The Account of Antoine Chabot
A Story of Christmas in the Habitant Country
THE Lake St. John train plowed slowly through the deepening snow, the rumble of its wheels muffled to a soft murmur that hardly penetrated the thick atmosphere of the coach. A grey country trailed by, with an interminable expanse of field, timber and frost-bitten lake, at which Patrick Landry peered with increasing impatience.
Automatically he took out a railway folder and ascertained for the twentieth time that Ste. Thérèse was one hundred and ten miles from Quebec, and that he was due there at half-past one. It was now four o’clock, and Ste. Thérèse was twenty miles ahead. The corollary to all this was that Antoine Chabot, marchand général of Ste. Thérèse was indebted to Landry for the sum of two hundred dollars. To make matters a little worse it was now the twenty-third of December and the powers of the north were mobilizing to prevent the traveler from regaining Bangor on the morning of the twenty-fifth.
It was not without justice that Landry’s indestructible overalls were known from the Peace River down as far as Vera Cruz. In the first place he went about the thing judgmatically. Being an Irishman, and of a nature that moved grimly and by varying routes, he had at the outset purchased a pair of every make on the market. Mounting these on the persons of an assorted group of long, short, thin and fat men, he put them to work at every imaginary job.
“Wear them out, destroy—burst—rip— an’ tear them. Then bring me the ruins !” he snapped; and lit a filthy, black pipe and waited for results.
In a few days his hirelings drifted in for repairs. “Strip,” ordered Landry, “an’ do it again!”
Before the month was out he had by this destructive process learned where overalls should not in all reason give way, and went to work on a sublimated design of his own. By the time the year was out he had it. You could pitch hay or swing on to the step of a locomotive cab or climb a ladder or shoulder a hod or dig a ditch or milk a cow or hang wall paper or lie at your ease, without a protest from this superb creation. The pockets were so adjusted that a monkey wrench or a plug of tobacco or a handful of waste slid into them with hardly a crook of the elbow. They hung well—looked well—felt well. The seams were double sewn and copper rivets dominated every important salient.
“I suppose you’ll make a cut to get into the market,” said his bookkeeper with a glance at the debit side of his ledger.
“Divil a cut,” replied Landry cheerfully. “Put up the price ten per cent. The breeks will sell themselves.”
They did. The laboring man recognized a good article and demanded it, till the glint of those copper rivets was reflected from every other job in the country.
Landry said nothing, filled his orders and for years refused to build a bigger factory. Suddenly competition kicked a board out of the fence and invaded his trade. That settled it. He swore by the bridge of Clonmel that the legs of the artisan were for him to cover and he would get his money in and do it.
Such were the happenings that now constrained him to visit Ste. Thérèse in pursuit of the two hundred dollars represented by the unpaid notes of Antoine Chabot. It was no consolation to note that the brakesman wore Landry’s overalls—all brakesmen did.
A/OU have then a black Irishman who had never failed to collect an account; a gathering snow-storm; an elusive customer, and that uncertainty with which nature continually shrouds our excursions towards her more remote boundaries.
The speed of the train decreased till, an hour later, it stopped so gently that it seemed to have been buried in eiderdown. There followed a series of hoarse coughs from the over-burdened boiler. The coach was jerked violently into motion and slid forward in a continuous clamor of forced draft, while the engine like a vast behemoth rattled its dying lungs. Gradually the tremor ceased and through the frosted pane Landry could make out one light that winked redly in the whirling snow. Then the door banged and a brakesman, shaking the ice from his beard, shouted “Ste. Thérèse.” He turned to Landry with a grin : “An I guess dats so far we get dis trip. De hengine she’s froze.” After the heated air of the coach it seemed that the platform of Ste. Thérèse station was the North Pole itself. Across it drove level lines of streaming snow and the frigid wind cut like a hot wire. The train was swathed in white, and the half buried trucks rested on an invisible track.
“Hullo,” he said to an indistinct figure. “Where’s the hotel?”
