THE Saguenay steamboat reaches Ha Ha Bay in the early morning. It was just three o’clock on a July morning, when Susan and I took our first look at the bay. I had been trying to marry Susan for ten years, and we went up the Saguenay on our wedding journey. I have but to shut my eyes to see Ha Ha Bay now. Early as the hour was, the pale light of that high latitude brought out the scene with something the same quality of tone as an etching : the desolate cliffs guarding the entrance to the Saguenay ; the hills lower, and green with oats and barley about the placid pool where the mysterious river widens into the bay ; the two quaint villages facing each other across the water, with their half foreign picturesqueness of stone walls and steep red roofs; a pier like a long, black arm thrust forth from St. Alphonse; a huge sawmill over at Grand Baie; and four full-rigged ships at anchor below the mill. The tide was out in the flats, and the smell of salt water was in the air.
Behind St. Alphonse some freak of nature has heaped a mass of granite rocks, then, repenting, tried to hide them with a frugal verdure of grass and stunted pines. The hotel is built on the rocks. Broad piazzas make it imposing, and whitewash, conspicuous. Not only has St. Alphonse the hotel of the bay, it is also the steamboat landing. Perhaps the boat’s coming but four times a week, and being the sole means of intercourse, outside of horse-flesh, between the village and the world, accounts for the presence of all the inhabitants on the pier. Certainly, the traffic of the region in wood and blueberries could scarcely bring such numbers out of their beds at three o’clock in the morning. The wood and the blueberry boxes — looking exactly like wee coffins — were piled on either side. One man, with a wheelbarrow, was hauling the wood into the boat’s hold, superintended by three officers, all talking at once. Half a dozen, having nothing better than their arms, were carrying the blueberries on board. At the same time, sacks of flour and barrels and boxes of merchandise kept emerging from below, the owners of which helped the confusion by running about after their goods, while the unwieldy vehicles of the region, the voitures à la planche, were recklessly plunging, backing, and turning through the crowd amid a mighty clamor of French patois. One of the horses fixed my attention. He was a splendid creature, a big gray, with the great curved neck and powerful flanks of a charger on a Greek frieze. The muscles stood out like whipcord, as he reared and pawed in the air. His driver, a slender young habitant, took his antics very coolly, merely saying at intervals, in a conversational tone, “ Sois sage, Bac,” as though to an unruly baby.
“ I should like to drive after that horse,” said my wife. Her voice is softer than a flute, and she is slender and graceful, with an appealing look in her hazel eyes, and the sweetest smile in the world ; but I have never met a woman so fond of risking her neck. Before I knew what was happening she had called, “Venez ici, cocher ! ” and the gray brute was kicking at my elbow. Naturally, nothing remained but to climb into the voiture à la planche. These “ carriages on a plank ” are simply “ buckboard wagons ” with two seats, the further one of which is protected by a hood and a leather apron. Susan was charmed. “ He has spirit, your horse,” said she in French. “ Oway, Madame,” said the driver, politely turning in his seat. “ Oway,” I had already discovered, is Canadian French for “ Oui.” The driver was young. He was clad in a decent coarse suit of gray, and wore the soft felt hat and curious boots of undyed leather, tied with a thong, which every habitant wears. His features were of the delicate habitant type ; but his fair skin, blue eyes, and reddish yellow hair hinted a mixed race. He was not tall, and was slightly round shouldered. The only thing noticeable in his appearance was an air of deep dejection, not lightened by so much as a smile of courtesy. He spoke no English, — almost no one speaks English in the St. John country, — but though dejected he was not reticent, and we had his whole history before we were well into the village. His name was Isadore Clovis. He lived in the village with his uncle, Xavier Tremblay. That was his uncle’s house, — pointing to a cottage of logs covered with birch bark, which stood close to a substantial stone house. He, himself, was not married, he never should be. His father and mother had been long dead. He was the youngest of a large family ; the habitants had large families, “ Oway, M’sieu’.” “ And that of my mother was of the largest,” said he; “ the good God sent her twenty-six. But twelve, fifteen, that is common.”
“And did they all live?” I asked, while Susan remarked in English that she had never heard of anything so horrible.
“ Mais, non, M’sieu’,” said Isadore, “ all are dead but six; they live in Chicontimi, nine miles from here. I live here, I with my uncle. Regard my uncle, Madame, M’sieu’ ! ”
His finger indicated the roof of the stone house. Peering over the ridgepole was a bushy white head, set with no visible neck upon a pair of very broad shoulders. Hair standing out in spikes all over, a stubbly gray beard, and prodigious eyebrows imparted an aspect of grotesque ferocity to features forbidding enough of themselves, weatherbeaten, rugged, scored by innumerable lines and dents. The attire of this extraordinary bust was a plaided red flannel shirt, torn at the throat, and thus displaying a hairy chest. Altogether, he might have given an orang-outang the odds for ugliness.
“ He owns both houses,” said Isadore, “ he is rich ; he has many farms and a fromagerie and crêmerie.”
“ He is fortunate,” said Susan, who likes to be pleasant with people, and to praise their belongings ; “it is a good house, a comfortable house. Does he live there ? ”
Isadore threw a lustreless eye over the house, saying slowly, “ No one lives there, Madame, no one has ever lived there ; it is because of his vow.”
“ His vow ? ”
“ Oway, Madame. He made a vow before M. Pingat, M. le notaire, M. Rideau, M. Vernet, those, that he would never go into his new house until he should marry a maiden of twenty. It was twenty-five years ago, but he has never gone into the house since.”
“ How old is he ? ”
“ He is eighty years old, Madame ; he is a very strong man. Every day he climbs the roof, so.”
“ Dear me,” cried Susan, “ this is most interesting! he has never married, then ? ”
“ No, Madame; once lie was affianced to a maiden of twenty, she had but one eye ; but she fell in the river and was drowned.”
“ But in his youth ? ”
“ Once he was affianced, Madame,” said Isadore; “ he was then fifty-five, and not long come from Quebec. Madame does not know the widow Guion; she is still handsome; but then, when she was twenty, there was no one in the parish to compare with her. My uncle would marry her, and the affair was arranged, and my uncle had built the house; it was nearly finished, when, behold, she will not marry my uncle, she will marry Pierre Guion. Then all the world made jests about my uncle, who, as one can see, is not handsome. And it was at M. Francois Pouliot’s house that they were laughing, and saying that my uncle would frighten any woman away, he was so ugly, and my uncle overheard it, passing by, and came in, and swore an oath before them all, that he would never go into his new house until he should marry a maiden of twenty. ‘ I can get the best of them to marry me, for as ugly as I am,’ said he. But it was twenty-five years first.”
