A Brave Heart
by Henry van Dyke
“That was truly his name, m’sieu’–Raoul Vaillantcoeur–a name of the fine sound, is it not? You like that word,–a valiant heart,– it pleases you, eh! The man who calls himself by such a name as that ought to be a brave fellow, a veritable hero? Well, perhaps. But I know an Indian who is called Le Blanc; that means white. And a white man who is called Lenoir; that means black. It is very droll, this affair of the names. It is like the lottery.”
Silence for a few moments, broken only by the ripple of water under the bow of the canoe, the persistent patter of the rain all around us, and the SLISH, SLISH of the paddle with which Ferdinand, my Canadian voyageur, was pushing the birch-bark down the lonely length of Lac Moise. I knew that there was one of his stories on the way. But I must keep still to get it. A single ill-advised comment, a word that would raise a question of morals or social philosophy, might switch the narrative off the track into a swamp of abstract discourse in which Ferdinand would lose himself. Presently the voice behind me began again.
“But that word VAILLANT, m’sieu’; with us in Canada it does not mean always the same as with you. Sometimes we use it for something that sounds big, but does little; a gun that goes off with a terrible crack, but shoots not straight nor far. When a man is like that he is FANFARON, he shows off well, but–well, you shall judge for yourself, when you hear what happened between this man Vaillantcoeur and his friend Prosper Leclere at the building of the stone tower of the church at Abbeville. You remind yourself of that grand church with the tall tower–yes? With permission I am going to tell you what passed when that was made. And you shall decide whether there was truly a brave heart in the story, or not; and if it went with the name.
Thus the tale began, in the vast solitude of the northern forest, among the granite peaks of the ancient Laurentian Mountains, on a lake that knew no human habitation save the Indian’s wigwam or the fisherman’s tent.
How it rained that day! The dark clouds had collapsed upon the hills in shapeless folds. The waves of the lake were beaten flat by the lashing strokes of the storm. Quivering sheets of watery gray were driven before the wind; and broad curves of silver bullets danced before them as they swept over the surface. All around the homeless shores the evergreen trees seemed to hunch their backs and crowd closer together in patient misery. Not a bird had the heart to sing; only the loon–storm-lover–laughed his crazy challenge to the elements, and mocked us with his long-drawn maniac scream.
It seemed as if we were a thousand miles from everywhere and everybody. Cities, factories, libraries, colleges, law-courts, theatres, palaces,–what had we dreamed of these things? They were far off, in another world. We had slipped back into a primitive life. Ferdinand was telling me the naked story of human love and human hate, even as it has been told from the beginning.
I cannot tell it just as he did. There was a charm in his speech too quick for the pen: a woodland savour not to be found in any ink for sale in the shops. I must tell it in my way, as he told it in his.
But at all events, nothing that makes any difference shall go into the translation unless it was in the original. This is Ferdinand’s story. If you care for the real thing, here it is.
There were two young men in Abbeville who were easily the cocks of the woodland walk. Their standing rested on the fact that they were the strongest men in the parish. Strength is the thing that counts, when people live on the edge of the wilderness. These two were well known all through the country between Lake St. John and Chicoutimi as men of great capacity. Either of them could shoulder a barrel of flour and walk off with it as lightly as a common man would carry a side of bacon. There was not a half-pound of difference between them in ability. But there was a great difference in their looks and in their way of doing things.
Raoul Vaillantcoeur was the biggest and the handsomest man in the village; nearly six feet tall, straight as a fir tree, and black as a bull-moose in December. He had natural force enough and to spare. Whatever he did was done by sheer power of back and arm. He could send a canoe up against the heaviest water, provided he did not get mad and break his paddle–which he often did. He had more muscle than he knew how to use.
Prosper Leclere did not have so much, but he knew better how to handle it. He never broke his paddle–unless it happened to be a bad one, and then he generally had another all ready in the canoe. He was at least four inches shorter than Vaillantcoeur; broad shoulders, long arms, light hair, gray eyes; not a handsome fellow, but pleasant-looking and very quiet. What he did was done more than half with his head.
