loiterer. Two plump, dark-eyed servant girls and a little boy came round the corner of the largest barn; they were apparently dressed in their best, carried prayer-books, and were evidently on their way to evening service at St. Ignace, in the handsome church designated by the heretic Poussette as a "big stone barn full of bad pictures". Finally there emerged upon the scene, proceeding in a deliberate, dainty, mincing manner along the garden walk, now rapidly drying in a burst of fierce August sunshine, the most wonderful, the most imposing, yet the most exquisite and delicate object Ringfield's eyes had ever beheld. If a moment before he had thought of retracing his steps and turning away from a house too full of people on a hot Sunday afternoon to permit of further lingering in its vicinity, now, he found it impossible to move, fascinated by the beauty of the rare creature slowly coming towards him. For this was a white peacock, tempted by the sudden radiance out to take the air. It paused for an instant as if to consider the effect and stood, displaying a colossal fan of snowy feathers, tipped with glittering frost-like filaments. Perhaps it intuitively knew that Ringfield had never seen one of its kind before. It continued to stand, while he continued to gaze, and two or three times it shook that resplendent wheel of shining downy plumes, trembling in each sensitive fibre with pride and glorification in its beauty. With each shake, there fell upon the ear the tinkle as of some faint and far-distant fairy bell; it was the friction of the spear-shaped sparkling tips as they met in air.
Ringfield thought it the whitest thing he had ever seen. It was like snow, or sugar, so finely spun and glistening. Then its air of arrogance captivated him—the creature was so fully aware of its charms. He spoke to it and the bird came on nonchalantly; then gracefully executed a wide turn, carrying that shining palpitating tail with it and walked back to the house. At the same moment he old woman with the dish reappeared and commenced driving the bird before her.
"O don't do that!" exclaimed Ringfield, forgetting that probably she knew no English. "The rain is over for a while. Let it have its walk. I've never seen one like it before."
The old woman was smiling as if to encourage him, but he saw directly that she did not understand him. He was answered however, and by a voice from the doorway. The lady he had seen that morning at church was addressing him. Laughing lightly, she came out to the garden and Ringfield advanced to meet her. Thus they had the bird between them.
"I am speaking to the Reverend Mr. Ringfield?" said she pleasantly, and the young man was reassured. This new acquaintance, whether chatelaine of the curious house or stranger, spoke excellent English.
"I saw you in church this morning," responded he. So much of a mutual introduction was easy and necessary; after that, with a dignified withdrawal of the peacock, conversation naturally turned to the subject of the morning service.
"I do not think I can ask you inside," she said presently, "for like many old houses, particularly those built of stone, ours is cold in winter and hot or rather close in summer. We might walk toward the poplar grove there, I should so like to speak to you about that sermon."
Ringfield assented with a pleased brightness.
"And what are your conclusions as to the sermon?" he said, when they were seated in an old and crumbling arbour looking upon the lake. "I am afraid I did not give myself quite enough time on this important occasion. Preparation is everything."
"I do not allude exactly to the sermon, not the devotional part of it. Sermons are not much in my line. I meant rather the reading you gave, that wonderful description of the river, the fall, the waters issuing from under the sanctuary—you see I have remembered the words—the trees for medicine and healing, even the fish,—why I never thought there could be anything like that in the Bible! You chose it purposely, of course?" The young man did not reply for an instant. A hint of flippancy in the speech of his companion seemed to create a barrier between them.
"Purposely! Well, yes, I suppose I did. Purpose, intention, design, must, should enter into all earnest preaching, and whatever may be the faults of mine I endeavour at least to be that, to be earnest. But I am glad you were struck with the parallel; not many in that congregation would be at all likely to."
"You might have dwelt more upon that parallel in the sermon. I expected you would."
"Well, no, there are canons of good taste, good form, as the world puts it, in preaching as in other matters. It was sufficient to indicate the parallel; people could then look up chapter and verse for themselves. As no doubt you have done."
"Quite impossible. I do not possess a Bible."
Ringfield turned a reproachful eye upon her.
"We are Catholics, you see, or supposed to be. I have a 'Key of Heaven' and five other devotional works. But I never read them."
The other was silent. Looking for the first time with serious interest at the lady whose ease of manner and cultured speech were remarkable for the place, he perceived that in a moment she had revealed much. How few people, how few women in particular, would display a spirit of utter frankness towards a stranger on so important a topic as religious belief! And how quick she had been to appreciate the literary side at least of his quotations from Ezekiel! What more was striking or unusual about her he could not then take time to consider, for people so recently complete strangers cannot, it is conceded, discuss each other or a situation as they may after several days or weeks of intimacy. He was conscious of feeling that in a certain sense he had met with as clever a brain as his own and with some one in whose personal history or life story there was an element of romance, of the unexpected, the unconventional, absolutely foreign to his own experience of life. He therefore hastened to change the subject.
"It may be that you have heard. If not, I may tell you that Mr. Poussette has offered me the new church at St. Ignace. I took this long walk out here to-day to think it over. I—well, frankly, I hardly know what to say."
"In your profession you are not supposed to consult your own wishes, but rather the general good. Is not that the case?"
Ringfield smiled, but also shot a look at his companion.
"I suppose I may put it that I have had a 'call'. A call to the new, flourishing and highly attractive 'parish,' as our friends the Anglicans call it, I should say, the 'mission,' of St. Ignace. I am not speaking satirically, I might do worse."
"You are considering it, now, this afternoon?"
He paused for a mere fraction of a moment. "I was."
"In the meantime, you have another service this evening and I am detaining you here when you should be on your way back to the Fall and the village."
It was true. Ringfield was forgetting the time.
