Lover of Music
by Henry van Dyke
He entered the backwoods village of Bytown literally on the wings
of the wind. It whirled him along like a big snowflake, and dropped
him at the door of Moody's "Sportsmen's Retreat," as if he were a New
Year's gift from the North Pole. His coming seemed a mere chance; but
perhaps there was something more in it, after all. At all events, you
shall hear, if you will, the time and the manner of his arrival.
It was the last night of December, some thirty-five years ago. All
the city sportsmen who had hunted the deer under Bill Moody's
direction had long since retreated to their homes, leaving the little
settlement on the border of the Adirondack wilderness wholly under the
social direction of the natives.
The annual ball was in full swing in the dining-room of the hotel.
At one side of the room the tables and chairs were piled up, with
their legs projecting in the air like a thicket of very dead trees.
The huge stove in the southeast corner was blushing a rosy red
through its thin coat of whitewash, and exhaling a furious dry heat
flavoured with the smell of baked iron. At the north end, however,
winter reigned; and there were tiny ridges of fine snow on the floor,
sifted in by the wind through the cracks in the window- frames.
But the bouncing girls and the heavy-footed guides and lumbermen
who filled the ball-room did not appear to mind the heat or the cold.
They balanced and "sashayed" from the tropics to the arctic circle.
They swung at corners and made "ladies' change" all through the
temperate zone. They stamped their feet and did double-shuffles
until the floor trembled beneath them. The tin lamp-reflectors on
the walls rattled like castanets.
There was only one drawback to the hilarity of the occasion. The
band, which was usually imported from Sandy River Forks for such
festivities,a fiddle, a cornet, a flute, and an accordion,had not
arrived. There was a general idea that the mail-sleigh, in which the
musicians were to travel, had been delayed by the storm, and might
break its way through the snow-drifts and arrive at any moment. But
Bill Moody, who was naturally of a pessimistic temperament, had
offered a different explanation.
"I tell ye, old Baker's got that blame' band down to his hotel at
the Falls now, makin' 'em play fer his party. Them music fellers is
onsartin; can't trust 'em to keep anythin' 'cept the toon, and they
don't alluz keep that. Guess we might uz well shet up this ball, or
go to work playin' games."
At this proposal a thick gloom had fallen over the assembly; but it
had been dispersed by Serena Moody's cheerful offer to have the small
melodion brought out of the parlour, and to play for dancing as well
as she could. The company agreed that she was a smart girl, and
prepared to accept her performance with enthusiasm. As the dance went
on, there were frequent comments of approval to encourage her in the
labour of love.
"Sereny's doin' splendid, ain't she?" said the other girls.
To which the men replied, "You bet! The playin' 's reel nice, and
good 'nough fer anybodyoutside o' city folks."
But Serena's repertory was weak, though her spirit was willing.
There was an unspoken sentiment among the men that "The Sweet By and
By" was not quite the best tune in the world for a quadrille. A
Sunday-school hymn, no matter how rapidly it was rendered, seemed to
fall short of the necessary vivacity for a polka. Besides, the
wheezy little organ positively refused to go faster than a certain
gait. Hose Ransom expressed the popular opinion of the instrument,
after a figure in which he and his partner had been half a bar ahead
of the music from start to finish, when he said:
"By Jolly! that old maloney may be chock full o' relijun and
po'try; but it ain't got no DANCE into it, no more 'n a saw-mill."
This was the situation of affairs inside of Moody's tavern on New
Year's Eve. But outside of the house the snow lay two feet deep on
the level, and shoulder-high in the drifts. The sky was at last
swept clean of clouds. The shivering stars and the shrunken moon
looked infinitely remote in the black vault of heaven. The frozen
lake, on which the ice was three feet thick and solid as rock, was
like a vast, smooth bed, covered with a white counterpane. The cruel
wind still poured out of the northwest, driving the dry snow along
with it like a mist of powdered diamonds.
Enveloped in this dazzling, pungent atmosphere, half blinded and
bewildered by it, buffeted and yet supported by the onrushing torrent
of air, a man on snow-shoes, with a light pack on his shoulders,
emerged from the shelter of the Three Sisters' Islands, and staggered
straight on, down the lake. He passed the headland of the bay where
Moody's tavern is ensconced, and probably would have drifted on beyond
it, to the marsh at the lower end of the lake, but for the yellow
glare of the ball-room windows and the sound of music and dancing
which came out to him suddenly through a lull in the wind.
He turned to the right, climbed over the low wall of broken ice-
blocks that bordered the lake, and pushed up the gentle slope to the
open passageway by which the two parts of the rambling house were
joined together. Crossing the porch with the last remnant of his
strength, he lifted his hand to knock, and fell heavily against the
The noise, heard through the confusion within, awakened curiosity
Just as when a letter comes to a forest cabin, it is turned over
and over, and many guesses are made as to the handwriting and the
authorship before it occurs to any one to open it and see who sent
it, so was this rude knocking at the gate the occasion of argument
among the rustic revellers as to what it might portend. Some thought
it was the arrival of the belated band. Others supposed the sound
betokened a descent of the Corey clan from the Upper Lake, or a change
of heart on the part of old Dan Dunning, who had refused to attend the
ball because they would not allow him to call out the figures. The
guesses were various; but no one thought of the possible arrival of a
stranger at such an hour on such a night, until Serena suggested that
it would he a good plan to open the door. Then the unbidden guest was
discovered lying benumbed along the threshold.
