FICTION

"The End of the Road"

Charles Shirley April 1 1911
FICTION

"The End of the Road"

Charles Shirley April 1 1911

"The End of the Road"

Charles Shirley

I LEFT him standing in the door of his studio in Little Pierre Street, Montreal, waving his head, so to speak, and talking away to me and to himself, about ‘escaping.’

An hour before, I had dropped into his studio to tell him where I was going and where to send the next picture. I had tola him that I was off on my annual tour of the Province on my motor-cycle.

He said he wished me a nice trip, and that sort of thing, then right away he began to talk about wanting to ‘escape.’

“Escape!” I said, “Escape from what?”

“From this place,” he answered, “from wearing bow ties and velvet coats and getting my thumb sore from carrying a pallete. I want to forget that there ever was such a thing as ‘Art’ or studios or Bohemianism or anything else like that. I’d like to have a good steady job at something regular. I’d like to be commercial. If I could be a wholesale grocer, like you are, Mr. Smith, I’d be tickled to death.”

That put me on the defensive and I told him it wasn’t so easy to be a wholesale grocer as he thought it was. I told him that I believed a man had to be a genius to be a wholesale grocer just the same as he’d have to be a genius to be a painter or a musician. Of course, I knew that was wrong, but I had to stick up for the wholesale grocers. Dreeks —, that was his name. — answered by apologizing and asking me to give him a job as a clerk, calling invoices in the warehouse, but I fancied he had no head for figures, and I told him ‘No.’

Dreeks should have been thankful that he could paint. I couldn’t. Yet I always wanted to, — always wanted to paint or be a musician or a poet, but I couldn’t

manage it, couldn’t hold a pencil, couldn’t tell one tune from another. I always wanted to be something artistic, but the only thing that was any good for me was the wholesale grocery business.

Long after I thought I had forgotten all about wanting to paint I met Dreeks. It must have been at a time that he had had a streak of hard luck. He was just out of the art school. I bought seventeen of his paintings at one sitting. He seemed a nice fellow and I took an interest in him. He was trying to paint landscapes when I discovered him but I persuaded him that cats were better, —pretty kittens playing with balls of yarn or trying to get their heads into milk jugs. So he took to cats and I bought almost all he could turn out. At first he used to wear tweeds but I got him to wear a flowing tie and a velvet coat. It looked more artistic. So he did, and kept on painting and I kept on getting what he painted and everything seemed right and proper until he said this about wanting to ‘escape.’

Once before he had thrown down his brushes and declared that he was not good for anything.

“Why not?” I asked him. “Aren’t you getting on?”

“No.”

“What?”

“No. You know it too, Smith. You know very well that you’re the only person that buys my work and you wouldn’t buy them if you really knew—I mean it’s out of kindness—don’t you see that I see, Smith?”

I rode away. I little thought that I was going to lead Smith into the very path of ‘escape.’ I didn’t count on getting mixed up with what I did get mixed up in, or maybe I wouldn’t have gone.

II.

Now I always thought that I knew Quebec like a book. But didn’t, else I should not have stumbled on the queer little road that I found. I thought that I knew every town and village and cure and blacksmith clear from the St. Lawrence down to the United States, and even some in Vermont, But I didn’t.

I got lost. The roads were smooth and the engine was working nicely. Birds were making noises in the trees and brooks and things were babbling and moving and everything looked nice in the sunlight. I probably got to thinking too much about the beauties of nature and I just kept on following the road, expecting to reach the next village where I had a branch store, pretty soon. But as it came along to the end of the afternoon I saw that I didn’t seem to be getting any nearer where I should be and I was afraid I’d get caught by the dusk before I got to shelter. So I put on a little more spark and must have been traveling fully five miles an hour—my rule is four miles an hour on country roads—when I came to the top of the big hill which fell away abruptly into a valley on the other side. It was a new hill to me. When I looked around I saw that the whole country was new to me, and when I looked down the hill I saw a village I had never seen before. It was buried in shadows, almost up to the eaves of the houses. Little wisps of white wood-smoke were streaking up toward the sky. I heard children crying and a dog barking and before I got down the hill a bell started to ring, somewhere out of sight.

I left the machine at the inn and went to nnd the cure. He was an old, old man with white hair. He evidently didn’t approve of a man of my vears wearing gaiters and goggles, but T didn’t care. I wanted to know where I was.

“What village is this?” I said.