"Had it not been for the bird—" he began, and from that point the conversation, at one time strongly personal and introspective, became ordinary. Ringfield closed the gate behind him, lifted his hat and turned back along the road without having ascertained the name of the lady or her condition in life. The service hour arrived, so did the small but enthusiastic congregation. The rain had entirely ceased and the air was perceptibly cooler. The preacher had prepared a sermon of more florid style than the one delivered in the morning, and he appeared to have the absorbed attention of those who understood the language, while the French contingent listened respectfully. The passage of Scripture to be read aloud had been chosen since the morning, since the afternoon walk in fact, but there was no one present from the house at Lac Calvaire to hear and understand part of the thirty-eighth chapter of Job, beginning with the verse, "By what way is the light parted, which scattereth the east wind upon the earth?" and ending with the thirteenth verse of the succeeding chapter, "Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks?"
THE MAN IN THE CHAIR
"From out the crumbling ruins of fallen pride And chambers of transgression, now forlorn."
The house at Lac Calvaire was, as stated, a fair specimen of the dwellings erected in the first half of the eighteenth century by those Canadians who, living frugally though comfortably, felt that affection for the soil, for the natural features of the wild but picturesque country, even for its severe and strenuous climate, which in many cases prompted them to make homes and found families. In the year 1729, a Clairville, rich trader in furs and skins, built the house five miles from the majestic and lonely Fall. This Clairville was the grandson of a certain Francois Gaillard, body servant and faithful follower of the Sieur de Clairville—Antoine-Louis-Onesime—who came to New France in 1664. The nobleman in question led a truly chequered life in the gay garrisons of the new world, varied by a couple of voyages to the gayer Court he had left behind, but through all the reckless episodes of his long and stirring career, Francois was by his side, patient, adroit, silent when necessary, at other times a madcap for freak and fantasy. Faith of a gentleman—Francois Gaillard was everything his noble master should have been, and that master too often such as the poorest lackey might have been ashamed to be, yet—faith of a gentleman—De Clairville atoned for much ere he died. Francois, his foster-brother, received at his master's death a gift of land under the Crown to him and his heirs for ever, the name Gaillard to be abandoned for that of Clairville. In 1684 the Sieur de Clairville died; Francois survived him twenty years, leaving one son and two daughters. These became Clairvilles; there were no De Clairvilles. The son prospered, as did his son, another Francois, who built the strong stone farm-house and planted the poplars and laid the foundation of a well-known name, respected and quoted far and near in the community. Both house and family seemed to bear charmed lives. Canada was lost to France and in that losing many fine manor-houses and farms were destroyed, but Clairville and Clairville Manor went untouched. For this, the peculiar situation of the house, so far back from the Fall, its existence almost undreamt of by English soldiery, ignorant of the country, was, of course, responsible. A Clairville went to France at the close of the Revolution, made himself useful and remained in some post under the Government. Another went up to Quebec, became a sound lawyer, and batonnier of his district. Both of these individuals, however, died unmarried, and the next owner of the manor neither distinguished himself nor contributed to the glory of his line. That glory, such as it was, for the ignoble Francois was the founder of it, gradually departed. The Clairvilles deteriorated, sold off large parcels of their land, married undesirable persons, till, in the present generation, the culmination of domestic ruin seemed probable. For the Clairville now inhabiting the manor was not only reduced in purse and delicate in health but suspiciously weak in intellect.
When Ringfield woke on the Monday following his inaugural service, the sun was shining brightly into his room at Poussette's, and it is a fact that in his mind he saw a picture of a dazzling fan of foamy white feathers waving proudly in that sunlight. It really was the bird and not the lady that intercepted other and more pertinent reflections having to do with his future movements. He loitered about all morning, fished, lunched with his guide, made a pencil sketch of the Fall, and then about three o'clock in the afternoon walked out to Lac Calvaire. He neared the house; at first he saw no one, it was the middle-day siesta. No peacock was visible, no lady. Then he saw a face at a window and it stared at him. Ringfield, taken by surprise, returned the stare. To the stare succeeded a weak smile, then a beckoning finger, then an insistent tapping. The window was closed, with a roughly crocheted curtain half-drawn back on a string. The young man had no cause to hesitate, for he knew nothing of what lay inside the house. He was also a clergyman, which means much. It means, if you rightly understand your office, that you must be always ready to go anywhere, to do anything, that may be of the smallest benefit to your fellow-man. It means, that because of that high office, there is nothing really beneath your attention, too insignificant for your study, and yet you are so far above the rest of mankind, the mere lay portion of the world, that, like a God in courage and in calm, you may indeed enter where Angel and Devil alike fear to tread. At least, that is the old and orthodox conception of the clerical profession, and although it might be sometimes foolishly and conceitedly pushed to extremes by other men, there was nothing in Ringfield of the mere fussy moralist and pulpit egoist. After all, as he entered the house and, guided by the voice of its owner, found his way to the room looking on the dusty country road, he saw nothing very terrible, only a thinnish, fair, middle-aged man, wearing a black skull-cap and clad in a faded and greasy but rather handsome theatrical-looking dressing-gown and seated in a worn arm-chair. As for the room itself, he suppressed an exclamation of mingled surprise and impatient remonstrance, for, although of large proportions and not badly lighted, it was so littered with books, papers, maps, and pamphlets, so overgrown with piles of dusty blue-books, reports, dictionaries and works of reference, thick and antiquated, thin and modern, local and foreign, standing on end, on tables, on the mantel-shelf, extending into the old-fashioned cupboards minus doors, taking up a ragged sofa, a couple of arm-chairs, and a dilapidated armoire, and even the greater portion of a bed, that almost every gleam of sunlight was obscured, and upon this warm damp August afternoon the air was heavy and close with a suggestion of staler odours still.
"I saw you yesterday," said the man in the chair, "from this window, but you did not see me, eh? You were greatly interested in the bird."
He paused, and a weak smile changed to a haughty air, accompanied by a flourish of the hand.
"It is without doubt rare, a great curiosity. But there have been white peacocks at Clairville a long time, many years, many years."
"Clairville! That is your name, the name of the young lady, the name of this place?"
"Of this house. Also the estate. This house is, or should be, the Manoir of the Clairvilles, of the De Clairvilles. You are some kind of clergyman?"
