Shadows on the Rock, by Willa Cather

Book Six

The Dying Count


Count Frontenac sat at the writing-table in his long room, driving his quill across sheets of paper. He was finishing a report to Pontchartrain, the Minister, which was to go by Le Soleil d’Afrique, sailing now in three days. Auclair stood by the fireplace, where the birch logs were smouldering, — it was now the end of October. He was remarking to himself that his master, often so put about by trifles, could bear with calmness a crushing disappointment.

All summer the Count had been waiting for his release from office, had confidently expected a letter summoning him to return to France to fill some post worthy of his past services.

When the King had sent him out here nine years ago, it had been to save Canada — nothing less. The fur trade was completely demoralized, and the Iroquois were murdering French colonists in the very outskirts of Montreal. The Count had accomplished his task. He had chastised the Indians, restored peace and order, secured the safety of trade. He was now in his seventy-eighth year, and although he had repeatedly asked for his recall to France, the King had made no recognition of his services beyond sending him the Cross of St. Louis last autumn.

It was sometimes hinted that there was a personal reason for the King’s neglect. There was an old story that because Madame de Montespan had been Count Frontenac’s mistress before she became King Louis’s, His Majesty disliked the sight of the Count. But Madame de Montespan had long ago fallen out of favour; she had been living in retirement for many years and never came to Court. The King himself was no longer young. Auclair doubted whether one old man would remember an affair of youthful gallantry against another old man, — when the woman herself was old and long forgotten.

He was thinking of this as he stood by the fire, awaiting his master’s pleasure. At last the Governor pushed back his papers and turned to him.

“Euclide,” he began, “I am afraid I cannot promise you much for the future. When the last ships came in, I had no doubt that I should go home on one of them, — and you and your daughter with me. By La Vengeance the Minister sends me a letter concerning the peace of Rijswijk, but ignores my petition for recall. He assures me of His Majesty’s esteem, and of his desire to reward my services more substantially in the future. The future, for a man of my age, is an inconsiderable matter. His Majesty prefers that I shall die in Quebec.”

The Count rose and walked to the window behind his desk, where he stood looking down at the ships anchored in the river, already loading for departure. As he stood there lost in reflection, Auclair thought he seemed more like a man revolving plans for a new struggle with fortune than one looking back upon a life of brilliant failures. The Count had the bearing of a fencer when he takes up the foil; from his shoulders to his heels there was intention and direction. His carriage was his unconscious idea of himself, — it was an armour he put on when he took off his night-cap in the morning, and he wore it all day, at early mass, at his desk, on the march, at the Council, at his dinner-table. Even his enemies relied upon his strength.

“I have never been a favourite,” he said, turning round suddenly. “I have not the courtier’s address. Without that, a military man cannot go far nowadays. Perhaps I offended His Majesty by trying to teach him geography. Nothing is more unpopular at Court than the geography of New France. They like to think of Quebec as isolated, French, and Catholic. The rest of the continent is a wilderness, and they prefer to disregard it. Any advance to the westward costs money — and Quebec has already cost them enough.”

The Count returned to his desk, sat down, and went on talking in the impersonal, remote tone which he often adopted with his apothecary. Indeed, Auclair’s chief service to his patron was not to administer drugs, but to listen occasionally, when the Governor felt lonely, to talk of places and persons, — talk which would have been incomprehensible to anyone else in Kebec.

“After my reappointment to Canada I had two audiences with His Majesty. The first was at Versailles, when he was full of a project to seize New York and the Atlantic seaports from the English. I was not averse to such an enterprize, but I explained some of the difficulties. With a small fleet and a few thousand regulars, I would gladly have undertaken it.

“My second audience was at Fontainebleau, shortly before we embarked from La Rochelle. The King received me very graciously in his cabinet, but he was no longer in a conqueror’s mood; he had consulted the treasury. When I referred to the project he had advanced at our previous meeting, he glanced at the clock over his fireplace and remarked that it was the hour for feeding the carp. He asked me to accompany him. An invitation to attend His Majesty at the feeding of the carp is, of course, a compliment. We went out to the carp basins. I like a fine pond of carp myself, and those at Fontainebleau are probably the largest and fiercest in France. The pages brought baskets of bread, and His Majesty threw in the first loaves. The carp there are monsters, really. They came grunting and snorting like a thousand pigs. They piled up on each other in hills as high as the rim of the basin, with all their muzzles out; they caught a loaf and devoured it before it could touch the water. Not long before that, a caretaker’s little girl fell into the pond, and the carp tore her to pieces while her father was running to the spot. Some of them are very old and have an individual renown. One old creature, red and rusty down to his belly, they call the Cardinal.

“Well, after the ravenous creatures had been fed by the royal hand, the King accompanied me a little way down the chestnut avenue. He wished me God-speed and said adieu. I took my departure by the great gate, where my carriage waited, and the King went back to the carp pond. That was my last interview with my royal master. That was the end of his bold project to snatch the seaports from the English and make this continent a French possession, as it should be. I sailed without troops, without money, to do what I could. Unfortunately for you, I brought you with me.” The Count unlocked a drawer of his desk. He took out a leather bag and dropped it on his pile of correspondence. From its weight and the sound it made, Auclair judged it contained gold pieces.

“When I persuaded you to come out here,” the Governor continued, “I promised you a return. I have already seen the captain of Le Soleil d’Afrique and bespoken his best cabin in case I have need of it. As you know, I am always poor, but in that sack there is enough for you to begin a modest business at home. If I were in your place, I should get my belongings together and embark the day after tomorrow.”

“And you, Monsieur le Comte?”

“It is just possible that I may follow you next year. If not, Kebec is as near heaven as any place.”

“Then I prefer to wait until next year also.” Auclair spoke quietly, but without hesitation. “I came to share your fortunes.”

The Governor frowned. “But you have your daughter’s future to consider. At the present moment, I can in some degree assure you another start in the world. But if I terminate my days here, you will be adrift, and I doubt if you will ever get home at all. You are not very adept in practical matters, Euclide.”