“This is The End of the Road.’ ” he »aid, only the name of the village was in French. i

“End of the Road!” I said. “That’s a queer name. Never heard of vour village before. Are you perfectlv sure father because your village looks' a little bit like some other places I’ve been.” I thought he might be bluffing me and I just took

the precaution of letting him know that I was no stranger in Quebec.

“No. M’sieu’,” he replied, gravely, “This is it. This place is called The End of the Road. But excuse me, M’sieu’, it is vespers—You will be very welcome. The Church is just near-”

“No thanks,” I said, “I’m a Christian ¡Scientist Father. No harm meant, but I never could understand your service and besides my machine needs fixing. Something’s wrong with her.”

He smiled and bowed and I smiled and bowed, though I am fat and I guessed that we would like one another if we had time. Something about him made me think I could, perhaps, make him a Christian Scientist. But I tried afterward, and it wasn’t any use. He had gout.

My engine compelled me to stay at The End of the Road.’ I found out that I had lost a part and that I would have to wait in the village ’till it came, by mail. This gave me an opportunity to learn why the village was called what it was—because it really was at The end’ of a blind road. It also gave me an opportunity to try the doctrine of Reverend Mary Baker E. on the padre, but as soon as I saw how the padre’s feet felt with the gout I let up. He was grateful and said he had met very few men that were as reasonable. That pleased me and I said he was the first priest I ever had a sensible word out of. So we were both pleased, and he brought out the scheme, and made me acquainted with Alede. If the scheme had worked it would have made Dreeks. and the padre and Alede and me, famous— mostly Dreeks and Alede. But it didn’t.

The curé and I were sitting in the gallery of the inn one evening when the little French-Canadian girl passed. She was a pretty little thing and I thought to myself right away that she had what I call an artistic temperament.

“Who is she?” I asked, leaning over to the cure, as she passed.

“Sh!” he said. “Her name is Alede, Alede Robitaille.”

“Pretty name!” I commented, sipping my toddy and telling the cure to hurry with his so’t we could have another before we went to bed, “Pretty name, Father. How’d you say it again? Alede Rob—er--”

“Robitaille.”

“Nice name. Who is she?”

“Ah,” said the cure, sipping his, and assuming a large air of mystery, “That’s it. That’s it. To-day she is—to-day? Nothing but pretty little Alede Robitaille, an orphan who owns a little grocery store —but to-morow! Ah!”

“Groceries!” I exclaimed, “Groceries!” “Yes. It is her little property and she keeps the shop with an old uncle of hers.

Her mother died last month-”

“But what’s the scheme?” I asked, getting impatient.

The cure paused, as though he hated to disclose the secret. It nettled me. I urged him again. Finally he let it out. “Painting,” he said.

“Painting?”

“Yes, M’sieu’, I have no eye for art. I am, in fact, color blind, but I tell you, sir —I tell you we have a little genius in the village. All she needs is education. All she needs is a little chance to study and

practice and-”

“And she wants to?”

“Oh, I think so. She draws birds and

trees and animals-”

“Any cats?” I demanded.

“Cats? oh, oui!”

“Ever talk about escaping?”

“Es—escaping? How M’sieu’?”

“Oh, never mind Father,” I returned, “but I’d like to come in on the scheme.” His face shone with eagerness. “Do,” he cried.

“Then I shall educate her. I shall send her to school. I shall send her to Paris. She shall become a great artist and then we-”

“Then she will be the pride of the village, and cast honor on your name.” he replied, very nicely. “Good! If M’sieu’

could undertake it-” His face grew a

little grave. “It would cost—perhaps three thousand dollars—M’sieu’.”

“That does not matter so long as she paints,” I said. “Art for Art’s sake.” “M’sieu’ then, is—well-to-do?”

I was rather glad he thought I was poor, so that I could surprise him.

“Father,” I said as gravely as possible, “have you ever heard of Rooney’s Biscuits?”

“Rooney’s Biscuits! Oui! You do not say, M’sieu’, that you—that YOU are— Rooney’s”

“Biscuits and wholesale groceries,” I said, proudly. “That ought to be enough

to educate little Alecie Rob—ei--”

“Robitaille.”

“Quite so. I shall send at once for Dreeks.”

So I did.

III.

“Dreeks,” I asked, when he arrived, “did you bring your brushes and paints and things?”

“Yes, of course,” he said, rather drily. “You wired me to, so I brought them.”

“Fine!”

I took him down and introduced him to my friend the cure. The cure and I wanted to talk ‘Art’ right away, but Dreeks seemed to be feeling in an uncommunitive mood. As he and I walked back to the inn he asked me all sorts of questions about the girl I wanted him to coach, and about her work. I could see he thought she was probably an ordinary little creature with only mediocre ability. But I told him she was good; I had seem some little sketches she had done ; I promised to take him down and show him his prospective pupil and her work in the morning. The cure was to come too.

