Fiction

The Undertaker of Ste. Angele

She was partridge-plump with shining hair and a red mouth made for love. No wonder the sad undertaker tried to take Marie from Joe. Then came the affair of the coffin that brought laughter and love and life to the village

PHYLLIS LEE PETERSON May 15 1950
Fiction

The Undertaker of Ste. Angele

She was partridge-plump with shining hair and a red mouth made for love. No wonder the sad undertaker tried to take Marie from Joe. Then came the affair of the coffin that brought laughter and love and life to the village

PHYLLIS LEE PETERSON May 15 1950

She was partridge-plump with shining hair and a red mouth made for love. No wonder the sad undertaker tried to take Marie from Joe. Then came the affair of the coffin that brought laughter and love and life to the village

The Undertaker of Ste. Angele

PHYLLIS LEE PETERSON

SO YOU have come to Ste. Angele des Chênes for the fishing, m’sieu. You will find it good here, very good. I myself know of a lake beyond the next range where the trout fight each other for the hook. Ah, m’sieu. It is a good thing for you that you stopped at the Pension Labelle when the season is slack and I have the time. We will go to that lake tomorrow.

But assuredly, you can buy fishing supplies in the village. If you will pass down the road there and turn to the left at the filling station, you will find all you need in Simard’s general store. We have everything in Ste. Angele des Chênes. Everything, that is, except an undertaker. You will pardon me, m’sieu. It is an old joke we have here in the parish, a story that hinges on a coffin . . .

You are interested? Bien, draw up a chair while those of the kitchen prepare your supper.

It happened many years ago, before the skiers discovered their sport, so that the village was not as you see it now. There were no ski tows cut out of the hills, no brightly painted lodges clustered around the slopes, but only the whitewashed farmhouses standing in their fields and the old church at the crossroads and Simard’s store with the post office there to remind us of the world outside. Ste. Angele des Chênes was just another Laurentian village then, peaceful and quiet.

Me, I was glad it was like that. For the first big war was over and I had come back here to my petite patrie with a few bright ribbons on my chest and this empty sleeve you see. Oui, m’sieu. I was four years with the Fusiliers. When you say that in Quebec, you stand straight

I found that Ste. Angele des Chênes had not forgotten Joe Laporte and they made me their postmaster, which is a position of some responsibility as you will understand. Also the widow Labelle remembered me well and allowed me to court her as I did when I had two arms to slide around her firm waist. She was something, that Marie Labelle! Plump like a little partridge, with shining black hair and a red mouth made for love. A woman of maturity like scarlet fruit ripe for the picking .

I am an old man now, m’sieu, but the thought of her still sends the hot blood through my veins.

She led me a dance, that one. Perhaps it was that she was a woman of wealth, for old Hector had left her the hotel here and seventy-five arpents of land as well. And perhaps it was that marriage with a simple one-armed soldier was not as attractive as freedom to coquette with the suitors who came to her door. I do not know, for who can read a woman’s heart? I know only that I was well enough content there in the peace of the quiet countryside. I looked after the mail in Simard’s store while the old men sat about the stove and the fragrance of their tobacco blended with the rich odors of spices and harness and all the things hidden away on the dusty shelves. And at night I courted Marie .

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Continued from page 19

Life was good then. Good, that is, until the day I first met Ovide Trudel.

I WAS sorting the letters into the wickets where they belonged and savoring the fresh smells of spring that drifted in through the open door when a shadow fell across the counter. I looked up from the stack of mail before me and saw the stranger.

He had a long sallow face and everything about it drooped. The thin mouth, the big nose, all were of a sadness the most extreme. Only the eyes moved, like dancing beads of jet sweeping this way and that. He looked me up and down while I returned the compliment. Then his waxen lips twisted into an oily smile.

“You have a letter for me? The name is Trudel, Ovide Trudel.”