“Pardon, M’sieu, but there is no hotel,”
came a clear voice, “but maybe-”
“What!” rasped Landry with irritation. The other man came closer, laughed cheerily and shrugged his sparkling shoulders. “With six hundred people one does not need a hotel.”
There was something behind the voice that suggested a personality. The traveler drew his coat collar tighter, smothered a savage desire to curse aloud, and said evenly: “Do people sleep standin’ up in Ste. Thérèse?”
“Parbleu, no, one certainly does not, one has been known to sleep at the house of Henri Jolieoeur, or of Antoine Chabot.” “What’s that—Chabot?”
“An excellent man—a man of affairs— a merchant with a large heart.”
Landry’s mind made up at once, but
"Hallo, Antoine, hallo."
he glanced into the kindly, grey eyes; “And Mr. Joli—Joli—?”
“Henry Jolieoeur, médicin—doctor, at your service,” The little man bowed.
“I’ll go to Chabot,” said Landry. “I’ve some business with him and I’m going back to Quebec by the first train, if I don’t freeze to death.” Henri Jolieoeur glanced at the motionless engine and then into the gray skies.
“There will be time enough for much business. Monsieur is, I trust, not in a hurry.”
“I’ve got to be in the States by the twenty-fifth. See?”
“I can guess where Monsieur will be on the twenty-fifth. Allons—to the house of Antoine I shall drive at once. Suivez, M’sieu, suivez.”
T ANDRY descended into the carriole ^ and pulled the robes up to his chin. Monsieur Henri Jolieoeur wedged himself in alongside. The sturdy broad-backed Percheron loosed his head and jumped forward, and, through the flying snow, the traveler could make out dim low-roofed houses that lined either side, and smal1 windows that glowed softly in the storm. There was no road that he could discern, just a broad flatness that lay between ghostly evidences of humanity.
“We shall have snow,” here the little man scanned the skies again, “we shall have snow for three days, and you will find the house of the good Antoine is very comfortable. Ah—we arrive.”
He dropped the reins and the Percheron halted instantly.
The door opened and against the light one saw a round figure that peered into the driving blizzard.
“Ban, Henri—qu’est-ce que c’est? Vous allez geler la. Entrez—entrez.”
Jolieoeur laughed and they ploughed to the door-step. “It is Monsieur—Monsieur-?” he hesitated.
“Landry,” said the traveler, “Patrick Landry, of Bangor.”
“Souns lak’ I know dat name,” said Antoine uncomfortably, extending a vast band. “Come in. By gar, she’s beeg storm to-night. Hole on, Henri, where you go?” But Henri Jolieoeur—Médicin—was already climbing into his carriole. “I go to St. Hébert. My cousin pretty sick. Au revoir, M’sieu.” He jerked at the reins and vanished.
“By damn,” said Aptoine staring after him, “She’s bad night for ten-mile trip.”
T ANDRY looked about, Madame Chabot,
' a large fair woman with broad shoulders, deep bosom and pale blue eyes, stood smiling, while behind her swayed a long row of diminishing children, who regarded the traveler with curious gaze. He became instantly aware of the fact that there were ten of them. It seemed moreover that it was quite natural they should be there, that they were as essential to that house as chairs and tables.
“My wife,” said Antoine with a wave of his hand.
Madam Chabot smiled again. “Nos enfants,” she ventured gently, Philippe, Antoine, Théodore, Marcel, Jeanne, Elise, Marie, Estelle, Guillaume, et le petit Napoléon.”
“An’ encore one,” put in Antoine, “but I guess we don’t say noddings about dat.”
Landry nodded. “Never saw such a family. But how do you take care of them all? I guess you folks do sleep standing up.”
Madame Chabot looked a little puzzled and Antoine interpreted.
“Ah,” she said with a tender light in her eyes, “Le bon Dieu, Il les garde.”
Landry let it go at that. Le bon Dieu evidently did, and the thought was still in his mind when, a few minutes later, Antoine touched his elbow and gave him a drink of whiskey blanc that burned like fire, while his wife spread a cloth and set out supper. It was not till he had eaten for half an hour that he looked up and met Antoine’s enquiring gaze. “Suppose you’re wondering what brought me to Ste. Thérèse?”
