Year of Nobility
by Henry van Dyke
I. ENTER THE MARQUIS
The Marquis sat by the camp-fire peeling potatoes.
To look at him, you never would have taken him for a marquis. His
costume was a pair of corduroy trousers; a blue flannel shirt,
patched at elbows with gray; lumberman's boots, flat-footed,
shapeless, with loose leather legs strapped just below the knee, and
wrinkled like the hide of an ancient rhinoceros; and a soft brown hat
with several holes in the crown, as if it had done duty, at some time
in its history, as an impromptu target in a shooting-match. A red
woollen scarf twisted about his loins gave a touch of colour and
It was not exactly a court dress, but it sat well on the powerful
sinewy figure of the man. He never gave a thought to his looks, but
peeled his potatoes with a dexterity which betrayed a past-master of
the humble art, and threw the skins into the fire.
"Look you, m'sieu'," he said to young Winthrop Alden, who sat on a
fallen tree near him, mending the fly-rod which he had broken in the
morning's fishing, "look you, it is an affair of the most strange,
yet of the most certain. We have known always that ours was a good
family. The name tells it. The Lamottes are of la haute classe in
France. But here, in Canada, we are poor. Yet the good blood dies
not with the poverty. It is buried, hidden, but it remains the same.
It is like these pataques. You plant good ones for seed: you get a
good crop. You plant bad ones: you get a bad crop. But we did not
know about the title in our family. No. We thought ours was a
side-branch, an off-shoot. It was a great surprise to us. But it is
certain,beyond a doubt."
Jean Lamotte's deep voice was quiet and steady. It had the tone of
assured conviction. His bright blue eyes above his ruddy mustache
and bronzed cheeks, were clear and tranquil as those of a child.
Alden was immensely interested and amused. He was a member of the
Boston branch of the Society for Ancestral Culture, and he recognized
the favourite tenet of his sect,the doctrine that "blood will tell."
He was also a Harvard man, knowing almost everything and believing
hardly anything. Heredity was one of the few unquestioned articles of
his creed. But the form in which this familiar confession of faith
came to him, on the banks of the Grande Decharge, from the lips of a
somewhat ragged and distinctly illiterate Canadian guide, was
grotesque enough to satisfy the most modern taste for new sensations.
He listened with an air of gravity, and a delighted sense of the
humour of the situation.
"How did you find it out?" he asked.
"Well, then," continued Jean, "I will tell you how the news came to
me. It was at St. Gedeon, one Sunday last March. The snow was good
and hard, and I drove in, ten miles on the lake, from our house
opposite Grosse Ile. After mass, a man, evidently of the city, comes
to me in the stable while I feed the horse, and salutes me.
"'Is this Jean Lamotte?'
"'At your service, m'sieu'.'
"'Son of Francois Louis Lamotte?'
"'Of no other. But he is dead, God give him repose.'
"'I been looking for you all through Charlevoix and Chicoutimi.'
"'Here you find me then, and good-day to you,' says I, a little
short, for I was beginning to be shy of him.
"'Chut, chut,' says he, very friendly. 'I suppose you have time to
talk a bit. How would you like to be a marquis and have a castle in
France with a hundred thousand dollars?'
"For a moment I think I will lick him; then I laugh. 'Very well
indeed,' says I, 'and also a handful of stars for buckshot, and the
new moon for a canoe.'
"'But no,' answers the man. 'I am earnest, Monsieur Lamotte. I
want to talk a long talk with you. Do you permit that I accompany
you to your residence?'
"Residence! You know that little farm-house of logs where my
mother lives,you saw it last summer. But of course it is a pretty
good house. It is clean. It is warm. So I bring the man home in the
sleigh. All that evening he tells the story. How our name Lamotte
is really De la Motte de la Luciere. How there belongs to that name
an estate and a title in France, now thirty years with no one to
claim it. How he, being an AVOCAT, has remarked the likeness of the
names. How he has tracked the family through Montmorency and Quebec,
in all the parish books. How he finds my great- grandfather's
great-grandfather, Etienne de La Motte who came to Canada two hundred
years ago, a younger son of the Marquis de la Luciere. How he has the
papers, many of them, with red seals on them. I saw them. 'Of
course,' says he, 'there are others of the family here to share the
property. It must be divided. But it is largeenormousmillions of
francs. And the largest share is yours, and the title, and a
castlea castle larger than Price's saw-mill at Chicoutimi; with
carpets, and electric lights, and coloured pictures on the wall, like
the hotel at Roberval.'