Auclair flushed faintly. “I have made my choice, patron. I remain in Kebec until you leave it. And I have no need for that,” indicating the leather bag. “You pay me well for my services.”

When the apothecary left the chamber, the Count looked after him with a shrug, and a smile in which there was both contempt and kindness. He remembered an incident very long ago: He had just come home from the foreign wars, and had nearly ruined himself providing a new coach and horses and liveries to make a suitable reentrance in the world. The first time he went abroad in his new carriage, to pay calls in the fashionable part of Paris, the occupants of every coach he passed either were looking the other way, or saluted him carelessly, as if they had seen him only the day before. Not even a driver or a footman glanced twice at his fine horses. The gatekeepers and equerries at the houses where he stopped were insolently indifferent. Late in the afternoon, when he was crossing the Pont–Neuf at the crowded hour, in a stream of coaches, he saw among the foot-passengers the first admirers of his splendour: an old man and a young boy, gazing up and following his carriage with eager eyes — the grandfather and grandson who lived in the pharmacy next his stables and were his tenants.


The Count de Frontenac awoke suddenly out of a curious dream — a dream so vivid that he could not at once shake it off, but lay in the darkness behind his bed-curtains slowly realizing where he was. The sound of a church-bell rang out hoarse on the still air: yes, that would be the stubborn old man, Bishop Laval, ringing for early mass. He knew that bell like a voice. He was, then, in Canada, in the Château on the rock of Kebec; the St. Lawrence must be flowing seaward beneath his windows.

In his dream, too, he had been asleep and had suddenly awakened; awakened a little boy, in an old farm-house near Pontoise, where his nurse used to take him in the summer. He had been awakened by fright, a sense that some danger threatened him. He got up and in his bare feet stole to the door leading into the garden, which was ajar. Outside, in the darkness, stood a very tall man in a plumed hat and huge boots — a giant, in fact; the little boy’s head did not come up to his boot-tops. He had no idea who the enormous man might be, but he knew that he must not come in, that everything depended upon his being kept out. Quickly and cleverly the little boy closed the door and slid the wooden bar, — he had no trouble in finding it, for he knew the house so well. But there was the front door, — he was sleeping in the wing of the cottage, and that front door was three rooms away. Still barefoot, he went softly and swiftly through the kitchen and the living-room to the hallway behind that main door, which could be fastened by an iron bolt. It was pitch-dark, but he did not fumble, he found the bolt at once. It was rusty, and stuck. He felt how small and weak his hands were — of that he was very conscious. But he turned the bolt gently back and forth in its hasp to loosen the rust-flakes, and coaxed it into the iron loop on the door-jamb which made it fast. Then he felt suddenly faint. He wiped the sweat from his face with the sleeve of his night-gown, and waited. That terrible man on the other side of the door; one could hear him moving about in the currant bushes, pulling at the rose-vines on the wall. There were other doors — and windows! Every nook and corner of the house flashed through his mind; but for the moment he was safe. The broad oak boards and the iron bolt were between him and the great boots that must not cross the threshold. While he stood gathering his strength, he awoke in another bed than the one he had quitted a few moments ago, but he was still covered with sweat and still frightened. He did not come fully to himself until he heard the call of the old Bishop’s bell-clapper. Then he knew where he was.

Of all the houses he had slept in all over the world, in Flanders, Holland, Italy, Crete, why had he awakened in that one near Pontoise, and why had he remembered it so well? His bare feet had avoided every unevenness in the floor; in the dark he had stepped without hesitation from the earth floor of the kitchen, over the high sill, to the wooden floor of the living-room. He had known the exact position of all the furniture and had not stumbled against anything in his swift flight through the house. Yet he had not been in that house since he was eight years old. For four summers his nurse, Noémi, had taken him there. It was her property, but on her son’s marriage the daughter-inlaw had become mistress, according to custom. Noémi had taken care of him from the time he was weaned until he went to school. His own mother was a cold woman and had little affection for her children. Indeed, the Count reflected, as he lay behind his bed-curtains recovering from his dream, no woman, probably, had ever felt so much affection for him as old Noémi. Not all women had found him so personally distasteful as his wife had done; but not one of his mistresses had felt more than a passing inclination for him. Tenderness, uncalculating, disinterested devotion, he had never known. It was in his stars that he was not to know it. Noémi had loved his fine strong little body, grieved when he was hurt, watched over him when he was sick, carried him in her arms when he was tired. Now, when he was sick indeed, his mind, in sleep, had gone back to that woman and her farm-house on the Oise.

It struck him that a dream of such peculiar vividness signified a change in himself. A change had been coming on all summer — during the last few months it had progressed very fast. When from his windows he saw the last sail going out between the south shore and the Île d’Orléans, he knew he would never live to see those boats come back. Now, after this dream, he decided to make his will before another night fell.

Of late the physical sureness and sufficiency he had known all his life had changed to a sense of limitation and uncertainty. He had no wish to prolong this state. There was no one in this world whom he would be sorry to leave. His wife, Madame de la Grange Frontenac, he had no desire to see again, though he would will to her the little property he had, as was customary. Once a year she wrote him a long letter, telling him all the gossip of Paris and informing him of the changes which occurred there. From her accounts it appeared that the sons of most of his old friends had turned out badly enough. He could not feel any very deep regret that his own son had died in youth, — killed in an engagement in the Low Countries many years ago.

The Count himself was ready to die, and he would be glad to die here alone, without pretence and mockery, with no troop of expectant relatives about his bed. The world was not what he had thought it at twenty — or even at forty.

He would die here, in this room, and his spirit would go before God to be judged. He believed this, because he had been taught it in childhood, and because he knew there was something in himself and in other men that this world did not explain. Even the Indians had to make a story to account for something in their lives that did not come out of their appetites: conceptions of courage, duty, honour. The Indians had these, in their own fashion. These ideas came from some unknown source, and they were not the least part of life.

In spiritual matters the Count had always accepted the authority of the Church; in governmental and military matters he stoutly refused to recognize it. He had known absolute unbelievers, of course; one, a witty and blasphemous scapegrace, the young Baron de La Hontan, he had sheltered here in the Château, under the noses of two Bishops. But it was for his clever conversation, not for his opinions, that the Count offered La Hontan hospitality.