There was no want of knowledge as to what should be done with a
half-frozen man, and no lack of ready hands to do it. They carried
him not to the warm stove, but into the semi-arctic region of the
parlour. They rubbed his face and his hands vigorously with snow.
They gave him a drink of hot tea flavoured with whiskeyor perhaps
it was a drink of whiskey with a little hot tea in itand then, as
his senses began to return to him, they rolled him in a blanket and
left him on a sofa to thaw out gradually, while they went on with the
Naturally, he was the favourite subject of conversation for the
"Who is he, anyhow? I never seen 'im before. Where'd he come
from?" asked the girls.
"I dunno," said Bill Moody; "he didn't say much. Talk seemed all
froze up. Frenchy, 'cordin' to what he did say. Guess he must a
come from Canady, workin' on a lumber job up Raquette River way. Got
bounced out o' the camp, p'raps. All them Frenchies is queer."
This summary of national character appeared to command general
"Yaas," said Hose Ransom, "did ye take note how he hung on to that
pack o' his'n all the time? Wouldn't let go on it. Wonder what 't
wuz? Seemed kinder holler 'n light, fer all 'twuz so big an' wropped
up in lots o' coverin's."
"What's the use of wonderin'?" said one of the younger boys; "find
out later on. Now's the time fer dancin'. Whoop 'er up!"
So the sound of revelry swept on again in full flood. The men and
maids went careering up and down the room. Serena's willing fingers
laboured patiently over the yellow keys of the reluctant melodion.
But the ancient instrument was weakening under the strain; the
bellows creaked; the notes grew more and more asthmatic.
"Hold the Fort" was the tune, "Money Musk" was the dance; and it
was a preposterously bad fit. The figure was tangled up like a
fishing- line after trolling all day without a swivel. The dancers
were doing their best, determined to be happy, as cheerful as
possible, but all out of time. The organ was whirring and gasping and
groaning for breath.
Suddenly a new music filled the room.
The right tunethe real old joyful "Money Musk," played
jubilantly, triumphantly, irresistiblyon a fiddle!
The melodion gave one final gasp of surprise and was dumb.
Every one looked up. There, in the parlour door, stood the
stranger, with his coat off, his violin hugged close under his chin,
his right arm making the bow fly over the strings, his black eyes
sparkling, and his stockinged feet marking time to the tune.
"DANSEZ! DANSEZ," he cried, "EN AVANT! Don' spik'. Don' res'!
Ah'll goin' play de feedle fo' yo' jess moch yo' lak', eef yo' h'only
The music gushed from the bow like water from the rock when Moses
touched it. Tune followed tune with endless fluency and variety
polkas, galops, reels, jigs, quadrilles; fragments of airs from many
lands"The Fisher's Hornpipe," "Charlie is my Darling," "Marianne
s'en va-t-au Moulin," "Petit Jean," "Jordan is a Hard Road to
Trabbel," woven together after the strangest fashion and set to the
It was a magical performance. No one could withstand it. They all
danced together, like the leaves on the shivering poplars when the
wind blows through them. The gentle Serena was swept away from her
stool at the organ as if she were a little canoe drawn into the
rapids, and Bill Moody stepped high and cut pigeon-wings that had
been forgotten for a generation. It was long after midnight when the
dancers paused, breathless and exhausted.
"Waal," said Hose Ransom, "that's jess the hightonedest music we
ever had to Bytown. You 're a reel player, Frenchy, that's what you
are. What's your name? Where'd you come from? Where you goin' to?
What brought you here, anyhow?"
"MOI?" said the fiddler, dropping his bow and taking a long breath.
"Mah nem Jacques Tremblay. Ah'll ben come fraum Kebeck. W'ere
goin'? Ah donno. Prob'ly Ah'll stop dis place, eef yo' lak' dat
feedle so moch, hein?"
His hand passed caressingly over the smooth brown wood of the
violin. He drew it up close to his face again, as if he would have
kissed it, while his eyes wandered timidly around the circle of
listeners, and rested at last, with a question in them, on the face
of the hotel-keeper. Moody was fairly warmed, for once, out of his
customary temper of mistrust and indecision. He spoke up promptly.
"You kin stop here jess long's you like. We don' care where you
come from, an' you need n't to go no fu'ther, less you wanter. But
we ain't got no use for French names round here. Guess we 'll call
him Fiddlin' Jack, hey, Sereny? He kin do the chores in the day-
time, an' play the fiddle at night."
This was the way in which Bytown came to have a lover of music
among its permanent inhabitants.
Jacques dropped into his place and filled it as if it had been made
for him. There was something in his disposition that seemed to fit
him for just the role that was vacant in the social drama of the
settlement. It was not a serious, important, responsible part, like
that of a farmer, or a store-keeper, or a professional hunter. It
was rather an addition to the regular programme of existence,
something unannounced and voluntary, and therefore not weighted with
too heavy responsibilities. There was a touch of the transient and
uncertain about it. He seemed like a perpetual visitor; and yet he
stayed on as steadily as a native, never showing, from the first, the
slightest wish or intention to leave the woodland village.
I do not mean that he was an idler. Bytown had not yet arrived at
that stage of civilization in which an ornamental element is
supported at the public expense.