“ Has he succeeded, then ? ” Isadore, leaning forward, gathered up the reins.
“ Oway, Madame,” he said, in a low tone, “ he has succeeded. Next month he will marry a maiden of twenty, and move into his new house.” By force of habit Isadore called the twenty-five year old house “the new house;” doubtless, it had been “ the old house ” and “ the new house ” to him from childhood. “ He left the house just as it was,” said Isadore, “ the wood and shavings are all scattered about the floors, where the carpenters left them. He had the carpenters board up the windows, that was all. Bac, en avant! ”
We had turned and were ascending a hill. Half-way up Isadore stopped to point again. “ See, Madame, the cottage of the widow Guion.” It was a mere morsel of a house, the unpain ted boards of which were made a better protection against the weather by a covering of birch bark. In the little yard the peas were in flower, and a few hollyhocks reared their heads above the beet leaves and lettuce. A barefooted man was raking coals out of the open-air oven which stood to one side of a pile of brush. “ C’est le beau-frère de Madame,” said Isadore, “ c’est un fou. mais bon naturel, pas médiant. From here, Madame can see the hotel plainly.”
We looked, not at the hotel, but at the road. Could that infatuated Canadian mean to drive up a sheer rock, slippery with mud, wider but hardly better than a goat path ?
“ Attendez,”said I, “ do you mean to take us up that way, that ? ”
“ Oway, M’sieu’,”replied Isadore, tranquilly, “ without doubt. Bac is accustomed to it. Behold! Bac,en avant! ” With the word, he leaped lightly over the shafts, and Bac and he went up the hill on a run. It is the pace of the country ; up hill and down, they make their horses gallop at the top of their speed. I don’t know why ; I suppose they like it. At any rate, Susan did ; she was enchanted.
“ Was n’t it lovely, Maurice ? ” she cried, as Isadore pulled Bac up before the hotel piazzas ; “ do give the man Something handsome.”
I gave him fifty cents, which he said was more than he deserved; and we both watched him rattle down the hill at a rate which threatened to break every bone in his body. Then, having seen him emerge unshattered, we entered the hotel. There are no such inns in the States. Nothing could be more primitive than the house and its furnishing. The walls were unplastered, the woodwork unpainted; the women of the village had spun, woven, and dyed the strips of gay carpet on the pine floors. We had tallow candles in our bedrooms, a candle to a room. If we wanted a maid we went out into the hall and called her. A bath was a perilous luxury, the one bath tub of the house being too large for the doors, so that it must be emptied before it could be tilted on one side and trundled out of the room, which operation usually ended in flooding both the bather’s chamber and the room, below, not counting a few stray rivulets likely to meander into the hall. Yet, I have been less comfortable in houses with grand names. Everything was scrupulously clean ; Madame gave us a capital dinner and Monsieur kept most excellent wines ; nor is it everywhere that one can eat salmon of his own catching. Moreover, it is pleasant to live among a people so simple, kindly, and cheerful as the French Canadians. All the rigor of a harsh climate and a hard life cannot quench their amiable vivacity or that engaging politeness which flings a sort of Southern grace over their bare Northern homes. We grew fond of the villagers. To them the hotel was the centre of festivity ; were there not a bowling alley, and a billiard room, and in the parlor a piano? Nightly the village magnates would assemble in the alley and bowl with tremendous energy and both hands. We came to know them all, the doctor, the notary, the rich fur merchant, the various shopkeepers and farmers.
Of them all none interested us more than the widow Guion and her daughter. The widow was a tall woman, whose figure had been moulded on such fine lines that a life of coarse toil had not been able to spoil them. Trouble had bleached her thick hair and wrinkled her face, and the weather had browned her skin, but she was as straight as an arrow and still had splendid eyes and a profile worth drawing. We often saw her in her garden working like a man. Indoors, she would wash her hands, tie a clean apron about her waist, and sing over her spinning. The singing was for the fool. She was very kind to him and devoted to her daughter. She was also neat, honest, and industrious; but she was not popular in the village ; they said that she had an imperious temper and was unsocial. Mélanie, the daughter, was one of the maids at the hotel, a tall, handsome, black-haired, fairskinned girl, who revived the traditions of her mother’s beauty. One day something occurred to make us notice Mélanie. We were sitting on the rocks overhanging the village. It was that most peaceful hour of the day, the hour before sunset. The west was in a glow that turned the tin spire of the little church into silver ; the mountains cast purple shadows over the bay ; and the water was a steel mirror with rippling splashes of shade. We could hear the lowing of the cows returning homeward, and the faint tinkle of bells, and the voices of mothers calling their children. “ How peaceful it is,” said Susan softly, “and they seem so pastoral and childlike, like people in poems. One can hardly imagine any one’s being very unhappy here.”
Perhaps she was thinking of our own past; certainly we had been miserable enough, before we drifted into this calm harbor. Just then a man and woman, coming along the path beneath, halted, out of sight, but not out of hearing. The man was speaking : “ No, I cannot bear it. See, thou art all I have, thou; I have loved thee all my life. Ah, mon dieu, how couldst thou promise ! ” Now I grant that we ought to have risen at once, and gone away; but I am not relating what we ought to have done, but what we did do, which was to sit still and listen with all our ears. The woman answered. The other’s voice was rough and thick from passion : but hers was very gentle and quiet.
“ I will tell thee, Isadore,” she said (Susan pinched my arm) ; “ I came here to tell. Thou knowest maman has a great opinion of M. Tremblay, who has been her only friend, though he has so little reason.”
“ It was but that he might marry thee,” cried Isadore, “ curse his crafty head ! ”
“May be,” answered the woman wearily, “ though I think not; but he has been ever kind to us, since before I was born. And maman was glad, very glad, when he would marry me.”
“ And was it that ” —
“ Hush ! no, my friend. It was hard to refuse her who has lived so wearying a life and had so great disappointments, but I thought of thee. Then — then — she told me. Isadore, maman — maman is going blind ! ” The voice which was so steady broke, but in a second it went on quietly as before. “It is that, my friend, that made me promise. M. le docteur says if she will go to Montreal to the great doctor there, he will make her eyes well again. But it will cost a great, great sum of money, two hundred dollars. And M. Tremblay has promised to give it her, and more, besides, when I marry him. And if she does not go, she must become quite blind. Already she cannot spin the yarn even, and when she feels the lumps afterwards, she weeps.” There was a sound like a groan. “ Do not weep, my friend,” she continued, “ it cannot be for long. He is so very old.”