So, in the morning we went. The cure called for us and he and I talked about Art and the high calling of the studio life till I thought Dreeks looked bored. Once he broke in impatiently with a question wanting to know if I had ever heard of the hundreds of artists that had failed, that had been spoiled for useful citizenship by being encouraged in a work for which they had only a very little talent.

The cure and I admitted that we had not.

“Well,” snarled Dreeks, “there are hundreds of ’em, hundreds! Some starve to death. Some few sensible ones get good positions in lithographing houses or advertising agencies. But others go to swell the ranks of the unemployable, and who’s to blame?”

“Who?” we asked, both at once.

But Dreeks had suddenly decided that he wouldn’t tell us. He stopped up short and left me and the cure wondering who he meant.

Alede Robitaille’s late mother’s grocery shop was not at all up-to-date. It was poorly lighted and understocked and had none of the appurtenances of a real grocery. But Dreeks became suddenly anim-

a ted, when lie saw ii—-called it quaint and picturesque and other things.

We introduced her to Dreeks and I noticed that Dreeks seemed awkward for the first time in our acquaintance. His air of boredness liad changed. He was interested. 1 was sure that he saw the girl was a genius. Inside, the cure made her bring out her drawings. She didn’t seem to want to. She said she only did it for amusement. Dreeks looked at her sharply when she said that, and he didn’t seem enthusiastic about the drawings. However, it was agreed that he should remain in the village and give her drawing lessons.

IV.

One day I went with them on their sketching trip, as I usually did, and when they found something simple enough for beginners, they went to work, he guiding her hand sometimes, while I, having spread my duster on the ground, took a. nap. But this day I wras only half asleep when I heard a funny little laugh. It was Alede. I had always thought her very quiet before, and I was surprised, but it was a pretty laugh, like music, a little, and I kept on sleeping.

“Next week,” I heard him say, “Next week you are to leave for Montreal. What is to become of the little store?”

She sighed. fIt is to be sold for me,” she said, sadly.

“And—and—” I heard him say, “do you really want to paint, to make pictures.”

“Why, of course, M’sieu’.”

“Honestly, Miss Robitaille?”

She did not answer. I wanted to cough or open my eyes, because I smelled rats.

"Or don't you sometimes think,” went on the villain Dreeks, “how good it is to li\e here in this pretty village, where you are said to be quite wealthv and where you have everything-”

“I would rather have the village ” *aid the girl. *=■ ’

• ,o»Q ‘V0U want to learn to

paint?”

“Because they want me to. Thev give me every chance to learn. Thev think I might honor the village.”

They stopped and I waked.

The rest happened suddenly.

He and she went sketching one morning. They did not return by noon. The cure and I in our afternoon walk over the usual sketching grounds saw nothing of them, but wre said nothing to each other. But when there was still no trace of them after supper we began to look at one another guiltily.

We telephoned to the next village and the next, and the next, but there was no word of the missing pair until, having called up a third place the local priest answered.

“Hello,” I demanded, “have you seen anything of—”

Suddenly my own cure clutched me by the arm and pointed at that which caused me to hang up the receiver.

“Dreeks,” I said calmly, “Is that you?”

“Daughter, Is it you? Is it Alede?” murmured the cure.

“Yes,

They stood side by side before us. The girl was coloring to the brows. Dreeks evidently awaiting for a chance to

“Mr. Smith,” he said. “We ran away

to-day and were married by Father-”

“But your careers!” wailed the cure. “Your futures as artists!”

“We are not artists,” replied Dreeks. “It was time that Alede and I were honest about it. We are not needed in Art. We should always be struggling in a race we are unfitted for. It would not be fair, nor wise. My father was a storekeeper. I was raised in an Ontario village. He turned me out when I insisted on learning to paint. Yesterday, I received word that he had died and that he has left his earthly possessions to me—provided that I give up Art. I have therefore, cast my lot in the grocery business. I shall put up the money to make a really big store of Alede’s little place. I shall have enough, I think, Mr. Smith, to pay you back for your many kindnesses, if you can wait for the settling of the estate—” I told him to hold his tongue. I felt disappointed, and yet—there is need for good grocers in this country. The cure was content that Alede was back again. So then the cure and I ordered a little supper for them and in the morning I went down to the little store and made a list of the things they would need. I mailed the order to my firm in Montreal.