On the last Friday of October Auclair went as usual to the market, held in front of Notre Dame de la Victoire, the only church in the Lower Town. All the trade in Quebec went on in the Lower Town, and the principal merchants lived on the market square. Their houses were built solidly around three sides of it, wall against wall, the shops on the ground floor, the dwelling-quarters upstairs. On the fourth side stood the church. The merchants’ houses had formerly been of wood, but sixteen years ago, just after the Count de Frontenac was recalled to France, leaving Canada a prey to so many misfortunes, the Lower Town had been almost entirely wiped out by fire. It was rebuilt in stone, to prevent a second disaster. This square, which was the centre of commerce, now had a look of permanence and stability; houses with walls four feet thick, wide doorways, deep windows, steep, slated roofs and dormers. La Place, as it was called, was an uneven rectangle, cobble-paved, sloping downhill like everything else in Quebec, with gutters to carry off the rainfall. In the middle was a grass plot (pitifully small, indeed), protected by an iron fence and surmounted by a very ugly statue of King Louis.
On market days the space about this iron fence was considered the right of the countrywomen, who trudged into Quebec at dawn beside the dogs that drew their little two-wheeled carts. Against the fence they laid out their wares; white bodies of dressed ducks and chickens, sausages, fresh eggs, cheese, butter, and such vegetables as were in season. On the outer edge of the square the men stationed their carts, on which they displayed quarters of fresh pork, live chickens, maple sugar, spruce beer, Indian meal, feed for cows, and long black leaves of native tobacco tied in bunches. The fish and eel carts, because of their smell and slimy drip, had a corner of the square to themselves, just at the head of La Place Street. The fishmongers threw buckets of cold water over their wares at intervals, and usually a group of little boys played just below, building “beaver-dams” in the gutter to catch the overflow.
This was an important market day, and Auclair went down the hill early. The black frosts might set in at any time now, and today he intended to lay in his winter supply of carrots, pumpkins, potatoes, turnips, beetroot, leeks, garlic, even salads. On many of the wagons there were boxes full of earth, with rooted lettuce plants growing in them. These the townspeople put away in their cellars, and by tending them carefully and covering them at night they kept green salad growing until Christmas or after. Auclair’s neighbour, Pigeon the baker, had a very warm cellar, and he grew little carrots and spinach down there long after winter had set in. The great vaulted cellars of the Jesuits and the Récollet friars looked like kitchen gardens when the world above ground was frozen stark. Careless people got through the winter on smoked eels and frozen fish, but if one were willing to take enough trouble, one could live very well, even in Quebec. It was the long, slow spring, March, April, early May, that tried the patience. By that time the winter stores had run low, people were tired of makeshifts, and still not a bud, not a salad except under cold-frames.
The market was full of wood doves this morning. They were killed in great numbers hereabouts, were sold cheap, and made very delicate eating. Every fall Auclair put down six dozens of them in melted lard. He had six stone jars in his cellar for that purpose, packing a dozen birds to the jar. In this way he could eat fresh game all winter, and, preserved thus, the birds kept their flavour. Frozen venison was all very well, but feathered creatures lost their taste when kept frozen a long while.
Auclair carried his purchases over to the cart of his butter-maker, Madame Renaude. Renaude-le-lièvre, she was called, because she had a hare-lip, and a bristling black moustache as well. She was a big, rough Norman woman, who owned seven cows, was extremely clean about her dairy, and quite the reverse in her conversation. In the town there was keen competition for her wares; but as she was rheumatic, she was more or less in thralldom to the apothecary, and seldom failed him.
“Good morning, Madame Renaude. Have you my lard for me this morning, as you promised? I must buy my wood doves today.”
“Yes, Monsieur Auclair, and I had to kill my pet pig to get it for you, too; one that had slept under the same roof with me.”
She spoke very loud, and the farmer at the next stall made an indecent comment.
“Hold your dirty jaw, Joybert. If I had a bad egg, I’d paste you.” Old Joybert squinted and looked the other way. “Yes, Monsieur Auclair, you never saw such lard as he made, as sweet as butter. He made two firkins. Surely you won’t need so much, — I can sell it anywhere.”
“Yes, indeed, madame, I shall need every bit of it. Six dozen birds I have to put down, and I can’t do with less.”
“But, monsieur, what do you do with the grease after you take your doves out?”
“Why, some of it we use in cooking, and the rest I think my daughter gives to our neighbours.”
“To that Blinker, eh? That’s a waste! If you were to bring it back to me, I could easily sell it over again and we could both of us make something. The hunters who come up from Three Rivers in winter carry nothing but cold grease to fill their bellies. You forget you are not in France, monsieur. Here grease is meat, not something to throw to criminals.”
“I will consider the matter, madame. Now that I am sure of my lard, I must go and select my birds. Good morning, and thank you.”
After he had finished his marketing, Auclair put his basket down on the church steps and went inside to say a prayer. Notre Dame de la Victoire was a plain, solid little church, built of very hard rough stone. It had already stood through one bombardment from the waterside, and was dear to the people for that reason. The windows were narrow and set high, like the windows in a fortress, making an agreeable dusk inside. Occasionally, as someone entered to pray, a flash of sunlight and a buzz of talk came in from the Place, cut off when the door closed again.
While the apothecary was meditating in the hush and dusk of the church, he noticed a little boy, kneeling devoutly at one after another of the Stations of the Cross. He was at once interested, for he knew this child very well; a chunky, rather clumsy little boy of six, unkept and uncared for, dressed in a pair of old sailor’s breeches, cut off in the leg for him and making a great bulk of loose cloth about his thighs. His ragged jacket was as much too tight as the trousers were too loose, and this gave him the figure of a salt-shaker. He did not look at Auclair or the several others who came and went, being entirely absorbed in his devotions. His lips moved inaudibly, he knelt and rose slowly, clumsily, very carefully, his cap under his arm. Though all his movements were so deliberate, his attention did not wander, — seemed intently, heavily fixed. Auclair carefully remained in the shadow, making no sign of recognition. He respected the child’s seriousness.
This boy was the son of ‘Toinette Gaux, a young woman who was quite irreclaimable. Antoinette was Canadian-born; her mother had been one of the “King’s Girls,” as they were called. Thirty years ago King Louis had sent several hundred young Frenchwomen out to Canada to marry the bachelors of the disbanded regiment of Carignan–Salières. Many of these girls were orphans or poor girls of good character; but some were bad enough, and ‘Toinette’s mother proved one of the worst. She had one daughter, this ‘Toinette, — as pretty and as worthless a girl as ever made eyes at the sailors in any seaport town in France. It once happened that ‘Toinette fell in love, and then she made great promises of reform. One of the hands on La Gironde had come down with a fever in Quebec and was lying sick in the Hôtel Dieu when his ship sailed for France. After he was discharged from the hospital, he found himself homeless in a frontier town in winter, too weak to work. ‘Toinette took him in, drove her old sweethearts away, and married him. But soon after this boy, Jacques, was born, she returned to her old ways, and her husband disappeared. It was thought that his shipmates had hidden him on board La Gironde and taken him home.
‘Toinette and another woman now kept a sailors’ lodging-house in the Lower Town, up beyond the King’s warehouses. They were commonly called La Grenouille and L’Escargot, because, every summer, when the ships from France began to come in, they stuck in their window two placards: “FROGS,” “SNAILS,” to attract the hungry sailors, whether they had those delicacies on hand or not. ‘Toinette, called La Grenouille, was still good to look at; yellow hair, red cheeks, lively blue eyes, an impudent red mouth over small pointed teeth, like a squirrel’s. Her partner, the poor snail, was a vacant creature, scarcely more than half-witted, — and the hard work, of course, was put off on her.
This unfortunate child, Jacques, in spite of his bad surroundings, was a very decent little fellow. He told the truth, he tried to be clean, he was devoted to Cécile and her father. When he came to their house to play, they endeavoured to give him some sort of bringing-up, though it was difficult, because his mother was fiercely jealous.
It was two years ago, soon after her mother’s death, that Cécile had first noticed Jacques playing about the market place, and begun to bring him home with her, wash his face, and give him a piece of good bread to eat. Auclair thought it natural for a little girl to adopt a friendless child, to want something to care for after having helped to care for her mother so long. But he did not greatly like the idea of anything at all coming from La Grenouille’s house to his, and he was determined to deprive Cécile of her playfellow if he saw any signs of his bad blood. Observing the little boy closely, he had come to feel a real affection for him.
Once, not long ago, when the children were having their goûter in the salon, and the apothecary was writing at his desk, he overheard Jacques telling Cécile where he would kick any boy who broke down his beaver-dam, and he used a nasty word.
“Oh, Jacques!” Cécile exclaimed, “that is some horrible word you have heard the sailors say!”
Auclair, glancing through the partition, saw the child’s pale face stiffen and his round eyes stare; he said nothing at all, but he looked frightened. The apothecary guessed at once that it was not from a sailor but from La Grenouille herself he had got that expression.
Cécile went on scolding him. “Now I am going to do what the Sisters at the convent do when a child says anything naughty. Come into the kitchen, and I will wash your mouth out with soap. It is the only way to make your mouth clean.”
All this time Jacques said nothing. He went obediently into the kitchen with Cécile, and when he came back he was wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.
“Is it gone?” he asked solemnly.
This morning, as Auclair watched Jacques at his devotions, it occurred to him that the boatmen who brought the merchants up from Montreal to see the Count were doubtless staying with La Grenouille. Likely enough something rowdy had gone on there last night, and the little boy felt a need of expiation. The apothecary went out of the church softly and took up his basket. All the way up the hill he wondered why La Grenouille should have a boy like that.
When he reached home, he called Cécile, who was busy in the room upstairs, where she slept until cold weather. As he gave her his basket, he asked her whether she had seen Jacques lately.
“No, I haven’t happened to. Why, is anything the matter?”
“Oh, nothing that I know of. But I saw him in church just now, saying his prayers at the Stations of the Cross, and I felt sorry for him. Perhaps he is getting old enough to realize.”
“Was he clean, Papa?”
The apothecary shook his head.
