The Reward of Virtue

by


I

When the good priest of St. Gerome christened Patrick Mullarkey, he lent himself unconsciously to an innocent deception. To look at the name, you would think, of course, it belonged to an Irishman; the very appearance of it was equal to a certificate of membership in a Fenian society

But in effect, from the turned-up toes of his bottes sauvages to the ends of his black mustache, the proprietor of this name was a Frenchman--Canadian French, you understand, and therefore even more proud and tenacious of his race than if he had been born in Normandy. Somewhere in his family tree there must have been a graft from the Green Isle. A wandering lumberman from County Kerry had drifted up the Saguenay into the Lake St. John region, and married the daughter of a habitant, and settled down to forget his own country and his father's house. But every visible trace of this infusion of new blood had vanished long ago, except the name; and the name itself was transformed on the lips of the St. Geromians. If you had heard them speak it in their pleasant droning accent,-- "Patrique Moullarque,"--you would have supposed that it was made in France. To have a guide with such a name as that was as good as being abroad.

Even when they cut it short and called him "Patte," as they usually did, it had a very foreign sound. Everything about him was in harmony with it; he spoke and laughed and sang and thought and felt in French--the French of two hundred years ago, the language of Samuel de Champlain and the Sieur de Monts, touched with a strong woodland flavour. In short, my guide, philosopher, and friend, Pat, did not have a drop of Irish in him, unless, perhaps, it was a certain--well, you shall judge for yourself, when you have heard this story of his virtue, and the way it was rewarded.

It was on the shore of the Lac a la Belle Riviere, fifteen miles back from St. Gerome, that I came into the story, and found myself, as commonly happens in the real stories which life is always bringing out in periodical form, somewhere about the middle of the plot. But Patrick readily made me acquainted with what had gone before. Indeed, it is one of life's greatest charms as a story- teller that there is never any trouble about getting a brief resume of the argument, and even a listener who arrives late is soon put into touch with the course of the narrative.

We had hauled our canoes and camp-stuff over the terrible road that leads to the lake, with much creaking and groaning of wagons, and complaining of men, who declared that the mud grew deeper and the hills steeper every year, and vowed their customary vow never to come that way again. At last our tents were pitched in a green copse of balsam trees, close beside the water. The delightful sense of peace and freedom descended upon our souls. Prosper and Ovide were cutting wood for the camp-fire; Francois was getting ready a brace of partridges for supper; Patrick and I were unpacking the provisions, arranging them conveniently for present use and future transportation.

"Here, Pat," said I, as my hand fell on a large square parcel--"here is some superfine tobacco that I got in Quebec for you and the other men on this trip. Not like the damp stuff you had last year--a little bad smoke and too many bad words. This is tobacco to burn-- something quite particular, you understand. How does that please you?"

He had been rolling up a piece of salt pork in a cloth as I spoke, and courteously wiped his fingers on the outside of the bundle before he stretched out his hand to take the package of tobacco. Then he answered, with his unfailing politeness, but more solemnly than usual:

"A thousand thanks to m'sieu'. But this year I shall not have need of the good tobacco. It shall be for the others."

The reply was so unexpected that it almost took my breath away. For Pat, the steady smoker, whose pipes were as invariable as the precession of the equinoxes, to refuse his regular rations of the soothing weed was a thing unheard of. Could he be growing proud in his old age? Had he some secret supply of cigars concealed in his kit, which made him scorn the golden Virginia leaf? I demanded an explanation.

"But no, m'sieu'," he replied; "it is not that, most assuredly. It is something entirely different--something very serious. It is a reformation that I commence. Does m'sieu' permit that I should inform him of it?"

Of course I permitted, or rather, warmly encouraged, the fullest possible unfolding of the tale; and while we sat among the bags and boxes, and the sun settled gently down behind the sharp-pointed firs across the lake, and the evening sky and the waveless lake glowed with a thousand tints of deepening rose and amber, Patrick put me in possession of the facts which had led to a moral revolution in his life.