He worked for his living, and earned it. He was full of a quick,
cheerful industry; and there was nothing that needed to be done about
Moody's establishment, from the wood-pile to the ice-house, at which
he did not bear a hand willingly and well.
"He kin work like a beaver," said Bill Moody, talking the stranger
over down at the post-office one day; "but I don't b'lieve he's got
much ambition. Jess does his work and takes his wages, and then gits
his fiddle out and plays."
"Tell ye what," said Hose Ransom, who set up for the village
philosopher, "he ain't got no 'magination. That's what makes men
slack. He don't know what it means to rise in the world; don't care
fer anythin' ez much ez he does fer his music. He's jess like a
bird; let him have 'nough to eat and a chance to sing, and he's all
right. What's he 'magine about a house of his own, and a barn, and
Hosea's illustration was suggested by his own experience. He had
just put the profits of his last summer's guiding into a new barn,
and his imagination was already at work planning an addition to his
house in the shape of a kitchen L.
But in spite of his tone of contempt, he had a kindly feeling for
the unambitious fiddler. Indeed, this was the attitude of pretty
much every one in the community. A few men of the rougher sort had
made fun of him at first, and there had been one or two attempts at
rude handling. But Jacques was determined to take no offence; and he
was so good-humoured, so obliging, so pleasant in his way of whistling
and singing about his work, that all unfriendliness soon died out.
He had literally played his way into the affections of the village.
The winter seemed to pass more swiftly and merrily than it had done
before the violin was there. He was always ready to bring it out,
and draw all kinds of music from its strings, as long as any one
wanted to listen or to dance.
It made no difference whether there was a roomful of listeners, or
only a couple, Fiddlin' Jack was just as glad to play. With a
little, quiet audience, he loved to try the quaint, plaintive airs of
the old French songs"A la Claire Fontaine," "Un Canadien Errant,"
and "Isabeau s'y Promene"and bits of simple melody from the great
composers, and familiar Scotch and English balladsthings that he had
picked up heaven knows where, and into which he put a world of
meaning, sad and sweet.
He was at his best in this vein when he was alone with Serena in
the kitchenshe with a piece of sewing in her lap, sitting beside the
lamp; he in the corner by the stove, with the brown violin tucked
under his chin, wandering on from one air to another, and perfectly
content if she looked up now and then from her work and told him that
she liked the tune.
Serena was a pretty girl, with smooth, silky hair, end eyes of the
colour of the nodding harebells that blossom on the edge of the
woods. She was slight and delicate. The neighbours called her
sickly; and a great doctor from Philadelphia who had spent a summer
at Bytown had put his ear to her chest, and looked grave, and said
that she ought to winter in a mild climate. That was before people
had discovered the Adirondacks as a sanitarium for consumptives.
But the inhabitants of Bytown were not in the way of paying much
attention to the theories of physicians in regard to climate. They
held that if you were rugged, it was a great advantage, almost a
virtue; but if you were sickly, you just had to make the best of it,
and get along with the weather as well as you could.
So Serena stayed at home and adapted herself very cheerfully to the
situation. She kept indoors in winter more than the other girls, and
had a quieter way about her; but you would never have called her an
invalid. There was only a clearer blue in her eyes, and a smoother
lustre on her brown hair, and a brighter spot of red on her cheek.
She was particularly fond of reading and of music. It was this that
made her so glad of the arrival of the violin. The violin's master
knew it, and turned to her as a sympathetic soul. I think he liked
her eyes too, and the soft tones of her voice. He was a
sentimentalist, this little Canadian, for all he was so merry; and
lovebut that comes later.
"Where'd you get your fiddle, Jack? said Serena, one night as they
sat together in the kitchen.
"Ah'll get heem in Kebeck," answered Jacques, passing his hand
lightly over the instrument, as he always did when any one spoke of
it. "Vair' nice VIOLON, hein? W'at you t'ink? Ma h'ole teacher, to
de College, he was gif' me dat VIOLON, w'en Ah was gone away to de
"I want to know! Were you in the College? What'd you go off to
the woods for?"
"Ah'll get tire' fraum dat teachin'read, read, read, h'all taim'.
Ah'll not lak' dat so moch. Rader be out-doorrun aroun'paddle de
CANOTgo wid de boys in de woodsmek' dem dance at ma MUSIQUE.
A-a-ah! Dat was fon! P'raps you t'ink dat not good, hem? You t'ink
Jacques one beeg fool, Ah suppose?"
"I dunno," said Serena, declining to commit herself, but pressing
on gently, as women do, to the point she had in view when she began
the talk. "Dunno's you're any more foolish than a man that keeps on
doin' what he don't like. But what made you come away from the boys
in the woods and travel down this way?"
A shade passed over the face of Jacques. He turned away from the
lamp and bent over the violin on his knees, fingering the strings
nervously. Then he spoke, in a changed, shaken voice.
"Ah'l tole you somet'ing, Ma'amselle Serene. You ma frien'. Don'
you h'ask me dat reason of it no more. Dat's somet'ing vair' bad,
bad, bad. Ah can't nevair tole datnevair."