This practical view of the matter hardly seemed to console the lover, who burst out: “ Thou dost not understand it, thou! Ah, no,” — he swore a great oath, with a sob in his throat, — “I will not endure it. Listen, I have five dollars. I will sell Bac. We will go to Quebec and be married. Ah, think, m’amie, thou and I.”
There was a break filled by a very pretty sound, then the soft voice again. “ Ah, no, Isadore, thou must not kiss me. It cannot be. I have sworn before the image of the blessed Virgin to marry him. And, beside — oh, Isadore, how could I leave her behind, to grow blind — without me ! ” Isadore did not answer. The vesper bell rang from the church tower. “ My friend,” said the girl, “ I must go. I can never see thee alone again. Wilt thou not forgive me, first ? ”
“ I might kill him,” said the man.
“ And be hanged for it ? ” answered his practical sweetheart, “ how would that help ? ”
“ He would be dead,” said the desperate Isadore, “he could not marry thee. Mon dieu, it would help much ! ”
“ But thy soul, it would burn forever ! ”
“ It would not burn,” said Isadore, practical in his turn, “ I would repent and confess to the priest and he would absolve me.”
“ But he could not bring thee back to life. Oh, Isadore, promise me thou wilt put away such thoughts ! Thou art cruel, thou ! ”
“Ah, dost thou feel what is tearing my heart ? ” cried poor Isadore.
“ Look at me,” said the woman, “dost thou remember my face a month ago ? I cannot speak when I suffer, like thee, I can only hear it.” The man was kissing her again, and crying quite openly. “ Isadore.” said she, “ I must go. Bid me farewell. No, do not hold me. See, thou hast often complained that I never will kiss thee. This once.”
I think they were both crying now. We were ashamed to listen longer and got up, but in a few moments a woman’s shape flitted round the curve and passed us. She was tall and had black hair ; we both recognized Mélanie. “ Oh, poor things ! ” cried my dear wife, “and we are so happy; can’t we help them, Maurice?” I said that we might try. Anyhow, it would n’t cost more than a picture. “ So Mélanie is the old ogre’s victim, is she ? ” said I; “ what possesses her mother ? ”
In truth, Tremblay, in the village eyes, was worse than an ogre. All the world knew him to be a miser to his nail points, a cruel, surly old reprobate. He was a heretic and a scoffer at the saints. He had amassed (doubtless by baleful means) what was great wealth in that simple community. Most of the villagers were in his debt; nor was this the worst, he had possessed himself of all the secrets of the parish. How? The doctor talked about gossip; but there was a sinister theory more in favor. Under the confessional floor, in the church, was a space between the timbers large enough for a dog to lie, and Xavier, strong and supple, in spite of his eighty years, could curl his short body into a dog’s compass ; the abominable wickedness would only give a zest to the act, for the old infidel.
“ But what secrets can you have ? ” I said to the doctor, “ they can’t be very bad! ”
“ There is a black spot in the human heart, everywhere, Monsieur,” answered the doctor. Wherever the black spot, Xavier was sure to put his wicked old finger on it and gibe at the victim’s wincing. Then he would creep away, chuckling, to the ground, or, may be, to his pet devil, for St. Alphonse firmly believed in such a familiar.
My own acquaintance with the ogre was limited to one interview. I found him unloading blueberries, on the wharf, his cart and a sorry skeleton of a horse beside him. A nearer view did not give one a better opinion of his looks. He was of low stature, with enormously long arms, and disproportionately broad shoulders. I asked him a question ; in French, of course.
“Me spik Englis,” croaked the old sinner.
He insisted on speaking a kind of mongrel English in answer to my French, and we did not make much advance. By and by another man appeared and I tried to talk to him. Instantly Xavier’s lean fingers were tapping my shoulder.
“ He no spik Englis tall,” said the exasperating monster.
“ Tant mieux,” said I, “ at least I shall understand him ! ”
“ Mais peut-être, M’sieu’,” he retorted grinning, “ he no vill understands you! ”
I surrendered, bought a box of berries (at an awful price), and left him leering like a gargoyle. Recalling that leer, I pitied Mélanie. What a husband for a girl of twenty ! Susan and I talked the affair over, discussing half a dozen plans of rescue. The most obvious was to go to the widow. We went. Susan broached the subject, after a diplomatic purchase of hollyhocks. She spoke of Mélanie, of her beauty, her pleasant ways, of our interest in her. We had heard that she was to be married; might we offer our sincere wishes for her happiness?
“ Oway, Madame,” the widow replied, with a certain ominous contraction of the muscles of the mouth, “ she will be happy; M. Tremblay has a good heart.”
“ But,” said Susan, “ pardon, Madame — it is our great interest in Mélanie — is not M. Tremblay very old? ”
We were in the garden, all four of us, for the idiot brother-in-law was there also, piling brush; Madame had been hoeing; she struck her hoe smartly on the ground and rested her elbows on the handle, her chin on her hands, and so eyed us grimly.
“ Without doubt, Madame,” said she; “ quay donc ? He will die the sooner. In ten, in five years she will be a widow, rich, free.”
“ Consider those same five years, Madame,” I cried, u the trouble, the misery, perhaps.”
Her lip curled. " M’sieu’ has heard the talk of the village. They are imbeciles, they. M. Tremblay is a miser. Bah, look around you, M’sieu’. This house, that wood, for a nothing, a few vegetables — from a miser ! Look at him,” pointing to the idiot, “ those clothes are from M. Tremblay, from the miser! In the house is a fiddle, one of the most beautiful. It is for him. M. Tremblay gave it him. For why ? can he play ? Mon dieu, no ; but it pleases him to make a noise, and M. Tremblay bought it. When Mélanie was a little child he always bought her things, snowshoes, a toboggan, a doll from Quebec. No child in St. Alphonse has a doll like that. A miser! bah, lies of the devil! ”
“ But he is a wicked man, cruel, harsh,” I persisted.
“ Never to us, M’sieu’, never, never! ”
“ He is a heretic.”
“ Et M’sieu’ ? ” said the widow.
“ I am not to marry a Catholic. But he is worse, he scoffs at the saints and does not believe in the good God himself.”
“ The good God knows better,” said Madame Guion placidly.
I tried another tack. “ But Mélanie may love some one else.”
