The story that won the $250 second prize in MacLean's short story contest
R. V. GERY
QUI VA? A priest? So! It is come, then, and to-morrow I hang.
Monsieur, have the goodness to spare me your talk of le bon dieu and my soul. In the morning, cr-r-r-ack! and I shall learn soon enough whether le bon dieu is not a bogy you priests have invented to keep yourselves warmly clad and well-fed. But me, I will not talk with you of such matters, no: I am not a hypocrite, mon ami, and I would give it all for a fine big drink of cognac, bigre! Do not speak to me of those things!
Nevertheless you would desire to remain with me. That is as you wish, monsieur, and in effect it is to be confessed that to-night is one for company. How is that? You have tobacco? Mon
pere, you are an ornament to ycur cloth: would you believe, I have not smoked since they tried me in Mon’real. Wah! Let us talk: it passes the time
Oui, je les ai tue . . .1 killed them, both of them: Big Jean Mathie, and Alouette. I am sorry? But not at all, monsieur. Why? They did a dirtiness to me, Luc Lurette, and I do not permit dirtinesses from such types. For Big Jean, I am perhaps a little chagrined that he should have been so great a fool: but the woman . . . pah, vermine, salaude, little snake! Listen, then, and I will tell you-
It was in Baie Saint Luc, on the river, and mon pere was a fisherman, the solid bourgeois, with his boat paid for, and money put by. He called me Luc, because he was maire the year I was born: and he would have me go to college, and then to the université in Quebec, and make of myself doctor or banker or avocat, a gentleman. He had great ideas, le vieux! but I thought otherwise, since my two fists were better friends to me than all the schoolbooks, and running with the women more amusing than listening to Messieurs the Précepteurs. By the time I was twenty I had thrashed everyone in the village, and had affairs with most of the girls, for they like, bien entendu, the strong arm. And then . . . It is five years, mon pere . . . this Alouette comes.
They called her after the old song, I think: she had no other name. Her mother had been Angele Brigandin, one of the fishgirls, and her father . . . I say nothing of him, but he was mate on the Hirondelle, coasting from Gaspé: when he heard how it was with Angele, he went south in a hurry. A careful gentleman: no one saw him again.
When this Alouette was born, Angele turned her over to Mere Louchard to look after, while she went back to the booths: but by and by the girls and La Louchard and the cure chased her so because of the baby that one night she walked out of the village and drowned herself off the rocks in the bay. That is the commencement of this Alouette, monsieur.
La Louchard only sniffed when she heard of it : but she kept the baby, and reared it “to care for her old age,” she said. The girl was brought up to be a beggar, and to visit doors after dark for charité from the neighbors, trading on her birth. She grew into a a tall slinking gosse, with narrow black eyes and the trick of using them, voyez! (You have another cigarette, mon pere?)
Bien, she looked sideways at me, and she did not have to look more than twice, for my father bade me with formality to keep clear of her, and you may imagine what that meant. By the time I was twenty and this Alouette seventeen there were many things between us: and at last the good Gaspard Lurette set himself to break it.
Me, I would not have let the devil himself interfere between me and what I wanted, mon pere’ perhaps that is why I am here now. Jean Mathie, the great lout, mocked himself of Alouette and me in the road one day, and called her a name . . . eh, it is
perhaps not suitable to repeat . . . and I hit him under the chin, monsieur, and we fight all over the road like two dogs, and then I trip him, and bif! I hit him again as he goes, and there is my Jean flapping like a fish, and Alouette who smiles at me, and my father who regards the three of us.
“Toi, Luc!” he says. “Co, c’est fini! You are a brawler, a fighter in the street. Go home, and wait well till I come: we will see whrf is the bigger man, you or I! For you" and he turned to Alouette, “I will speak to you this once. My son Luc is a great fool, but he is not bad: you are corrupting him, petite honteuse. Keep from him, or it will be the worse for you!”
Monsieur, has your bon dieu a punishment for those that make defiance to their parents? Tenez, I shall soon learn. ^Have you
the time, a -propos, mon pere? Jesu, solate already!) I turned on my father in a great rage.