"I am. I am a Methodist."
"Have you read much?"
Ringfield, looking around somewhat whimsically at so many books, on a pile of which he was obliged to sit, felt unusual ignorance. He was probably in the presence of some famous scholar.
"Not much. Not anything like what you must have read if you have even gone through a quarter of all these!"
The strange man, savant, scientist, bibliophile, whatever he was, drew his dirty dressing-gown around him with another flourish of complacent self-admiration.
"I am—you are quite right, Mr. Clergyman—a great reader. I have read every book in this room two, three, many times over. You were—surprised—to see all this book, all this document, all this pamphlette—here, at this place, eh?"
Ringfield, as yet only partly guessing at the peculiarities of his host, assented politely.
"My name is Ringfield," he said, noting for the first time the strong broken accent of the other and his use of French idiom. "I am a Methodist minister, spending some time at St. Ignace, and yesterday I encountered a lady, who, I believe, lives here. At least, I——"
The other cut him short.
"Ringfield? That is your name? Anneau, champ—no the other way, Champanneau. We have not this name with us. Yet, I do not know, it may be a good name."
The young man was superior to the slighting tone because he belonged to the class which lives by work, and which has not traced or kept track of its genealogy. He was so far removed from aristocratic tendencies, ideas of caste, traditions of birth, that he scarcely apprehended the importance of such subjects in the mind of anyone.
"The English name, Champney," continued the man in the chair, "you know that—might derive from it, might derive. But I am not so well acquainted with the English names as with the French. You comprenez pour quoi, sans doute. I am derive—myself, from a great French name, a great family."
The satisfaction with which he repeated this oracular statement continued to amuse Ringfield, a son of the people, his friends of the people, but it did not amuse the third person who heard it, the lady who, advancing into the dark stuffy room, received a pleased glance from the minister and a half-fearful, half-defiant scowl from the man in the chair.
"Henry!" exclaimed she, with great volubility and a kind of fierce disgust, "how is this? What can you mean by so disobeying me? This is no place to bring strangers! Nor do I want strangers brought into any part of this house at any time of the day! It is suffocating here. Do you not find it very heavy, very close in here?" she added, to Ringfield, who had risen and slightly changed countenance as she pronounced the word "stranger".
He looked from the lady to the man in the chair in astonishment, for he saw the former in a new and painful light. So dark was the frown upon her usually serene countenance, so angry the light in her fine hazel eyes, so anxious and perturbed her entire being, that she appeared almost ugly. Not only so, but added to impatience and anger there seemed something like repugnance, disgust, directed at the miserable pedant who under the fires of womanly wrath blinked and smiled, but had no defence ready.
"It is altogether my fault that I am here," said Ringfield quietly; "I took another walk in this direction, hoping for a sight of the peacock."
"And you saw something else instead! Ah!—there is much I must explain to you, you who come among us not knowing, not understanding. You see only the outside. But I suppose I must tell you who we are. This is my brother, my only brother, in fact my only living relative, Henry Clairville. I am Miss—Mademoiselle Clairville."
Ringfield bowed to her and to the man in the chair.
"We are the last of what—of what it pleases him to call our Line. It is all most foolish, most absurd. But I cannot tell you here. Since chance has brought you our way again, and as you may take up your residence in the neighbourhood—have you decided yet?—I feel I must make some explanation of how you find us, my brother and myself. Can you row? or paddle?"
Her manner, gradually changing and growing easier every moment, made it easy for Ringfield, who answered her with a smile.
"I asked, because some clergymen are so useless in some directions while good enough in others."
THE HOUSE OF CLAIRVILLE
"High instincts, before which our mortal nature Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised."
The hall through which they passed was sufficiently dark to prevent the masculine eye of Ringfield noting that long and systematic neglect marked every inch of the wall, every foot of flooring, every window, door, stair, sill and sash. Nothing was clean, nothing was orderly, and as the books and papers contained in the invalid's room had overflowed into the halls, lying on the steps and propped up on chairs and in corners, the dirt and confusion was indescribable. Hideous wallpapers were peeling off the damp and cracking wall, tattered shreds showing, by the accumulation on their fly-specked yellow edges of thick dust, how long they had waved upon the close air of this uncared-for house. All the woodwork was rough and horrid to the touch by reason of the millions of similar fly-specks; had nothing ever been washed here? Cats were alarmingly abundant. Three lay about in the hall; four were stretched on the grass in front of the door, and Ringfield saw two more—so large and brown and with such huge tigers' heads, prowling under the trees, that he scarcely took them for cats. The chain of barns, farm-buildings and sheds was all in the same dilapidated, dirty condition, and it was hardly strange that the vision of that white loveliness—the peacock—which had tempted him in this direction, crossed his mind as they proceeded to the landing-place. And yet the Clairvilles were not without servants. Mademoiselle, having regained a measure of her wonted serenity, began to describe her retainers, proving that servants were almost as numerous as cats in that neighbourhood. The elderly woman, the man, the two girls and the boy, were all one family, and living "about" as their mistress carelessly put it, in the barns and out-buildings, divided the work among them. The woman's husband, Xavier Archambault, employed at the Fall as assistant to look after the bridge and dam, helped at odd moments in the business of the estate, thus making in all six servants, a rather large contingent for a dwindling concern; and Ringfield, listening to these wonders, could not fail to observe that their united wages must reach a high figure.
"Oh—they are not paid!" exclaimed mademoiselle, "at least, not in money. My brother, who is, as I was going to tell you, a person of stronger character than you might imagine, has never paid a cent of wages to anyone in his life. He has managed to infect all his work-people, and, indeed, many in the village, with his own belief that it is an honour to labour for him and his, he being a De Clairville and the highest in rank in this part of the country. Of course you, having lived in the West, and knowing so much of the world, must see how foolish this is, how it involves us—my brother and myself—in many unpleasant and difficult situations."
A note of challenge in her voice led Ringfield, who had taken off his coat and was paddling, to stop sharply and observe her.