“ M’sieu’ means Isadore Clovis,” said the widow, drawing her tall figure to its full height, and though I am a big fellow, her eyes were nearly level with mine. “ Eh Men, I, too, have loved a young man, M’sieu’. It was twentyfive years ago, and M. Tremblay would marry me, but I was a fool, I: my heart was set on a young man of this parish, tall, strong, handsome. I quarreled with all my relations, I married him, M’sieu’. Within a month of our wedding day he broke my arm, twisting it to hurt me. He was the devil. Twice, but for his brother, he would have killed me. Jules is strong, though he has no wits ; he pulled him off. See, M’sieu’,” flinging the hoe aside to push the hair off her temples, “ this he did with his stick ; and this.” baring her arm, “ with his knife. But I was a fool, I forgave him and worked for him. He would do nothing but play cards and drive horses and drink, drink, drink. His grandfather was an Englishman and drank himself to death. The English are like that. And I — I forgave him and made myself old and wrinkled and black working for money for him. Then he would laugh at my ugly face and praise the village girls’ looks. He had a soul of mud ! But I forgave that, too. Then my children were born, and he beat them. Then I forgave no more, my heart was like coals of fire. Attendez, M’sieu’, I have the mother’s heart, I love my children, yet I was glad, I, when they died and were safe from him ! Figure, then, what kind of father he was ! Only Mélanie lived. The others would cry, cry; but Mélanie did not cry, and she would never speak to him, her father. There was reason: God knows what women have to suffer and he takes vengeance. He, that coward, was afraid of Mélanie, a little baby, because she would not speak to him. He tried, many times, to make her, but no, she would never speak, and she was three years old when he died. A horse kicked him and killed him, a horse that he was beating ! ”
The fool had dropped his sticks and was staring at her piteously, alarmed at her gestures and her angry voice. He ran up to her and stroked her hand, uttering a mournful, inarticulate sound.
“ Ce n’est rien, Jules,” said the widow smiling on him, “ sois tranquil.” Jules smiled, too, and nodded his head, then slunk back to his task. “ Do you understand, M’sieu’, now,” said the widow,
“ why I will not have Mélanie marry a young man ? ”
“ But Isadore is so good,” said Susan, coming to my aid, “ he would not be cruel to Mélanie.”
Madame Guion laughed harshly. “ He ? ” she shouted, “ he ? ma foy ! I think no. My Mélanie could lift him with the one arm. Always, she has taken care of him. Look you: when they are children, she puts on his snowshoes ; and when he cries for the cold, she puts on him her mittens ; and she will fight the boys that tease him because he is Tremblay’s nephew. Always, she takes care of him.”
“ But, Madame,” said Susan in her gentle voice, “ if they have loved each other from childhood, how hard for them to be separated now.”
“ It would be harder,” said the widow in quite another tone, “ to marry him and repent all the years after. Love, it is pleasant, but marriage, that is another pair of sleeves, Tiens, Madame, regard the women of this village. Without doubt Madame has observed them. They work, work, work; they scrub, they cook, they weave, they spin, they knit, they make the clothes ; one has not time to say one’s prayers ; and every year a new mouth to fill, — mon dieu, one mouth ? two at a blow, perhaps ! That makes one ugly and old. If Mélanie marries Isadore Clovis she will be like these others, so poor, so tired, so ugly; and there will be the children and her poor old blind mother cannot help her. Ah, mon dieu, I will not have such a fate come to my beautiful one ! ”
Then I spoke, struggling after a short cut through the situation. I offered to pay for her journey to Montreal and to do something for Isadore.
The widow’s face stiffened ; plainly she suspected the Greeks’ gifts. “And why should M’sieu’ incommode himself for my eyes ? ” said she.
I thought I had better let Susan do the rest of the talking. Her tact is equal to any demand. “ It is for Mélanie, too, you understand,” said she, “ I am fond of Mélanie. And see, Madame, we are two lovers, my husband and I ” (with an adorable blush), “ and we are very happy; we should like to make two other lovers happy. Is not that what the good God intends we should do with happiness, share it ? ”
The widow Guion smiled a faint and wintry smile, saying: “ Truly, M’sieu’ has cause to be happy. But look you,” she continued rapidly, “ M’sieu’ does not understand. It is not for myself. To see Mélanie rich, content, I would be blind, deaf, dumb! ” At this climax of calamities she spread her hands out to the sky, and the fool began to moan. “ Mélanie will be happier with M. Tremblay, — not now, in the end. And Isadore, too, he will be happier ; his uncle will then give him a farm, — he has told me ; he will marry, he will content himself, he is a slight creature. It is not for him to marry Mélanie. For see, Madame, she has always had better than the other children. Often, I have worked all night that she might wear a pretty robe to the church. She has been to the convent at Chicontimi, she has accomplishments: she can embroider, she can make flowers with wool, she can play on the piano. One can see she is superior to the other girls of the village. M. Tremblay will do everything for her; he will take her to Quebec. Ah, Madame, it is because I love my little one that I would give her to M. Tremblay.”
Evidently we could hope nothing from Mélanie’s mother. Simultaneously Susan and I gave it up, and Susan covered our retreat with an order for beets, to be delivered at the hotel.
But I thought that I understood the situation better. I believed Madame Guion told us the truth : she was only seeking her daughter’s happiness. She had an intense, but narrow nature, and her life of toil, hard and busy though it was, being also lonely and quiet, rather helped than hindered brooding over her sorrows. Her mind was of the true peasant type, the ideas came slowly and were tenacious of grip. Love had been ruin to her. It meant heartbreak, bodily anguish, the torture of impotent anger, and the bitterest humiliation. Therefore, her fixed determination was to save Mélanie from its delusions. And because her own bloom had withered under sordid hardships, she yearned with passionate longing to ward them off her child. These two desires had come to fill her whole mind. Old Xavier offered to gratify both. Besides, he was the giver of whatever small comforts had brightened her poverty ; she was grateful, and it is quite possible that she wanted to make amends for the past. As for those aspects of the marriage which revolted us, privations and drudgery blunt sentiment in women even more effectually than in men. Madame Guion felt no horror in such a union simply because she could not see any. These conclusions solved the problem of the widow’s motives, but they did not help, in the least, to change them, or to make her more friendly towards Isadore. We tried the young people, next. I talked with Isadore, and Susan with Mélanie. It was all plain sailing with the man. He poured out his woes to me, on the way to Lake Ravel, with true Gallic effusion. His uncle had been kind to him, after a gruff and silent fashion, when a lad, but now, grown to manhood, he found himself frankly despised.
“ He has said of me, ‘ C’est un vraie blêche,’ ” cried Isadore, grinding his teeth. “ Bac, arrotês done ! ” The horse, plunging at the sight of a fallen tree, was calmed instantly ; I could not help admiring the lad’s mastery of the animal.
“ He would not say that, if he had seen you drive Bac when he was frightened,” I said.