He was the kind of a man that never needs more than one match to light a fire.
But Vaillantcoeur–well, if the wood was wet he might use a dozen, and when the blaze was kindled, as like as not he would throw in the rest of the box.
Now, these two men had been friends and were changed into rivals. At least that was the way that one of them looked at it. And most of the people in the parish seemed to think that was the right view. It was a strange thing, and not altogether satisfactory to the public mind, to have two strongest men in the village. The question of comparative standing in the community ought to be raised and settled in the usual way. Raoul was perfectly willing, and at times (commonly on Saturday nights) very eager. But Prosper was not.
“No,” he said, one March night, when he was boiling maple-sap in the sugar-bush with little Ovide Rossignol (who had a lyric passion for holding the coat while another man was fighting)–“no, for what shall I fight with Raoul? As boys we have played together. Once, in the rapids of the Belle Riviere, when I have fallen in the water, I think he has saved my life. He was stronger, then, than me. I am always a friend to him. If I beat him now, am I stronger? No, but weaker. And if he beats me, what is the sense of that? Certainly I shall not like it. What is to gain?”
Down in the store of old Girard, that night, Vaillantcoeur was holding forth after a different fashion. He stood among the cracker-boxes and flour-barrels, with a background of shelves laden with bright-coloured calicoes, and a line of tin pails hanging overhead, and stated his view of the case with vigour. He even pulled off his coat and rolled up his shirt-sleeve to show the knotty arguments with which he proposed to clinch his opinion.
“That Leclere,” said he, “that little Prosper Leclere! He thinks himself one of the strongest–a fine fellow! But I tell you he is a coward. If he is clever? Yes. But he is a poltroon. He knows well that I can flatten him out like a crepe in the frying-pan. But he is afraid. He has not as much courage as the musk-rat. You stamp on the bank. He dives. He swims away. Bah!”
“How about that time he cut loose the jam of logs in the Rapide des Cedres?” said old Girard from his corner.
Vaillantcoeur’s black eyes sparkled and he twirled his mustache fiercely. “SAPRIE!” he cried, “that was nothing! Any man with an axe can cut a log. But to fight–that is another affair. That demands the brave heart. The strong man who will not fight is a coward. Some day I will put him through the mill–you shall see what that small Leclere is made of. SACREDAM!”
Of course, affairs had not come to this pass all at once. It was a long history, beginning with the time when the two boys had played together, and Raoul was twice as strong as the other, and was very proud of it. Prosper did not care; it was all right so long as they had a good time. But then Prosper began to do things better and better. Raoul did not understand it; he was jealous. Why should he not always be the leader? He had more force. Why should Prosper get ahead? Why should he have better luck at the fishing and the hunting and the farming? It was by some trick. There was no justice in it.
Raoul was not afraid of anything but death; and whatever he wanted, he thought he had a right to have. But he did not know very well how to get it. He would start to chop a log just at the spot where there was a big knot.
He was the kind of a man that sets hare-snares on a caribou-trail, and then curses his luck because he catches nothing.
Besides, whatever he did, he was always thinking most about beating somebody else. But Prosper eared most for doing the thing as well as he could. If any one else could beat him–well, what difference did it make? He would do better the next time.
If he had a log to chop, he looked it all over for a clear place before he began. What he wanted was, not to make the chips fly, but to get the wood split.
You are not to suppose that the one man was a saint and a hero, and the other a fool and a ruffian. No; that sort of thing happens only in books. People in Abbeville were not made on that plan. They were both plain men. But there was a difference in their hearts; and out of that difference grew all the trouble.
It was hard on Vaillantcoeur, of course, to see Leclere going ahead, getting rich, clearing off the mortgage on his farm, laying up money with the notary Bergeron, who acted as banker for the parish–it was hard to look on at this, while he himself stood still, or even slipped back a little, got into debt, had to sell a bit of the land that his father left him. There must be some cheating about it.