"When my mother heard about that she was pleased. But mewhen I
heard that I was a marquis, I knew it was true."
Jean's blue eyes were wide open now, and sparkling brightly. He
had put down the pan of potatoes. He was holding his head up and
Alden turned away his face to light his pipe, and hide a smile.
"Did he getany moneyout of you?"came slowly between the puffs
"Money!" answered Jean, "of course there must be money to carry on
an affair of this kind. There was seventy dollars that I had cleaned
up on the lumber-job last winter, and the mother had forty dollars
from the cow she sold in the fall. A hundred and ten dollars,we
gave him that. He has gone to France to make the claim for us. Next
spring he comes back, and I give him a hundred dollars more; when I
get my property five thousand dollars more. It is little enough. A
marquis must not be mean."
Alden swore softly in English, under his breath. A rustic comedy,
a joke on human nature, always pleased him; but beneath his cynical
varnish he had a very honest heart, and he hated cruelty and
injustice. He knew what a little money meant in the backwoods; what
hard and bitter toil it cost to rake it together; what sacrifices and
privations must follow its loss. If the smooth prospector of
unclaimed estates in France had arrived at the camp on the Grande
Decharge at that moment, Alden would have introduced him to the most
unhappy hour of his life.
But with Jean Lamotte it was by no means so easy to deal. Alden
perceived at once that ridicule would be worse than useless. The man
was far too much in earnest. A jest about a marquis with holes in his
hat! Yes, Jean would laugh at that very merrily; for he was a true
VOYAGEUR. But a jest about the reality of the marquis! That struck
him as almost profane. It was a fixed idea with him. Argument could
not shake it. He had seen the papers. He knew it was true. All the
strength of his vigorous and healthy manhood seemed to have gone into
it suddenly, as if this was the news for which he had been waiting,
unconsciously, since he was born.
It was not in the least morbid, visionary, abstract. It was
concrete, actual, and so far as Alden could see, wholesome. It did
not make Jean despise his present life. On the contrary, it appeared
to lend a zest to it, as an interesting episode in the career of a
nobleman. He was not restless; he was not discontented. His whole
nature was at once elated and calmed. He was not at all feverish to
get away from his familiar existence, from the woods and the waters he
knew so well, from the large liberty of the unpeopled forest, the
joyous rush of the great river, the splendid breadth of the open sky.
Unconsciously these things had gone into his blood. Dimly he felt the
premonitions of homesickness for them all. But he was lifted up to
remember that the blood into which these things had entered was blue
blood, and that though he lived in the wilderness he really belonged
to la haute classe. A breath of romance, a spirit of chivalry from
the days when the high-spirited courtiers of Louis XIV sought their
fortune in the New World, seemed to pass into him. He spoke of it all
with a kind of proud simplicity.
"It appears curious to m'sieu', no doubt, but it has been so in
Canada from the beginning. There were many nobles here in the old
time. Frontenac,he was a duke or a prince. Denonville,he was a
grand seigneur. La Salle, Vaudreuil,these are all noble, counts or
barons. I know not the difference, but the cure has told me the
names. And the old Jacques Cartier, the father of all, when he went
home to France, I have heard that the King made him a lord and gave
him a castle. Why not? He was a capable man, a brave man; he could
sail a big ship, he could run the rapids of the great river in his
canoe. He could hunt the bear, the lynx, the carcajou. I suppose
all these men,marquises and counts and barons,I suppose they all
lived hard, and slept on the ground, and used the axe and the paddle
when they came to the woods. It is not the fine coat that makes the
noble. It is the good blood, the adventure, the brave heart."
"Magnificent!" thought Alden. "It is the real thing, a bit of the
seventeenth century lost in the forest for two hundred years. It is
like finding an old rapier beside an Indian trail. I suppose the
fellow may be the descendant of some gay young lieutenant of the
regiment Carignan-Salieres, who came out with De Tracy, or
Courcelles. An amour with the daughter of a habitant,a name taken
at random,who can unravel the skein? But here's the old thread of
chivalry running through all the tangles, tarnished but unbroken."
This was what he said to himself. What he said to Jean was, "Well,
Jean, you and I have been together in the woods for two summers now,
and marquis or no marquis, I hope this is not going to make any
difference between us."
"But certainly NOT!" answered Jean. "I am well content with
m'sieu', as I hope m'sieu' is content with me. While I am AU BOIS, I
ask no better than to be your guide. Besides, I must earn those other
hundred dollars, for the payment in the spring."