“Far from clean. I never saw him so badly off. His toes were sticking out of his shoes, and when he knelt I could see that he had no stockings on.”
“Oh, dear, and I have never finished the pair I began for him! Papa, if you were to let me off from reading to you for a few evenings, I could soon get them done.”
“But his shoes, daughter! It would be a mere waste to give the child new stockings. And shoes are very dear.”
Cécile sat down for a moment and thought, while her father put on his shop apron. “Papa,” she said suddenly, “would you allow me to speak to the Count? He is kind to children, and I believe he would get Jacques some shoes.”
That afternoon Cécile ran up the hill with a light heart. She was always glad of a reason for going to the Château, — often slipped into the courtyard merely to see who was on guard duty. Her little friend Giorgio, the drummer boy, was at his post on the steps before the great door, and the moment he saw Cécile he snatched his drumsticks from his trousers pocket and executed a rapid flourish in the air above his drum, making no noise. Cécile laughed, and the boy grinned. This was an old joke, but they still found it amusing. Giorgio was stationed there to announce the arrival of the commanding officer, and of all distinguished persons, by a flourish on his drum. The drum-call echoed amazingly in the empty court, could be heard even in the apothecary shop down the hill, so that one always knew when the Count had visitors.
Cécile told the soldier on duty that she would like to see Picard, the Count’s valet, and while she waited for him, she went up the steps to talk with Giorgio and to ask him if his cold were better, and when he had last heard from his mother.
The boy’s real name was Georges Million; his family lived over on the Île d’Orléans, and his father was a farmer, Canadian-born. But the old grandfather, who was of course the head of the house, had come from Haute–Savoie as a drummer in the Carignan–Salières regiment. He played the Alpine horn as well, and still performed on the flute at country weddings. This grandson, Georges, took after him, — was musical and wanted nothing in the world but a soldier’s life. When he was fifteen, he came into Quebec and begged the Governor to let him enter the native militia. He was very small for his age, but he was a good-looking boy, and the Count took him on as a drummer until he should grow tall enough to enlist. He put him into a blue coat, high boots, and a three-cornered hat, and stationed him at the door to welcome visitors. For some reason the Count always called him Giorgio, and that had become his name in Quebec.
Giorgio’s life was monotonous; his duties were to keep clean and trim, and to stand perfectly idle in a draughty courtyard for hours at a time. There were very few distinguished persons in Quebec, and not all of those were on calling terms with Count Frontenac. The Intendant, de Champigny, came to the Château when it was necessary, but his relations with the Count were formal rather than cordial. Sometimes, indeed, he brought Madame de Champigny with him, and when they rolled up in their carrosse, Giorgio had a great opportunity. Old Bishop Laval, who would properly have been announced by the drum, had not crossed the threshold of the Château for years. The new Bishop had called but twice since his return from France. Dollier de Casson, Superior of the Sulpician Seminary at Montreal, was a person to be greeted by the drum, and so was Jacques Le Ber, the rich merchant. Sometimes Daniel du Lhut, the explorer in command of Fort Frontenac, came to Quebec, and, very rarely, Henri de Tonti, — that one-armed hero who had an iron hook in place of a hand. For all Indian chiefs and messengers, too, Giorgio could beat his drum long and loud. This form of welcome was very gratifying to the savages. But often the days passed one after another when the drummer had no one to salute but the officers of the fort, and life was very dull for him.
When a friendly soldier was on guard, Cécile would often run in to give the drummer boy some cardamon seeds or raisins from her father’s shop, and to gossip with him for a while. This afternoon their talk was cut short by the arrival of the Count’s valet, through whom one approached his master. Picard had been with the Count since the Turkish wars, and Cécile had known him ever since she could remember. He took her by the hand and led her into the Château and upstairs to the Count’s private apartment in the south wing.
The apartment was of but two rooms, a dressing-cabinet and a long room with windows on two sides, which was both chamber and study. The Governor was seated at a writing-table in the south end, a considerable distance from his fireplace and his large curtained bed. He was nearly eighty years old, but he had changed very little since Cécile could remember him, except that his teeth had grown yellow. He still walked, rode, struck, as vigorously as ever, and only two years ago he had gone hundreds of miles into the wilderness on one of the hardest Indian campaigns of his life. When Picard spoke to him, he laid down his pen, beckoned Cécile with a long forefinger, put his arm about her familiarly, and drew her close to his side, inquiring about her health and her father’s. As he talked to her, his eyes took on a look of uneasy, mocking playfulness, with a slightly sarcastic curl of the lips. Cécile was not afraid of him. He had always been one of the important figures in her life; when she was little she used to like to sit on his knee, because he wore such white linen, and satin waistcoats with jewelled buttons. He took great care of his person when he was at home. Nothing annoyed him so much as his agent’s neglecting to send him his supply of lavender-water by the first boat in the spring. It vexed him more than a sharp letter from the Minister, or even from the King.
After replying to his courtesies Cécile began at once:
“Monsieur le Comte, you know little Jacques Gaux, the son of La Grenouille?”
The old soldier nodded and sniffed, drooping the lid slightly over one eye, — an expression of his regard for a large class of women. She understood.
“But he is a good little boy, Monsieur le Comte, and he cannot help it about his mother. You know she neglects him, and just now he is very badly off for shoes. I am knitting him some stockings, but the shoes we cannot manage.”
“And if I were to give you an order on the cobbler? That is soon done. It is very nice of you to knit stockings for him. Do you knit your own?”
“Of course, monsieur! And my father’s.”
The old Count looked at her from out his deep eye-sockets, and felt for the hard spots on her palm. “You are content down there, keeping house for your father? Not much time for play, I take it?”
“Oh, everything we do, my father and I, is a kind of play.”
He gave a dry chuckle. “Well said! Everything we do is. It gets rather tiresome, — but not at your age, perhaps. I am very well pleased with you, Cécile, because you do so well for your father. We have too many idle girls in Kebec, and I cannot say that Kebec is exceptional. I have been about the world a great deal, and I have found only one country where the women like to work, — in Holland. They have made an ugly country very pretty.” He slipped a piece of money into her hand. “That is for your charities. Get the frog’s son what he needs, and Picard will give Noël Pommier an order for his shoes. And is there nothing you would like for yourself? I have never forgot what a brave sailor you were on the voyage over. You cried only once, and that was when we were coming into the Gulf, and a bird of prey swooped down and carried off a little bird that perched on one of our yard-arms. I wish I had some sweetmeats; you do not often pay me a visit.”
“Perhaps you would let me look at your glass fruit,” Cécile suggested.
The Count got up and led her to the mantelpiece. Between the tall silver candlesticks stood a crystal bowl full of glowing fruits of coloured glass: purple figs, yellow-green grapes with gold vine-leaves, apricots, nectarines, and a dark citron stuck up endwise among the grapes. The fruits were hollow, and the light played in them, throwing coloured reflections into the mirror and upon the wall above.
“That was a present from a Turkish prisoner whose life I spared when I was holding the island of Crete,” the Count told her. “It was made by the Saracens. They blow it into those shapes while the glass is melted. Every piece is hollow; that is why they look alive. Here in Canada it reminds one of the South. You admire it?”
“More than anything I have ever seen,” said Cécile fervently.
He laughed. “I like it myself, or I should not have taken so much trouble to bring it over. I think I must leave it to you in my will.”
“Oh, thank you, monsieur, but it is quite enough to look at it; one would never forget it. It is much lovelier than real fruit.” She curtsied and thanked him again and went out softly to where Picard was waiting for her in the hall. She wished that she could some time go there when the Count was away, and look as long as she pleased at the glass fruit and at the tapestries on the walls of the long room. They were from his estate at Île Savary and represented garden scenes. One could study them for hours without seeing all the flowers and figures.
The next morning Auclair sent Cécile up to the Ursuline convent with some borax de Venise which the Mother Superior required, and a bottle of asafoetida for one of the Sisters who was ailing. At this time of year Cécile always felt a little homesick for the Sisters and her old life at the Ursuline school. She had left it so early, because of her mother’s illness, and she never passed the garden walls without looking wistfully at the tree-tops which rose above them. From her walks on Cap Diamant she could look down into the rectangular courts and see, through the leafless boughs, the rows of dormer windows in the white roofs, each opening into a Sister’s bare little room. One teacher she loved better than any of the others: Sister Anne de Sainte–Rose, who taught history and the French language. She was a niece of the Bishop of Tours, had been happily married, and had led a brilliant life in the great world. Only after the death of her young husband and infant son had she become a religious. She had charm and wit and the remains of great beauty — everything that would appeal to a little girl brought up on a rude frontier. Cécile still saw her when she went to the convent on errands, and she was always invited to the little miracle plays which Sister Anne had the pensionnaires give at Christmas-time, for the good of their French and their deportment. But her little visits with her teacher were very short, — stolen pleasures. The nuns were always busy, and if you once dropped out of the school life, you could not share it any more.
This morning she did not see Sister Anne at all; and after delivering her packages to Sister Agatha, the porteress, she turned away to enjoy the weather. It was on days like this that she loved her town best. The autumn fog was rolling in from the river so thick that she seemed to be walking through drifts of brown cloud. Only a few roofs and spires stood out in the fog, detached and isolated: the flèche of the Récollet chapel, the slate roof of the Château, the long, grey outline of Bishop Laval’s Seminary, floating in the sky. Everything else was blotted out by rolling vapours that were constantly changing in density and colour; now brown, now amethyst, now reddish lavender, with sometimes a glow of orange overhead where the sun was struggling behind the thick weather.
It was like walking in a dream. One could not see the people one passed, or the river, or one’s own house. Not even the winter snows gave one such a feeling of being cut off from everything and living in a world of twilight and miracles. After loitering on her way, she set off for the Lower Town to look for Jacques.
Cécile never on any account went to his mother’s house to find him. Sometimes, in searching for him, she went behind the King’s warehouses, as far as the stone paving extended. Beyond the paving the strip of beach directly underneath Cap Diamant grew so narrow that there was room for barely a dozen houses to sit in a straight line against the foot of the cliff, and they were the slum of Quebec. Respectability stopped with the cobble-stones.