"It was the Ma'm'selle Meelair, that young lady,--not very young, but active like the youngest,--the one that I conducted down the Grande Decharge to Chicoutimi last year, after you had gone away. She said that she knew m'sieu' intimately. No doubt you have a good remembrance of her?"

I admitted an acquaintance with the lady. She was the president of several societies for ethical agitation--a long woman, with short hair and eyeglasses and a great thirst for tea; not very good in a canoe, but always wanting to run the rapids and go into the dangerous places, and talking all the time. Yes; that must have been the one. She was not a bosom friend of mine, to speak accurately, but I remembered her well.

"Well, then, m'sieu'," continued Patrick, "it was this demoiselle who changed my mind about the smoking. But not in a moment, you understand; it was a work of four days, and she spoke much.

"The first day it was at the Island House; we were trolling for ouananiche, and she was not pleased, for she lost many of the fish. I was smoking at the stern of the canoe, and she said that the tobacco was a filthy weed, that it grew in the devil's garden, and that it smelled bad, terribly bad, and that it made the air sick, and that even the pig would not eat it."

I could imagine Patrick's dismay as he listened to this dissertation; for in his way he was as sensitive as a woman, and he would rather have been upset in his canoe than have exposed himself to the reproach of offending any one of his patrons by unpleasant or unseemly conduct.

"What did you do then, Pat?" I asked.

"Certainly I put out the pipe--what could I do otherwise? But I thought that what the demoiselle Meelair has said was very strange, and not true--exactly; for I have often seen the tobacco grow, and it springs up out of the ground like the wheat or the beans, and it has beautiful leaves, broad and green, with sometimes a red flower at the top. Does the good God cause the filthy weeds to grow like that? Are they not all clean that He has made? The potato--it is not filthy. And the onion? It has a strong smell; but the demoiselle Meelair she ate much of the onion--when we were not at the Island House, but in the camp.

"And the smell of the tobacco--this is an affair of the taste. For me, I love it much; it is like a spice. When I come home at night to the camp-fire, where the boys are smoking, the smell of the pipes runs far out into the woods to salute me. It says, 'Here we are, Patrique; come in near to the fire.' The smell of the tobacco is more sweet than the smell of the fish. The pig loves it not, assuredly; but what then? I am not a pig. To me it is good, good, good. Don't you find it like that, m'sieu'?

I had to confess that in the affair of taste I sided with Patrick rather than with the pig. "Continue," I said--"continue, my boy. Miss Miller must have said more than that to reform you."

"Truly," replied Pat. "On the second day we were making the lunch at midday on the island below the first rapids. I smoked the pipe on a rock apart, after the collation. Mees Meelair comes to me, and says: 'Patrique, my man, do you comprehend that the tobacco is a poison? You are committing the murder of yourself.' Then she tells me many things--about the nicoline, I think she calls him; how he goes into the blood and into the bones and into the hair, and how quickly he will kill the cat. And she says, very strong, 'The men who smoke the tobacco shall die!'"

"That must have frightened you well, Pat. I suppose you threw away your pipe at once."

"But no, m'sieu'; this time I continue to smoke, for now it is Mees Meelair who comes near the pipe voluntarily, and it is not my offence. And I remember, while she is talking, the old bonhomme Michaud St. Gerome. He is a capable man; when he was young he could carry a barrel of flour a mile without rest, and now that he has seventy-three years he yet keeps his force. And he smokes--it is astonishing how that old man smokes! All the day, except when he sleeps. If the tobacco is a poison, it is a poison of the slowest-- like the tea or the coffee. For the cat it is quick--yes; but for the man it is long; and I am still young--only thirty-one.