When the grey daylight began to sift through the hangings of his bed, Count Frontenac rang for Picard to bring his coffee.

“I shall not get up today, Picard,” he remarked. “You may shave me in bed. Afterwards, go to the notary and fetch him here to transact some business with me. Stop at the apothecary shop on your way, and tell Monsieur Auclair I shall not need him until four o’clock.”

When Auclair arrived in the afternoon, he found his patron still in bed, in his dressing-gown. To his inquiries the Count replied carelessly:

“Oh, I do very well indeed! I find myself so comfortable that I have almost decided to stay in bed for the rest of my life. I have been making my will today, and that reminded me of a promise I once gave your daughter. That bowl of glass fruit on the mantel: do not forget to take it to her when you go home tonight, with my greetings. She has always admired it. And there is another matter. In the leather chest in my dressing-room you will find a large package wrapped in brown Holland. It is table linen that I brought out from Île Savary. Tonight, when you will not be observed, I wish you to take it home with you for safe keeping. Upon Cécile’s marriage, you will present it to her from me. Why do you look sober, Euclide? You know very well that I must soon change my climate, as the Indians say, and this Château will be in other hands. I merely arrange to dispose of my personal belongings as I wish.”

“Monsieur le Comte, if you would permit me to try the remedy I suggested yesterday — ”

“Tut-tut! We will have no more remedies. A little repose and comfort. The machine is worn out, certainly; but if we let it alone, it may go a little longer, from habit. When you come up tonight, you may bring me something to make me sleep, however. These long hours of wakefulness do a man no good. Draw up a chair and sit down by the fire, where I can speak to you without shouting. If you are to be in constant attendance here, you cannot be forever standing.”

Picard was called to put more wood on the fire, and after he withdrew the Governor lay quiet for a time. The grey light of the rainy afternoon grew so pale that Auclair could no longer see his patient’s face, and supposed he had fallen asleep. But suddenly he spoke.

“Euclide, do you know the church of Saint–Nicholas-desChamps, out some distance?”

“Certainly, Monsieur le Comte. I remember it very well.”

“Many of my family are buried there; a sister of whom I was fond. I shall be buried here, in the chapel of the Récollets, but I should like my heart to be sent back to France, in a box of lead or silver, and buried near my sister in Saint–Nicholas-desChamps. I have left instructions to that effect in my will, but I prefer to tell you, as I suppose you will have to attend to it. That is all we need say on the subject.

“Monseigneur de Saint–Vallier called here today, but as I was engaged with the notary, he left word that he would make his visit of ceremony tomorrow. I should be pleased if some indisposition were to keep him at home. If he looks for any apologies or recantations from me, he will be disappointed. The old one will not bother me with civilities.” Auclair heard the Count chuckle. “The old one knows where he stands, at least, and never bends his neck. All the same, a better man for this part of the world than the new one. Saint–Vallier belongs at the Court — where he came from.”

The Count fell into reflection, and his apothecary sat silent, waiting for his dismissal. Both were thinking of a scene outside the windows, under the low November sky — but the river was not the St. Lawrence. They were looking out on the Pont–Marie, and the hay-barges tied up at the Port-au-Foin. On an afternoon like this the boatmen would be covering the hay-bales with tarpaulins, Auclair was thinking, and about this time the bells always rang from the Célestins’ and the church of Saint–Paul.

When the fire fell apart and Auclair got up to mend it, the Count spoke again, as if he knew perfectly well what was in the apothecary’s mind. “The Countess de Frontenac writes me that the Île Saint–Louis has become a very fashionable quarter. I can remember when it was hardly considered a respectable place to live in, — when they first began building there, indeed!”

“And my grandfather could remember when it was a wood-pile, patron; before the two islands were joined into one. He was never reconciled to the change, poor man. He always thought it the most convenient place for the wood-supply of our part of Paris.”


One dark afternoon in November Cécile was sitting in the front shop, knitting a stocking. She sat in her own little chair, placed beside her father’s tall stool, on which she had put a candle, as the daylight was so thick. Though the street outside was wet and the fog brown and the house so quiet, and though the Count was ill up in the Château, she was not feeling dull, but happy and contented. As she knitted and watched the shop, she kept singing over Captain Pondaven’s old song, about the three ships that came

A Saint–Malo, beau port de mer,
Chargés d’avoin’, chargés de bléd.

No more boats from France would come to Quebec as late as this, even her father admitted that, and his herbarium had been put back on the high shelves of the cabinet, where it belonged. As soon as those dried plants were out of sight, the house itself changed; everything seemed to draw closer together, to join hands, as it were. Cécile had polished the candlesticks and pewter cups, rubbed the table and the bed-posts and the chair-claws with oil, darned the rent in her father’s counterpane. A little more colour had come back into the carpet and the curtains, she thought. Perhaps that was only because the fire was lit in the salon every evening now, and things always looked better in the fire-light. But no, she really believed that everything in the house, the furniture, the china shepherd boy, the casseroles in the kitchen, knew that the herbarium had been restored to the high shelves and that the world was not going to be destroyed this winter.

A life without security, without plans, without preparation for the future, had been terrible. Nothing had gone right this fall; her father had not put away any wood-doves in fat, or laid in winter vegetables, or bought his supply of wild rice from the Indians. “But we will manage,” she sometimes whispered to her trusty poêle when she stuffed him with birch and pine.

Cécile tended the shop alone every afternoon now. A notice on the door requested messieurs les clients to be so good as to call in the morning, as the pharmacien was occupied elsewhere in the afternoon. Nevertheless clients came in the afternoon, especially country people, and her father placed all the most popular remedies on one shelf and marked them clearly, so that Cécile could dispense them when they were called for.

This afternoon, just as she was about to go for another candle, she thought she heard her father coming home; but it proved to be Noël Pommier, the cobbler, who wanted a mixture of rhubarb and senna that M. Auclair sometimes made up for his mother.