"Pray be careful!" she cried in sudden alarm. "When I was at home all the time I could stand any kind of behaviour in a canoe, but lately I seem to be losing my nerve. I suppose you must kneel?"
"Certainly. Much the easier, therefore the safer way."
"Therefore! All easy things—safe?"
He was clumsy at this kind of refined innuendo, and considered before replying.
"No, perhaps not. But I give you my word not to disturb the equilibrium again."
The lake, a basin of clear water, small as Lower Canadian lakes go, and framed with thick foliage reaching to the edge, was absolutely silent, absolutely deserted, on this warm afternoon. Ringfield found it almost too hot to talk, but his companion seemed to enjoy the unburdening of various confidences, and as she had such a willing listener she had every opportunity, of taking her own time, and of delivering herself in her own way, of a remarkable tale.
That, within two days of his enforced sojourn at St. Ignace, the young preacher found himself thus—floating on a silent desolate lake in one of the remotest parishes of Quebec, listening to a family history of mediaeval import from the lips of a woman, young too, cultivated, self-possessed to the degree of hauteur, whose Christian name was as yet unknown to him, was in itself remarkable.
Ringfield, ardent, gifted, good, inherited directness of aim, purity of ideals, and narrowness of vision, from the simple working stock from which he had sprung, and it would have been easy for a man of the world to foresee the limitations existing in such a nature. When mademoiselle therefore began the Clairville history by relating some circumstances in the flighty career of the Sieur De Clairville, hinting at certain deflections and ridiculing uncertain promises of reformation, of reparation—for even the seventeenth century had its cant—the matter was far from being either real or relevant to her listener. What had he to do with a bundle of old-world memoirs, even when edited and brought up to date by an interesting woman! What to him was the spotless character of the ignoble Francois, son of a butcher, created a Clairville for his plebeian virtues, or the lives of each succeeding descendant of Francois, growing always a little richer, a little more polished, till in time the wheel turned and the change came in the fortunes of the house which culminated in the present! All these were mere abstractions, dull excerpts from some period of remote and unfamiliar history, because that system which gave him his secular education did not include knowledge of his country from an historical standpoint.
Macaulay and Alison, Gibbon and Grote, Motley and Bancroft—but not yet Garneau or Parkman. The lady might have romanced indeed, with glib falseness gilding picturesque invention, and he would not have detected it.
As it was, the truth remained sufficiently high coloured. He listened, he apprehended, but he could not see that it mattered.
"So now," remarked mademoiselle, trailing her large firm white hand through the water and knitting her firm black brows still closer, "I have brought the story up to the appearance on the scene of my brother, whom you have met, no doubt pondered over, perhaps shrunk from."
"No, no!" cried Ringfield. "You mistake. I was conscious only of having no right to enter."
"Ah—I could see, I could see. Poor Henry! He is the victim of many delusions. One—that he is a great invalid and cannot leave his room, that room you saw him in to-day. Another—that we are properly De Clairvilles, but that we have somehow lost the prefix, the 'De,' in course of years, and that a Bill may have to pass in Parliament to permit us using it legally. There has been already in this antiquated province a case very similar to ours, but it was a genuine case, which ours is not. My brother owns the largest collection of old French and old French-Canadian memoirs and books in the country, I believe, and it may be that out of constant poring over them has come this ruling passion, this dominant idea, to prove himself a seigneur, and more, a noble, grand seigneur de France! Voila! but I forget, Mr. Ringfield hardly speaks French, and I—hate the sound of it, only it crops out sometimes."
"But why—and you—how do you speak such good English? I have been wondering over that much more than over the case of your brother."
Ringfield, as he asked the question, stopped paddling and sat down cautiously opposite his companion. Her dark brows clouded even more and the warm colouring of her face went white; she again resembled the fury who had lectured the unfortunate pedant in the arm-chair.
"I knew you would ask that. Every one does. I suppose it is to be expected. Well then, my mother was English and I was educated at a mixed school, ladies' school at Sorel, not a convent. I was quick at the language—voila!"
"Perhaps it was rude in me to ask. I believe I am deficient in manners; my friends often tell me so. But you spoke such good English; better far than mine."
"That would not be difficult. You have the accent strange to me, that of the West. Then I have studied for the stage, in fact, and now I suppose I shall frighten you altogether and make you upset the canoe when I tell you that I am on the stage."
It only needed some such declaration to convince Ringfield that, still floating on this silent, desolate lake he was indeed removed from all his usual convictions, prejudices and preferences. What had he to do with the stage! To the Methodist of his day the Stage was deliberately ignored in the study of social conditions. It was too evil to be redeemed. Its case was hopeless. Then let it alone and let us pretend it does not exist. This in effect was his actual state of mind.
"I have never been to the theatre," he said simply. "They say that at some future day we, as Methodists, may have to take up the question of amusements and consider the theatre seriously. It may be that we shall have to face other facts—the craving in this age of people, especially our young people, for greater liberty of thought, and I suppose, corresponding liberty of action. But so far these questions have not come very much before me, and I must plead entire ignorance of all matters connected with the profession to which you belong."
Mademoiselle Clairville's brow was now completely serene; a laugh was on her lips and a smile in her eyes as she listened to the staid phrases of her new friend.
"You and your young people!" she cried. "How old are you yourself, pray? Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty—no, hardly twenty-seven. You may tell me your age quite frankly, for I will tell you mine. I am twenty-nine. Do you not think that I look much younger?"
He was in truth a good deal surprised, for to his age—twenty-six, as she had correctly guessed—twenty-nine seems old for a woman.
Before he could frame a clumsy allusion to her youthful appearance she had continued with a change of manner:—
"But sometimes I look older, yes, old enough. Tell me, you who preach your English sermons, so long, so much longer than our Catholic ones, about trees and rivers and fish—do you never preach too about men and women and their faults and vices and tempers? Ah! there, Monsieur le p'tit cure, you should know that I am a good subject for a sermon, I and my temper! For I have a temper. Oh, yes, indeed I have."