"But the third day, m'sieu'--the third day was the worst. It was a day of sadness, a day of the bad chance. The demoiselle Meelair was not content but that we should leap the Rapide des Cedres in canoe. It was rough, rough--all feather-white, and the big rock at the corner boiling like a kettle. But it is the ignorant who have the most of boldness. The demoiselle Meelair she was not solid in the canoe. She made a jump and a loud scream. I did my possible, but the sea was too high. We took in of the water about five buckets. We were very wet. After that we make the camp; and while I sit by the fire to dry my clothes I smoke for comfort.

"Mees Meelair she comes to me once more. 'Patrique,' she says with a sad voice, 'I am sorry that a nice man, so good, so brave, is married to a thing so bad, so sinful!' At first I am mad when I hear this, because I think she means Angelique, my wife; but immediately she goes on: 'You are married to the smoking. That is sinful; it is a wicked thing. Christians do not smoke. There is none of the tobacco in heaven. The men who use it cannot go there. Ah, Patrique, do you wish to go to the hell with your pipe?'"

"That was a close question," I commented; "your Miss Miller is a plain speaker. But what did you say when she asked you that?"

"I said, m'sieu'," replied Patrick, lifting his hand to his forehead, "that I must go where the good God pleased to send me, and that I would have much joy to go to the same place with our cure, the Pere Morel, who is a great smoker. I am sure that the pipe of comfort is no sin to that holy man when he returns, some cold night, from the visiting of the sick--it is not sin, not more than the soft chair and the warm fire. It harms no one, and it makes quietness of mind. For me, when I see m'sieu' the cure sitting at the door of the presbytere, in the evening coolness, smoking the tobacco, very peaceful, and when he says to me, 'Good day, Patrique; will you have a pipeful?' I cannot think that is wicked--no!"

There was a warmth of sincerity in the honest fellow's utterance that spoke well for the character of the cure of St. Gerome. The good word of a plain fisherman or hunter is worth more than a degree of doctor of divinity from a learned university.

I too had grateful memories of good men, faithful, charitable, wise, devout,--men before whose virtues my heart stood uncovered and reverent, men whose lives were sweet with self-sacrifice, and whose words were like stars of guidance to many souls,--and I had often seen these men solacing their toils and inviting pleasant, kindly thoughts with the pipe of peace. I wondered whether Miss Miller ever had the good fortune to meet any of these men. They were not members of the societies for ethical agitation, but they were profitable men to know. Their very presence was medicinal. It breathed patience and fidelity to duty, and a large, quiet friendliness.

"Well, then," I asked, "what did she say finally to turn you? What was her last argument? Come, Pat, you must make it a little shorter than she did."

"In five words, m'sieu', it was this: 'The tobacco causes the poverty.' The fourth day--you remind yourself of the long dead- water below the Rapide Gervais? It was there. All the day she spoke to me of the money that goes to the smoke. Two piastres the month. Twenty-four the year. Three hundred--yes, with the interest, more than three hundred in ten years! Two thousand piastres in the life of the man! But she comprehends well the arithmetic, that demoiselle Meelair; it was enormous! The big farmer Tremblay has not more money at the bank than that. Then she asks me if I have been at Quebec? No. If I would love to go? Of course, yes. For two years of the smoking we could go, the goodwife and me, to Quebec, and see the grand city, and the shops, and the many people, and the cathedral, and perhaps the theatre. And at the asylum of the orphans we could seek one of the little found children to bring home with us, to be our own; for m'sieu knows it is the sadness of our house that we have no child. But it was not Mees Meelair who said that--no, she would not understand that thought."

Patrick paused for a moment, and rubbed his chin reflectively. Then he continued:

"And perhaps it seems strange to you also, m'sieu', that a poor man should be so hungry for children. It is not so everywhere: not in America, I hear. But it is so with us in Canada. I know not a man so poor that he would not feel richer for a child. I know not a man so happy that he would not feel happier with a child in the house. It is the best thing that the good God gives to us; something to work for; something to play with. It makes a man more gentle and more strong. And a woman,--her heart is like an empty nest, if she has not a child. It was the darkest day that ever came to Angelique and me when our little baby flew away, four years ago. But perhaps if we have not one of our own, there is another somewhere, a little child of nobody, that belongs to us, for the sake of the love of children. Jean Boucher, my wife's cousin, at St. Joseph d'Alma, has taken two from the asylum. Two, m'sieu', I assure you for as soon as one was twelve years old, he said he wanted a baby, and so he went back again and got another. That is what I should like to do."