It was then I noticed the hat. A stiff black pot and around it was draped a streamer of rusty mourning crape, the fringed ends hanging down. My eyes never left it while I reached stiffly for the pigeon-hole marked “T” and the smile faded slowly from his long sallow face. For a long moment a black gloved hand drummed impatiently on the counter.

“Come now! I am a man of enterprise and have no time to waste. It is that one there.”

I picked up the envelope he indicated and threw it down hastily. For printed in the corner and in the blackest of inks, there was a coffin.

Now by my soul, m’sieu, that is a strange thing in Ste. Angele des Chênes. So that I poked the letter across to him gingerly, using only the tip of one finger and as if the recipient were the devil himself. He picked it up without a word and strode airily out of the post office while I stood there watching the black-clad figure disappear. It was not until the bell over the door had stopped jangling behind him that I turned open-mouthed to Télesphore Simard.

I said, “Who is this that has come to Ste. Angele des Chênes? This species of ghoul who wears mourning crape on his hat and receives letters with coffins on them.”

Télesphore shrugged and spat skilfully into the cuspidor by the stove.

“He is a man of enterprise who has brought new business to the village.” “And what may be the nature of this business?”

“Funerals.” Télesphore paused to bite off another chew of tobacco. “He has rented the old Jovite house and put a big sign outside with ‘Directeur des Funérailles’ written there. They say he expects to do well.”

“Now truly, m’sieu, I was thunderstruck. There had never been such an enterprise in Ste. Angele des Chênes, for we who have our roots in the soil are philosophical about death and do not think much of its trappings. A soul goes to Paradise. A man is dead and we are sorry, but there is nothing we can do about it. So we pay our respects to him under his own roof and give what comfort we can to those who are left, and then he is committed to the earth of his fathers. Such things are better left to the church and M’sieu le Curé, whose business it is to attend to them.

But after the coming of this Trudel things were different in Ste. Angele

des Chênes. The windows of the Jovite house were full of wax flowers and wreaths and samples of mourning streamers so that some of the more simple souls crossed themselves when they passed it at night. Not that he was not acceptable, this Trudel, with his strange smooth ways. I saw his sad smile and black figure at the soirées and dances, and the mothers of eligible daughters approved his nice manners and said that he was bringing progress to the village.

But me, I did not like him. When you have lived with men and fought beside them for four years, you learn to judge them. And I knew that this one was as false as the white smile that split his sallow face in two. It was no concern of mine and so I shrugged my shoulders and paid him no great attention until the day I saw him look at Marie when she came for her mail.

She stood in front of me, the letters I had given in her hand, and then she lowered her long lashes in that way she had, while he tipped his hat with a black-gloved hand. You can imagine my sentiments, m’sieu, when I stood there and watched the streamer of crape waving in the air behind them as they walked out of the store together. I rushed to the window and saw him take her arm going down the road.

That night I found him at the pension, lounging comfortably in the chair that had always been mine. I am ashamed to say it but I was young then and inclined to quick temper, so that I turned on my heel and left them there together.

I sat up late that night, m’sieu, with only my pipe of tabac Canadien for comfort, and the knuckles of my only hand were white so that I broke the pipe in two. But when the morning came I had cooled off and considered my plan of campaign as became a soldier.

I began by watching the mail and it was not long before I noticed a strange thing. For the letters addressed to Monsieur O. Trudel were all the same. There were different pictures on them. Coffins, wreaths, angels waving streamers of crape. But one thing about them was always the same. They were all bills.

How did I know, m’sieu? You do not have to be postmaster in Ste. Angele des Chênes long before you know a bill when you see one. So that I gathered the affairs of Monsieur Trudel did not march as well as he would have people suppose. It was some comfort and I sat back to wait for the next development that was not long in coming.

A YOUNG man, city-dressed with the air of one occupied with business, came to the wicket one day and enquired about Ovide Trudel.

“And who is it that asks about our new directeur des funérailles?” I asked, smiling to show that I meant no offense.