This morning she did not have to go so far; she found Jacques in a group of little boys who had kindled a fire of sticks at the foot of Notre Dame street, behind the church. Before she came up to the children, a light sprinkle began to fall. In a few seconds all the brownish-lilac masses of vapour melted away, leaving a lead-coloured sky, and the rain came down in streams, like water poured from a great height. Cécile caught Jacques by the arm and ran with him into the church, which had often been a refuge to them in winter. Not that the church was ever heated, but in there one was out of the wind, and perhaps the bright colours made one feel the cold less. This morning the church was empty, except for an old man and three women at their prayers. There were a few benches on either side of the nave, for old people who could not stand during mass, and the children slipped into one of these, sitting close together to keep warm.
“It’s been a long time since we were in here together,” Cécile whispered.
“But you come in to say your prayers, don’t you, every day?”
“I think so,” he answered vaguely.
“That is right. I like this church better than any other. Even in the chapel of the Ursulines I don’t feel so much at home, though I used to be there every day when I was going to school. This is our own church, isn’t it, Jacques?”
He glanced up at her and smiled faintly. This child never looked very well. He was not thin, — rather chunky, on the contrary, — but there was no colour in his cheeks, or even in his lips. That, Cécile knew, was because he wasn’t properly nourished.
“You might tell me about some nice saint,” said Jacques presently. She began to whisper the story of Saint Anthony of Padua, who stood quite near them, ruddy and handsome, with a sheaf of lilies on one arm and the Holy Child on the other.
It chanced that this one church in the Lower Town, near Jacques’s little world, where he and Cécile had so often made rendezvous, was peculiarly the church of childhood. It had been renamed Notre Dame de la Victoire five years ago, after the Count had driven off Sir William Phips’s besieging fleet, in recognition of the protection which Our Lady had afforded Quebec in that hour of danger. But originally it was called the Church of the Infant Jesus, and the furnishings and decorations which had been sent over from France were appropriate for a church of that name.
Two paintings hung in the Lady Chapel, both of Sainte Geneviève as a little girl. In one she sat under a tree in a meadow, with a flock of sheep all about her, and a distaff in her hand, while two angels watched her from a distance. In the other she was reading an illuminated scroll, — but here, too, she was in a field and surrounded by her flock.
The high altar was especially interesting to children, though it was not nearly so costly or so beautiful as the altar in the Ursulines’ chapel with its delicate gold-work. It was very simple indeed, — but definite. It was a representation of a feudal castle, all stone walls and towers. The outer wall was low and thick, with many battlements; the second was higher, with fewer battlements; the third seemed to be the wall of the palace itself, with towers and many windows. Within the arched gateway (hung with little velvet curtains that were green or red or white according to the day) the Host was kept. Cécile had always taken it for granted that the Kingdom of Heaven looked exactly like this from the outside and was surrounded by just such walls; that this altar was a reproduction of it, made in France by people who knew; just as the statues of the saints and of the Holy Family were portraits. She had taught Jacques to believe the same thing, and it was very comforting to them both to know just what Heaven looked like, — strong and unassailable, wherever it was set among the stars.
Out of this walled castle rose three tall stone towers, with holy figures on them. On one stood a grave Sainte Anne, regally clad like a great lady of this world, with a jewelled coronet upon her head. On her arm sat a little dark-skinned Virgin, her black hair cut straight across the back like a scholar’s, her hands joined in prayer. Sainte Anne was noble in bearing, but not young; her delicately featured face was rather worn by life, and sad. She seemed to know beforehand all the sorrows of her own family, and of the world it was to succour.
On the central tower, which was the tallest and rose almost to the roof of the church, the Blessed Mother and Child stood high up among the shadows. Today, with the leaden sky and floods of rain, it was too dark up there to see her clearly; but the children thought they saw her, because they knew her face so well. She was by far the loveliest of all the Virgins in Kebec, a charming figure of young motherhood, — oh, very young, and radiantly happy, with a stately crown, and a long, blue cloak that parted in front over a scarlet robe. The little Jesus on her arm was not a baby, — he looked as if he would walk if she put him down, and walk very well. He was so intelligent and gay, a child in a bright and joyful mood, both arms outstretched in a gesture of welcome, as if he were giving a fête for his little friends and were in the act of receiving them. He was a little Lord indeed, in his gaiety and graciousness and savoir-faire.
The rain fell on the roof and drove against the windows. Outside, the ledges of bare rock and all the sloping streets were running water; everything was slippery and shiny with wet. The children sat contentedly in their corner, feeling the goodness of shelter. Jacques remarked that it would be nice if there were more candles. The tapers on the votive candle-stand were burning low, and nobody was coming in now because of the downpour. It was pleasanter, they agreed, when there were enough candles burning before Sainte Anne to show the gold flowers on her cloak.
“Why don’t you light a candle, Cécile?” Jacques asked. “You do, sometimes.”
“Yes, but this morning I haven’t any money with me.”
Jacques sighed. “It would be nice,” he repeated.
“I wonder, Jacques, if it would be wrong for me to take a candle, and then bring the ten sous down later, when the rain stops.”
Jacques brightened. He thought that a very good idea.
“But it’s irregular, Jacques. Perhaps it would not be right.”
“You wouldn’t forget, would you?”
“Oh, no! But I might be struck by lightning or something on the way home. And then, I expect, I’d die in sin.”
“But I would tell your father, and he would give me the ten sous to put in the box. I wouldn’t forget.”
She saw he wanted very much to light a candle. “Well, perhaps. I’ll try it this once, and I’ll light one for you, too. Only be sure you don’t forget, if anything happens to me.”
They went softly up to the feet of Sainte Anne, where the candles were burning down in the metal basin. Each of them took a fresh taper from the box underneath, lit it, and fitted its hollow base upon one of the little metal horns. After saying a prayer they returned to their bench to enjoy the sight of the two new bright spots in the brownish gloom. Sure enough, when the fresh tapers were burning well, the gold flowers on Sainte Anne’s cloak began to show; not entire, but wherever there was a fold in the mantle, the gold seemed to flow like a glistening liquid. Her figure emerged from the dusk in a rich, oily, yellow light.
After a long silence Jacques spoke.
“Cécile, all the saints in this church like children, don’t they?”
“Oh, yes! And Our Lord loves children. Because He was a child Himself, you know.”
Jacques had something else in mind. In a moment he brought it out. “Sometimes sailors are fond of children, too.”
“Yes,” she agreed with some hesitation.
He sensed a reservation in her voice.
“And they’re awful brave,” he went on feelingly. “If it wasn’t for the sailors, we wouldn’t have any ships from France, or anything.”
“That’s true,” Cécile assented.
Jacques relapsed into silence. He was thinking of a jolly Breton sailor who had played with him in the summer, and carved him a marvellous beaver out of wood and painted its teeth white. He had sailed away on La Garonne three weeks ago, nearly breaking Jacques’s heart. With that curious tact of childhood, which fails less often than the deepest diplomacy, Jacques almost never referred to his mother or her house or the people who came there, when he was with Cécile and her father. When he went to see them, he left his little past behind him, as it were.
At last the fall of water on the roof grew fainter, and the light clearer. Cécile said she must be going home now. “Come along with me, Jacques. Never mind about your clothes,” seeing that he hung back, “that will be all right. Perhaps my father will give you a bath while I am getting our déjeuner, and we will all have our chocolate together.”
As they quitted their bench, someone entered the church; a very heavy, tall old man with wide, stooping shoulders and a head hanging forward. When he took off his shovel hat at the door, a black skull-cap still remained over his scanty locks. He carried a cane and seemed to move his legs with some difficulty under his long, black gown. It was old Bishop Laval himself, who had been storm-bound for an hour and more at the house of one of the merchants on the square. Cécile hurried up to him before he should have time to kneel.
“Excuse me, Monseigneur l’Ancien,” she said respectfully, “but if it is quite convenient would you be so kind as to lend me twenty sous?”
The old man looked down at her, frowning. His eyes were large and full, but set deep back under his forehead. He had such a very large, drooping nose, and such a grim, bitter mouth, that he might well have frightened a child who didn’t know him. With considerable difficulty he got a little black purse out from under his gown. There was not much in it.
“You see,” Cécile explained, “the little boy and I wished to offer candles, and I had no money with me. I was going up to my father’s shop to get some, but I would rather not leave the church owing for the candles.”
The old man nodded and looked slightly amused. He put two pieces in her hand, and she went to the front of the church to slip them in the box, leaving Jacques, who had got back against the wall as far as he could go, to bear the scrutiny of the Bishop’s smouldering eyes. When she came back, she found them regarding each other in silence, but very intently; the old man staring down from his height, the little boy, his finger in his mouth, looking up at the Bishop shyly, but in a way that struck her as very personal. Cécile took him by the hand and led him to the door. Glancing back over her shoulder, she saw the Bishop sink heavily to his knees with something between a sigh and a groan.
Everything was glittering when they stepped out into the square; no sun yet, but a bright rain-grey light, silver and cut steel and pearl on the grey roofs and walls. Long veils of smoky fog were caught in the pine forests across the river. And how fresh the air smelled!
“Jacques,” Cécile asked wonderingly, “do you know Monseigneur Laval? Did he ever talk to you?”
“I think once he did.”
“I don’t remember.”
They went hand in hand up the hill.
He both did and did not remember; it came back to him in flashes, unrelated pictures, like a dream. Perhaps it was a dream. He could never have told Cécile about it, since it was hard for him to talk even about things he knew very well. But whenever he chanced to see old Bishop Laval, he felt that once, long ago, something pleasant had happened between them.