"But, Pat," said I, "it is an expensive business, this raising of children. You should think twice about it."

"Pardon, m'sieu'," answered Patrick; "I think a hundred times and always the same way. It costs little more for three, or four, or five, in the house than for two. The only thing is the money for the journey to the city, the choice, the arrangement with the nuns. For that one must save. And so I have thrown away the pipe. I smoke no more. The money of the tobacco is for Quebec and for the little found child. I have already eighteen piastres and twenty sous in the old box of cigars on the chimney-piece at the house. This year will bring more. The winter after the next, if we have the good chance, we go to the city, the goodwife and me, and we come home with the little boy--or maybe the little girl. Does m'sieu' approve?"

"You are a man of virtue, Pat," said I; "and since you will not take your share of the tobacco on this trip, it shall go to the other men; but you shall have the money instead, to put into your box on the mantel-piece."

After supper that evening I watched him with some curiosity to see what he would do without his pipe. He seemed restless and uneasy. The other men sat around the fire, smoking; but Patrick was down at the landing, fussing over one of the canoes, which had been somewhat roughly handled on the road coming in. Then he began to tighten the tent-ropes, and hauled at them so vigorously that he loosened two of the stakes. Then he whittled the blade of his paddle for a while, and cut it an inch too short. Then he went into the men's tent, and in a few minutes the sound of snoring told that he had sought refuge in sleep at eight o'clock, without telling a single caribou story, or making any plans for the next day's sport.


II

For several days we lingered on the Lake of the Beautiful River, trying the fishing. We explored all the favourite meeting-places of the trout, at the mouths of the streams and in the cool spring- holes, but we did not have remarkable success. I am bound to say that Patrick was not at his best that year as a fisherman. He was as ready to work, as interested, as eager, as ever; but he lacked steadiness, persistence, patience. Some tranquillizing influence seemed to have departed from him. That placid confidence in the ultimate certainty of catching fish, which is one of the chief elements of good luck, was wanting. He did not appear to be able to sit still in the canoe. The mosquitoes troubled him terribly. He was just as anxious as a man could be to have me take plenty of the largest trout, but he was too much in a hurry. He even went so far as to say that he did not think I cast the fly as well as I did formerly, and that I was too slow in striking when the fish rose. He was distinctly a weaker man without his pipe, but his virtuous resolve held firm.

There was one place in particular that required very cautious angling. It was a spring-hole at the mouth of the Riviere du Milieu--an open space, about a hundred feet long and fifteen feet wide, in the midst of the lily-pads, and surrounded on every side by clear, shallow water. Here the great trout assembled at certain hours of the day; but it was not easy to get them. You must come up delicately in the canoe, and make fast to a stake at the side of the pool, and wait a long time for the place to get quiet and the fish to recover from their fright and come out from under the lily-pads. It had been our custom to calm and soothe this expectant interval with incense of the Indian weed, friendly to meditation and a foe of "Raw haste, half-sister to delay." But this year Patrick could not endure the waiting. After five minutes he would say:

"BUT the fishing is bad this season! There are none of the big ones here at all. Let us try another place. It will go better at the Riviere du Cheval, perhaps."

There was only one thing that would really keep him quiet, and that was a conversation about Quebec. The glories of that wonderful city entranced his thoughts. He was already floating, in imagination, with the vast throngs of people that filled its splendid streets, looking up at the stately houses and churches with their glittering roofs of tin, and staring his fill at the magnificent shop-windows, where all the luxuries of the world were displayed. He had heard that there were more than a hundred shops--separate shops for all kinds of separate things: some for groceries, and some for shoes, and some for clothes, and some for knives and axes, and some for guns, and many shops where they sold only jewels--gold rings, and diamonds, and forks of pure silver. Was it not so?