“You are a man of the world, M’sieu le postmaster, and I—well, I am a salesman of Montreal.”

He hesitated and then he spoke the name of a firm I had seen many times on envelopes addressed to Trudel so that I had no difficulty in seeing where the wind blew.

“Some matters are of the most discreet,” I observed.

“It is that this Trudel has received from us on consignment a piece of merchandise of the greatest magnificence,” he went on eagerly. “It is a

I could not help the shudder that passed through me but it was forgotten in his next words.

“And valued at one thousand dol-

“You mean there is one that would pay that for a coffin?”

“Monsieur Trudel did not pay for it. The merchandise is on consignment. Moreover, this is a coffin the most superb. It is of bronze with handles of carved silver, and lined in satin quilted and of the best quality.”

He drew himself up and I saw that I had offended him but his face brightened when I drew out the bottle I kept under the counter. He could help me, this young popinjay who dealt in coffins—on 'consignment. The dim shadow of an idea took shape and I offered him the bottle.

“This merchandise,” I said cautiously. “Goods on consignment—they are insured against loss?”

“For fire, of course.” He shrugged his shoulders. “One is hardly likely to steal a coffin.”

“And if it disappeared .?” “Monsieur Trudel would be liable. He would pay—or go to jail.” He looked at me curiously and I smiled.

“It must be a grand thing,” I said, “to be a man of enterprise.”

“But of course.” He wiped his lips and leaned confidentially toward me.

“This undertaker—what do you think of his prospects?”

“It is hard to say in Ste. Angele des Chênes. The climate is healthy and there is only old age. Sometimes an accident .”

“No, no! You misunderstand.” He removed his hand from the bottle long enough to wave it airily in my face. “It is of his prospects of marriage that I speak!”

“I know of none, m’sieu.”

“Ah well, you would not know. But he tells me there is a widow of wealth here who looks on him with favor, and

He placed one finger along his nose and leered at me suggestively. My hand clenched into a fist beneath the counter.

“And so I have let him keep the coffin another month.”

“You are a fool, m’sieu.”

I removed the bottle coldly from his hand and put it back under the counter.

“There is no widow of wealth here who looks at Ovide Trudel and if there were, I would know about it.” He looked so crestfallen that I relented a little, for after all he was only another young man who thought himself smarter than he was. And we have all been that, m’sieu.

“However,” I said, “leave me your name and the address of your firm. I will keep you advised of developments.”

“You will not regret it, I assure

He looked at me with new respect and condescended to shake my hand before he left but it did nothing to lighten my heart. For I thought, he must be very sure of himself, this Trudel. A man of enterprise with two good arms to commend him. While me, I am nothing but a brokendown soldier, a cripple with nothing in his pockets but an honorable discharge. That is something, m’sieu, for Joe Laporte to think about himself.

1SAT there in the darkened store long after Télesphore bade me bon soir and locked the door behind him. The moonlight filtered in through the window, making a ghostly light against the black shadows of the shelves and I thought of Marie. Her red lips beck oned and I heard the ripple of her laughter in the silence. Then out of the darkness came a black shape. Dancing, Iwjwing, flashing a smile of white chalk. Ovide, who sat in my chair at the pension, who dealt in coffins worth a thousand dollars on consignment. But if that coffin were to disappear, with its

silver handles and lining of satin quilted if it were to vanish

There is a will of God in these things, m’sieu. For why else did the Boche bullets take only my arm while my comrades fell around me? And why was I roused from my reverie then by the rattling of a lock and someone banging on the door? The grinning phantom of Trudel faded away and I strained my eyes in the shadows to see the figure of a woman standing outside in the moonlight.

“A moment! Only a moment please and I will open . . Sacré Nom!”

I fumbled with the lock and then Marie flung herself against me, her red mouth quivering beneath my own, her blue eyes wet with tears.

“Joseph! Oh, Joe!”