Cécile sprang up and told him it was ready at hand, plainly marked. “Et préféreriez-vous les pilules, ou le liquide, Monsieur Noël?”

“Les pilules, s’il vous plaît, mademoiselle. Et votre père?”

“He is always at the Château after three o’clock. The Governor had been indisposed for two weeks now.”

“Everyone knows that, mademoiselle,” said the cobbler with a sigh. “Everyone is offering prayers for his recovery. It will be bad for all of us if anything goes wrong with the Count.”

“Never fear, monsieur! My father is giving him every care, and he grows a little stronger each day.”

“God grant it, mademoiselle. Picard is very much discouraged about his master. He says he cannot shave himself any more and does not look like himself. Picard thinks he ought to be bled.”

“Oh, Monsieur Pommier, I wish you could hear what my father has to say to that! And what does Picard know about medicine? But he is not the only one. Other people have tried to persuade my father to bleed the Governor, but he is as firm as a rock.”

“I have no doubt Monsieur Auclair knows best, Mademoiselle Cécile; but people will talk at such times, when a public man is ill.”

Pommier had scarcely gone when her father came in, with a dragging step and a mournful countenance.

“Papa,” said Cécile as she brought him his indoor coat, “I know you are tired, but the dinner will soon be ready. Sit down by the fire and rest a little. And, Father, won’t you try to look a little more confident these days? The people watch you, and when you have a discouraged air, they all become discouraged.”

“You think so?” He spoke anxiously.

“I am sure of it, Papa. I can tell by the things they say when they call here in your absence. You must look as if the Governor were much, much better.”

“He is not. He is failing all the time.” Her father sighed. “But you are right. We must put on a better face for the public.”

Cécile kissed him and went into the kitchen. Just as she was moving the soup forward to heat, she heard a sharp knock at the shop door. Her father answered it, and Bishop de Saint–Vallier entered. Auclair hurriedly brought more candles into the shop and set a chair for his visitor. After preliminary civilities the Bishop came to the point.

“I have called, Monsieur Auclair, to inquire concerning the Governor’s condition. Do you consider his illness mortal?”

“Not necessarily. If he were ten years younger, I should not consider it serious. However, he has great vitality and may very easily rally from this attack.”

The Bishop frowned and stroked his narrow chin. He was clearly in some perplexity. “When I called upon the Comte de Frontenac some days ago, he stated that his recovery would be a matter of a week, at most. In short, he refused to consider his indisposition seriously, though to my eyes the mark of death was clearly upon him. Does he really believe he will recover?”

“Very probably. And that is a good state of mind for a sick man.”

“Monsieur Auclair,” Saint–Vallier spoke up sharply, “I feel that you evade me. Do you yourself believe that the Count will recover?”

“I must ask your indulgence, Monseigneur, but in a case like the Count’s a medical adviser should not permit himself to believe in anything but recovery. His doubts would affect the patient. If the Count still has the vital force I have always found in him, he will recover. His organs are sound.”

Saint–Vallier seemed to pay little heed to this reply. His eyes had been restlessly sweeping the room from floor to ceiling and now became fixed intently upon one point — on the stuffed alligator, as it happened. He began to speak rapidly, with gracious rise and fall of the voice, but in his most authoritative manner.

“If the Governor’s illness is mortal, and he does not realize the fact, he should be brought to realize it. He has a great deal to put right with Heaven. He has used his authority and his influence here for worldly ends, rather than to strengthen the kingdom of God in Septentrional France!” For the first time he flashed a direct glance at the apothecary.

Auclair bowed respectfully. “Such matters are beyond me, Monseigneur. The Governor does not discuss his official business with me.”

“But there is always open discussion of these things! Of the Governor’s stand on the brandy traffic, for example, which is destroying our missions. I have denounced his policy openly from the pulpit, and on occasions when I noted that you were present in the church. You cannot be ignorant of it.”

“Oh, upon that subject the Governor has also spoken publicly. Everyone knows that he considers it an unavoidable evil.”

Saint–Vallier drew himself up in his chair and adopted an argumentative tone. “And why unavoidable? You doubtless refer to his proposition that the Indians will sell their furs only to such traders as will supply them with brandy?”

“Yes, Monseigneur; and since the English and Dutch traders give them all the brandy they want, and better prices for their skins as well, we must lose the fur trade altogether if we deny them brandy. And our colony exists by the fur trade alone.”

“That is our unique opportunity, Monsieur l’apothicaire, to sacrifice our temporal interests for the glory of God, and impress by our noble example the Dutch and English.”

“If Monseigneur thinks the Dutch traders can be touched by a noble example — ” Auclair smiled and shook his head. “But these things are all beyond me. I know only what everyone knows, — though I have my own opinions.”

“If the Count’s illness is as serious as it seems to me, Monsieur Auclair, he should be given an opportunity to acknowledge his mistakes before the world as well as to Heaven. Such an admission might have a salutary influence upon the administration which will follow his. Since he relies upon you, it is your duty to apprise him of the gravity of his condition.”

Auclair met Saint–Vallier’s glittering, superficial glance and plausible tone rather bluntly.

“I shall do nothing to discourage my patient, Monseigneur, any more than I shall bleed him, as many good people urge me to do. The mind, too, has a kind of blood; in common speech we call it hope.”

The Bishop flushed — his sanguine cheeks were apt to become more ruddy when he was crossed or annoyed. He rose and gathered the folds of his cloak about him. “It is time your patient dropped the stubborn mask he has worn so long, and began to realize that none of his enterprises will benefit him now but such as have furthered the interests of Christ’s Church in this Province. I have seen him, and I believe he is facing eternity.”

Auclair expressed himself as much honoured by the Bishop’s visit and accompanied him to the door, holding it open that the light might guide him across the street to the steps of his episcopal Palace. When he returned to the salon, Cécile was bringing in the soup.

“I began to think Monseigneur de Saint–Vallier would never go, Papa. How people do bother us about everything since the Count is ill! I am glad we can keep them away from him, at least.”