‘ Take care, monsieur!" I cried. "I do not permit anyone to speak so of Mademoiselle."
1 was a fool, but I was in a black temper. My father stared at me.
“Vu, great booby!” he said. “Thy mademoiselle is nothing better than . ” and he used no pretty word1
1 struck him to the ground, mon pere.
For an instant there is a red cloud in front of my eyes, and I see nothing. Then this Alouette takes me by the arm, monsieur. and we run, for there is no place in Baie Saint Luc for boys who strike their parents. As I run. with Alouette's hand hot in mine. I look over my shoulder, and I see the old Gaspard picked up, and they shake the fist at me. and open doors, and a crowd gathers. It does not look nice, that.
By the church we stop, out of breath: and this Alouette looks at me.
“Where will you go, Luc?” she says, speaking fast. “For where you go, I go. too. This place is not for either of us, and I hate it. But where can we run?” And then, bah’ she kiss me. and I look down the road again, and here is une foule with sticks and stones filling it all. We must run, and continue running: so I kiss her back, and Mon Dieu, we run on the road to the west as if the devil himself were after us. But the crowd runs, too, and by and by there comes a stone, and another. That does not look good. MCN sar.
There is a big auto slides out of a side road, with a fat bonhomme at the wheel: it runs parallel with us for five, maybe ten, steps, and then the moastVur reaches back, and pulls open the door, and “Jump, then!” he says. Figure now if we jump, this Alouette and me. The monsieur he steps on the gas. and pouf, we are seven kilos from there, and he turns round and grins at
"A narrow shave, hein?" he says. “What was the trouble?”
( Mon pere. there is a table at your elbow'.
Will you put your watch there, so that I can see the time? It is three o’clock? Dame!
Ca glisse, eh?)
Where was I? Eh, when the fat man heard the story, he began to chuckle.
"And what will you do now?” he asked.
Alouette answered for the two of us.
"If monsieur would drive us to a town
The man laughed again. He was a fat fellow, big and coarse, with a heavy black mustache, and a great shining diamond in his cravat: he spoke in a hoarse voice, as if he drank much brandy, and, indeed, he smelled richly of it: he was a new kind of man to me.
“Listen,” he said. “What can you do, le garçon, besides beat your father?"
“Do?” I said, "But anything! lean . . . lean . .
I can ...” and then as I saw him laughing again at me, ■** He quoi! I can fight!”
“ Hein?" the fat man cried. “Is this true, mademoiselle?’’
“Unluckily, yes, monsieur," Alouette said. “Luc will fight anyone: he ha3 just broken Jean Mathie’s jaw over me.” And she smiled at him.
“Saperlipopette!" he said thoughtfully, scratching his chin. “You are a glutton, then? Hear now. You behold Jean-Jacques-Anastase Gobin, at your service, trainer of fighters: I need likely young cockerels of your type. You will work for me?”
“And I, monsieur?" asks Alouette. “I must go with Luc.”
Gobin looks at the two of us. “Evidently,” he says, with a chuckle. “But that is for M. Luc to arrange!” And he drives on again, still chuckling.
MON PERE, will you ask them outside for a drink for me. My throat is on fire: and voyez, how the little hours fly. Courage, Luc! But you are very good, mon pere! perhaps your bon dieu -will reward you. I could almost wish . . . but bah! no matter now!)
Marriage? No, monsieur. We never considered it. Among the boy3 round Gobin’s camp, there were not many who gave a thought to such matters, nor their fillettes either, I fear. A boxeur, mon pere, is after all something of an animal: more so when he is used as a choppingblock, as Gobin used me to begin with. I would come back to the room we had rented, with my face a salad from blows, and Alouette would bathe and cleanse it, and cook my food, and . . Hens, she was my woman and that was ail I cared about, me. Perhaps it was wrong, but I shall know all that soon enough: meanwhile we were not unhappy.