But this was not the hardest morsel to swallow. The great thing that stuck in his crop was the idea that the little Prosper, whom he could have whipped so easily, and whom he had protected so loftily, when they were boys, now stood just as high as he did as a capable man–perhaps even higher. Why was it that when the Price Brothers, down at Chicoutimi, had a good lumber-job up in the woods on the Belle Riviere, they made Leclere the boss, instead of Vaillantcoeur? Why did the cure Villeneuve choose Prosper, and not Raoul, to steady the strain of the biggest pole when they were setting up the derrick for the building of the new church?
It was rough, rough! The more Raoul thought of it, the rougher it seemed. The fact that it was a man who had once been his protege, and still insisted on being his best friend, did not make it any smoother. Would you have liked it any better on that account? I am not telling you how it ought to have been, I am telling you how it was. This isn’t Vaillantcoeur’s account-book; it’s his story. You must strike your balances as you go along.
And all the time, you see, he felt sure that he was a stronger man and a braver man than Prosper. He was hungry to prove it in the only way that he could understand. The sense of rivalry grew into a passion of hatred, and the hatred shaped itself into a blind, headstrong desire to fight. Everything that Prosper did well, seemed like a challenge; every success that he had was as hard to bear as an insult. All the more, because Prosper seemed unconscious of it. He refused to take offence, went about his work quietly and cheerfully, turned off hard words with a joke, went out of his way to show himself friendly and good-natured. In reality, of course, he knew well enough how matters stood. But he was resolved not to show that he knew, if he could help it; and in any event, not to be one of the two that are needed to make a quarrel.
He felt very strangely about it. There was a presentiment in his heart that he did not dare to shake off. It seemed as if this conflict were one that would threaten the happiness of his whole life. He still kept his old feeling of attraction to Raoul, the memory of the many happy days they had spent together; and though the friendship, of course, could never again be what it had been, there was something of it left, at least on Prosper’s side. To struggle with this man, strike at his face, try to maim and disfigure him, roll over and over on the ground with him, like two dogs tearing each other,–the thought was hateful. His gorge rose at it. He would never do it, unless to save his life. Then? Well, then, God must be his judge.
So it was that these two men stood against each other in Abbeville. Just as strongly as Raoul was set to get into a fight, just so strongly was Prosper set to keep out of one. It was a trial of strength between two passions,–the passion of friendship and the passion of fighting.
Two or three things happened to put an edge on Raoul’s hunger for an out-and-out fight.
The first was the affair at the shanty on Lac des Caps. The wood- choppers, like sailors, have a way of putting a new man through a few tricks to initiate him into the camp. Leclere was bossing the job, with a gang of ten men from St. Raymond under him. Vaillantcoeur had just driven a team in over the snow with a load of provisions, and was lounging around the camp as if it belonged to him. It was Sunday afternoon, the regular time for fun, but no one dared to take hold of him. He looked too big. He expressed his opinion of the camp.
“No fun in this shanty, HE? I suppose that little Leclere he makes you others work, and say your prayers, and then, for the rest, you can sleep. HE! Well, I am going to make a little fun for you, my boys. Come, Prosper, get your hat, if you are able to climb a tree.”
He snatched the hat from the table by the stove and ran out into the snow. In front of the shanty a good-sized birch, tall, smooth, very straight, was still standing. He went up the trunk like a bear.
But there was a dead balsam that had fallen against the birch and lodged on the lower branches. It was barely strong enough to bear the weight of a light man. Up this slanting ladder Prosper ran quickly in his moccasined feet, snatched the hat from Raoul’s teeth as he swarmed up the trunk, and ran down again. As he neared the ground, the balsam, shaken from its lodgement, cracked and fell. Raoul was left up the tree, perched among the branches, out of breath. Luck had set the scene for the lumberman’s favourite trick.
“Chop him down! chop him down” was the cry; and a trio of axes were twanging against the birch tree, while the other men shouted and laughed and pelted the tree with ice to keep the prisoner from climbing down.
Prosper neither shouted nor chopped, but he grinned a little as he watched the tree quiver and shake, and heard the rain of “SACRES!” and “MAUDITS!” that came out of the swaying top. He grinned–until he saw that a half-dozen more blows would fell the birch right on the roof of the shanty.