“Mais non, M’sieu.”
“Then you know?”
“You write me a letter ’bout six months passé. Hoveralls! She’s one fine affaire, dose hoveralls.”
“I thought it would be best to come up myself. Those notes of yours won’t stand renewing any-”
At that instant the door flew open and le petit Napoléon, closely pursued by the panting Guillaume, dived between his father’s knees.
“I was going to say,” continued Landry with some difficulty, “that our firm don’t allow accounts to remain unsettled for so long. You’ve got to pay up, that’s all there is to it. Can’t that kid keep quiet?”
ANTOINE laid a hand on the head of the squirming child. “Dat accoun’ she’s run long time, but I guess I pay him nex’ month, maybe.”
Landry shook his head. “You’ll have to think again.”
“Suppose I feex him up dis way,” put in Antoine nervously. “You take seexty dollar an’ what you call mor—mortgage on feefty cords wood, dats seexty encore, an’-—”
“What am I going to do with fifty cords of wood in this God-forsaken place?” interrupted Landry caustically.
“Suppose de oder wood she all burn down?” countered Antoine with amiable persistence. “Den dat wood she’s worth beeg pile, and you take encore hunerd an’ seexty pounds tabac Canadien, dats eighty dollar, et puis—”
“I don’t smoke,” rapped the creditor. “But tet ban m’sieu has des amis, et puis dat makes de whole affaire. Den bimeby I want some more hoveralls an’ I pay heem en cash.”
Landry grunted and swallowed a chuckle.
“It’s no good. You’re away off. Try again.”
The lids of the petit Napoléon fluttered slowly down and his head lay like a flower on his father’s knee. “I guess I
tink long time already.” said Chabot, with sudden depression. “Two hunerd dollars she’s one fortune in Ste. Thérèse.”
“Well, all right, leave it till to-morrow.” The traveler rose testily. The account of Antoine Chabot was assuming strange forms in his imagination.
* I AHAT night he slept without dreams.
The blizzard howled across from the Labrador coast and wrapped the Lake St. John country in a still deeper fleece. Buried a foot deep in a feather mattress Landry listened in the early hours to the drone of the wind, and at sun-up stared down the hill at what looked like a train by the station platform. But the train had disappeared and there was only a long ridge from which projected the smooth roofs of three coaches and the cold stack of a rigid engine. There was neither path nor fence to be seen, and a line of spruce branches marked where the smothered road led south to Quebec. For all human purposes Ste. Thérèse might have been at the Antarctic.
It was after breakfast that Antoine approached him. “I got ver’ busy day now, my fren’s come from Ste. Etienne and Ville Deschamps, an’ Fond du Lac for get feex up for Noel. She’s to-morrow and he’s one beeg time in Province de Quebec. Suppose you come in de store an’ see my frens.”
Landry nodded, lit a cigar and followed thoughtfully. It would be the best possible way in which to get an inside view of Chabot’s way of doing business. He would know how to handle him. But he never guessed that the simple mind of Chabot desired to impress this man who sold overalls with the magnitude of that business.
The store contained everything from blankets to shoepacks and red silk handkerchiefs. Tabac Canadien drooped over yellow cheeses whose aroma mingled with that of oil-tan moccasins. Behind the counter moved Antoine and his wife, serene in the consciousness that they could supply Ste. Thérèse with all that Ste. Thérèse needed. In the centre of the store a box stove radiated waves of heat.
PRESENTLY Arsène Lupin drove in •*from Fond du Lac and Paul Laliberté from Ville Deschamps and the whole Voisin family from Ste. Etienne, and in the course of the morning the Curé arrived to the gratification of all present. And, just as noon struck, Monsieur Henri Jolicoeur completed his return journey from St. Hébert with the news that his cousin had had the finest pair of twins ever born in the country of St. Félice. Whereupon Jules Lagauchetière, who had slipped in from the deserted railway station, told the doctor that he would shortly require his services for exactly the same purpose.