Her hands beat against my breast like frightened doves and I saw that she was on the verge of hysteria.

“Calm yourself, mon ange.”

She was in the curve of my arm now and I murmured the foolish things a man says to comfort the woman he

“Come, that is better,” I said gently. “Now tell me what is wrong.”

“Damase is dead.” A long shuddering sigh escaped her. “I found him not ten minutes ago in the woodshed and thought he was asleep. When I touched him . ”

“Damase?” I stood there, blinking stupidly in the moonlight, and tore my thoughts from the fragrance of her hair.

“But yes! The old one, Joe! The innocent who helps about the kitchen— you sometimes buy him beer.”

It came to me then and I nodded. For everyone in Ste. Angele des Chênes knew old Damase. He was as Marie said, an innocent, one of God’s children whose brain had never grown with his body. But his faded blue eyes had glimpses of a world we never saw and the smile on his dumb lips was of a wonder, a sweetness that made us sometimes ashamed. So we were kind to him in the village and Marie fed him and gave him a bed. And if he had never been very useful according to the harsh standards of this world, still he had never done any harm. Now he was

A sudden thought struck me and I looked down at the curve of Marie’s cheek against my breast.

“And why did you not go to your friend, Trudel? He who occupies himself with the business of death?”

“I never thought of him, only of you.

I knew that you would tell me what

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My heart rose and I smiled in the shadows for this was a good omen. Something told me then that the game was not yet over, that one arm and an intellect might still win against two arms and none.

WE WERE silent as we made our way up the road dappled with silver but when we came to the darkened pension. Marie gave a little gasp and her warm hand slid into mine. 1 looked up and saw white collar and cuffs slide out of the blackness of the veranda while a long, sallow face materialized above them. I smiled grimly. It was Ovide Trudel, waiting for us like a carrion crow. Rut then he was a man of enterprise who did not waste time.

“Madame Labelle. It is I, Trudel, come to take charge of this affair!” He stood there, smiling and bowing and rubbing his bony hands together until 1 felt mv stomach rise.

“Rut how did you know?” Marie asked in surprise. Me, I was not surprised. He smelled death, that one.

“It does not matter.”

He waved the question away with a white smile that faded when I emerged from the shadows and opened the door behind him.

“Let us go inside,” I said quietly. “There is business here to talk about and such matters are not discussed on a front veranda at midnight."

We were a strange group sitting there in the small front parlor of the Pension Labelle. Marie lit the lamp but the shadow of sorrow was still on her face when she sat dowm. I stole a glance at Ovide and saw the eagerness there. He was desperate for money, this undertaker of Ste. Angele des Chênes, and came quickly to the point.

“This old Damase now. ’ He leaned forward, his drooping face sickly in the glow of the coal-oil lamp between us. “He had something put by? A few hundred dollars?”

“Not a sou. my friend.” I said and Trudel’s face fell.

“Lut I will pay for everything, Monsieur,” said Marie anxiously. “I am willing to spend up to fifty dollars on the af.air of old Damase . ”

“Fifty dollars!” Re could not hide the disappointment in his voice. “It will not be much of a funeral.”

It was then that the inspiration came to me. 1 coughed suddenly and held my breath while the full impact of it struck me. Ovide looked at me and then went on talking to Marie so that I was able to check the details of the plan that had taken form. It was a strategy in the grand manner, yet as simple as a soldier could desire.

“'Phis Damase.” 1 said casually, tilling my pipe. “He had many friends, did he not, Marie?”

“Rut yes. Everyone in Ste. Angele des ( hénes knew him."

“1 hen there will be many at the funeral. Is it not so?”

She nodded and I felt Trudel’s black eyes burning into me across the table.