There was something in the way he said it that gave a check to her
gentle curiosity and turned it into pity. A man with a secret in his
life? It was a new element in her experience; like a chapter in a
book. She was lady enough at heart to respect his silence. She kept
away from the forbidden ground. But the knowledge that it was there
gave a new interest to Jacques and his music. She embroidered some
strange romances around that secret while she sat in the kitchen
Other people at Bytown were less forbearing. They tried their best
to find out something about Fiddlin' Jack's past, but he was not
communicative. He talked about Canada. All Canadians do. But about
If the questions became too pressing, he would try to play himself
away from his inquisitors with new tunes. If that did not succeed,
he would take the violin under his arm and slip quickly out of the
room. And if you had followed him at such a time, you would have
heard him drawing strange, melancholy music from the instrument,
sitting alone in the barn, or in the darkness of his own room in the
Once, and only once, he seemed to come near betraying himself.
This was how it happened.
There was a party at Moody's one night, and Bull Corey had come
down from the Upper Lake and filled himself up with whiskey.
Bull was an ugly-tempered fellow. The more he drank, up to a
certain point, the steadier he got on his legs, and the more
necessary it seemed for him to fight somebody. The tide of his
pugnacity that night took a straight set toward Fiddlin' Jack.
Bull began with musical criticisms. The fiddling did not suit him
at all. It was too quick, or else it was too slow. He failed to
perceive how any one could tolerate such music even in the infernal
regions, and he expressed himself in plain words to that effect. In
fact, he damned the performance without even the faintest praise.
But the majority of the audience gave him no support. On the
contrary, they told him to shut up. And Jack fiddled along
Then Bull returned to the attack, after having fortified himself in
the bar-room. And now he took national grounds. The French were, in
his opinion, a most despicable race. They were not a patch on the
noble American race. They talked too much, and their language was
ridiculous. They had a condemned, fool habit of taking off their hats
when they spoke to a lady. They ate frogs.
Having delivered himself of these sentiments in a loud voice, much
to the interruption of the music, he marched over to the table on
which Fiddlin' Jack was sitting, and grabbed the violin from his
"Gimme that dam' fiddle," he cried, "till I see if there's a frog
Jacques leaped from the table, transported with rage. His face was
convulsed. His eyes blazed. He snatched a carving-knife from the
dresser behind him, and sprang at Corey.
"TORT DIEU!" he shrieked, "MON VIOLON! Ah'll keel you, beast!"
But he could not reach the enemy. Bill Moody's long arms were
flung around the struggling fiddler, and a pair of brawny guides had
Corey pinned by the elbows, hustling him backward. Half a dozen men
thrust themselves between the would-be combatants. There was a dead
silence, a scuffling of feet on the bare floor; then the danger was
past, and a tumult of talk burst forth.
But a strange alteration had passed over Jacques. He trembled. He
turned white. Tears poured down his cheeks. As Moody let him go, he
dropped on his knees, hid his face in his hands, and prayed in his own
"My God, it is here again! Was it not enough that I must be
tempted once before? Must I have the madness yet another time? My
God, show the mercy toward me, for the Blessed Virgin's sake. I am a
sinner, but not the second time; for the love of Jesus, not the
second time! Ave Maria, gratia plena, ora pro me!"
The others did not understand what he was saying. Indeed, they
paid little attention to him. They saw he was frightened, and thought
it was with fear. They were already discussing what ought to be done
about the fracas.
It was plain that Bull Corey, whose liquor had now taken effect
suddenly, and made him as limp as a strip of cedar bark, must be
thrown out of the door, and left to cool off on the beach. But what
to do with Fiddlin' Jack for his attempt at knifinga detested
crime? He might have gone at Bull with a gun, or with a club, or
with a chair, or with any recognized weapon. But with a carving-
knife! That was a serious offence. Arrest him, and send him to jail
at the Forks? Take him out, and duck him in the lake? Lick him, and
drive him out of the town?
There was a multitude of counsellors, but it was Hose Ransom who
settled the case. He was a well-known fighting-man, and a respected
philosopher. He swung his broad frame in front of the fiddler.
"Tell ye what we'll do. Jess nothin'! Ain't Bull Corey the
blowin'est and the mos' trouble-us cuss 'round these hull woods? And
would n't it be a fust-rate thing ef some o' the wind was let out 'n
General assent greeted this pointed inquiry.
"And wa'n't Fiddlin' Jack peacerble 'nough 's long 's he was let
alone? What's the matter with lettin' him alone now?"
The argument seemed to carry weight. Hose saw his advantage, and
"Ain't he given us a lot o' fun here this winter in a innercent
kind o' way, with his old fiddle? I guess there ain't nothin' on
airth he loves better 'n that holler piece o' wood, and the toons
that's inside o' it. It's jess like a wife or a child to him.
Where's that fiddle, anyhow?"
Some one had picked it deftly out of Corey's hand during the
scuffle, and now passed it up to Hose.
"Here, Frenchy, take yer long-necked, pot-bellied music-gourd. And
I want you boys to understand, ef any one teches that fiddle ag'in,
I'll knock hell out 'n him."
So the recording angel dropped another tear upon the record of
Hosea Ransom, and the books were closed for the night.
For some weeks after the incident of the violin and the carving-
knife, it looked as if a permanent cloud had settled upon the spirits
of Fiddlin' Jack. He was sad and nervous; if any one touched him, or
even spoke to him suddenly, he would jump like a deer. He kept out of
everybody's way as much as possible, sat out in the wood-shed when he
was not at work, and could not be persuaded to bring down his fiddle.