Alden tried to make him promise to give nothing more to the lawyer
until he had something sure to show for his money. But Jean was
politely non-committal on that point. It was evident that he felt
the impossibility of meanness in a marquis. Why should he be sparing
or cautious? That was for the merchant, not for the noble. A hundred,
two hundred, three hundred dollars: What was that to an estate and a
title? Nothing risk, nothing gain! He must live up to his role.
Meantime he was ready to prove that he was the best guide on the
And so he was. There was not a man in all the Lake St. John
country who knew the woods and waters as well as he did. Far up the
great rivers Peribonca and Misstassini he had pushed his birch canoe,
exploring the network of lakes and streams along the desolate Height
of Land. He knew the Grand Brule, where the bears roam in September
on the fire-scarred hills among the wide, unharvested fields of
blueberries. He knew the hidden ponds and slow-creeping little
rivers where the beavers build their dams, and raise their silent
water-cities, like Venice lost in the woods. He knew the vast
barrens, covered with stiff silvery moss, where the caribou fed in
the winter. On the Decharge itself,that tumultuous flood, never
failing, never freezing, by which the great lake pours all its
gathered waters in foam and fury down to the deep, still gorge of the
Saguenay,there Jean was at home. There was not a curl or eddy in
the wild course of the river that he did not understand. The quiet
little channels by which one could drop down behind the islands while
the main stream made an impassable fall; the precise height of the
water at which it was safe to run the Rapide Gervais; the point of
rock on the brink of the Grande Chute where the canoe must whirl
swiftly in to the shore if you did not wish to go over the cataract;
the exact force of the tourniquet that sucked downward at one edge of
the rapid, and of the bouillon that boiled upward at the other edge,
as if the bottom of the river were heaving, and the narrow line of the
FILET D'EAU along which the birch-bark might shoot in safety; the
treachery of the smooth, oily curves where the brown water swept past
the edge of the cliff, silent, gloomy, menacing; the hidden pathway
through the foam where the canoe could run out securely and reach a
favourite haunt of the ouananiche, the fish that loves the wildest
water,all these secrets were known to Jean. He read the river like
a book. He loved it. He also respected it. He knew it too well to
take liberties with it.
The camp, that June, was beside the Rapide des Cedres. A great
ledge stretched across the river; the water came down in three leaps,
brown above, golden at the edge, white where it fell. Below, on the
left bank, there was a little cove behind a high point of rocks, a
curving beach of white sand, a gentle slope of ground, a tent half
hidden among the birches and balsams. Down the river, the main
channel narrowed and deepened. High banks hemmed it in on the left,
iron-coasted islands on the right. It was a sullen, powerful,
dangerous stream. Beyond that, in mid-river, the Ile Maligne reared
its wicked head, scarred, bristling with skeletons of dead trees. On
either side of it, the river broke away into a long fury of rapids and
falls in which no boat could live.
It was there, on the point of the island, that the most famous
fishing in the river was found; and there Alden was determined to
cast his fly before he went home. Ten days they had waited at the
Cedars for the water to fall enough to make the passage to the island
safe. At last Alden grew impatient. It was a superb morning,sky
like an immense blue gentian, air full of fragrance from a million
bells of pink Linnaea, sunshine flattering the great river,a morning
when danger and death seemed incredible.
"To-day we are going to the island, Jean; the water must be low
"Not yet, m'sieu', I am sorry, but it is not yet."
Alden laughed rather unpleasantly. "I believe you are afraid. I
thought you were a good canoeman"
"I am that," said Jean, quietly, "and therefore,well, it is the
bad canoeman who is never afraid."
"But last September you took your monsieur to the island and gave
him fine fishing. Why won't you do it for me? I believe you want to
keep me away from this place and save it for him."
Jean's face flushed. "M'sieu' has no reason to say that of me. I
beg that he will not repeat it."
Alden laughed again. He was somewhat irritated at Jean for taking
the thing so seriously, for being so obstinate. On such a morning it
was absurd. At least it would do no harm to make an effort to reach
the island. If it proved impossible they could give it up. "All
right, Jean," he said, "I'll take it back. You are only timid, that's
all. Francois here will go down with me. We can manage the canoe
together. Jean can stay at home and keep the camp. Eh, Francois?"
Francois, the second guide, was a mush of vanity and good nature,
with just sense enough to obey Jean's orders, and just jealousy
enough to make him jump at a chance to show his independence. He
would like very well to be first man for a day,perhaps for the next
trip, if he had good luck. He grinned and nodded his head "All
ready, m'sieu'; I guess we can do it."