“ It is nothing,” said Isadore ; “ I am good to Bac and he knows it, that is all. He taught me to be kind to animals. He buys old horses that are beaten. M’sieu’ has seen the last, Charlay, a sight to make fear. He will not be so long, he will be fat, lazy, like the others. He says: ‘ Dame, I can get work out of them, c’est bon marché! ’ But it is not for that he loves all animals. He loves the fool, also ; but all good people he hates, and he curses the saints, he is so wicked,” said Isadore, piously crossing himself.
Certainly his uncle knew of his attachment. “ He is glad that I suffer,” said Isadore. “M’sieu’, I speak to you with the heart open ; sometimes I think that I will kill myself, but Mélanie then will weep, and I must burn, myself, forever also. No, I will go away, she shall never see me again. I will go to Chicontimi ! ”
Chicontimi being barely nine miles away rather blunted the point of this tragic threat ; but the poor fellow’s grief and rage were real enough. There was no question about his willingness to be helped. He burst into tears and insisted upon embracing me over the front seat. He would do anything, he would go anywhere, he was my slave for life. Then he cried again.
Mélanie, as the French say, was more difficult. At first she could hardly believe in Susan’s offers. Finally convinced, the poor girl grew quite white with emotion ; all she did, however, was to lift a fold of Susan’s gown, press it tightly between her two hands to her heart, and then let it drop ; — an odd gesture, which, nevertheless, Susan found infinitely expressive.
But she could not he swerved from her purpose. She had sworn before the Virgin ; to retreat now would break her mother’s heart; moreover, the marriage would be the best thing for Isadore, since M. Tremblay, who never broke his word, had promised to give his nephew a farm on his wedding day. That Isadore might reject the gift did not occur to Mélanie; the habitants have no morbid scruples of delicacy — well, I do not know that it would have occurred to Isadore, either.
Susan would have tried to show her the sure unhappiness in such a marriage, but her first words were stopped by the girl’s quivering mouth and the miserable appeal of her eyes.
“ Oh, do not tell it me, Madame,” she cried, “ I tell myself until I cannot sleep any more at night. I work, work, all day, to be tired; but at night it is only that my bones ache, the thoughts will not stop. I cannot eat or sleep, and always there is the same hard pain here.” She touched, not her heart, but her throat. “ Some day, it will choke me. I think,” said she. Yet she spoke of Tremblay without bitterness, saying: “ He was very good to me when I was young. For why should he be good at all? All the world has been unkind to him. When he was a little child, his own mother did not love him because he was ugly. He had a great misfortune in his youth, also; what, I do not know, but he will often say to maman, ‘ Beware of doing services to people, Madame. When I was young I was a fool. I did kindnesses, I would be loved. Men are like wolves, they bite the hand that feeds them. Be feared, Madame, that is best.’ He makes himself feared. What he says, he does. He has vowed to marry a maiden of twenty, and he will keep his vow ! Look you, the mother gave him the key of the fields,1 he will marry the daughter; he makes two blows with a stone.”
Meanwhile the matter was the absorbing topic at the Bay, our unlucky efforts to assist the lovers being as much common property as Isadore’s despair or Mélanie’s filial submission. This was just a trifle embarrassing, since we could hardly buy a candle that a multitude of volunteer counselors did not troop about us; or row on the Bay without the boatman’s inquiring anxiously what we meant to do next. Not a mother’s son had a suggestion to offer ; but they all showed a cheerful confidence in our ingenuity, and were amazingly sympathetic.
While this went on, I was seeing Xavier daily. Sometimes he would be walking, attended by a starving retinue of curs, sometimes driving Charlay ; always he would grin at me in his gargoyle fashion ; but our acquaintance got no further until the day I ran against him on the pier, talking English to Susan. Susan was talking English also.
“ Why not ? ” was her comment, “ he likes it. He is going to show us over his crêmerie, this afternoon. You know I have an interest in a crêmerie, myself — and by good luck I Ve been through it.”
We spent three mortal hours in old Xavier’s creamery, Susan admiring things right and left. Somewhere about Tremblay’s porcupine nature must have been a soft spot of vanity, and my clever wife found it, for actually he looked almost human while he talked to her, and the grin that seemed carved on his face was softened into an uncouth smile.
“ Susan,” said I, “you are an unprincipled woman, flattering that clown ! ”
“ Maurice,” she answered gravely, “ he interests me greatly.”
The following day, being Sunday, we went to church. We liked the little church of St. Alphonse, with its walls covered with mortar decorated by lathes in wavy lines, to give a foothold to future plaster; its pillars hewn out of pine logs ; its echoing floors ; its altogether dreadful stations and images, and its poor little tawdry altars. Whenever mass was celebrated a dingy and crumpled flock of surplices crowded the chancel. It was worth a long journey to see the easy attitudes of the choristers, as they lounged in their stalls or shambled through the ritual. They all had colds, and expectorated with artless freedom. Choristers and organist generally started together on the chants ; but soon the voices would lose the key and wander helplessly off, amid a howling mob of discords, while the organist was sternly plodding her way through her notes, leaving them to their fate. Withal there was no irreverence; on the contrary, a devout attention. I used to watch the people telling their beads or kneeling at their prayers, and question whether their life seemed to them the innocent and stupid affair that it seemed to me. Thus gazing, this Sunday, I was aware that the aisle was illuminated by a blaze of red satin, followed by a rusty black gown, — Mélanie and her mother. Mélanie’s gay frock was trimmed with cheap white lace. Susan called it a “nightmare” later, and it certainly did suggest the splendors of the chorus in a comic opera ; but, all the same, it was amazingly becoming, and the girl’s pallor and troubled eyes only enhanced her beauty. No wonder the young men stared at her and the women whispered.
The curé preached a good sermon enough; but I could have wished a less appropriate subject than the sin of broken vows. Mélanie sat like a statue, hardly seeming to hear, her beads dangling from her limp fingers. The only visible portion of the widow’s shape was her back, but I fancied a grim complacency in the way she sat bolt upright and held her chin in the air. After mass we had the excitement of a shower. There was the customary huddling under the church porch, while the fortunate owners of “ buck boards ” drove up, in turn, and stored their womenkind on the sheltered back seats. I had a glimpse of Bac’s tossing mane among the horses, and saw Isadore standing up in the “buckboard,” looking for Mélanie. I heard him offer his vehicle to Madame Guion. Simultaneously, old Xavier climbed up the church steps, in his ordinary garb of homespun, with plenty of mud on his boots. His long arm extended itself under two or three intervening shoulders, and jerked the widow’s shawl. What he said was inaudible, but in response, she gathered up her skirts above her white stockings, took her daughter by the hand, and strode out to the voiture àa la planche. Poor Isadore was already at Bac’s head smiling. He assisted the women in and buttoned the apron over their knees. Just as he was about to follow them his uncle’s long arm unceremoniously thrust him aside and the old man climbed into his seat. The young fellow stood like one stupefied. His fair skin turned a deep red.