“'1 he pension will be lull,’ said Marie. “I will need extra help but it does not matter. Le poutre Damase, always so cheerful, so happy although he was not like others

"Lien!" I looked up sharply at O vide. “It seems to me, M’sieu Trudel, that you overlook something. Not that it is any of my business but you are a man of enterprise

1 left the words hanging there l>etween us and sucked noisily at my pipe as if it would not draw

“Abat do you mean?” I heard the eagerness in his voice and shrugged my sh vilders.

"You have heard Mudóme libelle here All the village will come to pay

its respects to old Damase. Among them will be the sons of Jacques Théberge, who is eighty-one if he is a day and suffering from pneumonia.”

“And so .?”

“So Jacques Théberge is the wealthiest farmer in Ste. Angele des Chênes. There will be no sparing of expense when he dies.”

He stared at me puzzled and I thought, mon dieu! He is stupid, this

“There is the matter of the adver-

“Advertising?”

“Rut yes. You have doubtless merchandise the most elaborate in your establishment. Here is your chance to show it to Ste. Angele des Chênes.”

A light flickered across his face and I knew that we were both thinking of the same thing. Quicklv I pressed the

“If. for instance—only for instance.

I say you had a coffin of the most superb quality, then matters could be arranged to please Marie here and at the same time do yourself no harm. It would be a simple affair to let old Damase lie in such a coffin so that all could see it and remark. Then before the actual committal, a pine box could be substituted and your merchandise returned to the Jovite house. Télesphore Simard is sacristan as well as owner of the general store and no one else need know

I watched him turn the matter over in his mind while Marie chimed in with cries of approval. Then his face split into the false white smile and I knew 1 had won.

“It is a good idea of yours, m’sieu," he said at last. “A good idea! I did not expect it of you.”

I lowered my eyes modestly while he and Marie discussed the details of the plan and so the matter was arranged.

THE next day all Ste. Angele des Chênes knew that old Damase had left the village of his fathers and it mourned his passing. I saw the people winding up the road in little groups of two and three to pay their respects to the innocent whose only gifts from le bon Dieu were the sweet smile and simple heart of a child. Perhaps he was more blessed than most.

There was much talk in the post office that afternoon of the magnificence in which he lay and of the quality of merchandise stocked by that man of enterprise, Ovide Trudel, so that 1 knew all was going according to plan. That night when I went to the pension. I pushed my way through the crowd assembled on the veranda and Ovide came to meet me. He slithered around the quiet groups until his face came close to mine.

“lí goes well, M’sieu Joe.” The bony hands rubbed together exuberantly. “That was a stroke of genius, your idea. Everyone has admired the coffin and now .” He lowered his voice lo a confidential whisper. “Even now the Théberges are in there looking at it. They tell me their father is very low. Very low indeed.”

He beamed happily and I shuddered. “The burial will he tomorrow, the mass at nine. Now there is only the matter of changing the coffins. Monsieur Simard, the sacristan you have spoken to him?”

I parried the question skilfully.

“Hiwill be along later, M’sieu Ovide. You are busy I know, and I I must join the others.”

I left him hurriedly, and entered the silent parlor where tapers burned and old Damase lay in glory. The coffin shimmered like gold in the candlelight and the handles of carved silver gleamed with a dazzling brightness, but I had eyes only for the quiet smiling face that put it all to shame. Continued from page 44 “Au revoir, Ovide,” I said. Then I turned into the freshness of the country morning. Somewhere a cock crowed and a new day had come to Ste. Angele des Chênes.

Continued on page 44

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I remembered the innocent’s transports of delight whenever I would ask him to join me in a drink, and of all the small things that gave him pleasure. Standing there before him. I knew that the simplicity of his soul made a mockery of silver and bronze. Yet he would have been perhaps pleased to know that Ste. Angele des Chênes had seen him thus. Old Damase. with the heart of a child

I think they must have smiled when he came to the courts of God. I think the angels went out to meet him and bring him in.

It was late when the villagers left and I found Marie on the veranda, bidding the last good night.

“Quickly,” I said. “Where is Trudel?”