One and all they were introduced to Landry. “My fren’ from Unite’ State,” who smoked tabac Canadien till he was dizzy and sulkily watched Antoine Chabot handing out the stuff that was presently to be distributed in distant farms beyond the shining hills. He noted also that when Antoine sold a dollar’s worth of tea, he sneaked in a pound of sugar and that a
pair of red blankets were never wrapped up without a box of tin soldiers or a flaxen-haired doll between the folds.
Henri Jolicoeur was watching too. “A fine man, m’sieu,” he said approvingly, “with a great heart. See how he gives. He will sell to-day perhaps fifty dollars— he will give to-day not less than ten. Where,” here the doctor swung a searching finger, “where else will one find such generosity? The Curé, you observe him, is a fine man too, and of a certain largeness of heart also—and I myself am of service occasionally, but Antoine—ah, m’sieu, Antoine Chabot is the soul of Ste. Thérèse.”
Landry nodded and watched the closer,, for at that moment Antoine, feeling under the counter, produced a large, freshlycured ham and handed it to the Curé with twinkling eyes.
“Observe, my friend!” said Henri Jolicoeur swiftly. “That is not for the poor—for we have none—it is for the man of God himself. What reverence—what fidelity! Where m’sieu, can you match so beautiful a spirit—and in spite of such grief?”
“What grief? There isn’t much bothering him now.”
The little doctor glanced at him curiously. “The heart of Antoine is broken in two—of madame also—m’sieu. They have a son.”
“There’s a job for him here if he’s any good,” grunted Landry critically.
“But there the finger of m’sieu has touched the point. It is two years since Jacques disappeared. What a lad—so heureux—there is no English for that word—so handsome—so strong—the best on the river—the lightest foot in the quadrille—but, m’sieu, with the brain of a swallow. There were hot words, and Jacques laughed and is gone. You can understand, m’sieu, that the smile of his father is not more deep than the skin. It is not his heart that smiles.”
“Well, I don’t believe he worries as much as you think—and you—don’t you get lonely here?” Landry looked out of the window and shivered. “That was quite a trip you made last night.”
“Peut-être—yes-—twenty miles—but at. such times le bon Dieu is very good. Sometimes, of course—” he shrugged expressive shoulders, “sometimes one goes only to meet death at the bedside. Then one finds the way back is long, very long. There are, of course, operations, trés difficile tout seul. When one is alone it is not so easy.”
“Then why don’t you get out?”
The little man’s eyes began to twinkle. “Ah no, I am too fortunate. I have a friend, so to speak, behind every tree. We have a bon gens here, m’sieu. There is, perhaps, not great wealth, but—” he hesitated, then smiled again, “is one not as near the stars as in the city—a little nearer perhaps. I tell my sick that they will not have as far to go when le bon Dieu calls them.”
A silence fell in Antoine’s store as hefinished. The Curé had turned at the door to bless them all ere he departed. It seemed to Landry that only great children were here. In their faces a sudden solemnity had dawned, while toward therm
drew swiftly the day of that Christ whose image ushered them into and out of this silent land. Just for an instant they seemed touched with the tenderness of the Curé’s benediction, then, with much bustle and many au revoirs, Jules Lagauchetière stmnped off to the station to see if he could get a call through to the divisional point, and Arsène and Paul Laliberté and the Voisins tucked in their robes while the young Percherons snorted at their frozen bits ere they dashed away toward Fond du Lac and Ville Deschamps and Ste. Etienne.
“How much we sell?” said Antoine to his wife.
“Quarante piastres. Combien tet tu donné.”
Antoine laughed and winked at Henri Jolicoeur. “She break my heart, dat woman. Of course I don’t give nodings! two, three, sugar stick, maybe, an’ tet ban a leetle tabac à manger—ça ne fait rien.”