“ En avant! ” bawled Xavier. The voice roused Isadore. Bac flung his heels into the air and was off. Isadore after him, screaming “ Take care! Bac will go for none but me ! Stop, or he will kill you.” The old man’s answer was the whistle of a whip. I don’t think that Xavier meant to touch the horse, it was a mere bit of a bravado, but by chance the lash did fillip Bac’s flank. Up he went, like a shot, pawing the air ; then round in a furious half circle. Xavier pulled, but he might as well have tried to hold a whirlwind. I had started, at the same instant, and was abreast of Isadore.
“ C’est mon affaire,” he cried, jumping at the bits. I caught the animal on the other side. For a moment I expected that he would trample the life out of both of us ; he had the strength of ten horses. But Isadore talked away as composedly as if in the stable yard : " Arrêtes, donc, Bac ; sois sage ! s-s-sh ! Why dost thou make such a time, little fool ? ” And actually, that raving devil of a brute stopped, trembling, and rubbed his nose against the habitant’s breast.
“ M’sieu’, mon oncle,” said Isadore calmly, “ have the goodness to debark.2 Bac is not safe for any one but me to drive.”
The old man looked at his nephew and grinned. Quite composedly he got down, and stood with his hands on his hips while Isadore sprang lightly into the voiture àa la planche. Neither of the women spoke : the widow looked scared, Mélanie’s eyes were shining. Isadore gravely touched his hat to me and drove away, old Xavier wrinkling his cheeks over his eyes in a deeper grin. “ Bah,” he muttered, “ he can drive the little one,” and stumped off without a word of acknowledgment to me.
Susan, when I told her the story, held that it was very encouraging. She thought that she understood the mot d’enigma about Tremblay.
“ You see, Maurice,” said she, “ he is awfully vain, that is all. Did n’t you ever notice that deformed people always are vain, poor things? Tremblay, now, has a consuming desire to be noticed. I think that at first he tried to win people’s affection, and I imagine he met with some cruel disappointments. He had a dismal childhood, and you know, yourself, about the widow Guion. I believe he cared more for her than he will admit. See how kind he has been to her. He may pretend all sorts of mean motives for his actions, but there the kind actions are. You see, Maurice, now he tries to make people fear him, it is the same vanity, only twisted a little. He takes as much pains to appear wicked and cruel as other people do to appear good. Why he started that story about the confessional himself. Depend upon it, it is nothing but his vanity makes him so obstinately bent on marrying a girl of twenty.” She had a pretty theory about his having been disappointed in Isadore. “ He took the child to bring up,” said she, “ hoping, I feel sure, though he may not have owned the hope to himself, that the boy would be on his side, would share his hatred of mankind, and grow up in his own pattern. If Isadore had been a bold, fierce sort of a character, I believe the old man would have grown to love him; but from the first the boy was taken up by the village people, and he has all their ways of thinking. Then, besides, he is such a mild, gentle, inefficient seeming fellow that Tremblay can’t endure it. But I fancy he has misjudged Isadore, and he is beginning to see it. He would be glad.”
I did n’t pretend to decide whether my wife was right, nor do I now ; but this is what happened. One day I came out on the piazza to find the two, Xavier and Susan, talking earnestly. He gave me a nod, saying, “Madame does not approve of me, M’sieu’; she thinks I marry quite too young a wife.”
“ I am of Madame’s opinion,” said I.
Old Xavier looked at Susan’s pretty, flushed cheeks not unkindly. “ I care not for the people here,” he said, “ they are imbeciles, they; but her I find different. I wish to make myself understood. Look you, I want no wife; but they have made a mock of me in this parish. None shall make a mock of Xavier Tremblay. I say, ‘ Oway, I am old, I am ugly, all the same, bon gré, mal gré,
I can marry a girl of twenty. I swear I will not go into my new house before.’ Eh bien, the time goes on. I seen maiden of twenty, not beautiful, stupid, but good, amiable. She has but one eye. Her people are unkind to her, often I see her weep. I have compassion ; I am ugly, myself, Madame, and in my youth I knew what it was to weep. I think she will have a pleasanter life with old Tremblay. 1 speak kindly to her. We arrange it; she is not difficult. But she fell into the river and was drowned. Then goes a long time. Mélanie Guion has grown up. She pleases me, I think; the mother gave me the key of the fields. Good, I will marry the daughter. I will show these beasts that Xavier Tremblay can do what he pleases. But Madame can tell Mélanie that I will not be troublesome to her, and when I am dead she may marry Isadore; he can drive.”
“ You have shown that you can do as you please, Monsieur,” said Susan: “ to marry Mélanie will not show it any more; all the world knows that she has promised.”
“ But my vow, Madame, and my new house. I tire of living in my old house, c’est Men ennuyant.”
There was our sticking, his preposterous old new house. He could not endure its standing reminder of his unfulfilled vow ; the very sight of the walls which he might not enter chafed his vanity ; to live in it had grown to be a corroding ambition, and the day whereon he should step across those uncompleted, yet half ruined thresholds appeared to his imagination as the climax of his life. We asked too much, asking him to give up such visions.
All this while, Isadore was haunting the hotel, waiting with forlorn patience for a word or look from me. I repeated his uncle’s words to him, whereupon he frowned darkly and informed me that he longed to kill the old man ; a confidence which disturbed me little, since I had my own opinion of Isadore’s resolution.
By this time I was decidedly uncomfortable myself. The way Isadore morally flopped over on me, as it were, had a subtle tinge of irritation in its helplessness. Why could not the fellow lift a hand for himself ? and the villagers were worse. They maintained a maddening confidence in my astuteness. When the notary assured me that “ the old fox ” (meaning Tremblay) had met his match (meaning me),and Madame Pingât, the postmistress, gave me expressions of faith with my letters, and the blacksmith. winking very pleasantly, told me that he could guess what I was after, talking with old Xavier, I felt like swearing ; and when Madame Vernet, who kept a “general shop,” sold me a tea-kettle for a coffee-pot (one boiled quite as well as the other, she said, and the habitants used them indiscriminately) and asked me if I did n’t think it time to do something decisive, I went out and kicked an unoffending dog. Pretty soon I felt that we should have to fly the country. Like Susan, I now rested my slender hope on getting out of the mess with credit upon old Xavier, and I was glad when an opportunity presented for another appeal. Isadore was to drive me to Lake Ravel for a day of trout fishing; but the evening previous he appeared with his arm in a sling. He had sprained his right wrist and offered his uncle’s services in his stead, saying that the latter had a better horse than Charlay. So old Xavier took me to the lake. There I praised Isadore in French and English.