Gobin’s quarters were in Mon’real, but he would move about for fights, into the States and sometimes West: I fought my first battle for him at Winnipeg, and won it, and after that I am to be kept for something a little bigger. I was twenty-three a year ago, when Gobin gave me my share of the stake from the Winnipeg fight . . . my first money earned in a battle . . . and I took it home to Alouette, and she bought a new robe-de-nuit with it, very pretty, I remember: I killed her in it. It was wrong, I know, but listen a little and you shall hear: maybe . . . but no, Luc: that is beyond hope now.
So matters went on, and this Alouette and I, we live together, wickedly perhaps, monsieur, but pleasantly enough in Mon’real, and I was training for a fight with a Jew in Detroit, and Gobin, he would punch me and pinch me, and chuckle, and drink brandy, and laugh at Alouette whenever he saw her. Eh, I have wondered sometimes whether that big man did not deserve a killing, too: but it is too late now. After a while, he goes away for a fortnight in his car, and we see nothing of him.
Then one evening, when I am punching the bag in the training quarters, and dripping with sweat, he comes back. I see him looking on while I swing right and left at the flying bag, getting speed for the Jew: and when I have finished, he comes over to me.
“Luc,” he says, “here is another sparring-partner for you.” Like that, mon pere! and it is the big imbecile Jean Mathie, from Baie Saint Luc, who is grinning there. Va, he makes me sick: I can see him yet, the fat lout, with his yellow hair and red face; he resembled a stupid bull.
“Quoi, Luc?” he says. “Is it thou? A boxeur, hein? And
I am to make la boxe with you? It is droll, that! And the little Alouette?”
The animal irritates me. “Gobin,” I say, “pour Vamour de dieu, where did you find this? It is this that I have beaten every two weeks since I was fifteen. It annoys me, Gobin.”
Big Jean shows his yellow teeth: he is all yellow, that one. “You talk as much as ever, Luc,” he says. “Perhaps one day you will learn that talk is not everything . . . eh, M. Gobin?” And he goes off to the dressing-room, leaving me standing there. Gobin looks at me with seriousness. “Where did you meet him, that one?” he asks.
(Fi, donc! I have three, no, two hours left, maybe: and then, I suppose, they will come for me. Mon pere, I am not afraid to die: look, I am calm, is it not so? I should, however, make my peace with the church before ... ? Monsieur, I have had no dealings with the church . . . it is too late ... I tell you, yes! Give me another cigarette, and I will finish the story.)
I told Gobin of Jean Mathie, and Baie Saint Luc, and Alouette: and he rolled his eyes, and frowned. “See, Luc,” he said, “I will have no quarreling among you here. Let the big fellow alone: he will make a good chopping-block, but no more. It is your duty now to train and train for Levy next month. Fiche-moi le camp, done! Run away and train!”
I told Alouette that night that Big Jean was in Mon’real. She looked at me with wide eyes. “That canaille?” she asked. “What will you do, Luc?”
It is here, I think that the trouble began, for this Alouette was one of the killer women, and I did not know it. If you think of it, mon pere, is it not true that there are women born who want but one thing, to see men fighting for them, and if possible to hçive some man die because of them? It is sft, monsieur, and this Alouette was like that: if I had beaten Jean to a jelly that night, she would have been content, if not happy: I think she never would have been quite happy unless I had killed him. But I did not see that, and thus I am here.
I said to her: “The fat man is not worth noticing, ma petite! I have other things to attend to but to thrash idiots. When I have beaten Levy, maybe I will attend to him: until then, unless he annoys you, let him alone.”
I should, no doubt, have gone out and cut the liver from this Mathie that night: but I did not think him important enough. Observe now this Alouette.
For an hour she talked to me of this Jean, and the way he had spoken of her in Baie Saint Luc: it was not so much that she was angry, mon pere, as that she kept on quietly at me, hinting that it was a dirtiness that he had done, and that he should pay for it: nothing direct, you are to understand, but just temptation. At last I said to her that there was enough of these things for one time, and that we would go to bed: bien, she was agreeable, and said no more of Jean . mon dieu, if I had known what she thought!