He seemed in a fair way to be transformed into "the melancholy
It was Serena who broke the spell; and she did it in a woman's way,
the simplest way in the worldby taking no notice of it.
"Ain't you goin' to play for me to-night?" she asked one evening,
as Jacques passed through the kitchen. Whereupon the evil spirit was
exorcised, and the violin came back again to its place in the life of
But there was less time for music now than there had been in the
winter. As the snow vanished from the woods, and the frost leaked
out of the ground, and the ice on the lake was honeycombed, breaking
away from the shore, and finally going to pieces altogether in a warm
southeast storm, the Sportsmen's Retreat began to prepare for
business. There was a garden to be planted, and there were boats to
be painted. The rotten old wharf in front of the house stood badly
in need of repairs. The fiddler proved himself a Jack-of-all-trades
and master of more than one.
In the middle of May the anglers began to arrive at the Retreata
quiet, sociable, friendly set of men, most of whom were old-time
acquaintances, and familiar lovers of the woods. They belonged to
the "early Adirondack period," these disciples of Walton. They were
not very rich, and they did not put on much style, but they
understood how to have a good time; and what they did not know about
fishing was not worth knowing.
Jacques fitted into their scheme of life as a well-made reel fits
the butt of a good rod. He was a steady oarsman, a lucky fisherman,
with a real genius for the use of the landing-net, and a cheerful
companion, who did not insist upon giving his views about artificial
flies and advice about casting, on every occasion. By the end of
June he found himself in steady employment as a guide.
He liked best to go with the anglers who were not too energetic,
but were satisfied to fish for a few hours in the morning and again at
sunset, after a long rest in the middle of the afternoon. This was
just the time for the violin; and if Jacques had his way, he would
take it with him, carefully tucked away in its case in the bow of the
boat; and when the pipes were lit after lunch, on the shore of Round
Island or at the mouth of Cold Brook, he would discourse sweet music
until the declining sun drew near the tree-tops and the veery rang his
silver bell for vespers. Then it was time to fish again, and the
flies danced merrily over the water, and the great speckled trout
leaped eagerly to catch them. For trolling all day long for
lake-trout Jacques had little liking.
"Dat is not de sport," he would say, "to hol' one r-r-ope in de
'and, an' den pool heem in wid one feesh on t'ree hook, h'all tangle
h'up in hees mout'dat is not de sport. Bisside, dat leef not taim'
for la musique."
Midsummer brought a new set of guests to the Retreat, and filled
the ramshackle old house to overflowing. The fishing fell off, but
there were picnics and camping-parties in abundance, and Jacques was
in demand. The ladies liked him; his manners were so pleasant, and
they took a great interest in his music. Moody bought a piano for
the parlour that summer; and there were two or three good players in
the house, to whom Jacques would listen with delight, sitting on a
pile of logs outside the parlour windows in the warm August evenings.
Some one asked him whether he did not prefer the piano to the
"NON," he answered, very decidedly; "dat piano, he vairee smart; he
got plentee word, lak' de leetle yellow bird in de cage'ow you call
heemde cannarie. He spik' moch. Bot dat violon, he spik' more
deep, to de heart, lak' de Rossignol. He mak' me feel more glad, more
sorreedat fo' w'at Ah lak' heem de bes'!"
Through all the occupations and pleasures of the summer Jacques
kept as near as he could to Serena. If he learned a new tune, by
listening to the pianosome simple, artful air of Mozart, some
melancholy echo of a nocturne of Chopin, some tender, passionate
love-song of Schubertit was to her that he would play it first. If
he could persuade her to a boat-ride with him on the lake, Sunday
evening, the week was complete. He even learned to know the more shy
and delicate forest-blossoms that she preferred, and would come in
from a day's guiding with a tiny bunch of belated twin-flowers, or a
few purple-fringed orchids, or a handful of nodding stalks of the
fragrant pyrola, for her.
So the summer passed, and the autumn, with its longer hunting
expeditions into the depth of the wilderness; and by the time winter
came around again, Fiddlin' Jack was well settled at Moody's as a
regular Adirondack guide of the old-fashioned type, but with a
difference. He improved in his English. Something of that missing
quality which Moody called ambition, and to which Hose Ransom gave
the name of imagination, seemed to awaken within him. He saved his
wages. He went into business for himself in a modest way, and made a
good turn in the manufacture of deerskin mittens and snow-shoes. By
the spring he had nearly three hundred dollars laid by, and bought a
piece of land from Ransom on the bank of the river just above the
The second summer of guiding brought him in enough to commence
building a little house. It was of logs, neatly squared at the
corners; and there was a door exactly in the middle of the facade,
with a square window at either side, and another at each end of the
house, according to the common style of architecture at Bytown.
But it was in the roof that the touch of distinction appeared. For
this, Jacques had modelled after his memory of an old Canadian roof.
There was a delicate concave sweep in it, as it sloped downward from
the peak, and the eaves projected pleasantly over the front door,
making a strip of shade wherein it would be good to rest when the
afternoon sun shone hot.
He took great pride in this effort of the builder's art. One day
at the beginning of May, when the house was nearly finished, he asked
old Moody and Serena to stop on their way home from the village and
see what he had done. He showed them the kitchen, and the living-
room, with the bed-room partitioned off from it, and sharing half of
its side window. Here was a place where a door could be cut at the
back, and a shed built for a summer kitchenfor the coolness, you
understand. And here were two stovesone for the cooking, and the
other in the living-room for the warming, both of the newest.