“ You love ’im,” said the old ogre, blinking at me with his keen eyes; “ mais moi, me tink ’im vaurien ; can mek wiz ze ’orse, notings of morre, non. Bah, for wy he laisse me tek ’is amie avays ? ” From which I gathered that he did not regard Isadore as a young man of spirit. In fact, I did n’t think much of my habitant’s spirit myself, but I had a suspicion that he wanted to be contradicted, that long silent instincts of blood were roused and speaking; perhaps, too, some faint emotion of compassion for the girl who had been fond of him as a child.
“ Chut,” he muttered, relapsing into his own tongue, “ I will not be troublesome to Mélanie. It is a good little girl. I should have been her father, I; I have thought that always.”
“ Make her your niece, then,” said I, “ that’s next best.”
“ And never go into my new house ? Mais non, ça no va pas! ”
There we stuck fast again. Briefly, I made another failure, and by the time evening came and we were in sight of the village I was decidedly out of temper. The first thing I noticed put my chagrin to flight. Little crowds of people going homewards gazed at us curiously, until, suddenly, Xavier shook his whip handle at a broken, lazy cloud of smoke and urged his horse into a gallop. Reason enough ! the smoke was rising from the ruins of his “ new house.” A sorry sight they made; heaps of blackened and crumbling stone which had been walls, charred skeletons of joists, and distorted shapes of tin or iron showed the fierce power of the fire. Jets of flame were still playing with the remnants of window frames, and puffs of black smoke rose only to sink again and drift forlornly above the wreck. Men with buckets and blankets, women holding babies in their arms, and a crowd of children stood around talking shrilly. A kind of hush fell on the chatter as we drove up. Everybody stared at old Xavier. His iron composure gave no clew to his feelings. “ My stable,” said old Xavier, “ what of the horses ? ” A medley of voices explained that Isadore had saved the horses. If we were to believe the women he had been a prodigy of valor. Xavier listened with his smirk that was uglier than a frown. “ Where then is he, this brave fellow ? ” said he. Half a dozen boys started after Isadore.
I did not wait for his arrival. Seeing Susan standing a little to one side, I joined her. She told me about the fire. It seems that a party of tourists, coming and going by the morning’s boat, had been shown through the village by Isadore and little Antoine Vernet. The gentlemen, who had somehow heard of old Xavier, expressed a curiosity to go into his house. They pulled the boards off a window and climbed in and roamed over the house. They were smoking, and there was a quantity of dry wood and shavings about. Little Antoine said that Isadore asked them to put out their cigars lest a spark should set these afire ; but they did not appear to understand him. After they were gone, almost three hours, the fire broke out. The whole house seemed to flash into a blaze at once. When Isadore, brought back from the pier, arrived, it was all that he could do to save the horses in the stable and the old house.
As Susan spoke, I saw Isadore and his uncle approaching, and, at the same moment, from the opposite direction, the widow Guion and Mélanie. Isadore’s expression was completely concealed by streaks of smut, his dress was torn and his hair disordered. Old Xavier was grinning. To them marched Madame Guion, dragging Mélanie after her. She did not so much as glance at us. Then I saw that she was livid with passion. “ M’sieu,” said she, in a voice hardly above a whisper, but holding the energy of a thunderbolt, “ will you know who set fire to your new house? ”
“ Without doubt, Madame,” replied Tremblay ; and he stopped grinning.
The woman thrust out a long forefinger as she might have thrust a knife, crying, " Behold him ! ”
It was at Isadore that she stabbed with her hand, the finger tapping his breast. He recoiled, but answered boldly enough, " Madame, I do not understand.”
“ Comment?” said Xavier between his teeth.
“ Oway, it is thou, Isadore Clovis,” said Madame Guion, always in the same suppressed, vibrating tones, “that burned thy uncle’s new house ; I saw it, I, with these eyes. I tell it to him and to these Americans, who think that I should have given my daughter to thee! ” Mélanie threw a piteous glance around. “ Wait, maman,” she begged, " he will explain ! ”
“ Peste,” growled old Xavier, " what have we here ? Speak, Madame, you. Tell what you have seen.”
The widow released her daughter’s hand to have both her own free for dramatic action ; she spoke rapidly, even fiercely.
“ Behold, then, M’sieu’ ; I go, this morning, to buy a pair of boots for Jules, and I pass your new house. A window has the board hanging by the one nail. It is natural, is it not? I, a mother, wish to view the house where my daughter shall live. So I look in. Behold Isadore, your nephew, in the room. He splits boxes to pieces, chop! chop ! with both arms, view you, he that pretends an arm in a sling. Then he goes out. I cannot see him, but I hear chop ! chop ! again. Then he comes back; he has, what think you ? a kerosene can in his hands. He goes through the room. He does not come back. Then I go away. I think, ‘ What makes he there ? ’ I cannot comprehend. A long time passes. It arrives that I hear them crying the alarm. Your house burns, M’sieu’ ! I run quickly. I am there among the first. They break down the door but the fire jumps out, pouf! in their faces. I run to my window ; there, in the room, is the pile of wood blazing — so high ! ” lifting her arms. " So was it in every room. He had made piles and poured on the kerosene. I have a nose, I; I could smell it ! Now, will he deny it, le scélérat ? ”
I suppose we all looked at Isadore. Mélanie clasped her hands and took a step towards him. Old Xavier gave his nephew a front view of a tolerably black scowl. " Eh bien, my nephew,” said he, " what sayst thou ? ”
Isadore’s sooty face could not show a change of color, but in his stiffening muscles, the straightened arms, and clenched fists one could see that he was pulling himself together. From childhood he had been taught to fear the old man before him, and those whom we fear in our childhood, we seldom can defy with unbiased calmness in later years ; there is apt to be a speck of assertion about our very revolt. A sort of desperate hardihood was visible in Isadore’s bearing, now, as he frowned back at his uncle. " Oway, mon oncle,” said he, in a strident tone, “ oway, I burned your accursed house. Send me to prison. Même chose.”
Mélanie uttered a low moan and covered her face.
“ Come, mon enfant,” said the widow gently, “ thou seest now.” She would have put her arm about the girl, but Mélanie pushed it aside, ran straight to Isadore, and caught him around his neck with both her arms. She was taller than he, so she drew his head to her breast instead of resting hers upon him.
Old Xavier looked on, motionless. “ Bon,” he said, “ why did you do it ? ”
Isadore lifted his head. “ Why ? ” repeated he ; “ have I the heart of a mouse to see you take Mélanie away from me and do nothing ? It was to live in the house that you would marry her. If the house were burned, it might be that you would build another and live in it without a wife. Et puis — I burned the house.”