Next day I meet Jean, and we are polite, and box a little, and it is arranged that I go to a camp in the woods to run and swim for two weeks: Gobin has an establishment of this sort. So I kiss Alouette, and go off with another boy . . . Gobin will not let Jean come with me, for fear that we fight . . . and there I am for fifteen days or maybe twenty, and I hear nothing of Alouette or Gobin or Jean either: and then Gobin he comes down to bring me back. Jean is in the back of the car.
“Tiens, Luc, let us see you!” says Gobin, with his fat laugh. “You are ready for this Levy? Bon! to-morrow we go to Detroit.”
Jean is humming a little tune to himself, and he turns tome. “ He, le garçon!” he says with a swagger, “Y ou are strong and well-trained, but you are not yet quick enough . . . here?” And he taps his head.
It is certainly meant as an insult, and Gobin answers him angrily: but I take no notice of the animal, and we drive home, with Jean sneering quietly in his seat. Sometime, I think there will be a little account to be settled there. T
At Mon’real, here is Alouette to meet us, and dieuh she looks black at this Jean, for she is clever, and will not have me know that he and she have been together while I am away. I go home with her and tell her that to-morrow I go to Detroit for one week, to fight Levy, and must leave her here. She says tres bien, and packs my bag with my fighting trunks and shoes, and we walk on the street, and see the cinema, and pass this Jean, with his big yellow head and big yellow teeth, and she say to me “See there, then, ce sale bete, Luc! When you come back, mon ami,
there is something for your fists!” Aha, she is very clever, this Alouette.
Bon, I go to Detroit, and work there four days, preparing for the Jew. Gobin is with me, for he has much money placed on me, and it is necessary that I win for him. There is, in effect, much betting, for both Levy and I are likely young fighters, who might go far. (You do not know, mon pere, but this little Jew may well be champion light-weight yet, while I . . . fichtre! who knows where I shall be. Mon pere, it is a weakness, perhaps, but you shall teach me one of your prayers in a while: but voyons, I have an hour yet, safe!)
Oui, there is much betting, and it is well that Gobin looks out for me, for the other side are not too careful about what they will do to cripple me for the fight. He has me guarded in the gymnasium, and in the hotel, and at meals: and he sends back to Mon’real for Bacard, his own masseur there. Bacard is a good masseur, the best in the world for stiff muscles, but he is a devil for drinking, and maybe it was not wise of Gobin to send for him. He comes in to me two nights before the fight, and voila, there he is salement grise . . . dirtily drunk.
Still, he can massage, and I strip for him, and he commences to rub me, talking all the while and chattering like a monkey. He is a little man, this Bacard, with a very foul tongue when he has liquor in him, and he begins to make rudenesses at once.
“Tenez, Luc!” he says, “You are a great lump of conceit. It is the same with all you boxeurs, parbleu. You think there is nothing else in the world but muscles, and broken jaws and le knockout. Hein? Is it not so, mon petit?” And he gives me a great slap and stands away, grinning.
“Get on with it imbecile!” I say to him, laughing, for he is droll, this Bacard. “Or I will give you a broken jaw to think over, perhaps!”
He looks at me, squinting. “Ecoutez,” he says, “listen, kind of a camel that you are. Little Bacard is prettily soused, is he not? And le grand Luc is a little annoyed that Bacard’s tongue is a loose one: is it not so? Bien, Bacard will be silent, if M. Luc pleases: or he will talk, if he pleases. Of what will he talk, voyez?” And he began to rub me again. “Perhaps he will talk of Mon’real, and perhaps of c’tte Alouette there: ca, c’est Vp’tite amie de M. Luc, hou? La p’tite Alouette, ha? You can spell, Luc?”
“Quiet, then, donkey!” I said, “You annoy me: quiet, and get on with your work.”
“O, la la!” Bacard went on grinning, and panting as he rubbed. “M. Luc is now angry: voyons, Luc, what does C-0 spell?”