“He is out in the kitchen, I think.” She looked at me in surprise. “There was some food left . . ”

“He is probably filling his pockets.”

I took her gently by the shoulders and a note came into my voice that she had never heard before, a note of com-

“You will go to bed now, Marie,” I said. “You will retire and leave us alone, Ovide and me.”

SHE went without protest, turning once to look back at me. There was a puzzled frown on her face but it vanished when she stood at the top of the stairs and blew me a kiss. I smiled and went into the kitchen.

Trudel was there, his black figure scuttling around the sandwich plates. I paid him no attention but sank down into a chair as if exhausted.

“Parbleu!” I said, mopping my brow. “That was a grand affair. One calling for a drink.”

I fumbled in my pocket and brought out the bottle I had prepared. Beady black eyes followed me curiously.

“What is that?” he asked. “It looks like blood.”

I shrugged carelessly.

“Only a harmless drink, a concoction of red wine and whisky blanc. We call it ‘caribou’ in the Laurentians — you will have a little, perhaps?”

I poured a full glass and handed it to him without waiting for his reply. His long nose twitched over it like a rabbit’s.

“It smells strong.”

“Even the children drink it in Ste. Angele des Chênes.”

I laughed and drained my glass at gulp, fighting back the tears it brought. He took a tentative sip and then essayed more. I clapped him on the back until his choking died away and the fire had settled in his stomach. Incredulity flickered across his face and then he drained the glass down.

“It is good, that ‘caribou,’” he said approvingly. “Very good.”

He poured another drink and 1 watched him. For he drank as those who know “caribou” do not. Fast, and with one following the other .

“So affairs march well for you. M'sieu 'I rudel.” I leaned back in the chair and slyly emptied my drink into the cuspidor by the stove. “It has paid you to advertise.”

He nodded eagerly

“'File Thé-berges will buy the coffin,

1 am sure. It was a stroke of genius.” Bony hands tried instinctively to rub together but the glass interfered. His eyes blinked down at it and he raised it to his lips.

"It must be something to be a man of enterprise. Your business goes well and there is also the widow Labelle ah. you are the lucky one, Trudel .”

All well " lie hesitated uncertainly and brightened again when I filled his glass. “I had perhaps the advantage unfair, M'sieu Joe. We do things differently in the city. We advance, we progress.”

His tongue loosened then and he began to brag. Of life in the city, of his business, his acumen, his way with women. The pale face grew pink and rosy like that of a human being and he talked—mort dieu! how he talked. Ah that is the wonderful stuff, that “caribou.”

Me, I listened and kept his glass full. He was too busy, too full of words, to notice that I was not drinking. And after a while, he was too drunk. We sang, we laughed, we clapped each other on the back and I watched him. How I watched him! A glazed expression stole over his face and his black eyes grew dull. 1 told a joke and slapped him on the back again. He sagged under the weight of my hand. Slowly his bouy sud to the floor.

I leaneu over him and lifted a drooping eyeuu, then stood up with a deep sign oi content. Ovide Trudel was passed out and the grand strategy had won.

His legs still moved automatically, I found, and I supported his weight halfway down the road. But after that he V sagged gracefully into the mud, and so I hoisted him to my shoulder and held his ankles with my hand while his head hung down my back and the rest of him bobbed up and down in sympathy. The hills were tinged with dawn when we came to the Jovite house with the wax flowers in its windows.

I carried him in and set him down in the room where the coffin of magnificence had rested on trestles that were now empty and bare. T he heap of black serge lay motionless at my feet and I looked down at it. Then I thought of him, this man of enterprise who used theinnocentdead to advertise his wares.

I remembered Marie and the peace of Ste. Angele des Ghênes, and how he had come here to commercialize grief and bring progress to God’s miracle of

My heart hardened.

The limp body was like a sack when I undressed it and slipped the flannel nightshirt over it that 1 found in the bedroom, i set him precisely in the middle of the trestles, his bony legs and feet at one end. his head at the other A waxen lily slipped easily into unresisting hands. I stepped back and surveyed him critically. It was a good job, and of an artistry but it needed something, sbme touch.