“Are you crazy?” he cried, as he picked up an axe; “you know nothing how to chop. You kill a man. You smash the cabane. Let go!” He shoved one of the boys away and sent a few mighty cuts into the side of the birch that was farthest from the cabin; then two short cuts on the other side; the tree shivered, staggered, cracked, and swept in a great arc toward the deep snow-drift by the brook. As the top swung earthward, Raoul jumped clear of the crashing branches and landed safely in the feather-bed of snow, buried up to his neck. Nothing was to be seen of him but his head, like some new kind of fire-work–sputtering bad words.
Well, this was the first thing that put an edge on Vaillantcoeur’s hunger to fight. No man likes to be chopped down by his friend, even if the friend does it for the sake of saving him from being killed by a fall on the shanty-roof. It is easy to forget that part of it. What you remember is the grin.
The second thing that made it worse was the bad chance that both of these men had to fall in love with the same girl. Of course there were other girls in the village beside Marie Antoinette Girard– plenty of them, and good girls, too. But somehow or other, when they were beside her, neither Raoul nor Prosper cared to look at any of them, but only at ‘Toinette. Her eyes were so much darker and her cheeks so much more red–bright as the berries of the mountain- ash in September. Her hair hung down to her waist on Sunday in two long braids, brown and shiny like a ripe hazelnut; and her voice when she laughed made the sound of water tumbling over little stones.
No one knew which of the two lovers she liked best. At school it was certainly Raoul, because he was bigger and bolder. When she came back from her year in the convent at Roberval it was certainly Prosper, because he could talk better and had read more books. He had a volume of songs full of love and romance, and knew most of them by heart. But this did not last forever. ‘Toinette’s manners had been polished at the convent, but her ideas were still those of her own people. She never thought that knowledge of books could take the place of strength, in the real battle of life. She was a brave girl, and she felt sure in her heart that the man of the most courage must be the best man after all.
For a while she appeared to persuade herself that it was Prosper, beyond a doubt, and always took his part when the other girls laughed at him. But this was not altogether a good sign. When a girl really loves, she does not talk, she acts. The current of opinion and gossip in the village was too strong for her. By the time of the affair of the “chopping-down” at Lac des Caps, her heart was swinging to and fro like a pendulum. One week she would walk home from mass with Raoul. The next week she would loiter in the front yard on a Saturday evening and talk over the gate with Prosper, until her father called her into the shop to wait on customers.
It was in one of these talks that the pendulum seemed to make its last swing and settle down to its resting-place. Prosper was telling her of the good crops of sugar that he had made from his maple grove.
“The profit will be large–more than sixty piastres–and with that I shall buy at Chicoutimi a new four-wheeler, of the finest, a veritable wedding carriage–if you–if I–‘Toinette? Shall we ride together?”
His left hand clasped hers as it lay on the gate. His right arm stole over the low picket fence and went around the shoulder that leaned against the gate-post. The road was quite empty, the night already dark. He could feel her warm breath on his neck as she laughed.
“If you! If I! If what? Why so many ifs in this fine speech? Of whom is the wedding for which this new carriage is to be bought? Do you know what Raoul Vaillantcoeur has said? ‘No more wedding in this parish till I have thrown the little Prosper over my shoulder!'”
As she said this, laughing, she turned closer to the fence and looked up, so that a curl on her forehead brushed against his cheek.
“BATECHE! Who told you he said that?”
“I heard him, myself.”
“In the store, two nights ago. But it was not for the first time. He said it when we came from the church together, it will be four weeks to-morrow.”
“What did you say to him?”
“I told him perhaps he was mistaken. The next wedding might be after the little Prosper had measured the road with the back of the longest man in Abbeville.”
The laugh had gone out of her voice now. She was speaking eagerly, and her bosom rose and fell with quick breaths. But Prosper’s right arm had dropped from her shoulder, and his hand gripped the fence as he straightened up.