It had happened two years ago, when he was only four, before he knew the Auclairs at all. It was in January. A light, sticky snow had fallen irresolutely, at intervals, all day. Toward evening the weather changed; the sun emerged, just sinking over the great pine forest to the west, hung there, an angry ball, and all the snow-covered rock blazed in orange fire. The sun became a half-circle, then a mere red eyebrow, then dropped behind the forest, leaving the air clear blue, and much colder, with a pale lemon moon riding high overhead. There was no wind, it was a night of still moonlight, and within an hour after sunset the wet snow had frozen fast over roofs and spires and trees. Everything on the rock was sheathed in glittering white ice. It was a sight to stir the dullest blood. Some trappers from Three Rivers were in town. They had supper with La Grenouille, and afterwards persuaded her to go for a ride in their dog-sledges up the frozen St. Lawrence. Jacques was in bed asleep. ‘Toinette threw an extra blanket over him and put an armful of wood in the stove, then went off with the young men, taking L’Escargot with her. She meant to be out only an hour or two; but they had plenty of brandy along to keep them warm, and so they made a night of it. Dog-sledging by moonlight on that broad marble highway, with no wind, was fine sport.
After she had been gone a couple of hours, Jacques wakened up very cold and called for his mother. Presently he got up and went to look for her. He went to L’Escargot’s bed, and that, too, was empty. The moonlight shone in brightly, but the fire had gone out, and all about him things creaked with the cold. He found his shoes and an old shawl and went out into the snow to look for his mother. The poor neighbour houses were silent. He went behind the King’s storehouse and up Notre Dame street to the market square. The worthy merchants were long ago in bed, and all the houses were dark except one, where the mother of the family was very sick. The statue of King Louis, with a cloak and helmet of snow, looked terrifying in the moonlight. Jacques already knew better than to knock at that solid, comfortable house where he saw a lighted window; he knew his mother wasn’t well thought of by these rich people. Not knowing where to turn, he took the only forward way there was, up Mountain Hill.
Luckily, one other person was abroad that night. Old Bishop Laval, who never spared himself, had been down to the square to sit with the sick woman. He came toiling up the hill in his fur cloak and his tall fur cap, which was almost as imposing as his episcopal mitre, a cane in one hand, a lantern in the other. His valet followed behind. They were passing the new Bishop’s Palace, now cold and empty, as Monseigneur de Saint–Vallier was in France. Just as they wound under the retaining wall of the terrace, they heard a child crying. The Bishop stopped and flashed his lantern this way and that. On the flight of stone steps that led up through the wall to the episcopal residence, he saw a little boy, almost a baby, sitting in the snow, crouching back against the masonry.
“Where does he belong?” asked the Bishop of his donné.
“Ah, that I cannot tell, Monseigneur,” replied Houssart.
“Pick him up and bring him along,” said the Bishop.
“Unbutton your coat and hold him against your body.” The lantern moved on.
The old Bishop lived in the Priests’ House, built as a part of his Seminary. His private rooms were poor and small. All his silver plate and velvet and linen he had given away little by little, to needy parishes, to needy persons. He had given away the revenues of his abbeys in France, and had transferred his vast grants of Canadian land to the Seminary. He lived in naked poverty.
When they reached home, he commanded Houssart to build a fire in the fireplace at once (had he been alone he would have undressed and gone to bed in the cold) and to heat water, that he might give the child a warm bath.
“Is there any milk?” he asked.
Houssart hesitated. “A little, for your chocolate in the morning, Monseigneur.”
“Get it and put it to warm on the hearth. Pour a little cognac in it, and bring any bread there is in the house.”
One strange thing Jacques could remember afterwards. He was sitting on the edge of a narrow bed, wrapped in a blanket, in the light of a blazing fire. He had just been washed in warm water; the basin was still on the floor. Beside it knelt a very large old man with big eyes and a great drooping nose and a little black cap on his head, and he was rubbing Jacques’s feet and legs very softly with a towel. They were all alone then, just the two of them, and the fire was bright enough to see clearly. What he remembered particularly was that this old man, after he had dried him like this, bent down and took his foot in his hand and kissed it; first the one foot, then the other. That much Jacques remembered.
When the servant returned, they gave the child warm milk with a little bread in it, and put him into the Bishop’s bed, though Houssart begged to take him to his own.
“No, we will not move him. He is falling asleep already. I do not know if that flush means a fever or not.”
“Monseigneur,” Houssart whispered, “now that I have seen him in the light, I recognize this child. He is the son of that ‘Toinette Gaux, the woman they call La Grenouille.”
“Ah!” the old man nodded thoughtfully. “That, too, may have a meaning. Throw more wood on the fire and go. I shall rest here in my arm-chair with my fur coat over my knees until it is time to ring the bell.” The Bishop got up at four o’clock every morning, dressed without a fire, went with his lantern into the church, and rang the bell for early mass for the working people. Many good people who did not want to go to mass at all, when they heard that hoarse, frosty bell clanging out under the black sky where there was not yet even a hint of daybreak, groaned and went to the church. Because they thought of the old Bishop at the end of the bell-rope, and because his will was stronger than theirs. He was a stubborn, high-handed, tyrannical, quarrelsome old man, but no one could deny that he shepherded his sheep.
When his donné had gone and he was left with the sleeping child, the Bishop settled his swollen legs upon a stool, covered them with his cloak, and sank into meditation. This was not an accident, he felt. Why had he found, on the steps of that costly episcopal residence built in scorn of him and his devotion to poverty, a male child, half-clad and crying in the merciless cold? Why had this reminder of his Infant Saviour been just there, under that house which he never passed without bitterness, which was like a thorn in his flesh? Had he been too much absorbed in his struggles with governors and intendants, in the heavy labour of founding and fixing his church upon this rock, in training a native priesthood and safeguarding their future?
Monseigneur de Laval had not always been a man of means and measures. Long ago, in Bernières’s Hermitage at Caen, his life had been wholly given up to meditation and prayer. Not until he was sent out to Canada to convert a frontier mission into an enduring part of the Church had he become a man of action. His life, as he reviewed it, fell into two even periods. The first thirty-six years had been given to purely personal religion, to bringing his mind and will into subjection to his spiritual guides. The last thirty-six years had been spent in bringing the minds and wills of other people into subjection to his own, — since he had but one will, and that was the supremacy of the Church in Canada. Might this occurrence tonight be a sign that it was time to return to that rapt and mystical devotion of his earlier life?
In the morning, after he returned from offering early mass in the church, before it was yet light, the Bishop sent his man about over the hill, to this house and that, wherever there were young children, begging of one shoes, of another a little frock, — whatever the mother could spare from the backs of her own brood.
‘Toinette Gaux had returned home meanwhile, and was frightened at missing her son. But she was ashamed to go out and look for him. Some neighbour would bring him back, she thought, — and, insolent as she was, she dreaded the moment. She got her deserts, certainly, when two long, black shadows fell upon the glistening snow before her door; the Bishop in his tall fur cap, prodding the icy crust with his cane, and behind him Houssart, carrying the little boy.
The Bishop came in without knocking, and motioned his man to put the child down and withdraw. He stood for some moments confronting the woman in silence. ‘Toinette was no fool; she felt all his awfulness; the long line of noble blood and authority behind him, the power of the Church and the power of the man. She wished the earth would swallow her. Not a shred of her impudence was left her. Her tongue went dry. His silence was so dreadful that it was a relief when he began to thunder and tell her that even the beasts of the forest protected their young (Les ourses et les louves protègent leurs petits). He meant to watch over this boy, he said; if she neglected him, he would take the child and put him with the Sisters of the Congregation, not here, but in Montreal, to place him as far as possible from a worthless mother.
‘Toinette knew that he would do it, too. When she was a little girl, she used to hear talk about just such a high-handed proceeding of the Bishop’s. A rich man in Quebec had brought a girl over from France to work as a bonne in his family. The Bishop thought she did not come to mass often enough and was not receiving proper religious training. So one day when he met her on the street, he took her by the hand and led her to the Ursuline convent and put her with the cloistered Sisters. There she stayed until the Governor gave her master a warrant to search the rock for his maid and take her wherever he found her. But ‘Toinette knew that a woman of her sort, without money or good repute, had little chance of getting her boy back if once the Bishop took him away.
She kept Jacques in the house all the rest of the winter, and never went out herself except L’Escargot was there to watch him. It was not until the summer ships came, bringing new lovers and new distractions, that Jacques was allowed to go into the streets to play.
Cécile was taking Jacques to Noël Pommier to be measured for his shoes. The cobbler lived half-way down Holy Family Hill, the steep street that plunged from the Cathedral down toward the St. Lawrence. There were other shoemakers in Quebec, but all persons of quality went to Pommier, unless they had had a short answer from him at some time. He would not hurry a piece of work for anybody, — not for the Count or the Intendant or the Bishop. If anyone tried to hurry him, he became surly and was likely to say something that a self-important person could not allow himself to overlook. It was rumoured that he had spoken unbecomingly to the valet of Monseigneur de Saint–Vallier, and had told him it would be better if his master had all his shoes made in Paris, where he spent so much of his time. Certainly the new Bishop had ceased to patronize him, which was a grief to Pommier’s pious mother.
When the children entered the cobbler’s door, they found him seated at his bench with a shoe between his knees, sewing the sole to the upper. Seeing that it was M. Auclair’s daughter, he rose and put down his work. He was a thick-set man with stooped shoulders; his head was grown over with coarse black hair cut short like bristles, his fleshy face was dark red, and seamed with hard creases. The purple veins that spread like little roots about his nostrils suggested an occasional indulgence in brandy. When Pommier stood up, with his blackened hands hanging beside his leather apron, and his corded, hairy arms bare to the elbow, he looked like a black bear standing upright. His eyes, too, were small like a bear’s, and somewhat bloodshot.
“Bonjour, Mademoiselle Cécile, what can I do for you?”
“If you please, Monsieur Pommier, I have brought little Jacques Gaux to be measured for his shoes. Has the Count’s valet spoken to you about it?”
Pommier nodded. “Sit down there, little man, and let me see.” He put Jacques down on a straw-topped stool (an old one his father had brought from Rouen, along with his bench and tools), took off the wretched foot-gear he had on, and began to study his feet and to make measurements.
While this was going on in deep silence, a door at the back of the house opened, and Pommier’s mother, a thin, lively old woman with a crutch, came tapping lightly across the living-room and into the shop. She embraced Cécile with delight, and spoke very kindly to Jacques when he was presented to her.