Her father sat down and took a few spoonfuls of soup. “Why, I find I am quite hungry!” he declared. “And when I came home, I did not think I could eat at all. For some reason, our neighbour’s visit seems to have made me more cheerful.”

“That is because you were so resolute with him, Father!”

He smiled at her between the candles.

“What restless eyes he has, Cécile; they run all over everything, like quicksilver when I spill it. He kept looking in again and again at your glass fruit, there on the mantel. Do you know, I believe he drew some conclusion from that; he has seen it at the Château, of course. These men who are trained at Court all become a little crafty; they learn to put two and two together. I have always believed that is why our patron never got advancement at Versailles: he is too downright.”


It was late afternoon, and Cécile was alone — as she was nearly always now. The Count had died last night. Today her father had gone to the Château to seal his heart up in a casket, so that it could be carried back to France according to his wish. It was already arranged that Father Joseph, Superior of the Récollets, should take the casket to Montreal, then to Fort Orange, and down the river to New York, where the English boats came and went all winter. On one of those boats he would go to England, cross over to France, and journey to Paris with the Count’s heart, to bury it in the Montmort chapel at Saint–Nicholas-desChamps.

Auclair had been gone all the afternoon, and Cécile knew that he would come home exhausted from sorrow, from his night of watching, and from the grim duty which had taken him today to the Count’s death-chamber. Cécile regarded this rite with awe, but not with horror; autopsies, she knew, must be performed upon kings and queens and all great people after death. That was the custom. Her father would have the barber-surgeon to help him, — though they were not very good friends, because they disagreed about bleeding people. The barber complained that the meddlesome apothecary took the bread out of his mouth.

Many times that afternoon Cécile went out to the doorstep and looked up at the Château. A light snow was falling, and the sky was grey. It was very strange to look up at those windows in the south end, and to know that there was no friend, no protection there. She felt as if a strong roof over their heads had been swept away. She was not sure that they would even have a livelihood without the Count’s patronage. Their sugar and salt and wine, and her father’s Spanish snuff, had always come from the Count’s storehouses. The colonists paid very little for their remedies; if they brought a basket of eggs, or a chicken, or a rabbit, they thought they were treating their medical man very handsomely. But what she most dreaded was her father’s loneliness. He had lived under the Count’s shadow. The Count was the reason for nearly everything he did, — for his being here at all.

About four o’clock, as the darkness began to close in, Cécile put more wood on the fire in the salon and set some milk to warm before it. There was very little to eat in the house. Her father had not been to market for a week. Running to the door every few minutes, she at last saw him coming down the hill, with his black bag full of deadly poisons. He looked grey and sick as she let him in. Before he threw his black bag into the cupboard, he took out of it a lead box, rudely soldered over. She looked at it solemnly.

“Yes,” he said, “it is all we have left of him. Father Joseph will set out for France in two days. I am in charge of this box until it starts upon its journey.”

He placed it in the cabinet where he kept his medical books, then went into the salon and sank down in his chair by the fire. Cécile knelt on the floor beside him, resting her arms upon his knee. He bent and leaned his cheek for a moment on her shingled brown hair.

“So it is over, my dear,” he sighed softly. “It has lasted a lifetime, and now it is over. Since I was six years old, the Count has been my protector, and he was my father’s before me. To my mother, and to your mother, he was always courteous and considerate. He belonged to the old order; he cherished those beneath him and rendered his duty to those above him, but flattered nobody, not the King himself. That time has gone by. I do not wish to outlive my time.”

“But you wish to live on my account, don’t you, Father? I do not belong to the old time. I have got to live on into a new time; and you are all I have in the world.”

Her father went on sadly: “The Count and the old Bishop were both men of my own period, the kind we looked up to in my youth. Saint–Vallier and Monsieur de Champigny are of a different sort. Had I been able to choose my lot in the world, I would have chosen to be like my patron, for all his disappointments and sorrows; to be a soldier who fought for no gain but renown, merciful to the conquered, charitable to the poor, haughty to the rich and overbearing. Since I could not be such a man and was born in an apothecary shop, it was my good fortune to serve such a man and to be honoured by his confidence.”

Cécile slipped quietly away to pour the warm milk into a cup, and with it she brought a glass of brandy. Her father drank them. He said he would want no dinner tonight, but that she must prepare something for herself. Without noticing whether she did so or not, he sat in a stupor of weariness, dreaming by the fire. The scene at the Château last night passed again before his eyes.

The Count had received the Sacrament in perfect consciousness at seven o’clock. Then he sank into a sleep which became a coma, and lay for three hours breathing painfully, with his eyes rolled back and only a streak of white showing between the half-open lids. A little after ten o’clock he suddenly came to himself and looked inquiringly at the group around his bed; there were two nursing Sisters from the Hôtel Dieu, the Intendant and Madame de Champigny, Hector de Callières, Auclair, and Father Joseph, the Récollets’ Superior, who had heard the Count’s confession and administered the last rites of the Church. The Count raised his eyebrows haughtily, as if to demand why his privacy was thus invaded. He looked from one face to another; in those faces he read something. He saw the nuns upon their knees, praying. He seemed to realize his new position in the world and what was now required of him. The challenge left his face, — a dignified calm succeeded it. Father Joseph held the crucifix to his lips. He kissed it. Then, very courteously, he made a gesture with his left hand, indicating that he wished every one to draw back from his bed.

“This I will do alone,” his steady glance seemed to say.

All drew back.

“Merci,” he said distinctly. That was the last word he spoke. While the group of watchers stood four or five feet away from the bed, wondering, they saw that his face had become altogether natural and lost all look of suffering. He breathed softly for a few moments, then breathed no more. One of the nuns held a feather to his lips. Madame de Champigny got a mirror and put it close to his mouth, but there was no cloud on it. Auclair laid his head down on his patron’s chest; there all was still.

As Auclair was returning home after midnight, under the glitter of the hard bright northern stars, he felt for the first time wholly and entirely cut off from France; a helpless exile in a strange land. Not without reason, he told himself bitterly as he looked up at those stars, had the Latin poets insisted that thrice and four times blessed were those to whom it befell to die in the land of their fathers.