"An' look dat roof. Dat's lak' we make dem in Canada. De rain ron
off easy, and de sun not shine too strong at de door. Ain't dat
nice? You lak' dat roof, Ma'amselle Serene, hein?"
Thus the imagination of Jacques unfolded itself, and his ambition
appeared to be making plans for its accomplishment. I do not want
any one to suppose that there was a crisis in his affair of the
heart. There was none. Indeed, it is very doubtful whether anybody
in the village, even Serena herself, ever dreamed that there was such
an affair. Up to the point when the house was finished and furnished,
it was to be a secret between Jacques and his violin; and they found
no difficulty in keeping it.
Bytown was a Yankee village. Jacques was, after all, nothing but a
Frenchman. The native tone of religion, what there was of it, was
strongly Methodist. Jacques never went to church, and if he was
anything, was probably a Roman Catholic. Serena was something of a
sentimentalist, and a great reader of novels; but the international
love-story had not yet been invented, and the idea of getting married
to a foreigner never entered her head. I do not say that she
suspected nothing in the wild flowers, and the Sunday evening
boat-rides, and the music. She was a woman. I have said already
that she liked Jacques very much, and his violin pleased her to the
heart. But the new building by the river? I am sure she never even
thought of it once, in the way that he did.
Well, in the end of June, just after the furniture had come for the
house with the curved roof, Serena was married to Hose Ransom. He
was a young widower without children, and altogether the best fellow,
as well as the most prosperous, in the settlement. His house stood up
on the hill, across the road from the lot which Jacques had bought.
It was painted white, and it had a narrow front porch, with a
scroll-saw fringe around the edge of it; and there was a little garden
fenced in with white palings, in which Sweet Williams and pansies and
blue lupines and pink bleeding-hearts were planted.
The wedding was at the Sportsmen's Retreat, and Jacques was there,
of course. There was nothing of the disconsolate lover about him.
The noun he might have confessed to, in a confidential moment of
intercourse with his violin; but the adjective was not in his line.
The strongest impulse in his nature was to be a giver of
entertaininent, a source of joy in others, a recognized element of
delight in the little world where he moved. He had the artistic
temperament in its most primitive and naive form. Nothing pleased
him so much as the act of pleasing. Music was the means which Nature
had given him to fulfil this desire. He played, as you might say, out
of a certain kind of selfishness, because he enjoyed making other
people happy. He was selfish enough, in his way, to want the pleasure
of making everybody feel the same delight that he felt in the clear
tones, the merry cadences, the tender and caressing flow of his
violin. That was consolation. That was power. That was success.
And especially was he selfish enough to want to feel his ability to
give Serena a pleasure at her weddinga pleasure that nobody else
could give her. When she asked him to play, he consented gladly.
Never had he drawn the bow across the strings with a more magical
touch. The wedding guests danced as if they were enchanted. The big
bridegroom came up and clapped him on the back, with the nearest
approach to a gesture of affection that backwoods etiquette allows
"Jack, you're the boss fiddler o' this hull county. Have a drink
now? I guess you 're mighty dry."
"MERCI, NON," said Jacques. "I drink only de museek dis night.
Eef I drink two t'ings, I get dronk."
In between the dances, and while the supper was going on, he played
quieter tunesballads and songs that he knew Serena liked. After
supper came the final reel; and when that was wound up, with immense
hilarity, the company ran out to the side door of the tavern to shout
a noisy farewell to the bridal buggy, as it drove down the road toward
the house with the white palings. When they came back, the fiddler
was gone. He had slipped away to the little cabin with the curved
All night long he sat there playing in the dark. Every tune that
he had ever known came back to himgrave and merry, light and sad.
He played them over and over again, passing round and round among
them as a leaf on a stream follows the eddies, now backward, now
forward, and returning most frequently to an echo of a certain theme
from Chopinyou remember the NOCTURNE IN G MINOR, the second one? He
did not know who Chopin was. Perhaps he did not even know the name
of the music. But the air had fallen upon his ear somewhere, and had
stayed in his memory; and now it seemed to say something to him that
had an especial meaning.
At last he let the bow fall. He patted the brown wood of the
violin after his old fashion, loosened the strings a little, wrapped
it in its green baize cover, and hung it on the wall.
"Hang thou there, thou little violin," he murmured. "It is now
that I shall take the good care of thee, as never before; for thou art
the wife of Jacques Tremblay. And the wife of 'Osee Ransom, she is a
friend to us, both of us; and we will make the music for her many
years, I tell thee, many yearsfor her, and for her good man, and
for the childrenyes?"
But Serena did not have many years to listen to the playing of
Jacques Tremblay: on the white porch, in the summer evenings, with
bleeding-hearts abloom in the garden; or by the winter fire, while
the pale blue moonlight lay on the snow without, and the yellow
lamplight filled the room with homely radiance. In the fourth year
after her marriage she died, and Jacques stood beside Hose at the
There was a childa little boydelicate and blue-eyed, the living
image of his mother. Jacques appointed himself general attendant,
nurse in extraordinary, and court musician to this child. He gave up
his work as a guide. It took him too much away from home. He was
tired of it. Besides, what did he want of so much money? He had his
house. He could gain enough for all his needs by making snow-shoes
and the deerskin mittens at home. Then he could be near little Billy.