'T'HE shop was closed early that even-
ing. The Chabots regarded their de-
pleted shelves with satisfaction, and set to work on a Christmas tree. Long ere this the children had disappeared. Landry wondered whether they were packed in layers or stood on end in the corner, so diminutive were the rooms into which
they vanished. Antoine and his wife labored in silence and the pile of toys grew swiftly. The name of Jacques was mentioned gently more than once. Their guest smoked steadily and tried not to visualize the hundreds of thousands who were preparing for their children’s Noel in just this identical fashion. The whole north country, indeed, seemed alive with twinkling lights that glinted cheerily across the snow, while innumerable parents engaged in just such tender labor. He was moved by profound reflection. But this, he instantly decided, had nothing to do with business.
Suddenly he got up, and, with an awkward apology, put on his overcoat. The Chabots glanced at him with surprise and a shadow fell over Antoine’s face.
“Does m’sieu want—” he stopped, with a queer pallor in his cheeks.
“No—no. I don’t want anything,” said Landry and slipped out into the snow. Henri Jolicoeur’s house lay just across the :oad.
The little doctor looked up with surprise. “M’sieu is not ill, I hope.”
Landry shook his head. “No. I just came on a matter of business. You told me this afternoon that you were the notary here.”
“But yes—certainly, notaire publique.” The traveler nodded. “That’s all right. I just wanted to be sure. Now as a matter of business, I want to make an affidavit as to a claim I have against Chabot—one that I can’t collect.” The wrinkles suddenly deepened around the eyes of Henri Jolicoeur. “M’sieu is no doubt joking.”
"The joke is not on me," said Landry grimly.
“It’s just this way: Chabot has renewed his notes already and I’m not going to carry him any longer. Let him pay up. He can get all the stuff he wants, but he’s got to pay up first. See!”
“Is two hundred dollars then so important, that—”
“Whether it’s two hundred or two thousand—it doesn’t matter. I’m cleaning up my books and Chabot’s account is the only one still open. Now, you don’t expect me to break my record for him—do you?”
“Antoine is an honest man,” protested Jolicoeur.
“He may be and I guess he is—but it would pay him to go out of business from what I saw.”
“That is impossible. The store of Antoine is the concours of Ste. Thérèse.”
“I don’t understand you a little bit.”
“Why—m’sieu—without Antoine—” he shrugged his shoulders, “Ste. Thérèse would be impossible. I myself would rather—”
“No—no. You represent the law and
“M’sieu spoke of his record,” interrupted Jolicoeur. “Would he not like to make a new one, by breaking the old one?”
T ANDRY’S large teeth closed with a ■*-' click. “You may be all right as a doctor—but as a notary, you’re the limit.”
The little doctor straightened his shoulders. “Ah! So—we proceed.” His lips were pressed tight. He opened a drawer and took out a form. “M’sieu will state his claim.”
In ten minutes the paper was covered with fine script from which he looked up like a clean-shaven icicle.
“M’sieu will sign here— an’—yes, the Book.”
Landry’s lips felt the worn leather cover and the Hibernian in him revolted at the touch. But the keen business part of him scoffed, Who was Chabot anyway?
“This, naturally, will not be filed till the day after Noel.” Jolicoeur’s voice was cool and distant.
“All right—what do I owe?”
“M’sieu,” said the little man slowly, “there are matters which one can only state—but one cannot explain. It is so in the case of the good Chabot. I give you—” he paused, then went on with intense earnestness, “I give you the opportunity to destroy this paper. There is an old French saying, m’sieu : Les bons comptes font les bons amis, and indeed that is so to-day. But I go even so far as to say that behind the hard eyes of m’sieu, there is a heart which will regret that this Continued on Page 51.
(Continued from page 13.)
paper should have been preserved. So— there is nothing to pay. Does m’sieu insist?”
“Business is business everywhere except in Ste. Thérèse,” grunted Landry stolidly.
Henri Jolicoeur folded the paper and slipped it into the desk. “M’sieu has spoken,” he said sadly. “Perhaps, however, he will drive with me to-morrow. My new horse is magnificent—superb.”