“I have never seen this little fellow before, since I don’t get about much, but I like to know all the children in Quebec. You will be very content with fine new shoes, my boy?”
“Oui, madame,” Jacques murmured.
“And you have quite neglected me of late, Cécile. I know you are busy enough down there, but I have been looking for you every day since the ships sailed. My son saw your father at the market yesterday and observed that he was laying in good supplies for you.” Madame Pommier seated herself on one of the wooden chairs without backs and rested her crutch across her knees. She always came into the shop when there were clients, and she liked to know what her son was doing every minute of the day.
When Cécile was little, Madame Pommier used to come to see her mother very often. She was one of the first friends Madame Auclair made in Quebec, and had given her a great deal of help in her struggle to keep house in a place where there were none of the conveniences to which she was accustomed. The Pommiers themselves were old residents, had lived here ever since this Noël was a young lad, and his father had been the Count’s shoemaker during his first governorship, twenty-odd years ago. Just about the time that Madame Auclair’s health began to fail, Madame Pommier had fallen on the icy hill in front of her own door and broken her hip. The good chirurgien Gervaise Beaudoin attended her, but though the bone knit, it came together badly and left one leg much shorter than the other. M. Auclair had made a crutch for her, and as she was slight and very active, she was soon able to get about in her own house and attend to her duties. Many a time Cécile had found her by her stove, the crutch under her left arm, handling her pots and casseroles as deftly as if she were not propped up by a wooden stick. Sometimes in winter she even got to mass. Her son had set an arm-chair upon runners, and in this he pushed her up the hill over the snow to the Cathedral.
After the cobbler had made his measurements and noted them down, he took up his work again and began driving his awl through the leather, drawing the big needle with waxed thread through after it. Tools of any sort had a fascination for Cécile; she loved to watch a shoemaker or a carpenter at work. Jacques, who had never seen anything of the kind before, followed Pommier’s black fingers with astonishment. They both sat quietly, and the old lady joined them in admiringly watching her clever son. Suddenly she bethought herself of something, and pointed with her crutch to a little cabinet of shelves covered by a curtain. There ladies’ shoes, sent in for repair or made to order, were kept, as being rather too personal to expose on the open shelves with the men’s boots.
“Tirez, tirez,” whispered Madame Pommier. Cécile got up and drew back the curtain, and at once knew what the old lady wished her to see: a beautiful pair of red satin slippers, embroidered in gold and purple, with leather soles and red leather heels.
“Oh, madame, how lovely! To whom do they belong?”
“To Monseigneur l’Ancien. They are his house slippers. My son is to put new soles on them, — see, they are almost worn through. Houssart says he paces his chamber in the night when he is at his devotions, so that he will not be overcome by sleep.”
“But these are so small, can he possibly wear them? And his walk is so heavy, too.”
“Ah, that is because of his legs, which are bad. But he has a very slender foot, very distinguished. That is the Montmorency in him; he is of noble blood, you know.”
Here Pommier himself reached up to a row of wooden lasts over his head and handed one of them to Cécile.
“That is his foot, mademoiselle.”
Cécile took the smoothly shaped wood in her hands and examined it curiously. On the sole Noël had scratched with his awl: “Mgr. Lav’.”
“And next it,” said Madame Pommier, “you will find the Governor’s. He, too, has a fine foot, very high in the arch, but large, as is needful for a soldier. And there to the left is the Intendant’s, and Madame de Champigny’s.”
“Oh, Monsieur Pommier, you have the feet of all the great people here! Did you make them all yourself?”
“Ah, no! Some are from my father’s time. Yes, you may look at them if it amuses you.”
Cécile took them down one after another. To be sure, they all looked a good deal alike to her, but she could guess the original of each form from the awl scratches on the sole. On one she spelled the letters “R. CAV.” She was trying to think whose that might be, when Pommier startled her a little by saying in a very peculiar tone of voice:
“That foot will not come back.”
She could not tell whether he was angry or sorry, — there was something so harsh in his tone.
“But why, Monsieur Noël, why not?”
“It went too far,” he replied with the same bitter shortness.
She stared at the letters. The old lady beckoned her and traced over the inscription with her finger. “That is my husband’s marking; he always made capitals. It means Robert Cavelier de La Salle.”
Cécile drew a deep breath. “Monsieur Noël believes he is really dead, then?”
Noël looked up from his black threads. “Everyone knows he is dead, mademoiselle. The people who say he will come back are fools. He was murdered, a thousand miles from here. Tonti brought the word. Robert de La Salle has come into this shop many a time when I was a lad. He was a true man, mademoiselle, and nobody was true to him, except Monsieur le Comte; not his own brother, nor his nephew, nor his King. It is always like that when there is a great one in a family. But I shall always keep his last. That foot went farther than any other in New France.” He dropped his eyes and began driving his awl again.
Cécile knew it would be useless to question him, — such an outburst was most unusual from Pommier. But when she got home, she brought the matter up to her father and asked him whether it was true that the Abbé Cavelier had turned against his brother.
“I don’t know, my dear. Nobody knows what happened down there. The Count blames him, but then, the Count always hated the Abbé.”
It was the afternoon of All Saints’ Day, and Jacques had come up the hill through a driving sleet storm to put on his new shoes for the first time. When he had carefully laced them, he stood up in them and, looking from one to the other of his friends, smiled a glad, surprised, soft smile. He was certainly not a handsome child, but he had one beauty, — his baby teeth. When his pale lips parted, his teeth showed like two rows of pearls, really; even, regular, all the same size, lustrous like those pearls that have just a faint shimmer of lilac. The hard crusts, which were his fare for the most part, kept them polished like veritable jewels. Cécile only hoped that when his second teeth came in, they would not be narrow and pointed, of the squirrel kind, like his mother’s.
When M. Auclair asked Jacques if the shoes were comfortable, he looked up wonderingly and said: “Mais, oui, monsieur,” as if they could not possibly be otherwise.
The apothecary went back into his shop, where he was boiling pine tops (bourgeons des pins) to make a cough-syrup. Cécile told Jacques she had found in her Lives of the Saints the picture of a little boy who looked very much like him.
“I shall always keep it for a picture of you, Jacques. Look, it is little Saint Edmond. He was an English saint, and he became Archbishop of Cantorbéry. But he died in France, at the monastery of Pontigny. Sit here beside me, and I will read you what it says about him.
“Edmond était tout enfant un modèle de vertu, grâce aux tendres soins de sa pieuse mère. On ne le voyait qu’à l’école et à l’église, partageant ses journées entre la prière et l’étude, et se privant des plaisirs les plus innocents pour s’entretenir avec Jésus et sa divine Mère à laquelle il voua un culte tout spécial. Un jour qu’il fuyait ses compagnons de jeu, pour se recueillir intimement, l’Enfant Jésus lui apparaît, rayonnant de beauté et le regarde avec amour en lui disant: ‘Je te salue, mon bien-aimé.’ Edmond tout éblouî n’ose répondre et le divin Sauveur reprend: ‘Vous ne me connaissez donc pas? — Non, avoue l’enfant, je n’ai pas cet honneur et je crois que vous ne devez pas me connaître non plus, mais me prenez pour un autre. — Comment, continue le petit Jésus, vous ne me reconnaissez pas, moi qui suis toujours à vos côtés et vous accompagne partout. Regardez-moi; je suis Jésus, gravez toujours ce nom en votre coeur et imprimez-le sur votre front et je vous préserverai de mort subite ainsi que tous ceux qui feront de même.’”
The little woodcut in Cécile’s old book showed the boy saint very like Jacques indeed; a clumsy little fellow, abashed at the apparition, standing awkwardly with his finger in his mouth; his chin had no tip, because the old block from which he was printed was worn away. Beside him stood the Heavenly Child, all surrounded by rays, just Edmond’s height, friendly like a playfellow, and treading on the earth, not floating in the air as visions are wont to do. Jacques bent over the book, his thumb on the page to keep it flat, and asked Cécile to read it over again, so that he could remember. When she finished, he drew a long, happy sigh.
“I wish the little Jesus would appear to me like that, standing on the ground. Then I would not be frightened,” he murmured.
“I don’t believe He ever does, in Canada, Jacques. Though perhaps He appears to the recluse in Montreal, she is so very holy. I know angels come to her. But I expect He is often near you and keeps you from harm, as He said to Saint Edmond; moi qui suis toujours à vos côtés et vous accompagne partout. Now you can look at the other pictures while I make our chocolate. Since this is All Saints’ Day, we ought to think a great deal about the saints.”
Left in the corner of the red sofa, Jacques held the book, but he did not turn the pages. He sat looking at the logs burning in the fireplace and making gleams on the china shepherd boy, the object of his especial admiration. He heard the sleet pecking on the window-panes and thought how nice it was to have a place like this to come to. When the chocolate began to give off its rich odour, his nostrils quivered like a puppy’s. Cécile carried her father’s cup to him in the shop, and then she and Jacques sat down at one corner of the table, where she had spread a napkin over the cloth.
Much as Jacques loved chocolate (in so far as he knew, this was the only house in the world in which that comforting drink was made), there was something he cared more about, something that gave him a kind of solemn satisfaction, — Cécile’s cup. She had a silver cup with a handle; on the front was engraved a little wreath of roses, and inside that wreath was the name, “Cécile” cut in the silver. Her Aunt Clothilde had given it to her when she was but a tiny baby, so it had been hers all her life. That was what seemed so wonderful to Jacques. His clothes had always belonged to somebody else before they were made over for him; he slept wherever there was room for him, sometimes with his mother, sometimes on a bench. He had never had anything of his own except his toy beaver, — and now he would have his shoes, made just for him. But to have a little cup, with your name on it . . . even if you died, it would still be there, with your name.
More than the shop with all the white jars and mysterious implements, more than the carpet and curtains and the red sofa, that cup fixed Cécile as born to security and privileges. He regarded it with respectful, wistful admiration. Before the milk or chocolate was poured, he liked to hold it and trace with his finger-tips the letters that made it so peculiarly and almost sacredly hers. Since his attention was evidently fixed upon her cup, more than once Cécile had suggested that he drink his chocolate from it, and she would use another. But he shook his head, unable to explain. That was not at all what her cup meant to him. Indeed, Cécile could not know what it meant to him; she was too fortunate.