There being no instinct—at least not as yet developed—of gallantry in Ringfield's composition, he did not seek to weakly deny her self-imputed charge. Had he not already seen a proof of the truth of it in her treatment of Henry Clairville? Was there not even now a curious malicious gleam in her dark eye, a frown upon her forehead, a kind of puckered and contemptuous smile upon her lips? Handsome and probably clever, even good she might be, and yet remain—unamiable.
"I am afraid you have not had a happy life," said he, very gently, and the simplicity and kindness of his manner smote upon her stormy countenance, so that it melted and all the ugly hardness and latent shrewishness died away.
"I have not, I have not!" she cried. "You see my situation here, my surroundings. Henry, my poor unfortunate brother; the old house, which might be so comfortable, falling to pieces for lack of money to keep it up; these terrible people, the Archambaults, pretending to work, but living on me and eating up everything on the place; the village, with none in it to know or speak to that I care about; the lonely country all around, cold in winter, hot in summer; the conviction that Henry will get worse; the fear of—the fear of——." She stopped.
"The fear of what?" said Ringfield quietly. "You need have no fear whatever of anything. You are one of God's children. Perfect love casteth out fear. Dear Miss Clairville, so recently a stranger, but rapidly becoming so well known to me, never mind about sermons and conversions. Never mind about Catholic or Protestant, bond or free, English Church or Methodist. Just think of one thing. Just cling to one thought. You are in God's hands. He will not try you too far." Very impressively he repeated this, bending forward till he could look into her troubled eyes. "I believe, and you must believe too, that in His infinite goodness He will not try you too far."
A shiver passed over her frame. She lowered her eyes, her mouth twitched once or twice, then she remained silent and passive while Ringfield, thinking he had said enough, resumed his paddling. It was some minutes before conversation recommenced and then Mademoiselle Clairville requested him to return.
"Do not think," said she, "that I am offended at your preaching to me," and now a mild sadness had succeeded to her wilder mood, "but one of the servants is signalling to me from the shore; my brother probably is in need of me. You will come to see us, to see me again, and I shall hope to hear that you will remain at St. Ignace for the winter at least. Here is one patient of the soul, and we may soon find another."
"If it would make any difference to you,——" he began, still without any trace of innuendo or latent gallantry, but she interrupted him with some flashing out of former merriment:—
"How could it, when I am away nearly all the time or try to be? I am now, like you, considering an offer, and may say adieu to St. Ignace, the Fall, and Henry, any day. But even if I go, some fascination will draw me back. It always does."
As he left her at her own gate the face at the window was still blinking at them. Dimly the ardent young Methodist began to discern some contingencies in life of which he had never dreamed. And how admirably he had perjured himself in the interview! Had he not forgotten the particular sect to which he belonged? Had he not besought his hearer to forget whether she was Catholic or Protestant? Had he not, in short, for the first time in his ministerial experience, fulfilled the plain duty of a true Christian without stopping to think of ways and means and artifices? Looking back, he was amazed to remember how earnest he had been and how sudden but genuine was his sympathy with this lonely woman. Apprehensive for her safety and content of mind, stimulated as he had never been before by her frank, original presence, he mentally resolved to remain at St. Ignace for her sake, or if her protracted absence ensued, as she hoped, to manage to return when she did.
He had arrived at this decision when, on drawing near Poussette's, he perceived that individual himself in little straw hat and large white apron standing at the door engaged in critically examining an enormous catch of fish—black bass and lunge, just brought in by the guides. Ringfield asked the time, for he began to realize how long he had been absent. It was nearly seven o'clock and the evening meal was over.
Poussette at first tried to be angry. He declared that there was nothing left. Ringfield smiled and strode to the fish lying in glittering silver heaps on the grass. He lifted up the biggest bass and carried it into the house, and the coolness of the deed appeased Poussette.
"That is all right, Mr. Ringfield," said he, slapping him quite affectionately on the back. "You shall have a good tea, a good tea, after which you shall hear what we have to say. Mister Desnoyers, Patrick, myself, all wait for you and all shall be arrange, eh? Every one round come in, come in and drink bon sante in something good I got on Saturday. Ah—you shall see, you shall see!"
As Ringfield went in to his "good tea" Madame Poussette came out. Rather to his astonishment, she sang to herself in passing, and although her sad vacant eyes were not bent on him, he felt as if the words were intended for his ear. What were those words?
His knowledge of French was limited, but still he could make out a kind of rhyming refrain—
"Derriere Chez mon pere Il-y-avait un grand oiseau."
He stopped and tried to catch more as Madame went down the walk singing low to herself.
"Derriere Chez mon pere Il-y-avait un grand oiseau. la, la, la, la— C'etait beau ca, c'etait beau."
THE UNSEEN HAND
"The procession of our Fate, howe'er Sad or disturbed, is ordered by a Being Of infinite benevolence and power."
Had Ringfield continued his conversation with the chatelaine of Clairville he would in all probability have asked a few questions about her theatrical career, placing it in his imagination in one of the large American centres to which in the seventies or eighties all Canadian artists gravitated. In this he would have been wrong.