While Auclair sat by the fire thinking of these things, numb and broken, Cécile was lying on the sofa, wrapped up in the old shawl Madame Auclair had used so much after she became ill. She, too, was thinking of what they had lost. They would indeed have another winter in Quebec; but everything was changed almost as much as if they had gone away. That sense of a strong protector had counted in her life more than she had ever realized. To be sure, they had not called upon the Count’s authority very often; but to know that they could appeal to him at any moment meant security, and gave them a definite place in their little world.

The hours went by. Her father did not speak or move, not even to fix the fire, which was very low. For once, Cécile herself had no wish to set things right. Let the fire burn out; what of it?

At last there came a knock at the door, not very loud, but insistent, — urgent, as it were. Auclair got up from his chair.

“Whoever it is, send him away. I can see no one tonight.” He went into the kitchen and shut the door behind him.

Cécile was a little startled, — death made everything strange. She took a candle into the shop, set it down on the counter, and opened the door. Outside there, against the snow, was the outline of a man with a gun strapped on his back. She had thrown her arms around him before she could really see him, — the set of his shoulders told her who it was.

“Oh, Pierre, Pierre Charron!” She began to cry abandonedly, but from joy. Never in all her life had she felt anything so strong and so true, so real and so sure, as that quick embrace that smelled of tobacco and the pine-woods and the fresh snow.

“Petite tête de garçon!” he muttered running his hand over her head, which lay on his shoulder. “There, don’t try to tell me. I know all about it. I started for Kebec as soon as I heard the Count was sinking. Today, on the river, I passed the messengers going to Montreal; they called the word to me. And your father?”

“I don’t know what to do, Pierre. It is worse with him than when my mother died. There seems to be no hope for us.”

“I understand,” he stroked her soothingly. “I knew this would be a blow to him. I said to myself in Ville–Marie: ‘I must be there when it happens.’ I came as quickly as I could. Never did I paddle so fast. The breeze was against me, there was no chance of a sail. I had only a half-man to help me — Antoine Frichette, you remember? That poor fellow for whom your father made the belly-band. He did his best, but since his hurt he has no wind. I’m here at last, to be of any use I can. Command me.” He had loosed the big kerchief from his neck, and now he gently wiped her cheeks dry with it. Turning her face about to the candlelight, he regarded it intently.

“I wish you would go to him, Pierre. He is in the kitchen.”

He kissed her softly on the forehead, unslung his gun, and went out into the kitchen. He, too, closed the door behind him. In the few moments while she was left alone in the shop, Cécile opened the outer door again and looked up toward the Château. The falling snow and the darkness hid it from sight; but she had once more that feeling of security, as if the strong roof were over them again; over her and the shop and the salon and all her mother’s things. For the first time she realized that her father loved Pierre for the same reason he had loved the Count; both had the qualities he did not have himself, but which he most admired in other men.

When they came in from the kitchen, Charron had his arm over Auclair’s shoulder.

“Cécile” he called, “je n’ai pas de chance. Evidently I am too late for supper, and I have not had a morsel since I broke camp before daybreak.”

“Supper? But we have had no supper here tonight. We had no appetite. I will make some for you, at once. There is not much in the house, I am afraid; my father has not been to market. Smoked eels, perhaps?”

Charron made a grimace. “Detestable! Even I can do better than that. I shot a deer for our supper in the forest last night, and I brought a haunch along with me, — outside, in my bag. What else have you?”

“Not much.” Cécile felt deeply mortified to confess this, though it was not her fault. “We have some wild rice left from last year, and there are some carrots. We always have preserves, and of course there is soup.”

“Excellent; all that sounds very attractive to me at the moment. You attend to everything else, but by your leave I will cook the venison in my own way. It’s enough for us all, and there will be good pickings left for Blinker.”

When Charron went out to get his game-bag, Auclair whispered to his daughter: “Are we really so destitute, my child? Do the best you can for him. I will open a box of the conserves from France.”

He now seemed very anxious about his dinner, and she could not forbear a reproachful glance at the head of the house, who had been so neglectful of his duties.

“And you, Monsieur Euclide,” said Pierre, when he came back with the haunch in his hand, “you ought to produce something rather special from your cellar for us.”

“It shall be the best I have,” declared his host.

The supper lasted until late. After the dessert the apothecary opened a bottle of heavy gold-coloured wine from the South.

“This,” he said, “is a wine the Count liked after supper. His family was from the South, and his father always kept on hand wines that were brought up from Bordeaux and the Rhone vineyards. The Count inherited that taste.” He sighed heavily.

“Euclide,” said Charron, “tomorrow it may be you or I; that is the way to look at death. Not all the wine in the Château, not all the wines in the great cellars of France, could warm the Count’s blood now. Let us cheer our hearts a little while we can. Good wine was put into the grapes by our Lord, for friends to enjoy together.”

When it was almost midnight, the visitor said he was too tired to go hunt a lodging, and would gladly avail himself of the invitation, often extended, but never before accepted, of spending the night here and sleeping on the sofa in the salon.

Cécile, in her upstairs bedroom, turned to slumber with the weight of doubt and loneliness melted away. Her last thoughts before she sank into forgetfulness were of a friend, devoted and fearless, here in the house with them, as if he were one of themselves. He had not a throne behind him, like the Count (it had been very far behind, indeed!), not the authority of a parchment and seal. But he had authority, and a power which came from knowledge of the country and its people; from knowledge, and from a kind of passion. His daring and his pride seemed to her even more splendid than Count Frontenac’s.


On the seventeenth day of August 1713, fifteen years after the death of Count Frontenac, the streets of Quebec and the headland overlooking the St. Lawrence were thronged with people. By the waterside the Governor–General and Monsieur Vaudreuil, the Intendant, with all the clergy, regular and secular, the magistrates, and the officers from the garrison, stood waiting to receive a long-expected guest. Down the river lay a ship from France, La Manon, unable to come in against the wind. A small boat had been sent out to bring in one of her passengers. As the little boat drew near the shore, all the cannon on the fortifications, and the guns on the vessels anchored in the roadstead, thundered a salute of welcome to Monseigneur de Saint–Vallier, at last returning to his people after an absence of thirteen years.