They had scarcely finished the last drop and the last crumb, when the shop door opened and they heard a woman’s voice. Without a word Jacques slipped to the floor and began to take off his new shoes. Cécile sat still.
In the front shop Auclair was confronted by a vehement young woman, slightly out of breath, her head and shoulders tightly wrapped in a shawl, her cheeks reddened by the wind, and her fair hair curling about her forehead and glistening with water drops. The apothecary rose and said politely:
“Good day, ‘Toinette, what will you have?”
She tossed her head. “None of your poisons, thank you! I believe my son is here?”
“I think so. He is in very good hands when he is here.”
‘Toinette struck an attitude, her hand on her hip. “Je suis mère, vous savez! The care of my son is my affair.”
“What is this I hear about your getting shoes for him? I am his mother. I will get him shoes when I think it necessary. I am poor, it is true; but I want none of your money that is the price of poisons.”
“Bien. I will take care that you get none of it. But I did not pay for the shoes. They were bought with the Governor’s money.”
‘Toinette looked interested. Sharp points showed in her eyes, like the points of her teeth. “The Governor? Ah, that is different. The Governor is our protector, he owes us something. And the King owes something to the children of those poor creatures, like my mother, whom he sent out here under false pretences.”
Auclair held up a warning finger. He was sorry for her, because he saw how ill at ease she was under her impertinence. “Do not quarrel with the Government, my girl. That can do you no good, and it might get you into trouble.”
‘Toinette loosened her shawl and then wound it tight. She wished she had been more civil; perhaps they would have offered her some chocolate. She called shrilly for Jacques. He came at once, without saying a word, his new shoes in his hands, his old ones on his feet. His mother caught him by the shoulder with a jerk, — she could not cuff him in the apothecary’s presence. “Au revoir, monsieur,” she snapped, as Auclair opened the door for her. She went down the hill with her defiant stride, her head high, and Jacques walked after her as fast as he could, wearing an expression of intense gravity, blinking against the sleet, and carrying his new shoes, soles up, out in front of him in a most unnatural way, as if he were carrying a basin full of water and trying not to spill it.
Auclair thrust his head out and watched them round the turn, then closed the door. He looked in upon his daughter and remarked:
“She has shown her teeth; now she will not make any more trouble for a while. She will let him wear his shoes. She was pleased and was afraid of showing it.”
“He pulled off his new stockings and stuffed them inside his shirt, Papa!”
Auclair laughed. “How often I have seen children and dogs, and even brave men, take on quick sly ways to protect themselves from an ill-tempered woman! I doubt whether she is very rough with him at home. When she is among people who look down on her, she takes it out on him.”
That night after dinner they did not go for their usual walk, since the weather was so bleak, but sat by the fire listening to the rattle of the sleet on the windows.
“Papa,” said Cécile, “shall you have a mass said for poor Bichet this year, as always?”
“Yes, on the tenth of November, the day on which he was hanged.”
This mass Auclair had said at the Récollets’ chapel where Count Frontenac heard mass every morning.
“Please tell me about Bichet again, and it will be fresh in my mind when I go to the mass.”
“It will not keep you awake, as it did the first time I told you? We must not grieve about these things that happened long ago, — and this happened when the Count was in Canada the first time, while your grandfather and grandmother were both living.
“Poor old Bichet had lodged in our cellar since I was a boy. He was a knife-grinder and used to go out every day with his wheel on his back, and he picked up a few sous at his trade. But he could never have kept himself in shoes, having to walk so much, if your grandfather had not given him his old ones. He paid us nothing for his lodging, of course. He had his bed on the floor in a dry corner of our cellar, where the sirops and elixirs were kept. In very cold weather your grandmother would put a couple of bricks among the coals when she was getting supper, and old Bichet would take these hot bricks down and put them in his bed. And she often saved a cup of hot soup and a piece of bread for the old man and let him eat them in the warm kitchen, for he was very neat and cleanly. When I had any spending-money, or when I was given a fee for carrying medicines to some house in the neighbourhood, I always saved a little for the old knife-grinder. He was reserved and uncomplaining and never inflicted his troubles upon us, though he must have had many. On Saturdays, when your grandmother cooked a joint and had a big fire, she used to heat a kettle of water for him, and he carried it down to his corner and washed himself. He was a Christian and went to mass. He was a kind man, gentle to creatures below him, — for there were those even worse off.
“Now, on the rue du Figuier stood a house that had long been closed, for the family had gone to live at Fontainebleau, and the empty coach-house was used as a store-room for old pieces of furniture. The caretaker was a careless fellow who went out to drink with his cronies and left the place unguarded. In the coach-house were two brass kettles which had lain there for many years, doing nobody any good. Bichet must have seen them often, as he went in and out to sharpen the caretaker’s carving-knife.
“One night, when this fellow was carousing, Bichet carried off those two pots. He took them to an ironmonger and sold them. Nobody would ever have missed them; but Bichet had an enemy. Near us there lived a degenerate, half-witted boy of a cruel disposition. He tortured street cats, and even sparrows when he could catch them. Old Bichet had more than once caught him at his tricks and reproved him and set his victims at liberty. That boy was cunning, and he used to spy on Bichet. He saw him carrying off those brass kettles and reported him to the police. Bichet was seized in the street, when he was out with his grindstone, and taken to the Châtelet. He confessed at once and told where he had sold the pots. But that was not enough for the officers; they put him to torture and made him confess to a lifetime of crime; to having stolen from us and from the Frontenac house — which he had never done.
“Your grandfather and I hurried to the prison to speak for him. Your grandfather told them that a man so old and infirm would admit anything under fright and anguish, not knowing what he said; that a confession obtained under torture was not true evidence. This infuriated the Judge. If we would take oath that the prisoner had never stolen anything from us, they would put him into the strappado again and make him correct his confession. We saw that the only thing we could do for our old lodger was to let him pass quickly. Luckily for Bichet, the prison was overcrowded, and he was hanged the next morning.
“Your grandmother never got over it. She had for a long while struggled with asthma every winter, and that year when the asthma came on, she ceased to struggle. She said she had no wish to live longer in a world where such cruelties could happen.”
“And I am like my grandmother,” cried Cécile, catching her father’s hand. “I do not want to live there. I had rather stay in Quebec always! Nobody is tortured here, except by the Indians, in the woods, and they know no better. But why does the King allow such things, when they tell us he is a kind King?”
“It is not the King, my dear, it is the Law. The Law is to protect property, and it thinks too much of property. A couple of brass pots, an old saddle, are reckoned worth more than a poor man’s life. Christ would have forgiven Bichet, as He did the thief on the cross. We must think of him in paradise, where no law can touch him. I believe that harmless old man is in paradise long ago, and when I have a mass said for him every year, it is more for my own satisfaction than for his. I should like him to know, too, that our family remembers him.”
“And I, Father, as long as I live, I will always have a mass said for Bichet on the day he died.”
On All Souls’ Day Cécile went to church all day long; in the morning to the Ursuline chapel, in the afternoon to the Hôtel Dieu, and last of all down to the Church of Notre Dame de la Victoire to pray for her mother in the very spot where Madame Auclair had always knelt at mass. All the churches were full of sorrowful people; Cécile met them coming and going, and greeted them with lowered eyes and subdued voice, as was becoming. But she herself was not sorrowful, though she supposed she was.
The devotions of the day had begun an hour after midnight. Old Bishop Laval had no thought that anyone should forget the solemn duties of the time. He was at his post at one o’clock in the morning to ring the Cathedral bell, and from then on until early mass he rang it every hour. It called out through the intense silence of streets where there were no vehicles to rumble, but only damp vapours from the river to make sound more intense and startling, to give it overtones and singular reverberations.
“Priez pour les Morts,
Vous qui reposez,
Priez pour les tré-pas-sés!”
it seemed to say, as if the exacting old priest himself were calling. One had scarcely time to murmur a prayer and turn over in one’s warm bed, before the bell rang out again.
At twelve years it is impossible to be sad on holy days, even on a day of sorrow; at that age the dark things, death, bereavement, suffering, have only a dramatic value, — seem but strong and moving colours in the grey stretch of time.
On such solemn days all the stories of the rock came to life for Cécile; the shades of the early martyrs and great missionaries drew close about her. All the miracles that had happened there, and the dreams that had been dreamed, came out of the fog; every spire, every ledge and pinnacle, took on the splendour of legend. When one passed by the Jesuits’, those solid walls seemed sentinelled by a glorious company of martyrs, martyrs who were explorers and heroes as well; at the Hôtel Dieu, Mother Catherine de Saint–Augustin and her story rose up before one; at the Ursulines’, Marie de l’Incarnation overshadowed the living.
At Notre Dame de la Victoire one remembered the miraculous preservation for which it had been named, when this little church, with the banner of the Virgin floating from its steeple, had stood untouched through Sir William Phips’s bombardment, though every heretic gun was aimed at it. Cécile herself could remember that time very well; the Lower Town had been abandoned, and she and her mother, with the other women and children, were hidden in the cellars of the Ursuline convent. Even there they were not out of gun range; a shell had fallen into the court just as Sister Agatha was crossing it, and had taken off the skirt of her apron, though the Sister herself was not harmed.
To the older people of Kebec, All Souls’ was a day of sad remembrance. Their minds went back to churches and cemeteries far away. Now the long closed season was upon them, and there would be no letters, no word of any kind from France for seven, perhaps eight, months. The last letters that came in the autumn always brought disturbing news to one household or another; word that a mother was failing, that a son had been wounded in the wars, that a sister had gone into a decline. Friends at home seemed to forget how the Canadians would have these gloomy tidings to brood upon all the long winter and the long spring, so that many a man and woman dreaded the arrival of those longed-for summer ships.