But while he was holding the canoe steady for Alden to step out to
his place in the bow, Jean came down and pushed him aside. "Go to
bed, dam' fool," he muttered, shoved the canoe out into the river,
and jumped lightly to his own place in the stern.
Alden smiled to himself and said nothing for a while. When they
were a mile or two down the river he remarked, "So I see you changed
your mind, Jean. Do you think better of the river now?"
"No, m'sieu', I think the same."
"Because I must share the luck with you whether it is good or bad.
It is no shame to have fear. The shame is not to face it. But one
thing I ask of you"
"And that is?"
"Kneel as low in the canoe as you can, paddle steady, and do not
dodge when a wave comes."
Alden was half inclined to turn back, and give it up. But pride
made it difficult to say the word. Besides the fishing was sure to
be superb; not a line had been wet there since last year. It was
worth a little risk. The danger could not be so very great after
all. How fair the river ran,a current of living topaz between
banks of emerald! What but good luck could come on such a day?
The canoe was gliding down the last smooth stretch. Alden lifted
his head, as they turned the corner, and for the first time saw the
passage close before him. His face went white, and he set his teeth.
The left-hand branch of the river, cleft by the rocky point of the
island, dropped at once into a tumult of yellow foam and raved
downward along the northern shore. The right-hand branch swerved
away to the east, running with swift, silent fury. On the lower edge
of this desperate race of brown billows, a huge whirlpool formed and
dissolved every two or three minutes, now eddying round in a wide
backwater into a rocky bay on the end of the island, now swept away by
the rush of waves into the white rage of the rapids below.
There was the secret pathway. The trick was, to dart across the
right-hand current at the proper moment, catch the rim of the
whirlpool as it swung backward, and let it sweep you around to the
end of the island. It was easy enough at low water. But now?
The smooth waves went crowding and shouldering down the slope as if
they were running to a fight. The river rose and swelled with quick,
uneven passion. The whirlpool was in its place one minute; the next,
it was blotted out; everything rushed madly downwardand below was
Jean checked the boat for a moment, quivering in the strong
current, waiting for the TOURNIQUET to form again. Five secondsten
seconds"Now!" he cried.
The canoe shot obliquely into the stream, driven by strong, quick
strokes of the paddles. It seemed almost to leap from wave to wave.
All was going well. The edge of the whirlpool was near. Then came
the crest of a larger wave,slapinto the boat. Alden shrank
involuntarily from the cold water, and missed his stroke. An eddy
caught the bow and shoved it out. The whirlpool receded, dissolved.
The whole river rushed down upon the canoe and carried it away like a
Who says that thought is swift and clear in a moment like that?
Who talks about the whole of a man's life passing before him in a
flash of light? A flash of darkness! Thought is paralyzed, dumb.
"What a fool!" "Good-bye!" "If" That is about all it can say.
And if the moment is prolonged, it says the same thing over again,
stunned, bewildered, impotent. Then?The rocking waves; the sinking
boat; the roar of the fall; the swift overturn; the icy, blinding,
Jean was flung shoreward. Instinctively he struck out, with the
current and half across it, toward a point of rock. His foot touched
bottom. He drew himself up and looked back. The canoe was sweeping
past, bottom upward, Alden underneath it.
Jean thrust himself out into the stream again, still going with the
current, but now away from shore. He gripped the canoe, flinging his
arm over the stern. Then he got hold of the thwart and tried to turn
it over. Too heavy! Groping underneath he caught Alden by the
shoulder and pulled him out. They would have gone down together but
for the boat.
"Hold on tight," gasped Jean, "put your arm over the canoethe
Alden, half dazed, obeyed him. The torrent carried the dancing,
slippery bark past another point. Just below it, there was a little
"Now," cried Jean; "the back-waterstrike for the land!"
They touched the black, gliddery rocks. They staggered out of the
water; waist-deep, knee-deep, ankle-deep; falling and rising again.
They crawled up on the warm moss. . . .
The first thing that Alden noticed was the line of bright red spots
on the wing of a cedar-bird fluttering silently through the branches
of the tree above him. He lay still and watched it, wondering that
he had never before observed those brilliant sparks of colour on the
little brown bird. Then he wondered what made his legs ache so. Then
he saw Jean, dripping wet, sitting on a stone and looking down the
He got up painfully and went over to him. He put his hand on the
"Jean, you saved my lifeI thank you, Marquis!"