It was pleasanter so.
When Hose was away on a long trip in the woods, Jacques would move
up to the white house and stay on guard. His fiddle learned how to
sing the prettiest slumber songs. Moreover, it could crow in the
morning, just like the cock; and it could make a noise like a mouse,
and like the cat, too; and there were more tunes inside of it than in
any music-box in the world.
As the boy grew older, the little cabin with the curved roof became
his favourite playground. It was near the river, and Fiddlin' Jack
was always ready to make a boat for him, or help him catch minnows in
the mill-dam. The child had a taste for music, too, and learned some
of the old Canadian songs, which he sang in a curious broken patois,
while his delighted teacher accompanied him on the violin. But it was
a great day when he was eight years old, and Jacques brought out a
small fiddle, for which he had secretly sent to Albany, and presented
it to the boy.
"You see dat feedle, Billee? Dat's for you! You mek' your lesson
on dat. When you kin mek' de museek, den you play on de violon
lak' dis onelisten!"
Then he drew the bow across the strings and dashed into a medley of
the jolliest airs imaginable.
The boy took to his instruction as kindly as could have been
expected. School interrupted it a good deal; and play with the other
boys carried him away often; but, after all, there was nothing that he
liked much better than to sit in the little cabin on a winter evening
and pick out a simple tune after his teacher. He must have had some
talent for it, too; for Jacques was very proud of his pupil, and
prophesied great things of him.
"You know dat little Billee of 'Ose Ransom," the fiddler would say
to a circle of people at the hotel, where he still went to play for
parties; "you know dat small Ransom boy? Well, I 'm tichin' heem
play de feedle; an' I tell you, one day he play better dan hees
ticher. Ah, dat 's gr-r-reat t'ing, de museek, ain't it? Mek' you
laugh, mek' you cry, mek' you dance! Now, you dance. Tek' your
pardnerre. EN AVANT! Kip' step to de museek!"
Thirty years brought many changes to Bytown. The wild woodland
flavour evaporated out of the place almost entirely; and instead of
an independent centre of rustic life, it became an annex to great
cities. It was exploited as a summer resort, and discovered as a
winter resort. Three or four big hotels were planted there, and in
their shadow a score of boarding-houses alternately languished and
flourished. The summer cottage also appeared and multiplied; and
with it came many of the peculiar features which man elaborates in
his struggle toward the finest civilizationafternoon teas, and
amateur theatricals, and claw-hammer coats, and a casino, and even a
few servants in livery.
The very name of Bytown was discarded as being too American and
commonplace. An Indian name was discovered, and considered much more
romantic and appropriate. You will look in vain for Bytown on the map
now. Nor will you find the old saw-mill there any longer, wasting a
vast water-power to turn its dripping wheel and cut up a few pine-logs
into fragrant boards. There is a big steam-mill a little farther up
the river, which rips out thousands of feet of lumber in a day; but
there are no more pine-logs, only sticks of spruce which the old
lumbermen would have thought hardly worth cutting. And down below the
dam there is a pulp-mill, to chew up the little trees and turn them
into paper, and a chair factory, and two or three industrial
establishments, with quite a little colony of French-Canadians
employed in them as workmen.
Hose Ransom sold his place on the hill to one of the hotel
companies, and a huge caravansary occupied the site of the house with
the white palings. There were no more bleeding-hearts in the garden.
There were beds of flaring red geraniums, which looked as if they
were painted; and across the circle of smooth lawn in front of the
piazza the name of the hotel was printed in alleged ornamental plants
letters two feet long, immensely ugly. Hose had been elevated to the
office of postmaster, and lived in a Queen Antic cottage on the main
street. Little Billy Ransom had grown up into a very interesting
young man, with a decided musical genius, and a tenor voice, which
being discovered by an enterprising patron of genius, from Boston,
Billy was sent away to Paris to learn to sing. Some day you will hear
of his debut in grand opera, as Monsieur Guillaume Rancon.
But Fiddlin' Jack lived on in the little house with the curved
roof, beside the river, refusing all the good offers which were made
to him for his piece of land.
"NON," he said; "what for shall I sell dis house? I lak' her, she
lak' me. All dese walls got full from museek, jus' lak' de wood of
dis violon. He play bettair dan de new feedle, becos' I play heem so
long. I lak' to lissen to dat rivaire in de night. She sing from
long taim' agojus' de same song w'en I firs come here. W'at for I
go away? W'at I get? W'at you can gif' me lak' dat?"
He was still the favourite musician of the county-side, in great
request at parties and weddings; but he had extended the sphere of
his influence a little. He was not willing to go to church, though
there were now several to choose from; but a young minister of
liberal views who had come to take charge of the new Episcopal chapel
had persuaded Jacques into the Sunday-school, to lead the children's
singing with his violin. He did it so well that the school became the
most popular in the village. It was much pleasanter to sing than to
listen to long addresses.
Jacques grew old gracefully, but he certainly grew old rapidly.
His beard was white; his shoulders were stooping; he suffered a good
deal in damp days from rheumatismfortunately not in his hands, but
in his legs. One spring there was a long spell of abominable
weather, just between freezing and thawing. He caught a heavy cold
and took to his bed. Hose came over to look after him.