“‘Toinette!” he cried, “that was bravely said. And I could do it. Yes, I know I could do it. But, MON DIEU, what shall I say? Three years now, he has pushed me, every one has pushed me, to fight. And you–but I cannot. I am not capable of it.”
The girl’s hand lay in his as cold and still as a stone. She was silent for a moment, and then asked, coldly, “Why not?”
“Why not? Because of the old friendship. Because he pulled me out of the river long ago. Because I am still his friend. Because now he hates me too much. Because it would be a black fight. Because shame and evil would come of it, whoever won. That is what I fear, ‘Toinette!”
Her hand slipped suddenly away from his. She stepped back from the gate.
“TIENS! You have fear, Monsieur Leclere! Truly I had not thought of that. It is strange. For so strong a man it is a little stupid to be afraid. Good-night. I hear my father calling me. Perhaps some one in the store who wants to be served. You must tell me again what you are going to do with the new carriage. Good-night!”
She was laughing again. But it was a different laughter. Prosper, at the gate, did not think it sounded like the running of a brook over the stones. No, it was more the noise of the dry branches that knock together in the wind. He did not hear the sigh that came as she shut the door of the house, nor see how slowly she walked through the passage into the store.
There seemed to be a great many rainy Saturdays that spring; and in the early summer the trade in Girard’s store was so brisk that it appeared to need all the force of the establishment to attend to it. The gate of the front yard had no more strain put upon its hinges. It fell into a stiff propriety of opening and shutting, at the touch of people who understood that a gate was made merely to pass through, not to lean upon.
That summer Vaillantcoeur had a new hat–a black and shiny beaver– and a new red-silk cravat. They looked fine on Corpus Christi day, when he and ‘Toinette walked together as fiancee’s.
You would have thought he would have been content with that. Proud, he certainly was. He stepped like the cure’s big rooster with the topknot–almost as far up in the air as he did along the ground; and he held his chin high, as if he liked to look at things over his nose.
But he was not satisfied all the way through. He thought more of beating Prosper than of getting ‘Toinette. And he was not quite sure that he had beaten him yet.
Perhaps the girl still liked Prosper a little. Perhaps she still thought of his romances, and his chansons, and his fine, smooth words, and missed them. Perhaps she was too silent and dull sometimes, when she walked with Raoul; and sometimes she laughed too loud when he talked, more at him than with him. Perhaps those St. Raymond fellows still remembered the way his head stuck out of that cursed snow-drift, and joked about it, and said how clever and quick the little Prosper was. Perhaps–ah, MAUDIT! a thousand times perhaps! And only one way to settle them, the old way, the sure way, and all the better now because ‘Toinette must be on his side. She must understand for sure that the bravest man in the parish had chosen her.
That was the summer of the building of the grand stone tower of the church. The men of Abbeville did it themselves, with their own hands, for the glory of God. They were keen about that, and the cure was the keenest of them all. No sharing of that glory with workmen from Quebec, if you please! Abbeville was only forty years old, but they already understood the glory of God quite as well there as at Quebec, without doubt. They could build their own tower, perfectly, and they would. Besides, it would cost less.
Vaillantcoeur was the chief carpenter. He attended to the affair of beams and timbers. Leclere was the chief mason. He directed the affair of dressing the stones and laying them. That required a very careful head, you understand, for the tower must be straight. In the floor a little crookedness did not matter; but in the wall–that might be serious. People have been killed by a falling tower. Of course, if they were going into church, they would be sure of heaven. But then think–what a disgrace for Abbeville!
Every one was glad that Leclere bossed the raising of the tower. They admitted that he might not be brave, but he was assuredly careful. Vaillantcoeur alone grumbled, and said the work went too slowly, and even swore that the sockets for the beams were too shallow, or else too deep, it made no difference which. That BETE Prosper made trouble always by his poor work. But the friction never came to a blaze; for the cure was pottering about the tower every day and all day long, and a few words from him would make a quarrel go off in smoke.
“Softly, my boys!” he would say; “work smooth and you work fast. The logs in the river run well when they run all the same way. But when two logs cross each other, on the same rock–psst! a jam! The whole drive is hung up! Do not run crossways, my children.”