"M'sieu'," said Jean, springing up, "I beg you not to mention it.
It was nothing. A narrow shave,but LA BONNE CHANCE! And after
all, you were right,we got to the island! But now how to get off?"
II. AN ALLIANCE OF RIVALS
Yes, of course they got offthe next day. At the foot of the
island, two miles below, there is a place where the water runs
quieter, and a BATEAU can cross from the main shore. Francois was
frightened when the others did not come back in the evening. He made
his way around to St. Joseph d'Alma, and got a boat to come up and
look for their bodies. He found them on the shore, alive and very
hungry. But all that has nothing to do with the story.
Nor does it make any difference how Alden spent the rest of his
summer in the woods, what kind of fishing he had, or what moved him
to leave five hundred dollars with Jean when he went away. That is
all padding: leave it out. The first point of interest is what Jean
did with the money. A suit of clothes, a new stove, and a set of
kitchen utensils for the log house opposite Grosse Ile, a trip to
Quebec, a little game of "Blof Americain" in the back room of the
Hotel du Nord,that was the end of the money.
This is not a Sunday-school story. Jean was no saint. Even as a
hero he had his weak points. But after his own fashion he was a
pretty good kind of a marquis. He took his headache the next morning
as a matter of course, and his empty pocket as a trick of fortune.
With the nobility, he knew very well, such things often happen; but
the nobility do not complain about it. They go ahead, as if it was a
Before the week was out Jean was on his way to a lumber-shanty on
the St. Maurice River, to cook for a crew of thirty men all winter.
The cook's position in camp is curious,half menial, half
superior. It is no place for a feeble man. But a cook who is strong
in the back and quick with his fists can make his office much
respected. Wages, forty dollars a month; duties, to keep the pea-soup
kettle always hot and the bread-pan always full, to stand the jokes of
the camp up to a certain point, and after that to whip two or three of
the most active humourists.
Jean performed all his duties to perfect satisfaction. Naturally
most of the jokes turned upon his great expectations. With two of
the principal jokers he had exchanged the usual and conclusive form
of repartee,flattened them out literally. The ordinary BADINAGE he
did not mind in the least; it rather pleased him.
But about the first of January a new hand came into the camp,a
big, black-haired fellow from Three Rivers, Pierre Lamotte DIT
Theophile. With him it was different. There seemed to be something
serious in his jests about "the marquis." It was not fun; it was
mockery; always on the edge of anger. He acted as if he would be
glad to make Jean ridiculous in any way.
Finally the matter came to a head. Something happened to the soup
one Sunday morningtobacco probably. Certainly it was very bad,
only fit to throw away; and the whole camp was mad. It was not
really Pierre who played the trick; but it was he who sneered that
the camp would be better off if the cook knew less about castles and
more about cooking. Jean answered that what the camp needed was to
get rid of a badreux who thought it was a joke to poison the soup.
Pierre took this as a personal allusion and requested him to discuss
the question outside. But before the discussion began he made some
general remarks about the character and pretensions of Jean.
"A marquis!" said he. "This bagoulard gives himself out for a
marquis! He is nothing of the kind,a rank humbug. There is a
title in the family, an estate in France, it is true. But it is
mine. I have seen the papers. I have paid money to the lawyer. I
am waiting now for him to arrange the matter. This man knows nothing
about it. He is a fraud. I will fight him now and settle the
If a bucket of ice-water had been thrown over Jean he could not
have cooled off more suddenly. He was dazed. Another marquis? This
was a complication he had never dreamed of. It overwhelmed him like
an avalanche. He must have time to dig himself out of this
"But stop," he cried; "you go too fast. This is more serious than
a pot of soup. I must hear about this. Let us talk first, Pierre,
The camp was delighted. It was a fine comedy,two fools instead
of one. The men pricked up their ears and clamoured for a full
explanation, a debate in open court.
But that was not Jean's way. He had made no secret of his
expectations, but he did not care to confide all the details of his
family history to a crowd of fellows who would probably not
understand and would certainly laugh. Pierre was wrong of course,
but at least he was in earnest. That was something.
"This affair is between Pierre and me," said Jean. "We shall speak
of it by ourselves."
In the snow-muffled forest, that afternoon, where the great tree-
trunks rose like pillars of black granite from a marble floor, and
the branches of spruce and fir wove a dark green roof above their
heads, these two stray shoots of a noble stock tried to untangle
their family history. It was little that they knew about it. They
could get back to their grandfathers, but beyond that the trail was
rather blind. Where they crossed neither Jean nor Pierre could tell.