' I ' HE sun had not cleared the horizon when Antoine and his wife returned from early Mass. As the door closed behind them, an avalanche of youth hurled itself into the sitting-room and fell upon the tree. Landry lay in bed and longec for his own silent apartment. Suddenly le petit Napoléon seized his trumpet and made further sleep, impossible. At that, Landry rose and dressed hurriedly.
The room had lost all semblance of order. Philippe was commencing a large water color of his parents, who were sitting and holding hands quite contentedly. Antoine junior, Théodore and Marcel were deep in a tin soldier battle. Elise and Estelle were dressing and undressing their new dolls with every symptom of maternal solicitude. Guillaume had a wonderful monkey that climbed a rope, and over it all rang the strident note of the trumpet of le petit Napoléon.
Breakfast passed in a whirl of excitement, and then Landry, in spite of himself, accompanied the whole cavalcade and tramped over to church. He listened to the unfamiliar tongue as the Curé spoke and a strange consciousness of the presence of divinity awoke within him at the devoutness of these simple people. The Curé seemed, in truth, not only the pastor of their souls, but a father to whom they responded with all the sincerity of their unsullied lives. Ringed around with the everlasting hills they had preserved something of an ancient dignity that would have been lost forever in the throbbing city. Their children would live thus, and theirs after them. He remembered with a jolt the mission that brought him there; but business, he again decided, was business.
'T'HAT afternoon he drove with Jolicoeur to see a five-mile patient. The young horse drew their carriole strongly over the packed snow, which now shone with the brilliance of a myriad of facets. The temperature had dropped with the wind, and the sky had an amazing clearness. The slender tops of distant trees were sharply visible, and the silence was only broken by the crunch of narrow runners as they bit into the crust. Jolicoeur began to talk as they plowed through a drift.
“Monsieur thought this morning that I was perhaps wasting time in Ste.
Thérèse. Ah, no! It is perhaps easier to do that in a city.”
Landry chuckled. “Perhaps you’re right.”
“I have tried both—and—” he flecked the Percheron daintily, “I know. There are certain things which one misses here—but there are also things which one escapes. I am not born in Ste. Thérèse, but I shall be content to die here. One sleeps well in these hills.”
“You don’t look like dying just yet.” “No, je me porte bien, merci; and I am much too busy. Consider! I am not a philosopher, but I see more people to be unhappy who do not live in Ste. Thérèse. Antoine Chabot, par example, may die in debt—as you, m’sieu, can well imagine.” The little doctor glanced shrewdly at his companion and continued: “But Antoine, has, nevertheless, but little to make him miserable. Our people, m’sieu, do not know how to be miserable.”
“That’s just one of the things they don’t know,” said Landry, fumbling for his pipe.
“I have heard those who say that the Habitant is asleep,” went on Jolicoeur, “but if that is so, why wake him? Sleep is good—very good, and there are many who do not get enough. When the man of the city is worn out, and his blood is cold and thin, the wife of the Habitant will still have her douzaine des enfants. You will see the Habitant to-night,” he laughed, “for Antoine will have a dance.”
“I’m afraid I don’t dance. Where do you get your companionship? Don’t your brain freeze up here?”
The little man hesitated a moment, then his eyes began to twinkle more brightly than ever. “Frankly, m’sieu, you may be right, but I begin to ask myself, what is intellect and what it can offer which I do not find in the care of my friends? Life and death, m’sieu, are more deep than the imagination, and I find them both in Ste. Thérèse. La—la—I talk too much of myself and there is St. Eustaphe.”
THEY crossed a ridge, and below lay a cluster of farm houses, white roofed in a hollow of the hills. Tall ribbons of pearl-grey smoke climbed high and undisturbed into the keen air, and the stroke of an axe sounded sharply from the depth of the encircling woods. Hewn out of the forest, these dwellings, heavy and massive, defied the cruelty of frost and the blaze of summer suns. Their windows, small and deep set, peered across the sparkling fields as did the eyes of forgotten men in search of their ancient foe. The fringe of every farm lay hard against that wilderness out of which it had been cut, and the dense bushland ran wild ere unborn arms should lay it prostrate. It was a country in the making, one in which every swinging blow advanced a sturdy people a fraction further into the wilderness.