The walls rose steadily, straight as a steamboat pipe–ten, twenty, thirty, forty feet; it was time to put in the two cross-girders, lay the floor of the belfry, finish off the stonework, and begin the pointed wooden spire. The cure had gone to Quebec that very day to buy the shining plates of tin for the roof, and a beautiful cross of gilt for the pinnacle.
Leclere was in front of the tower putting on his overalls. Vaillantcoeur came up, swearing mad. Three or four other workmen were standing about.
“Look here, you Leclere,” said he, “I tried one of the cross-girders yesterday afternoon and it wouldn’t go. The templet on the north is crooked–crooked as your teeth. We had to let the girder down again. I suppose we must trim it off some way, to get a level bearing, and make the tower weak, just to match your sacre bad work, eh?”
“Well,” said Prosper, pleasant and quiet enough, “I’m sorry for that, Raoul. Perhaps I could put that templet straight, or perhaps the girder might be a little warped and twisted, eh? What? Suppose we measure it.”
Sure enough, they found the long timber was not half seasoned and had corkscrewed itself out of shape at least three inches. Vaillantcoeur sat on the sill of the doorway and did not even look at them while they were measuring. When they called out to him what they had found, he strode over to them.
“It’s a dam’ lie,” he said, sullenly. “Prosper Leclere, you slipped the string. None of your sacre cheating! I have enough of it already. Will you fight, you cursed sneak?”
Prosper’s face went gray, like the mortar in the trough. His fists clenched and the cords on his neck stood out as if they were ropes. He breathed hard. But he only said three words:
“No! Not here.”
“Not here? Why not? There is room. The cure is away. Why not here?”
“It is the house of LE BON DIEU. Can we build it in hate?”
“POLISSON! You make an excuse. Then come to Girard’s, and fight there.”
Again Prosper held in for a moment, and spoke three words:
“No! Not now.”
“Not now? But when, you heart of a hare? Will you sneak out of it until you turn gray and die? When will you fight, little musk-rat?”
“When I have forgotten. When I am no more your friend.”
Prosper picked up his trowel and went into the tower. Raoul bad- worded him and every stone of his building from foundation to cornice, and then went down the road to get a bottle of cognac.
An hour later he came back breathing out threatenings and slaughter, strongly flavoured with raw spirits. Prosper was working quietly on the top of the tower, at the side away from the road. He saw nothing until Raoul, climbing up by the ladders on the inside, leaped on the platform and rushed at him like a crazy lynx.
“Now!” he cried, “no hole to hide in here, rat! I’ll squeeze the lies out of you.”
He gripped Prosper by the head, thrusting one thumb into his eye, and pushing him backward on the scaffolding.
Blinded, half maddened by the pain, Prosper thought of nothing but to get free. He swung his long arm upward and landed a heavy blow on Raoul’s face that dislocated the jaw; then twisting himself downward and sideways, he fell in toward the wall. Raoul plunged forward, stumbled, let go his hold, and pitched out from the tower, arms spread, clutching the air.
Forty feet straight down! A moment–or was it an eternity?–of horrible silence. Then the body struck the rough stones at the foot of the tower with a thick, soft dunt, and lay crumpled up among them, without a groan, without a movement.
When the other men, who had hurried up the ladders in terror, found Leclere, he was peering over the edge of the scaffold, wiping the blood from his eyes, trying to see down.
“I have killed him,” he muttered, “my friend! He is smashed to death. I am a murderer. Let me go. I must throw myself down!”
They had hard work to hold him back. As they forced him down the ladders he trembled like a poplar.
But Vaillantcoeur was not dead. No; it was incredible–to fall forty feet and not be killed–they talk of it yet all through the valley of the Lake St. John–it was a miracle! But Vaillantcoeur had broken only a nose, a collar-bone, and two ribs–for one like him that was but a bagatelle. A good doctor from Chicoutimi, a few months of nursing, and he would be on his feet again, almost as good a man as he had ever been.