In a back street in the purely French quarter of Montreal stood a pillared and placarded building once known as the home of an ambitious coterie, the Cercle Litteraire, which met fortnightly to discuss in rapid incisive Canadian French such topics as "Our National Literature," "The Destiny of Canada," and "The Dramatists of France," from which all politique was supposed to be eliminated. The building had originally been a house and private bank belonging to a courtly descendant of an old family, a De Lotbiniere, who grew French walnut and cherry trees, lettuces and herbs in the back garden. When the banker died the Cercle Litteraire bought the house for a small sum, comparatively, seeing that it was built of good grey stone, had many bright green shutters and an imposing facade of four pillars, and from one part of it issued once a month the extremely high-class journal—organ of the society—called "Le Flambeau," the other part which comprised a fair-sized hall, retiring rooms, and secretary's office and quarters, being altered to suit the needs of the Cercle Litteraire. But in time the glories of the exclusive and classically minded coterie faded, its leading spirits died or disappeared, the superior monthly organ—torch for all the country—burnt itself out, lost subscribers—in fact the whole business was declared insolvent, and the nervous, gifted, but too sanguine editor-in-chief (there were three editors), M. Anselme-Ferdinande Placide De Lery, avocat, and the devoted, conscientious, but unprogressive secretary, old Amedee Laframboise, scientific grubber and admirable violinist, had to get out of Rue St. Dominique as best they could and go back to the law and the local orchestra. For several years the house was vacant, and then at last it held a still more gifted, more numerous, and, all things considered, more successful coterie within its walls than "Le Flambeau" had been able to procure for it. A certain travelling organization, a company of good actors and actresses direct from Paris, which had landed in America the previous year, giving comedies and pretty domestic pieces in New York and other cities, not meeting with the success it expected, came to French Canada in the hope of reaping substantial profits in a congenial atmosphere. Ah—what a mistake was this! To think that if in Philadelphia or Boston "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme" or "La Joie Fait Peur" did not make money, either play would do so in the Montreal of thirty years ago! It was a mistake, certainly, from the monetary point of view; on the other hand, many friends were made, much good feeling and admiration prevailed and, in short, the company, stranded in a Canadian town, found living cheap and easily earned, plenty of good fellows—French—and settled down as a local stock affair, fitting up at no great expense the banker's house with the walnut-trees and bright green shutters under the name of the Theatre des Nouveautes.
This was the playhouse in which Mlle. Clairville acted. This was the clever company which, secure in New France from blase critics, produced the comedies and tragedies of Moliere, Corneille, Dumas, Halevy, Mme. de Genlis, as well as serving up adaptations like "Le Vieux Oncle Tom," "Le Prince de Denmarque," "Le Condamne," "L'etranger," also attacking with superb, delicious confidence the then popular operas of "La Grande Duchesse," "La Belle Helene," and "Il Trovatore." What acting it was, so vigorous, dashing, resourceful! How Mme. d'Estarre jumped easily from a Precieuse to Eva, and from Gertrude, a dark-eyed bourgeoise Queen with frizzed hair and train of cotton velvet, to Camille—wickedest play known at that time! Then when Mlle. Pauline-Archange-Emma-Louise de Clairville joined the company, what a Hamlet she made with her fine figure and her remarkably firm, white hands, what a Phedre, once when the actor was ill, what an "Oncle Tom"! What a Duchess of Gerolstein later, when the company discovered that it could sing, collectively at least, and what a Helen, in flowing Greek costume, fillet of gold braid, and sandals!
This was indeed Acting—to merge mannerisms, to defy fate and the jeers of any sober English reporter who strayed into the Theatre of Novelties! When Mme. d'Estarre found that she had to return to France unexpectedly, on account of the ill health of her children, left behind in a provincial town, she was given a grand benefit, and although the public (who were getting a little tired of madame, she was over fifty) did not respond as gallantly as might have been expected, the members of the company with true Gallic chivalry made up the large amount necessary to carry her across, bring her back and provide in the interim for the afflicted children. This was Pauline's opportunity; she naturally succeeded to the position of leading lady, and kept it until her faults of temper developed and she had the pleasurable excitement of a fierce quarrel with her manager. Thus, while her talent was conceded, her stormy temperament prevented her achieving anything like permanent success, and every few months she would reappear at St. Ignace, live drearily in the dingy house, lecture the servants, abuse and weep over her brother, when suddenly tiring of this she would return and have to begin again at the foot of the ladder.
Ignorant of these cloudy and strenuous careers, Ringfield saw only an impulsive and unhappy woman old enough to fascinate him by her unusual command of language and imperiousness of conduct, and young enough for warm ripe brunette beauty. To be plain, first love was already working in him, but he did not recognize its signs and portents; he only knew that an ardent wish to remain at St. Ignace had suddenly taken the place of the tolerant and amused disdain with which he had once considered Poussette's offer.
A couple of days later he had returned from a long afternoon on the river when a man around the place named Crabbe came to him with a letter. Opening it, he found it to contain another offer from a prominent citizen of Radford, a large and thriving Western town, to fill a certain pulpit of some distinction during the absence of the pastor in Europe. The time mentioned was ten months and Ringfield sat down at once to consider the importance of this offer. He would be at last in a cultivated community. Much would be expected of him and he would have every chance to put forth what was best in him. For several years he had been labouring on the missionary circuit and the work was hard indeed, with slender results. Here was sufficient remuneration, comfortable housing in a more sympathetic climate, and the prospect of receiving a still more important call in the future should he make his mark. Such considerations, if mundane, need not also be mercenary; each man is worthy of his hire and his pulse beat in pleased excitement as he viewed the rosy outlook.
But—Miss Clairville! A vague foreboding of the truth flitted through his brain; men wiser in love and affairs of the affections than our young Methodist minister have been self-deceived, and although he sternly put her image away he dimly avowed to himself that she was already occupying far too much of his thought. Here was a clear way opened, or so he imagined, referring each move as it occurred to the guidance and knowledge of the Higher Power, and he could find no other than an affirmative answer to the letter which he kept turning over in his pocket, and still kept reading through the evening in the general room. He had excused himself from the already over-convivial group on the front verandah, and being provided with paper, sat at the table composing his reply.
The lineaments of his singularly fine and noble countenance were easily seen through the window where the guides, M. Desnoyers and Poussette were sitting, and the vision of the black-coated, serious young scribe inditing what he had informed them was a very "important" letter, subdued the incipient revelry.