In fact, both of their minds had been empty vessels for the plausible
lawyer to fill, and he had filled them with various and windy stuff.
There were discrepancies and contradictions, denials and disputes,
flashes of anger and clouds of suspicion.
But through all the voluble talk, somehow or other, the two men
were drawing closer together. Pierre felt Jean's force of character,
his air of natural leadership, his bonhommie. He thought, "It was a
shame for that lawyer to trick such a fine fellow with the story that
he was the heir of the family." Jean, for his part, was impressed by
Pierre's simplicity and firmness of conviction. He thought, "What a
mean thing for that lawyer to fool such an innocent as this into
supposing himself the inheritor of the title." What never occurred to
either of them was the idea that the lawyer had deceived them both.
That was not to be dreamed of. To admit such a thought would have
seemed to them like throwing away something of great value which they
had just found. The family name, the papers, the links of the
genealogy which had been so convincingly set forth,all this had made
an impression on their imagination, stronger than any logical
argument. But which was the marquis? That was the question.
"Look here," said Jean at last, "of what value is it that we fight?
We are cousins. You think I am wrong. I think you are wrong. But
one of us must be right. Who can tell? There will certainly be
something for both of us. Blood is stronger than currant juice. Let
us work together and help each other. You come home with me when this
job is done. The lawyer returns to St. Gedeon in the spring. He will
know. We can see him together. If he has fooled you, you can do what
you like to him. WhenPARDON, I mean ifI get the title, I will do
the fair thing by you. You shall do the same by me. Is it a
On this basis the compact was made. The camp was much amazed, not
to say disgusted, because there was no fight. Well-meaning efforts
were made at intervals through the winter to bring on a crisis. But
nothing came of it. The rival claimants had pooled their stock. They
acknowledged the tie of blood, and ignored the clash of interests.
Together they faced the fire of jokes and stood off the crowd; Pierre
frowning and belligerent, Jean smiling and scornful. Practically, they
bossed the camp. They were the only men who always shaved on Sunday
morning. This was regarded as foppish.
The popular disappointment deepened into a general sense of injury.
In March, when the cut of timber was finished and the logs were all
hauled to the edge of the river, to lie there until the ice should
break and the "drive" begin, the time arrived for the camp to close.
The last night, under the inspiration drawn from sundry bottles which
had been smuggled in to celebrate the occasion, a plan was concocted
in the stables to humble "the nobility" with a grand display of
humour. Jean was to be crowned as marquis with a bridle and blinders:
Pierre was to be anointed as count, with a dipperful of
harness-oil; after that the fun would be impromptu.
The impromptu part of the programme began earlier than it was
advertised. Some whisper of the plan had leaked through the chinks
of the wall between the shanty and the stable. When the crowd came
shambling into the cabin, snickering and nudging one another, Jean
and Pierre were standing by the stove at the upper end of the long
"Down with the canaille!" shouted Jean.
"Clean out the gang!" responded Pierre.
Brandishing long-handled frying-pans, they charged down the sides
of the table. The mob wavered, turned, and were lost! Helter-skelter
they fled, tumbling over one another in their haste to escape. The
lamp was smashed. The benches were upset. In the smoky hall a
furious din arose,as if Sir Galahad and Sir Percivale were once
more hewing their way through the castle of Carteloise. Fear fell
upon the multitude, and they cried aloud grievously in their dismay.
The blows of the weapons echoed mightily in the darkness, and the two
knights laid about them grimly and with great joy. The door was too
narrow for the flight. Some of the men crept under the lowest berths;
others hid beneath the table. Two, endeavouring to escape by the
windows, stuck fast, exposing a broad and undefended mark to the
pursuers. Here the last strokes of the conflict were delivered.
"One for the marquis!" cried Jean, bringing down his weapon with a
"Two for the count!" cried Pierre, making his pan crack like the
blow of a beaver's tail when he dives.
Then they went out into the snowy night, and sat down together on
the sill of the stable-door, and laughed until the tears ran down
"My faith!" said Jean. "That was like the ancient time. It is
from the good wood that strong paddles are made,eh, cousin?" And
after that there was a friendship between the two men that could not
have been cut with the sharpest axe in Quebec.
III. A HAPPY ENDING WHICH IS ALSO A
The plan of going back to St. Gedeon, to wait for the return of the
lawyer, was not carried out. Several of the little gods that use
their own indiscretion in arranging the pieces on the puzzle-map of
life, interfered with it.