“ And thy arm ? Was it hurt ? ”
“ No,” answered the young fellow sullenly, yet boldly, “ I said it to get you away from home.”
“ And the gentlemen from the boat ? ”
“ Some one must bear the blame. They were smoking. I spoke before Antoine that he might remember. They would not know themselves if they set it afire. There were the shavings and the wood. When they were gone I came back and made the piles and set them afire, so that the house should be all afire inside before it would show outside.”
Old Xavier smote his thigh with his hand and burst into a peal of harsh laughter ; I thought that he had lost his wits; but no, the strange old creature simply was tickled by his nephew’s deviltry. “ And I called him un vraie blêche,” he muttered. “ Madame, you were right, it is a lad of spirit after all. He has been sharp enough to make a fool of Xavier Tremblay, and of you, too, M’sieu’.”
There was no denying it, he had, and as I looked at him, I marveled how I could be so blind; these nervous, irrational, feminine temperaments, driven to bay, always fight like rats — desperately. With nothing to lose, Isadore looked his uncle in the eye and smiled. A grim and slow smile lighted up the other’s rough features like a reflection ; for the first time one could trace a resemblance between the two men.
“ Come, Madame,” said Xavier, turning to my wife, “what say you ? ”
“ This, Monsieur,” replied Susan, who alone of us took the old man’s mood for what it was worth : “ he proves himself your own nephew, since he can cheat you. You don’t want the girl, you don’t want the house ; you have shown that you could do what you please. Give Mélanie to Isadore, and we will see that he pays you for the house.”
I saw that Susan meant to get the price of that picture.
“ Non” cried Madame Guion, “ I will not have it so! ” On his part old Xavier actually made a sort of bow to my wife, saying: “ Madame, I thank you, but I am rich enough to give my nephew the house. As for the other — Madame shall see.”
“ I say, though, the insurance companies ” — This humble and uncompleted sentence was started by the writer, but got no further because of a slim hand over his mouth and a sweet but peremptory voice in his ear : “Hush, Maurice, don’t you spoil things !”
So I was mute and looked at Madame Guion. Her face was a study for a tragedy. I got it only in profile, for Tremblay had taken her aside and was whispering to her. She grew more and more agitated, while he seemed in a ruder way to be trying to soothe her. The two lovers clung to each other, perhaps feeling their mutual love the only solid thing in the storm. By this time the loiterers about the ruins had observed us and gradually drawn nearer, until a circle of amiable and interested eyes watched our motions. “ My neighbors,” said old Xavier, “ approach, I have something to say to you.” Upon this there was a narrowing of the circle, accompanied by the emerging of a number of small children, whose feet twinkled in the air as they fled, to return, I felt certain, with absent relatives. “ Neighbors,” said the village ogre, in his strong, harsh voice, “ attendez ; you know that I vowed never to go into my new house until I should marry a maiden of twenty. I chose Mélanie Guion. She promised to marry me. Is it not so, Mélanie ? ”
“ Ovvay, M’sieu’,” said Mélanie, in a trembling voice.
“ And are you ready, now, to keep your promise ? ”
“ Oway, M’sieu’,” the girl said again, though her voice was fainter and she turned exceedingly pale.
Old Xavier rolled his eyes over the crowd in sardonic triumph. “ Eh bien, my neighbors,” said he, “ you hear. I have shown you that I can marry the best, like a young man. Now I will show you something else. An old man who marries a young wife is a fool, n’est ce pas, Emile Badeau ? ”
The unhappy Emile shook his fists in helpless rage, while his neighbors shrugged their shoulders, Badeau’s connubial trials being a matter of public interest, like everybody else’s so called private affairs, in St. Alphonse.
“ Eh bien,” continued the ogre, “ I am not that fool. Why should I marry now ? To go into my new house? View it! If I build me another, I need no wife to let me enter it. And I want peace in my old age. Alors, Ma’m’selle, merci. But since I take away your husband, I give you one in my place. Isadore, my nephew, make Mélanie my niece instead of my wife. But take care, you will find her harder to drive than Bac ! ”
Isadore was like a man struck by lightning. His eyes glared, his knees shook, he gasped for breath. But Mélanie did the best thing possible ; she ran to the old man and kissed him.
“ Non, non,” she sobbed, “ pas mon oncle, mon pére ! ”
Doubtless no one had kissed him since Mélanie herself was a child. He looked at her with a curious expression, almost gentle. “ Ovvay, mon enfant,” he said ; and there was even a rough dignity in his bearing as he encircled her waist with his arm and turned to the crowd. “ And now, my neighbors, do you hold me free from my vow?”
The villagers returned a shrill French cheer, some of them wept, and the more enterprising embraced me and overwhelmed Susan with a din of compliments. Only the widow Guion maintained a stern and bewildered silence. A bitterly disappointed woman, she was turning to go her way, when Mélanie ran to her. “ Wilt thou not forgive me, maman ? ” cried she, weeping and kissing the wrinkled brown cheeks, “ I shall be so happy ! ”
“ Chut! It is not thou that I blame,” said the widow, “but he is a slight creature. Bah, what use ? It was the will of God. But at least, thou wilt be rich, he has said it ! ”
Then she directed a long glance of fierce interrogation at me. “ You may trust us, Madame,” I said.
“ Cela se comprend,” answered she inclining her head towards Susan, “ A’vair, Madame.”
I am ashamed to confess that I received the applause of the parish quite as though I deserved it. On our departure, a week later, they displayed the flag at the hotel and fired off an ancient cannon, and all the inhabitants who were not congregated about the cannon assembled on the pier, including Isadore (who wept profusely), Mélanie, and old Xavier himself. Every man, woman, and child cheered with enthusiasm. Barring our fears that the cannon might explode, it was a proud moment, especially when we overheard the following conversation between two of our countrymen.
“ What are they making all this row about ?”
“Don’t you know? See that lady and gentleman ? — they ’re Lord and Lady Lansdowne, just been making a visit.”
At present Susan, and I are home in New York. I took the pains to inquire about the insurance and was relieved to find that there was none on the house, old Xavier having once been cheated by an insurance agent, and being the mortal foe of insurance companies, in consequence. Susan said she did n’t think that it mattered, anyhow. The best of women have queer notions of public morality. Susan sent Mélanie a great box of wedding finery. In response, we have received a long letter. Madame Guion’s eyes were cured a month ago. She is still opposed to the marriage, but Isadore hopes everything from time. Old Xavier is well and building him a new house.