Poussette was uneasy. He had not yet received any direct answer from Ringfield to his own offer, and for many reasons he preferred to attach and retain him rather than any other "Parson" he had ever encountered. But Ringfield was wrapped in his own thoughts and quite unconscious of the highly improving spectacle he made, lifting his eyes only to nod pleasantly to Mme. Poussette who had glided in and was sitting by the window. His letters were three: one to Mr. Beddoe who had invited him to Radford, another to his relatives on the farm at Grand River, and a third to Miss Clairville. He had not hesitated to write to her, for short as their intercourse had been, her emotional nature had manifested itself so warmly and their talk had been so completely out of the ordinary, that higher things than convention must always govern their friendship. His conscientious side held itself responsible for a slightly superfluous act of sudden interest and attachment, and the mentor's tone in which he pleaded with her, to ask herself whether the theatre must be her goal, would have deceived anybody unaccustomed to cold analysis of motives. He gave her, in short, good advice in the guise of kindly sentiments, ending by avowing himself her "friend in Christ" and protesting that her true welfare and happiness would always be of interest to him.
The letter written, he leant back, resolving not to send it by post but by some ignorant, unsuspicious hand (therein was the new-found subtlety and shyness of the true lover), and the change in attitude confused the watchers outside who guiltily resumed their smoking and conversation. And the strange, silent woman at the window, supposing Ringfield to be in want of something—paper, stamp or ink—rose and stood by his side. Thus she saw two envelopes addressed and ready for the mail, and a third as yet innocent of any inscription. That she could read English he doubted, yet he felt an objection to letting her look over his shoulder. He rose, and going to the office, where Poussette hastily preceded him, gave in the two letters for Ontario, and then informed him of his decision.
The Frenchman's disappointment was genuine and comic, partaking of tragedy and despair. Desnoyers was called in; also the guests and the two guides, with servants forming a picturesque and interested background, so that Ringfield suddenly found himself the centre of an admiring, friendly, but inclining-to-be quarrelsome crowd. Nothing occurred, however, to alter his decision, and, true to his idea of duty, he set off two mornings later, having committed the letter for Miss Clairville to the man called Crabbe, a slouching sort of Englishman who occasionally served as guide, ran a small open-air general store, and about whom there seemed to be some mystery, his accent and grammar being out of the common.
Forty-eight hours after, Ringfield arrived at his destination, and walking up from the train to the house of Mr. Beddoe, the gentleman who had written to him, was shown into a small parlour to wait a few minutes. Voices came from across the hall for a while, then he heard a visitor depart and the next moment Mr. Beddoe himself entered the room.
The surprise of this individual on perceiving Ringfield was genuine and complete; his countenance fell and he stood gazing.
"You did not expect me so soon, I see," said the young man easily. "Well, I was in rather a quandary, something else having offered, so I decided quickly, hating indecision. You got my note of acceptance all right, I hope? It should have reached you at the latest yesterday."
"Yes, yes," murmured Mr. Beddoe, "but, sit down, Mr. Ringfield, sit down—the truth is—a rather peculiar thing has occurred. I—ah—I may as well make you acquainted with it at once. Our pastor, who, without being mentally weakened to any extent by a troublesome and obstinate illness, for which, as you know, we have sent him abroad for a trip, was extremely absent-minded in many little ways, and it has transpired that before his departure he wrote himself to the Rev. Mr. Steers of Bradford, arranging with him to take the pulpit for the time he should be away. He neglected to inform us of the fact, but Mr. Steers came in just after we had written to you, and as he is a married man with a family, and as he certainly expected the duty and the remuneration for a period, I felt that you would have to reconsider our offer. I sent you a telegram embodying all this."
"I never got it. Telegraphic facilities are uncertain in that part of Quebec. For example, St. Ignace is the village, but Bois Clair the name of the post office, and there is no telegraph at either place. Montmagny——"
"That was where we telegraphed," broke in Mr. Beddoe, "but probably there was some delay in sending on the message and we did not look for you quite so soon. Mr. Steers has just left; he is a very reasonable sort of man, and if you think you are bound to keep us to our offer we will talk it over with him."
The young man had taken a chair at Mr. Beddoe's invitation, but he still clutched his florid and somewhat old-fashioned carpet-bag and he did not make any suggestions.
"Of course," exclaimed the other, uneasy at the silence, "you will remain here with us until the matter is settled, and I feel sure a satisfactory settlement can be made. You spoke of an alternative. Would that do for Mr. Steers?"
Ringfield roused himself to say that he did not think it would.
"It's not the place for a married man," he went on. "There are no houses such as you are accustomed to up here; the people are mostly French, the climate is extreme; it is, in short, only a mission, and as I've just come from there, and understand the place, I think I had better go back and leave Mr. Steers in possession of the field."
"Oh! But——" returned Mr. Beddoe, noticing a faint tinge of sarcasm in the tone of the speaker, "we do not ask you to do this. It's all most unfortunate! These great distances, so difficult to find a person—we did our best."
Ringfield rose; there was clearly no reason why he should remain in Radford whether he went back to St. Ignace or not, and just then the condition of his purse was extremely important. This detail was set right in time, in about two months; meanwhile a visit to his friends in the country would give him an opportunity to decide as to his future movements.
The sojourn on the farm occupied three days, at the end of which he did what he knew he would do from the moment of meeting Mr. Beddoe. He bought a ticket for Bois Clair with almost the last money he had in the world, and within ten days of leaving Poussette's the steamer plying on the river to St. Ignace deposited him at the familiar rickety wharf once more.
It was nine o'clock and dark, with a light rain falling. The passengers, mostly tourists, were stepping off in that timorous way peculiar to people unaccustomed to the primitive, by the light of a lantern waveringly but officially displayed by Crabbe, the surly guide to whom Ringfield had given his letter, and behind Crabbe, a little higher up on the bank, stood Poussette, whose costume as usual was characteristic. He wore a checked tweed suit of light brown, a straw hat, and an enormous chef's apron tied round his waist under his coat. Visions of fried bass or lunge, of potatoes saute, and even of hot pancakes, danced before Ringfield's weary eyes, for he was both tired and cold, and accordingly he gaily pushed his way through the loiterers and fresh arrivals until he reached his host.