It was Leclere who put himself in charge of this.
“It is my affair,” he said–“my fault! It was not a fair place to fight. Why did I strike? I must attend to this bad work.”
“MAIS, SACRE BLEU!” they answered, “how could you help it? He forced you. You did not want to be killed. That would be a little too much.”
“No,” he persisted, “this is my affair. Girard, you know my money is with the notary. There is plenty. Raoul has not enough, perhaps not any. But he shall want nothing–you understand–nothing! It is my affair, all that he needs–but you shall not tell him–no! That is all.”
Prosper had his way. But he did not see Vaillantcoeur after he was carried home and put to bed in his cabin. Even if he had tried to do so, it would have been impossible. He could not see anybody. One of his eyes was entirely destroyed. The inflammation spread to the other, and all through the autumn he lay in his house, drifting along the edge of blindness, while Raoul lay in his house slowly getting well.
The cure went from one house to the other, but he did not carry any messages between them. If any were sent one way they were not received. And the other way, none were sent. Raoul did not speak of Prosper; and if one mentioned his name, Raoul shut his mouth and made no answer.
To the cure, of course, it was a distress and a misery. To have a hatred like this unhealed, was a blot on the parish; it was a shame, as well as a sin. At last–it was already winter, the day before Christmas–the cure made up his mind that he would put forth one more great effort.
“Look you, my son,” he said to Prosper, “I am going this afternoon to Raoul Vaillantcoeur to make the reconciliation. You shall give me a word to carry to him. He shall hear it this time, I promise you. Shall I tell him what you have done for him, how you have cared for him?”
“No, never,” said Prosper; “you shall not take that word from me. It is nothing. It will make worse trouble. I will never send it.”
“What then?” said the priest. “Shall I tell him that you forgive him?”
“No, not that,” answered Prosper, “that would be a foolish word. What would that mean? It is not I who can forgive. I was the one who struck hardest. It was he that fell from the tower.”
“Well, then, choose the word for yourself. What shall it be? Come, I promise you that he shall hear it. I will take with me the notary, and the good man Girard, and the little Marie Antoinette. You shall hear an answer. What message?”
“Mon pere,” said Prosper, slowly, “you shall tell him just this. I, Prosper Leclere, ask Raoul Vaillantcoeur that he will forgive me for not fighting with him on the ground when he demanded it.”
Yes, the message was given in precisely those words. Marie Antoinette stood within the door, Bergeron and Girard at the foot of the bed, and the cure spoke very clearly and firmly. Vaillantcoeur rolled on his pillow and turned his face away. Then he sat up in bed, grunting a little with the pain in his shoulder, which was badly set. His black eyes snapped like the eyes of a wolverine in a corner.
“Forgive?” he said, “no, never. He is a coward. I will never forgive!”
A little later in the afternoon, when the rose of sunset lay on the snowy hills, some one knocked at the door of Leclere’s house.
“ENTREZ!” he cried. “Who is there? I see not very well by this light. Who is it?”
“It is me, said ‘Toinette, her cheeks rosier than the snow outside, “nobody but me. I have come to ask you to tell me the rest about that new carriage–do you remember?”
The voice in the canoe behind me ceased. The rain let up. The SLISH, SLISH of the paddle stopped. The canoe swung sideways to the breeze. I heard the RAP, RAP, RAP of a pipe on the gunwale, and the quick scratch of a match on the under side of the thwart.
“What are you doing, Ferdinand?”
“I go to light the pipe, m’sieu’.”
“Is the story finished?”
“But yes–but no–I know not, m’sieu’. As you will.”
“But what did old Girard say when his daughter broke her engagement and married a man whose eyes were spoiled?”
“He said that Leclere could see well enough to work with him in the store.”
“And what did Vaillantcoeur say when he lost his girl?”
“He said it was a cursed shame that one could not fight a blind man.”
“And what did ‘Toinette say?”
“She said she had chosen the bravest heart in Abbeville.”
“And Prosper–what did he say?”
“M’sieu’, I know not. He said it only to ‘Toinette.”