Fears for the sick and old so far away, sorrow for those who died last year — five years ago — many years ago, — memories of families once together and now scattered; these things hung over the rock of Kebec on this day of the dead like the dark fogs from the river. The cheerful faces were those in the convents. The Ursulines and the Hospitalières, indeed, were scarcely exiles. When they came across the Atlantic, they brought their family with them, their kindred, their closest friends. In whatever little wooden vessel they had laboured across the sea, they carried all; they brought to Canada the Holy Family, the saints and martyrs, the glorious company of the Apostles, the heavenly host.
Courageous these Sisters were, accepting good and ill fortune with high spirit, — with humour, even. They never vulgarly exaggerated hardships and dangers. They had no hours of nostalgia, for they were quite as near the realities of their lives in Quebec as in Dieppe or Tours. They were still in their accustomed place in the world of the mind (which for each of us is the only world), and they had the same well-ordered universe about them: this all-important earth, created by God for a great purpose, the sun which He made to light it by day, the moon which He made to light it by night, — and the stars, made to beautify the vault of heaven like frescoes, and to be a clock and compass for man. And in this safe, lovingly arranged and ordered universe (not too vast, though nobly spacious), in this congenial universe, the drama of man went on at Quebec just as at home, and the Sisters played their accustomed part in it. There was sin, of course, and there was punishment after death; but there was always hope, even for the most depraved; and for those who died repentant, the Sisters’ prayers could do much, — no one might say how much.
So the nuns, those who were cloistered and those who came and went about the town, were always cheerful, never lugubrious. Their voices, even when they spoke to one through the veiled grille, were pleasant and inspiriting to hear. Most of them spoke good French, some the exquisite French of Tours. They conversed blithely, elegantly. When, on parting from a stranger, a Sister said pleasantly: “I hope we shall meet in heaven,” that meant nothing doleful, — it meant a happy appointment, for tomorrow, perhaps!
Inferretque deos Latio. When an adventurer carries his gods with him into a remote and savage country, the colony he founds will, from the beginning, have graces, traditions, riches of the mind and spirit. Its history will shine with bright incidents, slight, perhaps, but precious, as in life itself, where the great matters are often as worthless as astronomical distances, and the trifles dear as the heart’s blood.
A heavy snowfall in December meant that winter had come, — the deepest reality of Canadian life. The snow fell all through the night of St. Nicholas’ Day, but morning broke brilliant and clear, without a wisp of fog, and when one stepped out of the door, the sunlight on the glittering terraces of rock was almost too intense to be borne; one closed one’s eyes and seemed to swim in throbbing red. Before noon there was a little thaw, the snow grew soft on top. But as the day wore on, a cold wind came up and the surface froze, to the great delight of the children of Quebec. By three o’clock a crowd of them were coasting down the steep hill named for the Holy Family, among them Cécile and her protégé. Before she and her father had finished their déjeuner, Jacques had appeared at the shop door, wearing an expectant, hopeful look unusual to him. Cécile remembered that she had promised to take him coasting on her sled when the first snow came. She unfastened his ragged jacket and buttoned him into an old fur coat that she had long ago outgrown. Her mother had put it away in one of the chests upstairs, not because she expected ever to have another child, but because all serviceable things deserve to be taken care of.
When they reached the coasting-hill, the sun was already well down the western sky (it would set by four o’clock), and the light on the snow was more orange than golden; the long, steep street and the little houses on either side were a cold blue, washed over with rose-colour. They went down double, — Jacques sat in front, and Cécile, after she had given the sled a running start, dropped on the board behind him. Every time they reached the bottom, they trudged back up the hill to the front of the Cathedral, where the street began.
When the sun had almost sunk behind the black ridges of the western forest, Cécile and Jacques sat down on the Cathedral steps to eat their goûter. While they sat there, the other children began to go home, and the air grew colder. Now they had the hill all to themselves, — and this was the most beautiful part of the afternoon. They thought they would like to go down once more. With a quick push-off their sled shot down through constantly changing colour; deeper and deeper into violet, blue, purple, until at the bottom it was almost black. As they climbed up again, they watched the last flames of orange light burn off the high points of the rock. The slender spire of the Récollet chapel, up by the Château, held the gleam longest of all.
Cécile saw that Jacques was cold. They were not far from Noël Pommier’s door, so she said they would go in and get warm.
The cobbler had pulled his bench close to the window and was making the most of the last daylight. Cécile begged him not to get up.
“We have only come in to get warm, Monsieur Pommier.”
“Very good. You know the way. Come here, my boy, let me see whether your shoes keep the snow out.” He reached for Jacques’s foot, felt the leather, and nodded. Cécile passed into the room behind the shop, called to Madame Pommier in her kitchen, and asked if they might sit by her fire.
“Certainly, my dear, find a chair. And little Jacques may have my footstool; it is just big enough for him. Noël,” she called, “come put some wood on the fire, these children are frozen.” She came in bringing two squares of maple sugar — and a towel for Jacques to wipe his fingers on. He took the sugar and thanked her, but she saw that his eyes were fixed upon a dark corner of the room where a little copper lamp was burning before some coloured pictures. “That is my chapel, Jacques. You see, being lame, I do not get to mass very often, so I have a little chapel of my own, and the lamp burns night and day, like the sanctuary lamp. There is the Holy Mother and Child, and Saint Joseph, and on the other side are Sainte Anne and Saint Joachim. I am especially devoted to the Holy Family.”
Drawn out by something in her voice, Jacques ventured a question.
“Is that why this is called Holy Family Hill, madame?”
Madame Pommier laughed and stooped to pat his head. “Quite the other way about, my boy! I insisted upon living here because the hill bore that name. My husband was for settling in the Basse Ville, thinking it would be better for his trade. But we have not starved here; those for whom the street was named have looked out for us, maybe. When we first came to this country, I was especially struck by the veneration in which the Holy Family was held in Kebec, and I found it was so all out through the distant parishes. I never knew its like at home. Monseigneur Laval himself has told me that there is no other place in the world where the people are so devoted to the Holy Family as here in our own Canada. It is something very special to us.”
Cécile liked to think they had things of their own in Canada. The martyrdoms of the early Church which she read about in her Lives of the Saints never seemed to her half so wonderful or so terrible as the martyrdoms of Father Brébeuf, Father Lalemant, Father Jogues, and their intrepid companions. To be thrown into the Rhone or the Moselle, to be decapitated at Lyon, — what was that to the tortures the Jesuit missionaries endured at the hands of the Iroquois, in those savage, interminable forests? And could the devotion of Sainte Geneviève or Sainte Philomène be compared to that of Mother Catherine de Saint–Augustin or Mother Marie de l’Incarnation?
“My child, I believe you are sleepy,” said Madame Pommier presently, when both her visitors had been silent a long while. She liked her friends to be entertaining.
Cécile started out of her reverie. “No, madame, but I was thinking of a surprise I have at home, and perhaps I had better tell you about it now. You remember my Aunt Clothilde? I am sure my mother often talked to you of her. Last summer she sent me a box on La Licorne: a large wooden box, with a letter telling me not to open it. We must not open it until the day before Christmas, because it is a crèche; so, you see, we shall have a Holy Family, too. And we have been hoping that on Christmas Eve, before the midnight mass, Monsieur Noël will bring you to see it. You have not been in our house, you know, since my mother died.”
“Noel, my son, what do you say to that?”
The cobbler had come in from the shop to light his candle at the fire.
“The invitation is for you too, Monsieur Noël, from my father.”
The cobbler smiled and stood with the stump of candle in his hand before bending down to the blaze.
“That can be managed, and my thanks to monsieur your father. If there is snow, I will push my mother down in her sledge, and if the ground is naked, I will carry her on my back. She is no great weight.”
“I shall like to see the inside of your house again, Cécile. I miss it. I have not been there since that time when your mother was ill, and Madame de Champigny sent her carriage to convey me.”
Cécile remembered the time very well. It was after old Madame Pommier was crippled; Madame Auclair had long been too ill to leave the house. There was then only one closed carriage in Quebec, and that belonged to Madame de Champigny, wife of the Intendant. In some way she heard that the apothecary’s sick wife longed to see her old friend, and she sent her carrosse to take Madame Pommier to the Auclairs’. It was a mark of the respect in which the cobbler and his mother were held in the community.
When Jacques and Cécile ran out into the cold again, from the houses along the tilted street the evening candlelight was already shining softly. Up at the top of the hill, behind the Cathedral, that second afterglow, which often happens in Quebec, had come on more glorious than the first. All the western sky, which had been hard and clear when the sun sank, was now throbbing with fiery vapours, like rapids of clouds; and between, the sky shone with a blue to ravish the heart, — that limpid, celestial, holy blue that is only seen when the light is golden.
“Are you tired, Jacques?”
“A little, my legs are,” he admitted.
“Get on the sled and I will pull you up. See, there’s the evening star — how near it looks! Jacques, don’t you love winter?” She put the sled-rope under her arms, gave her weight to it, and began to climb. A feeling came over her that there would never be anything better in the world for her than this; to be pulling Jacques on her sled, with the tender, burning sky before her, and on each side, in the dusk, the kindly lights from neighbours’ houses. If the Count should go back with the ships next summer, and her father with him, how could she bear it, she wondered. On a foreign shore, in a foreign city (yes, for her a foreign shore), would not her heart break for just this? For this rock and this winter, this feeling of being in one’s own place, for the soft content of pulling Jacques up Holy Family Hill into paler and paler levels of blue air, like a diver coming up from the deep sea.