"Well, Poussette!" he cried, "I'm to be your man after all, it seems! They didn't want me in the West, I found, or rather I thought it wiser to come back and take advantage of your kind offer. I suppose you can put me up somewhere for to-night, and to-morrow we can talk the matter over."
The Frenchman had started violently on seeing Ringfield and a great change came over his manner. Where was the welcome the minister had looked for? On this fat, usually smiling countenance he could discern naught but astonishment, disappointment, anger!
What could have happened during that futile journey westward and back? Poussette vouchsafed no reply, no solution. He avoided the puzzled stare of the other man, and after giving some orders in French to Crabbe and the other guide, Martin, a very decent Indian, quickly went up to the house without greeting his guests.
Ringfield was suddenly seized with a sense of the ludicrous. He told himself that he managed to be de trop wherever he went, but he also firmly resolved that no temper, no caprice on his patron's part should affect him now. If possible he must remain at St. Ignace and ignore whatever had caused the singular change in Poussette's attitude. There was indeed fish for supper, but he fancied that the cunning touch of the chef was wanting, and he was right. Poussette had not entered the kitchen.
"Nor is it a mean phase of rural life, And solitude, that they do favour most, Most frequently call forth and best sustain These pure sensations."
The following day Ringfield's curiosity naturally ran high; he was entirely in the dark as to the peculiar treatment he had received at the hands of Poussette, and it followed that one strong idea shut out others. Miss Clairville's image for the time was obliterated, yet he remembered to ask Crabbe whether the letter had been safely delivered, to which the guide replied rather curtly in the affirmative. He supposed Pauline to be still at the manor-house, but the truth was, on the receipt of his letter a sudden temper shook her; she wrote at once to M. Rochelle, her former manager in Montreal, requesting a place in his company, and the evening that brought Ringfield back to St. Ignace took her away.
There were symptoms of thaw stirring in Poussette, and the minister did his best to encourage them, but on the Saturday afternoon following his return, when it was necessary to hold some sustained business conversation with his patron, the latter could not be found. The bar was a model of Saturday cleanliness, damp and tidy, smelling equally of lager beer and yellow soap. Fresh lemons and newly-ironed red napkins adorned the tall glasses ranged in front of Sir John A. Macdonald's lithograph, and the place was dark and tenantless, save for Plouffe, a lazy retriever, stretched at the door. The dining-room was abandoned, the general room was full of children engaged in some merry game, but otherwise the place wore that air of utter do-nothingness which characterizes a warm afternoon in the country. Yet Ringfield persevered and at last heard familiar accents from the "store" across the road, a kind of shack in which a miscellaneous collection of groceries, soft drinks, hardware and fishing appliances were presided over by the man called Crabbe. Ringfield crossed, and found the two men lolling on chairs; Poussette slightly drunk and Crabbe to all appearances decidedly so. The place was of the roughest description; it had no windows but an open space occupied by a board counter on which were boxes of cigars, bottles, a saucer of matches and the mail, duly sorted out for the inhabitants by Crabbe, who was supposed to be a person of some importance and education, and postmaster as well as guide. As Ringfield paused at this aboriginal place of barter, not far removed from the rough shelter up the road under the trees where some Indians held camp and displayed their grass and quill wares on planks supported by barrels, he was struck by the sight of his own name. There in front of him lay the missing telegram which Mr. Beddoe had dispatched to Montmagny nearly a fortnight before. He took the folded yellow paper up and put it in his pocket—no need to open it there and then.
"How long has this been here?" he asked, but Crabbe only moved uneasily in his chair, reaching sideways in a pretence of arranging boxes underneath the improvised counter, his hands shaking so that the goods tumbled out of them.
Poussette laughed and swore, yet a gleam of good nature seemed to illumine his puffy face, and Ringfield, catching at this ray of kindness, hoped he had come at the right moment.
"Why, Poussette!" he said. "I'm sorry to see you neglecting a good business like yours in this manner.—Get up, man, and walk along the road with me. Where is the fun, or glory, or enjoyment of this muddling and tippling—I am ashamed of you! Come on, I say!"
But Poussette was hard to move; Crabbe, on the other hand, rose and shuffled out of doors in the direction of the forest; Ringfield thought he saw Madame Poussette's skimp skirts behind a tree; presently she emerged and stood talking to the guide.
"Come now, Poussette! There's your wife. Don't let her see you like this. Then there's Father Rielle."
"Where?" Poussette rose, superstitious fears of the village cure giving him strength and aiding his resolution.
"Nowhere at present. But he's coming to tea. The cook told me he was."
"What cook? I'm the cook!"—with great dignity.
"No, no. You are cook extraordinary, when you wish it. I mean Frank, who gets the wood and keeps the fire going, who cooks under you—you know well enough whom I mean. Now, are you coming?"
Poussette allowed himself to be hauled out of the shack and presently he and Ringfield were walking up the road.
"I've got to get you sober for to-morrow, you see. To-morrow's Sunday and I want to know about the music. If we are going to introduce our hymns to St. Ignace, you must help me to find some one to play the harmonium. Better be a lady. Do you know any one?"
But Poussette was not following. The mention of the priest had awakened a flood of memory.
"Father Rielle—I don't know if I like that one or not. One's enough, you're enough, Mr. Ringfield. Give Father Rielle a drink and let him go."
"I'm not talking about Father Rielle at all just now. I'm talking about our church and some one to play for us. And look here, Poussette, this returning of mine wasn't my own doing. I want you to know this. The man who wrote to me telegraphed afterwards—here's the message in my pocket—and you see I never got it. I'm here now and we must make the best of things. That fellow Crabbe mislaid the message or detained it knowingly, I can't tell which, and I don't like him, Poussette, I don't like his looks at all. He's a low fellow, always drunk, and if I were you I wouldn't be seen going about with him. I'm astonished at you, Poussette, with such a good businesss, two good businesses, you may say, well-to-do and prosperous as you are, keeping such a fellow on the premises. For I suppose he rents the shack from you. Well, I know I wouldn't have him round the place at all."