When the prelate put foot upon the shore of Quebec, the church-bells began to ring, and continued to ring while the Governor–General, the Intendant, and the Archidiacre made addresses of welcome. The Intendant’s carriage stood ready to convey the Bishop, but he preferred, characteristically, to ascend on foot to the Cathedral in the Upper Town, surrounded by the clergy and preceded by drums and hautbois.

Euclide Auclair, the old apothecary, standing before his door on Mountain Hill to watch the procession, was shocked at the change in Monseigneur de Saint–Vallier. When he sailed for France thirteen years ago, he was a very young man of forty-seven; now he came back a very old man of sixty. Every physical trait by which Auclair remembered the handsome and arrogant churchman had disappeared. He would never have recognized, in this heavy, stooped, lame old man going up the hill, the slender and rather dramatic figure he had so often seen mounting the steps of the episcopal Palace across the way. The narrow, restless shoulders were fat and bent; the Bishop carried his head like a man broken to the yoke.

Auclair watched the procession until the turn of the way shut Monseigneur de Saint–Vallier from sight, then went back to his shop and sat down, overcome. The thirteen years which for him had passed quietly, happily, had been bitter ones for the wandering Bishop. Nine years ago Saint–Vallier was on his way back to Canada after one of his long absences, when his ship, La Seine, was captured by the English, taken into London, and sold at auction. The Bishop himself was declared a prisoner of state, and was sequestered in a small English town near Farnham until the French King should ransom him.

Politics intervened: King Louis had lately seized and imprisoned the Baron of Méan, Dean of the Cathedral of Liege. The German Emperor was much offended at this, and besought Queen Anne not to release the Bishop of Quebec under any other terms than as an exchange for the Baron of Méan. For five years Saint–Vallier remained a prisoner of state in England, until King Louis at last set the Baron of Méan at liberty and recalled the Bishop of Quebec to France. But this did not mean that he was free to return to Canada. During his captivity his enemies in Quebec and Montreal had been busy, had repeatedly written the Minister, Pontchartrain, that the affairs of the colony went better with the Bishop away; that the King would be assisting his Canadian subjects by keeping Saint–Vallier in France. This the King did. He kept him, indeed, almost as long as the Queen of England had done.

That period of detention in France had sobered and saddened the wilful Bishop. His captivity in England he could ascribe to the hostilities of nations; to himself and to others he was able to put a very good face on it. But he could not pretend that he was kept in France for any other reason than that he was not wanted in Quebec. He had to admit to the Minister that he had made mistakes; that he had not taken the wise course with the Canadian colonists. Only by unceasing importunities, and by working upon the sympathies of Madame de Maintenon, who had always befriended him, had he ever wrung from the King permission to sail back to his diocese.

On this day of his return, even his enemies were softened at seeing how the man was changed. In place of his former assurance he seemed to wear a leaden mantle of humility; he climbed heavily up the hill to the Cathedral as if he were treading down the mistakes of the past.

Auclair, the apothecary, on the other hand, had scarcely changed at all. His delicate complexion had grown a trifle sallow from staying indoors so much, but the years which had made the Bishop an old man had passed lightly over the apothecary. Even his shop was still the same; perhaps a trifle dustier than it used to be, and opposite his counter there was a new cabinet screwed fast to the wall, full of brilliant sea-shells, starfish and horseshoe crabs, dried seaweed and branches of coral. Everyone looked at this case on entering the shop, — there was something surprising and unexpected about such a collection. It suggested the South and blue seas far away.

On the third day after the Cathedral had welcomed its long absent shepherd, that prelate himself came to call upon the apothecary, arriving at the door on foot and unattended. He greeted Auclair with friendliness and took the proffered chair, admitting that he felt the summer heat in Quebec more than he used to do.

“But you yourself, Monsieur Auclair, are little altered. I rejoice to see that God has preserved you in excellent health.”

Auclair hastened to bring out a glass of fortifying cordial, and the Bishop accepted it gratefully. While he drank it, Auclair regarded him. It was unfortunate that Saint–Vallier, of all men, should have grown heavy — it took away his fine carriage. His once luxuriant brown hair was thin and grey, his triangular cheeks had become full and soft, like an old woman’s, and they were waxy white. Between them, the sharp chin had almost disappeared.

“I have been thinking how fortunate I shall be to have you for my neighbour once more, Monseigneur,” said Auclair. “Every spring I have given some little advice to the workmen who were attending to your garden, and I have often wished you could see your shrubs coming into bloom.”

The Bishop smiled faintly and shook his head.

“Ah, monsieur, I shall not live in the episcopal Palace again. Perhaps that was a mistake; I should have waited to understand the designs of Providence more perfectly.”

“Not live in your own residence, Monseigneur? That will be a great disappointment to all of us. The building is in excellent condition.”

The Bishop again shook his head. “I find myself too poor now to maintain such an establishment. I suppose you do not know anyone who would care to rent the Palace? The rental would be very helpful to me in my present undertakings. No, I shall reside at the Hôpital Général.* My good daughters there have arranged un petit appartement of two rooms which will meet my needs very well. I shall reside with them for the remainder of my life, God willing. Their chaplain is old and must soon retire, and I shall take his place. The office of chaplain will be quite compatible with my other duties.”

Auclair was amazed. “In a hospital the duties of a chaplain are considerable, are they not?”

“But very congenial to me — ” (the old man folded his hands over the kerchief he had taken out to wipe his brow) — “to celebrate the morning mass for the sisters and to hear their confessions; to administer the consolations of the Church to the sick and the dying. As chaplain I shall be in daily attendance upon the unfortunate, as is my wish.”

Auclair sat silent for some moments, stroking his short beard in perplexity. Evidently nothing in his former relations with Monseigneur de Saint–Vallier was a guide for future intercourse. He changed the subject and began to speak of happenings in Quebec during the Bishop’s absence, of common acquaintances who had died in that time, among them old Monseigneur de Laval.