1 lifted his head and shoved the bowler hat down on it tightly, adjusting the fringed ends of mourning crape to a rakish angle. They hung down over his long nose.

My lips twitched when 1 stood in the doorway and looked back at Ovide Trudel.

Continued on page 46

IT WAS not until we were leaving the cemetery after the burial that the villagers who had come to watch Damase returned to the soil of his fathers began to wonder.

“Trudel is not here.”

“It is strange Ovide did not come.” “Where is he, the new undertaker?” I said nothing, keeping my face carefully blank, but I could feel Marie’s blue eyes watching me. The whispering rose and I shrugged my shoulders. It would all be clear soon enough.

We came down the narrow road that wound from the church in little groups of twos and threes, the people of Ste. Angele des Chênes. There was a commotion in front, an excited murmur as others joined them. I felt the shock, the amazement of the solid mass standing in the road when Marie and I drew up. The cause was apparent.

For running toward us as if all the fiends of hell pursued him there came a figure in a long white nightshirt that billowed out behind. Bare feet thudded in the dust and one hand clutched a waxen lily that rose and fell with his exertions. The other made futile dabs at black crape streamers blowing in his eyes. The bowler was still firmly wedged on his head—and at a rakish angle.

I heard the ripple of laughter passing over the villagers like wind through a field of wheat. It mounted and rose to a roar. Ste. Angele des Chênes rocked with mirth.

Ovide stood before us, dancing up and down in his nightshirt.

“Laporte! Where is Joe Laporte?” he shrieked in frenzy.

I pushed my way through the crowd and his beady eyes blazed hate.

“Where is my coffin?” he screamed. “Your coffin? What coffin?” Discretion was gone now, flung to the winds.

“The coffin I lent for Damase. It was only an advertisement, it was to be returned . ”

I looked at him sadly.

“I do not know what you are talking about, M’sieu Trudel! We have buried Damase.”

Realization came and his face froze with horror. Black eyes flickered over me to the others, the people of Ste. Angele des Chênes whose laughter beat like waves around him. He looked down at his nightshirt, his bare feet in the dust. One dazed hand went up to the hat with the streamers dangling. He began to tug at it. Then he hopped up and down and pulled and cursed and wept.

Men bent double with mirth and slapped their knees while women leaned weakly against each other for support. There has always been laughter in Ste. Angele des Chênes, m’sieu! But never, never have I heard the village laugh like that.

Even Trudel could not stand under its lash. He drew the white flannel folds about him and turned away. Then he began to run faster

and faster

The roar of laughter followed him until the billowing shirt with the black knob on top and the pounding feet beneath faded away from sight. Even then it did not stop. I think Ste. Angele des Chênes would still be laughing if Télesphore Simard had not swallowed his tobacco.

After we had brought him to, Marie looked up at me with lips that still twitched and blue eyes washed with

“Joseph,” she said weakly. “Oh. Joe, how could you?”

“How could I what?” I said blankly. Something rose in her face, something I had never seen there before. A respect, an admiration, a love

I felt my heart surge with the joy of it.

“The coffin,” she mused. “It was worth a thousand dollars. What will he do, this Trudel?”

My arm stole about her waist and I pressed my lips to her cheek.

“If he is a man of enterprise,” I said, “he will keep on running.”

AND sometimes I think he did. m’sieu! For we never saw him

Your pardon, m’sieu! Here now is your supper. Good pea soup and a ragout of beef that will melt in your mouth, a specialty of Marie. But yes, we have been married for .'10 years. Our family is small, only six children, but things have gone well for the Pension La belle.

Ah, m'sieu, looking back I know now that the strategy is not enough. There is also the will of God.

For why else should a coffin have brought laughter and love and life to Ste. Angele des Chênes?