Jolicoeur’s glance softened as he looked. “They labor, they laugh and—they love. Can you from the city do more?” he said and ran into the farmhouse. In a few minutes he came out laughing. “Madame,” he chuckled, “is trop de bonne heure. She will not need a doctor for a week. Tonight, m’sieu, you shall see her daughter, Philomèle la belle. She is beautiful, but
her heart is somewhere with Jacques Chabot. Quel malheur!”
They drove back rather silently. The street of Ste. Thérèse had straightened out in front of them, when the little man, bending slightly forward, said earnestly: “You must, m’sieu, pardon one who speaks not often like this, but then generally too much. You have seen my people! Tell your friends to leave them as le bon Dieu has made them. That is not a matter of business.”
With that he bade au revoir and, chirruping to the Percheron, dashed away in a cloud of snow.
T) Y sundown, the house and store of Antoine were ready, and his friends arrived with the darkness. There were the Lupins, and the Lalibertés, and the Voisins, and Jules Lagauchetière—whose grandfather had fought in the Rebellion of ’37—brought his sister from Ste. Ursule, and the Curé his ancient housekeeper, Marthe Laronde. Amid much excitement, there arrived Alcidore Brazeau, the champion wrestler of Mont Marie, and Louise Coteau, with whom he had driven over from Port Neuf. Then, just as they were ready for the quadrille Canadienne, Charles Dumoulin drove up with Philomèle Bissette, and found Antoine’s stable so full that he tethered his horse outside and robbed all the carrioles of robes to cover him. Philomèle was very dark and had bright, restless eyes and red shoes that never kept still.
After the quadrille Canadienne, they danced the polka, and then Arsène Lupin told the story of the Lumberjack’s Phantom Canoe, and gave the river drivers’ clog, which brought down the house as it always did; and it may have been that a drop of whiskey blanc got into his heels, so swiftly did they move. In the middle of the applause, Philomèle Bissette, jumped on the counter and swung her pretty shoes, at which Charles Dumoulin jumped up beside her and tried to put his arm around her waist.
JUST then a curious thing happened.
Henri Jolicoeur, who saw what was going on, took out a large silk handkerchief and sneezed into it several times in succession. At the same moment a loud knocking sounded at the door,which forthwith flew open. On the step, stood a tall figure, powdered white. A capote was pulled down over his face, and a pair of snowshoes were slung over his shoulders. He halted for an instant, while an icy blast filled the store. Behind him, the stars twinkled like diamonds. Then he smiled and stretched out his arms.
Just for a second, no one spoke—till Madame Chabot, who had risen and stood trembling, gasped quickly and hurrying across the store, flung herself into that embrace.
“Jacques,” she panted, “Jacques! Mon gros fils—mon bien aimé.”
“Ma mère,” whispered the lad gently, and looked over her shoulder at Philomèle, in whose face a sudden pallor was being displaced by a flood of exquisite color.
The embraces, the welcomes, the exclamations—what a scene followed. Antoine, bursting with rapture, converted the store into a banquet hall and the
health of the Chabot family was drunk innumerable times. Then someone struck up “Malbrouck sen va t’en guerre” on a mouth organ, and they sang “La Claire Fontaine” and “Roulant ma Boule.” Jacques and Philomèle disappeared into the kitchen and were dragged out amid riotous applause, in the midst of which Jolicoeur and the Curé glanced at each other and nodded significantly.
“And who,” said the lad turning to Landry, “who is this monsieur?”
There fell a sudden silence in which Antoine moved uncomfortably. Jacques looked again and repeated the question.
T OLICOEUR coughed nervously and stepped forward. He had a pink spot in either cheek and his left hand was in his inside breast pocket. Standing very stiffly, his heels rapped together and he bowed formally.