Saint–Vallier sighed. “Would it had been permitted me to return in time to thank him for the labours he underwent for my flock during the years of my captivity, and to close his eyes at the last. I can never hope to be to this people all that my venerable predecessor became, through his devotion and his long residence among them. But I shall be with them now for as long as God spares me, and I hope to be deserving of their affection.”

At this moment a countrywoman appeared at the door. She was about to withdraw when she saw what visitor the apothecary was entertaining, but the Bishop called her back and insisted that his host attend to her needs. He waited patiently in his chair while she bought foxglove water for her dropsical father-inlaw, and liquorice for her baby’s cough. While he was serving her, Auclair wondered how he could give a turn to the Bishop’s talk and learn from him what was going on at home. When the farmer woman had gone, he took the liberty of questioning his visitor directly.

“You have been at Versailles lately, Monseigneur? And how are things there, pray tell me?”

“Very sad since the death of the young Duc and Duchesse de Bourgogne last year. The King will never recover from that double loss. In the Duc, his grandson, he foresaw a wise and happy reign for France; and the young Duchesse had been the idol of his heart ever since she first came to them from Savoie. She was the life of the Court, — as dear to Madame de Maintenon as to the King. The official mourning is over, but the Court mourns, nevertheless.”

Auclair nodded. “And the King, I suppose, is an old man now.”

“Yes, the King is old. He still comes down to supper to the music of twenty-four violins, still works indefatigably with his ministers; there is dancing and play and conversation in the Salle d’Apollon every evening. His Court remains the most brilliant in Europe, — but his heart is not in it. There is no one left who can charm away his years and his cares as the little Duchesse de Bourgogne did, and nothing can make him forget for one hour the death of the Duc de Bourgogne. All Christendom, monsieur, has suffered an incalculable loss in the death of that pious prince.”

“They died within a few days of each other, we heard.”

Saint–Vallier bowed his head. “They were buried in the same tomb, and their little son with them.”

“There is still talk of poison?”

“Popular opinion accuses the Duc d’Orléans. Their second son, an infant in arms, showed the same symptoms of poisoning, but he survived.”

“Ah,” said Auclair, “a bad situation! The King is seventy-seven, and the Dauphin a child in arms. That will mean a long regency. I suppose the young Duc de Berry will fill that office?”

“God grant it, monsieur, God spare him!” exclaimed the Bishop fervently. “If any mischance were to befall the Duc de Berry, then that arch-atheist and suspected poisoner the Duc d’Orléans would be regent of France!” Saint–Vallier’s voice cracked at a high pitch.

Auclair crossed himself devoutly. “I should have liked to see my King once more. He has been a great King. Is he much altered in person?”

“He is old. I had a private interview with His Majesty last November, late in the afternoon, when he was taking his exercise in the Parc of Versailles. We had scarcely begun our conference when a wind arose, stripping the trees that were already half-bare. The King invited me to go indoors to his cabinet, remarking that it distressed him now to hear the autumn winds and to see the leaves fall. That seemed to me to indicate a change.”

“Yes,” said Auclair, “that tells a story.”

“Monsieur,” began the Bishop sadly, “we are in the beginning of a new century, but periods do not always correspond with centuries. At home the old age is dying, but the new is still hidden. I felt the same condition in England, during my long captivity there. There is now no figure in the world such as our King was thirty years ago. The changes in the nations are all those of the old growing older. You have done well to remain here where nothing changes. Here with you I find everything the same.” He glanced about the shop and peered into the salon. “And the little daughter, whom I used to see running in and out?”

“She is married, to our old friend Pierre Charron of Ville–Marie. He has built a commodious house in the Upper Town, beyond the Ursuline convent. They are well established in the world.”

“You live alone, then?”

“For part of the year. Perhaps you remember a little boy whom my daughter befriended, Jacques Gaux? His mother was a loose woman — she died in your Hôpital Général, some years ago. The boy is now a sailor, and when he is in Quebec, between voyages, he lives with me. He occupies my daughter’s little chamber upstairs.” Auclair pointed to the cabinet of shells and corals. “He brings me these things back from his voyages; he is in the West India trade. I should like to keep him here all the time; but his father was a sailor — it is natural.”

“No,” said the Bishop, “I do not recall him. But your daughter I remember with affection. Heaven has blessed her with children?”

The apothecary’s eyes twinkled. “Four sons already, Monseigneur. She is bringing up four little boys, the Canadians of the future.”

“Ah yes, the Canadians of the future, — the true Canadians.”

There was something in Saint–Vallier’s voice as he said this which touched Auclair’s heart; a note humble and wistful, something sad and defeated. Sometimes a neighbour whom we have disliked a lifetime for his arrogance and conceit lets fall a single commonplace remark that shows us another side, another man, really; a man uncertain, and puzzled, and in the dark like ourselves. Had his visitor not been a Bishop, Auclair would have reached out and grasped his hand and murmured: “Courage, mon bourgeois,” as he did to down-hearted patients. The two men sat together in a warm and friendly silence until Saint–Vallier rose and said he must be going. “I shall have the pleasure of confirming your grandsons, I hope? They will live to see better times than ours.”

Auclair accompanied him to the door and watched him tread his way up the hill and round the turn of the street. Then he went back to his desk with the feeling that old feuds were forgotten. He would have a great deal to tell Cécile when he went to supper there tonight. She would be quicker than anyone to sense the transformation in their old neighbour, who had built himself an episcopal residence approached by twenty-four stone steps, and who now proposed to spend the rest of his life in two small rooms in the hospital out on the river Charles. To be sure, the Bishop was a little theatrical in his humility, as he had been in his grandeur; but that was his way, Auclair reflected, and, after all, nobody can help his way. If a man admits his mistakes, that is a great deal, when he is a proud man and a Dauphinois — always a stiff-necked race.

While he was closing his shop and changing his coat to go up to his daughter’s house, he thought over much that his visitor had told him, and he believed that he was indeed fortunate to spend his old age here where nothing changed; to watch his grandsons grow up in a country where the death of the King, the probable evils of a long regency, would never touch them.

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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52