For a few days the old fiddler kept up his courage, and would sit
up in the bed trying to play; then his strength and his spirit seemed
to fail together. He grew silent and indifferent. When Hose came in
he would find Jacques with his face turned to the wall, where there
was a tiny brass crucifix hanging below the violin, and his lips
"Don't ye want the fiddle, Jack? I 'd like ter hear some o' them
old-time tunes ag'in."
But the artifice failed. Jacques shook his head. His mind seemed
to turn back to the time of his first arrival in the village, and
beyond it. When he spoke at all, it was of something connected with
this early time.
"Dat was bad taim' when I near keel Bull Corey, hein?"
Hose nodded gravely.
"Dat was beeg storm, dat night when I come to Bytown. You remember
Yes, Hose remembered it very well. It was a real old-fashioned
"Ah, but befo dose taim', dere was wuss taim' dan datin Canada.
Nobody don' know 'bout dat. I lak to tell you, 'Ose, but I can't.
No, it is not possible to tell dat, nevair!"
It came into Hose's mind that the case was serious. Jack was going
to die. He never went to church, but perhaps the Sunday-school might
count for something. He was only a Frenchman, after all, and
Frenchmen had their own ways of doing things. He certainly ought to
see some kind of a preacher before he went out of the wilderness.
There was a Canadian priest in town that week, who had come down to
see about getting up a church for the French people who worked in the
mills. Perhaps Jack would like to talk with him.
His face lighted up at the proposal. He asked to have the room
tidied up, and a clean shirt put on him, and the violin laid open in
its case on a table beside the bed, and a few other preparations made
for the visit. Then the visitor came, a tall, friendly, quiet-
looking man about Jacques's age, with a smooth face and a long black
cassock. The door was shut, and they were left alone together.
"I am comforted that you are come, mon pere," said the sick man,
"for I have the heavy heart. There is a secret that I have kept for
many years. Sometimes I had almost forgotten that it must be told at
the last; but now it is the time to speak. I have a sin to confessa
sin of the most grievous, of the most unpardonable."
The listener soothed him with gracious words; spoke of the mercy
that waits for all the penitent; urged him to open his heart without
"Well, then, mon pere, it is this that makes me fear to die. Long
since, in Canada, before I came to this place, I have killed a man.
The voice stopped. The little round clock on the window-sill
ticked very distinctly and rapidly, as if it were in a hurry.
"I will speak as short as I can. It was in the camp of 'Poleon
Gautier, on the river St. Maurice. The big Baptiste Lacombe, that
crazy boy who wants always to fight, he mocks me when I play, he
snatches my violin, he goes to break him on the stove. There is a
knife in my belt. I spring to Baptiste. I see no more what it is
that I do. I cut him in the neckonce, twice. The blood flies out.
He falls down. He cries, 'I die.' I grab my violin from the floor,
quick; then I run to the woods. No one can catch me. A blanket, the
axe, some food, I get from a hiding-place down the river. Then I
travel, travel, travel through the woods, how many days I know not,
till I come here. No one knows me. I give myself the name Tremblay.
I make the music for them. With my violin I live. I am happy. I
forget. But it all returns to menowat the last. I have murdered.
Is there a forgiveness for me, mon pere?"
The priest's face had changed very swiftly at the mention of the
camp on the St. Maurice. As the story went on, he grew strangely
excited. His lips twitched. His hands trembled. At the end he sank
on his knees, close by the bed, and looked into the countenance of the
sick man, searching it as a forester searches in the undergrowth for a
lost trail. Then his eyes lighted up as he found it.
"My son," said he, clasping the old fiddler's hand in his own, "you
are Jacques Dellaire. And Ido you know me now?I am Baptiste
Lacombe. See those two scars upon my neck. But it was not death.
You have not murdered. You have given the stroke that changed my
heart. Your sin is forgivenAND MINE ALSOby the mercy of God!"
The round clock ticked louder and louder. A level ray from the
setting sunred goldcame in through the dusty window, and lay
across the clasped hands on the bed. A white-throated sparrow, the
first of the season, on his way to the woods beyond the St. Lawrence,
whistled so clearly and tenderly that it seemed as if he were
repeating to these two gray-haired exiles the name of their homeland.
"sweetsweetCanada, Canada, Canada!" But there was a sweeter
sound than that in the quiet room.
It was the sound of the prayer which begins, in every language
spoken by men, with the name of that Unseen One who rules over life's
chances, and pities its discords, and tunes it back again into
harmony. Yes, this prayer of the little children who are only
learning how to play the first notes of life's music, turns to the
great Master musician who knows it all and who loves to bring a
melody out of every instrument that He has made; and it seems to lay
the soul in His hands to play upon as He will, while it calls Him,
Some day, perhaps, you will go to the busy place where Bytown used
to be; and if you do, you must take the street by the river to the
white wooden church of St. Jacques. It stands on the very spot where
there was once a cabin with a curved roof. There is a gilt cross on
the top of the church. The door is usually open, and the interior is
quite gay with vases of china and brass, and paper flowers of many
colours; but if you go through to the sacristy at the rear, you will
see a brown violin hanging on the wall.
Pere Baptiste, if he is there, will take it down and show it to
you. He calls it a remarkable instrumentone of the best, of the most
But he will not let any one play upon it. He says it is a relic.