“M’sieu,” he began very distinctly, “is a man of business. It was business that brought him to Ste. Thérèse. M’sieu came to me last night—very urgent—and said, “This affaire de Chabot, I will no longer stand, and you—le notaire publique—you shall set in motion the law of Quebec for two hundred dollars!”
Landry leaned forward and laughed scornfully. “Go on, doctor, you’re some notary.”
“I suggested to m’sieu,” continued Jolicoeur, with deepened color on his temples, “that he wait only for a little—I gave him, so to speak, the opportunity to be a bon homme. But no, his business is too big. Enfin—the affaire proceeds. But I—
I know more than I can say. I know that in the bush near Lac St. Jean, there is a young man who labors that again he may deserve the kiss of his mother and the blessing of his father. He writes—this young man—every month. I write to him and describe the health and goodness of his parents. The months pass and the second Noel draws near. It is arranged between us that on that day the family of the good Chabot shall be complete.”
TT E paused and blew his nose with sus-*■ picious vigor. Antoine’s mouth was wide open. Tears were streaming down the cheeks of Madame Chabot. Jacques’ arm had tightened round Philomèle, but his lips were quivering. Alcidore stared at Landry and growled like a dog.
“Enfin, the day arrives—then the hour —then the minute. I sneeze twice and my voyageur appears. He rests upon the bosom of his family and regards the stranger. ‘Who,’ he asks, ‘is this man?’ ” There followed a tense silence in which Henri Jolicoeur snatched a paper out of his pocket and handed it to Jacques with a royal flourish.
“Behold, my friend, the passport ofM’sieu Landry.”
The stillness was unbroken, as the young man began to read. The document crackled between his strong fingers, till, suddenly, it slipped to the floor, and with a glance of indescribable animosity at Landry, he leaped straight into the air and cracked his heels together twice before reaching the floor. Then his hand plunged into his pocket.
“Tiens!” he cried in a voice shaking with excitement. “Tiens—encore fifty et
puis encore—To hell with the hoveralls of dis man!”
Four fifty-dollar bills, crumpled into balls, hit Landry in the face—while Jacques strode across toward him. For an instant it looked serious—but Philomèle caught at the lifted arm and Antoine interposed his great bulk. Alcidore, by this time, was roaring like a bull. The Lupins, the Bissettes, the Curé and Jules Lagauchetière sat rigid.
Jolicoeur stooped and tore the affidavit into small, neat squares. “Business is business,” he said smiling, “and m’sieu has not destroyed his record,”
THE track was opened next-morning.
A snowplow snorted up the line, vomiting a whirling, vertical blizzard that shone sparkling white against a background of coal smoke. Landry heard it, dressed quickly and stole downstairs. He glanced into the sitting-room as he passed. It was full of children. Philippe had exhausted his paints and was licking the box with palpable affection. The battalions of Théodore and Marcel were reduced to two pink generals and three green privates, but between these a vicious action proceeded. Elise and Estelle had opened a military hospital. Guillaume’s monkey had climbed the rope, and le petit Napoléon blew lustily into the mouth-piece of a tin trumpet. Over the whole assemblage rested an atmosphere of utter content. From the store came the chirpy whistle of Jacques as he wielded a broom. Antoine and his wife were clearing up the debris of the banquet.
Landry put in his head as he passed. “Much obliged,” he said awkwardly. “I’ve just about time to catch that train. I’ve left three dollars in my room. That’s about right I guess. You can have more stuff if you want it.”
The sound of whistling ceased and Antoine looked up. “Au revoir, m’sieu,” he said quietly. “Mais non—adieu, m’sieu. Dose hoveralls she don’t sell very well. I guess I try de culottes de Quebec.”
The train was slow in starting, but half an hour after it was in motion, a brakesman, wearing the indestructible garment, paused at Landry’s seat.
“Here’s letter. She’s for you—I guess.” Inside were three dollars, and a line of fine script.
“Request by Antoine Chabot to say that hospitality Is not business en Ste. Therese.