On the morning of the twenty-fourth of December Cécile lay snug in her trundle-bed, while her father lit the fires and prepared the chocolate. Although the heavy red curtains had not yet been drawn back, she knew that it was snowing; she had heard the crunch of fresh snow under the Pigeon boy’s feet when he brought the morning loaf to the kitchen door. Even before that, when the bell rang for five o’clock mass, she knew by its heavy, muffled tone that the air was thick with snow and that it was not very cold. Whenever she heard the early bell, it was as if she could see the old Bishop with his lantern at the end of the bell-rope, and the cold of the church up there made her own bed seem the warmer and softer. In winter the old man usually carried a little basin as well as his lantern. It was his custom to take the bowl of holy water from the font in the evening, carry it into his kitchen, and put it on the back of the stove, where enough warmth would linger through the night to keep it from freezing. Then, in the morning, those who came to early mass would not have a mere lump of ice to peck at. Monseigneur de Laval was very particular about the consecrated oils and the holy water; it was not enough for him that people should merely go through the forms. Cécile did not always waken at the first bell, which rang in the coldest hour of the night, but when she did, she felt a peculiar sense of security, as if there must be powerful protection for Kebec in such steadfastness, and the new day, which was yet darkness, was beginning as it should. The punctual bell and the stern old Bishop who rang it began an orderly procession of activities and held life together on the rock, though the winds lashed it and the billows of snow drove over it.
With the sound of the crackling fire a cool, mysterious fragrance of the forest, very exciting because it was under a roof, came in from the kitchen, — the breath of all the fir boughs and green moss that Cécile and Blinker had brought in yesterday from the Jesuits’ wood. Today they would unpack the crèche from France, — the box that had come on La Licorne in midsummer and had lain upstairs unopened for all these months.
Auclair brought the chocolate and placed it on a little table beside his daughter’s bed. They always breakfasted like this in winter, while the house was getting warm. This morning they had finally to decide where they would set out the crèche. Weeks ago they had agreed to arrange it in the deep window behind the sofa, — but then the sofa would have to be put on the other side of the room! This morning they found the thought of moving the sofa, where Madame Auclair used so often to recline, unendurable. It would quite destroy the harmony of their salon. The room, the house indeed, seemed to cling about that sofa as a centre.
There was another window in the room, — seldom uncurtained, because it opened directly upon the side wall of the baker’s house, and the outlook was uninteresting. It was narrow, but Auclair said he could remedy that. As soon as his shop was put in order, he would construct a shelf in front of the window-sill, but a little lower; then the scene could be arranged in two terraces, as was customary at home.
Cécile spent the morning covering the window and the new shelf with moss and fir branches until it looked like a corner in the forest, and at noon she waylaid Blinker, just getting up from his bed behind the baker’s ovens, and sent him to go and hunt for Jacques.
When Blinker returned with the boy, he himself looked in through the door so wistfully that Cécile asked him to come and open the box for her in the kitchen. There were a great number of little figures in the crate, each wrapped in a sheath of straw. As Blinker took them one at a time out of the straw and handed them to Cécile, he kept exclaiming: “Regardez, ma’m’selle, un beau petit âne!” . . . “Voilà, le beau mouton!” Cécile had never seen him come so far out of his shell; she had supposed that his shrinking sullenness was a part of him, like his crooked eyes or his red hair. When all the figures were unwrapped and placed on the dining-table in the salon, Blinker gathered up the straw and carried it with the crate into the cellar. She had thought that would be the last of him, but when he came back and stood again in the doorway, she hadn’t the heart to send him away. She asked him to come in and sit down by the fire. Her mother had never done that, but today there seemed no way out of it. The fête which she meant so especially for Jacques, turned out to be even more for Blinker.
Jacques, indeed, was so bewildered as to seem apathetic, and was afraid to touch anything. Only when Cécile directed him would he take up one of the figures from the table and carry it carefully to the window where she was making the scene. The Holy Family must be placed first, under a little booth of fir branches. The Infant was not in His Mother’s arms, of course, but lay rosy and naked in a little straw-lined manger, in which he had crossed the ocean. The Blessed Virgin wore no halo, but a white scarf over her head. She looked like a country girl, very naïve, seated on a stool, with her knees well apart under her full skirt, and very large feet. Saint Joseph, a grave old man in brown, with a bald head and wrinkled brow, was placed opposite her, and the ox and the ass before the manger.
“Those are all that go inside the stable,” Cécile explained, “except the two angels. We must put them behind the manger; they are still watching over Him.”
“Is that the stable, Cécile? I think it’s too pretty for a stable,” Jacques observed.
“It’s a little cabine of branches, like those the first missionaries built down by Notre Dame des Anges, when they landed here long ago. They used to say the mass in a little shelter like that, made of green fir boughs.”
Jacques touched one of the unassorted figures on the table with the tip of his finger. “Cécile, what are those animals?”
“Why, those are the camels, Jacques. Did you never see pictures of them? The three Kings came on camels, because they can go a long time without water and carry heavy loads. They carried the gold and frankincense and myrrh.”
“I don’t think I know about the Kings and the Shepherds very well,” Jacques sighed. “I wish you would tell me.”
While she placed the figures, Cécile began the story, and Jacques listened as if he had never heard it before. There was another listener, by the fireplace behind her, and she had entirely forgotten him until, with a sniffling sound, Blinker suddenly got up and went out through the kitchen, wiping his nose on his sleeve. Then Jacques noticed how dusky it had grown in the room; the window behind the sofa was a square of dull grey, like a hole in the wall of the house. He caught up his cap and ran out through the shop, calling back: “Oh, I am late!”
Jacques had been gone only a few minutes when Giorgio, the drummer boy from the Château, came in to see the crèche, and to bid Cécile good-bye for three days, as the Count had let him off to go home to his family on the Île d’Orléans. He had left his drum in the guard-house, and already he felt free. He would walk the seven miles up to Montmorency (perhaps he would be lucky enough to catch a ride in some farmer’s sledge for part of the way), then cross the river on the ice. The north channel had been frozen hard for several weeks now. He would have a long walk after he got over to the island, too; but even if the night were dark, he knew the way, and he would get there in time to hear mass at his own paroisse. After mass his family would make réveillon, — music and dancing, and a supper with blood sausages and pickled pigs’ feet and dainties of that sort.
“And before daybreak, mademoiselle, my grandfather will play the Alpine horn. He always does that on Christmas morning. If you were awake, you would hear it even over here. Such a beautiful sound it has, and the old man plays so true!”
Georges bought some cloves and bay-leaves for his mother (he had just been paid, and rattled the coins in his pocket), then started up the hill with such a happy face that Cécile wished she were going with him, over those seven snowy miles to Montmorency.
“He will almost certainly catch a ride,” her father told her. “Even on the river there will be sledges coming and going tonight.”
That evening, soon after the dinner-table was cleared, the Auclairs heard a rapping at the shop door and went out to receive Madame Pommier in her chair on runners, very like the sledges in which great ladies used to travel at home. Her son lifted her out in all her wrappings and carried her into the salon, where the apothecary’s armchair was set for her. But before she would accept this seat of honour, she must hobble all over the house to satisfy herself that things were kept just as they used to be in Madame Auclair’s time. She found everything the same, she said, even to Blinker, having his sip of brandy in the kitchen.
After they had settled down before the fire to wait for the Pigeons, who were always late, Jacques Gaux came hurrying in through the shop, looking determined and excited. He forgot to speak to the visitors and went straight up to Cécile, holding out something wrapped in a twist of paper, such as the merchants used for small purchases.
“I have a surprise for you,” he said. “It is for the crèche, for the little Jesus.”
When she took off the paper, she held in her hand Jacques’s well-known beaver.
“Oh, Jacques, how nice of you! I don’t believe there was ever a beaver in a crèche before.” She was a little perplexed; the animal was so untraditional — what was she to do with him?
“He isn’t new,” Jacques went on anxiously. “He’s just my little old beaver the sailor made me, but he could keep the baby warm. I take him to bed with me when I’m cold sometimes, and he keeps me warm.”
Madame Pommier’s sharp ears had overheard this conversation, and she touched Cécile with the end of her crutch. “Certainly, my dear, put it there with the lambs, before the manger. Our Lord died for Canada as well as for the world over there, and the beaver is our very special animal.”
Immediately Madame Pigeon and her six children arrived. Auclair brought out his best liqueurs, and the Pommiers and Pigeons, being from the same parish in Rouen, began recalling old friends at home. Cécile was kept busy filling little glasses, but she noticed that Jacques was content, standing beside the crèche like a sentinel, paying no heed to the Pigeon children or anyone else, quite lost in the satisfaction of seeing his beaver placed in a scene so radiant. Before the evening was half over, he started up suddenly and began looking for his coat and cap. Cécile followed him into the shop.
“Don’t you want your beaver, Jacques? Or will you leave him until Epiphany?”
He looked up at her, astonished, a little hurt, and quickly thrust his hands behind him. “Non, c’est pour toujours,” he said decisively, and went out of the door.
“See, madame,” Madame Pommier was whispering to Madame Pigeon, “we have a bad woman amongst us, and one of her clients makes a toy for her son, and he gives it to the Holy Child for a birthday present. That is very nice.”
“C’est ça, madame, c’est ça,” said matter-of-fact Madame Pigeon, quite liking the idea, now that her attention was called to it.
By eleven o’clock the company had become a little heavy from the heat of the fire and the good wine from the Count’s cellar, and everyone felt a need of the crisp out-of-doors air. The weather had changed at noon, and now the stars were flashing in a clear sky, — a sky almost over-jewelled on that glorious night. The three families agreed that it would be well to start for the church very early and get good places. The Cathedral would be full to the doors tonight. Monseigneur de Saint–Vallier was to say the mass, and the old Bishop would be present, with a great number of clergy, and the Seminarians were to sing the music. Monseigneur de Saint–Vallier would doubtless wear the aube of rich lace given him by Madame de Maintenon for his consecration at Saint–Sulpice, in Paris, ten years ago. In one matter he and the old Bishop always agreed; that the services of the Church should be performed in Quebec as elaborately, as splendidly, as anywhere else in the world. For many years Bishop Laval had kept himself miserably poor to make the altar and the sacristy rich.
After everyone had had a last glass of liqueur, Madame Pommier was carried out to her sledge and tucked under her bearskin. The company proceeded slowly; pushing the chair up the steep curves of Mountain Hill and around the Récollet chapel, over fresh snow that had not packed, was a little difficult. When they reached the top of the rock, many houses were alight. Across the white ledges that sloped like a vast natural stairway down to the Cathedral, black groups were moving, families and friends in little flocks, all going toward the same goal, — the doors of the church, wide open and showing a ruddy vault in the blue darkness.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52