The first to meddle was that highly irresponsible deity with the
bow and arrows, who has no respect for rank or age, but reserves all
his attention for sex.
When the camp on the St. Maurice dissolved, Jean went down with
Pierre to Three Rivers for a short visit. There was a snug house on
a high bank above the river, a couple of miles from the town. A wife
and an armful of children gave assurance that the race of La Motte de
la Luciere should not die out on this side of the ocean.
There was also a little sister-in-law, Alma Grenou. If you had
seen her you would not have wondered at what happened. Eyes like a
deer, face like a mayflower, voice like the "D" string in a
'cello,she was the picture of Drummond's girl in "The Habitant":
"She's nicer girl on whole Comte, an' jus' got eighteen year
Black eye, black hair, and cheek rosee dat's lak wan Fameuse
on de fall;
But don't spik much,not of dat kin',I can't say she love
me at all."
With her Jean plunged into love. It was not a gradual approach,
like gliding down a smooth stream. It was not a swift descent, like
running a lively rapid. It was a veritable plunge, like going over a
chute. He did not know precisely what had happened to him at first;
but he knew very soon what to do about it.
The return to Lake St. John was postponed till a more convenient
season: after the snow had melted and the ice had broken up
probably the lawyer would not make his visit before that. If he
arrived sooner, he would come back again; he wanted his money, that
was certain. Besides, what was more likely than that he should come
also to see Pierre? He had promised to do so. At all events, they
would wait at Three Rivers for a while.
The first week Jean told Alma that she was the prettiest girl he
had ever seen. She tossed her head and expressed a conviction that he
was joking. She suggested that he was in the habit of saying the
same thing to every girl.
The second week he made a long stride in his wooing. He took her
out sleighing on the last remnant of the snow,very thin and
bumpy,and utilized the occasion to put his arm around her waist.
She cried "Laisse-moi tranquille, Jean!" boxed his ears, and said she
thought he must be out of his mind.
The following Saturday afternoon he craftily came behind her in the
stable as she was milking the cow, and bent her head back and kissed
her on the face. She began to cry, and said he had taken an unfair
advantage, while her hands were busy. She hated him.
"Well, then," said he, still holding her warm shoulders, "if you
hate me, I am going home tomorrow."
The sobs calmed down quickly. She bent herself forward so that he
could see the rosy nape of her neck with the curling tendrils of
brown hair around it.
"But," she said, "but, Jean,do you love me for sure?"
After that the path was level, easy, and very quickly travelled.
On Sunday afternoon the priest was notified that his services would
be needed for a wedding, the first week in May. Pierre's consent was
genial and hilarious. The marriage suited him exactly. It was a
family alliance. It made everything move smooth and certain. The
property would be kept together.
But the other little interfering gods had not yet been heard from.
One of them, who had special charge of what remained of the soul of
the dealer in unclaimed estates, put it into his head to go to Three
Rivers first, instead of to St. Gedeon.
He had a good many clients in different parts of the country,
temporary clients, of course,and it occurred to him that he might
as well extract another fifty dollars from Pierre Lamotte DIT
Theophile, before going on a longer journey. On his way down from
Montreal he stopped in several small towns and slept in beds of
Another of the little deities (the one that presides over unclean
villages; decidedly a false god, but sufficiently powerful) arranged
a surprise for the travelling lawyer. It came out at Three Rivers.
He arrived about nightfall, and slept at the hotel, feeling
curiously depressed. The next morning he was worse; but he was a
resolute and industrious dog, after his own fashion. So he hired a
buggy and drove out through the mud to Pierre's place. They heard
the wagon stop at the gate, and went out to see who it was.
The man was hardly recognizable: face pale, lips blue, eyes dull,
"Get me out of this," he muttered. "I am dying. God's sake, be
They helped him to the house, and he immediately went into a
convulsion. From this he passed into a raging fever. Pierre took
the buggy and drove posthaste to town for a doctor.
The doctor's opinion was evidently serious, but his remarks were
"Keep him in this room. Give him ten drops of this in water every
hour. One of these powders if he becomes violent. One of you must
stay with him all the time. Only one, you understand. The rest keep
away. I will come back in the morning."
In the morning the doctor's face was yet more grave. He examined
the patient carefully. Then he turned to Jean, who had acted as
"I thought so," said he; "you must all be vaccinated immediately.
There is still time, I hope. But what to do with this gentleman, God
knows. We can't send him back to the town. He has the small- pox."