“Great fool” I shouted at him, “Will you be silent then? This is not a school.”
“Non?” he said with a giggle. “But dites, Luc, what does C-0 spell?”
I sat up on the bed. “Qu’est-ce-que-vous chantez la?” I roared. “What in the devil’s name are you talking about?”
He jumps away, chattering like a monkey again. “C-0 spells Co, mon cher Luc, does it not? And, suppose one adds la p’tite Alouette and . . . haha! ... le gros Jean to it . . . quoi donc? ca fera encore deux lettres, naturellement! C-0, ca fait Co, et C-U . . . Mon dieu, Luc, you are a fool!”
Mon pere, it took me a second to see what the creature was driving at: and then I think I went mad. I took the little reptile by the neck and banged him against the wall and shook him till his eyes bulged out of his head.
“Tell me what you mean by that? Tell me what you mean? Or I’ll wring your silly head off!” And I believe I would have done it. Bacard told.
(Mon pere, do you think le bon dieu will have a little pity on me when I go before him this morning? You know about Him: me, I am a great sinner . . . oui, I know it, monsieur, but do you think there will be pity for me ... a boxeur, monsieur, has not great time for his prayers . . . and I was a good boxeur, monsieur. Mon pere, do you know what they do to you? There is a rope, and a knot under the ear, and a drop, and a man pulling a little handle . . . bah, Luc, you are afraid! Forget it, mon pere, and give me a cigarette again.)
I do not well remember what happened then: but I think I had enough sense to dress before I ran out of the hotel. I remember the train, although not well at all: and then I was walking in Mon’real, and I had the idea there was something I must do, and at once. But I had forgotten what it was: I remember it was very annoying. And then . . . listen, mon pere ... I passed a
store and there were guns and pistols in the window: and I leant against the wall, and wept with rage, because I remembered. Fat Jean Mathie, and Alouette. Bacard. Cocut
cocu, cocu,. C-O-CU! It ran in my head like hammers. Bah, I went to a friend of mine, by the harbor, and got from him one great drink of rum, and a knife . . .
he did not know I was supposed to be boxing in Detroit . . . and then ... it was near midnight .
I crept out, into, the street, and up the stair, so, slowly, slowly, and there is the door, with the keyhole, and here am I with my key!
O dieu, ecoutez-moi qui vous prie! Mon pere, help me, pray with me: here is my hand, mon pere! I am afraid . . . afraid . . . afraid: I do not want to . . .ah,
I will not say it! Dieu, it is Luc Lurette who speaks: I am a sinner, but bon boxeur, and they did me a dirtiness, those two: he, mon dieu, when the door opened, without creaking, and I went in quietly, quietly, and . . . ah-h-h-h! mon pere, priez pour moi! It was not a murder, dieu . . . it was a justice . . . they did me a dirtiness, and I spit on them . . . what have you done with them, dieu? Faut-il que je souffre? I am afraid, mon pere! le pauvre . . . the poor little Luc Lurette, he is afraid . . . Alouette, I was kind to you, and what is a tap on the chin, gros Jean? And yet . . . see you, dieu, I did right . . . what would you? I find this Alouette and this Jean . . . mon pere! mon pere! What is that? One opens the cloor . . . click!! Mon pere! . . . Jesu!
. . . Dieu! . . . Alouette! Save me! Will you let me be murdered?
He quoi? What is that you say, the monsieur with the beard? You are the governor of this prison? Monsieur, je vous supplie! Do not let them murder the little Luc! Quoi?” Listen then?” Bien, I will listen, but do not let them kill me!
So! I am not to hang, is that the way it goes? I am reprieved, you say? For how long? For life? Dame, life is good, but Luc Lurette was never a coward . . . eh, monsieur mon pere? I have conducted myself comme bon boxeur, and . . . monsieur the governor, you are bon garçon! this is cognac, hein? A kind thought. A vos santés, messieurs'. But they did me a dirtiness, those two, big Jean, and this Alouette.