That was a pretty prelude to a wedding festival. They were all at
their wit's end. While the doctor scratched their arms, they
discussed the situation, excitedly and with desperation. Jean was
the first to stop chattering and begin to think.
"There is that old cabane of Poulin's up the road. It is empty
these three years. But there is a good spring of water. One could
patch the roof at one end and put up a stove."
"Good!" said the doctor. "But some one to take care of him? It
will be a long job, and a bad one."
"I am going to do that," said Jean; "it is my place. This
gentleman cannot be left to die in the road. Le bon Dieu did not send
him here for that. The head of the family"here he stopped a moment
and looked at Pierre, who was silent"must take the heavy end of the
job, and I am ready for it."
"Good!" said the doctor again. But Alma was crying in the corner
of the room.
Four weeks, five weeks, six weeks the vigil in the cabane lasted.
The last patches of snow disappeared from the fields one night, as if
winter had picked up its rags and vanished. The willows along the
brook turned yellow; the grass greened around the spring. Scarlet buds
flamed on the swamp maples. A tender mist of foliage spread over the
woodlands. The chokecherries burst into a glory of white blossoms.
The bluebirds came back, fluting love-songs; and the robins,
carolling ballads of joy; and the blackbirds, creaking merrily.
The priest came once and saw the sick man, but everything was going
well. It was not necessary to run any extra risks. Every week after
that he came and leaned on the fence, talking with Jean in the
doorway. When he went away he always lifted three fingerssoyou
know the sign? It is a very pleasant one, and it did Jean's heart
Pierre kept the cabane well supplied with provisions, leaving them
just inside of the gate. But with the milk it was necessary to be a
little careful; so the can was kept in a place by itself, under the
out-of-door oven, in the shade. And beside this can Jean would find,
every day, something particular,a blossom of the red geranium that
bloomed in the farmhouse window, a piece of cake with plums in it, a
bunch of trailing arbutus,once it was a little bit of blue ribbon,
tied in a certain square knotsoperhaps you know that sign too?
That did Jean's heart good also.
But what kind of conversation was there in the cabane when the sick
man's delirium had passed and he knew what had happened to him? Not
much at first, for the man was too weak. After he began to get
stronger, he was thinking a great deal, fighting with himself. In
the end he came out pretty wellfor a lawyer of his kind. Perhaps
he was desirous to leave the man whom he had deceived, and who had
nursed him back from death, some fragment, as much as possible, of
the dream that brightened his life. Perhaps he was only anxious to
save as much as he could of his own reputation. At all events, this
is what he did.
He told Jean a long story, part truth, part lie, about his
investigations. The estate and the title were in the family; that
was certain. Jean was the probable heir, if there was any heir; that
was almost sure. The part about Pierre had been awell, a mistake.
But the trouble with the whole affair was this. A law made in the
days of Napoleon limited the time for which an estate could remain
unclaimed. A certain number of years, and then the government took
everything. That number of years had just passed. By the old law Jean
was probably a marquis with a castle. By the new law?Frankly, he
could not advise a client to incur any more expense. In fact, he
intended to return the amount already paid. A hundred and ten
dollars, was it not? Yes, and fifty dollars for the six weeks of
nursing. VOILA, a draft on Montreal, a hundred and sixty dollars,as
good as gold! And beside that, there was the incalculable debt for
this great kindness to a sick man, for which he would always be M. de
la Motte's grateful debtor!
The lawyer's pock-marked facethe scars still red and angrylit
up with a curious mixed light of shrewdness and gratitude. Jean was
somewhat moved. His castle was in ruins. But he remained nobleby
the old law; that was something!
A few days later the doctor pronounced it safe to move the patient.
He came with a carriage to fetch him. Jean, well fumigated and
dressed in a new suit of clothes, walked down the road beside them to
the farm-house gate. There Alma met him with both hands. His eyes
embraced her. The air of June was radiant about them. The fragrance
of the woods breathed itself over the broad valley. A song sparrow
poured his heart out from a blossoming lilac. The world was large,
and free, and very good. And between the lovers there was nothing but
a little gate.
"I understand," said the doctor, smiling, as he tightened up the
reins, "I understand that there is a title in your family, M. de la
Motte, in effect that you are a marquis?"
"It is true," said Jean, turning his head, "at least so I think."
"So do I," said the doctor "But you had better go in, MONSIEUR LE
MARQUISyou keep MADAME LA MARQUISE waiting."