He pictured himself, side by side with his goodwife, in the salle a manger of the Hotel Richelieu, ordering their dinner from a printed bill of fare. Side by side they were walking on the Dufferin Terrace, listening to the music of the military band. Side by side they were watching the wonders of the play at the Theatre de l'Etoile du Nord. Side by side they were kneeling before the gorgeous altar in the cathedral. And then they were standing silent, side by side, in the asylum of the orphans, looking at brown eyes and blue, at black hair and yellow curls, at fat legs and rosy cheeks and laughing mouths, while the Mother Superior showed off the little boys and girls for them to choose. This affair of the choice was always a delightful difficulty, and here his fancy loved to hang in suspense, vibrating between rival joys.

Once, at the Riviere du Milieu, after considerable discourse upon Quebec, there was an interval of silence, during which I succeeded in hooking and playing a larger trout than usual. As the fish came up to the side of the canoe, Patrick netted him deftly, exclaiming with an abstracted air, "It is a boy, after all. I like that best."

Our camp was shifted, the second week, to the Grand Lac des Cedres; and there we had extraordinary fortune with the trout: partly, I conjecture, because there was only one place to fish, and so Patrick's uneasy zeal could find no excuse for keeping me in constant motion all around the lake. But in the matter of weather we were not so happy. There is always a conflict in the angler's mind about the weather--a struggle between his desires as a man and his desires as a fisherman. This time our prayers for a good fishing season were granted at the expense of our suffering human nature. There was a conjunction in the zodiac of the signs of Aquarius and Pisces. It rained as easily, as suddenly, as penetratingly, as Miss Miller talked; but in between the showers the trout were very hungry.

One day, when we were paddling home to our tents among the birch trees, one of these unexpected storms came up; and Patrick, thoughtful of my comfort as ever, insisted on giving me his coat to put around my dripping shoulders. The paddling would serve instead of a coat for him, he said; it would keep him warm to his bones. As I slipped the garment over my back, something hard fell from one of the pockets into the bottom of the canoe. It was a brier-wood pipe.

"Aha! Pat," I cried; "what is this? You said you had thrown all your pipes away. How does this come in your pocket?"

"But, m'sieu'," he answered, "this is different. This is not the pipe pure and simple. It is a souvenir. It is the one you gave me two years ago on the Metabetchouan, when we got the big caribou. I could not reject this. I keep it always for the remembrance."

At this moment my hand fell upon a small, square object in the other pocket of the coat. I pulled it out. It was a cake of Virginia leaf. Without a word, I held it up, and looked at Patrick. He began to explain eagerly:

"Yes, certainly, it is the tobacco, m'sieu'; but it is not for the smoke, as you suppose. It is for the virtue, for the self-victory. I call this my little piece of temptation. See; the edges are not cut. I smell it only; and when I think how it is good, then I speak to myself, 'But the little found child will be better!' It will last a long time, this little piece of temptation; perhaps until we have the boy at our house--or maybe the girl."

The conflict between the cake of Virginia leaf and Patrick's virtue must have been severe during the last ten days of our expedition; for we went down the Riviere des Ecorces, and that is a tough trip, and full of occasions when consolation is needed. After a long, hard day's work cutting out an abandoned portage through the woods, or tramping miles over the incredibly shaggy hills to some outlying pond for a caribou, and lugging the saddle and hind quarters back to the camp, the evening pipe, after supper, seemed to comfort the men unspeakably. If their tempers had grown a little short under stress of fatigue and hunger, now they became cheerful and good-natured again. They sat on logs before the camp-fire, their stockinged feet stretched out to the blaze, and the puffs of smoke rose from their lips like tiny salutes to the comfortable flame, or like incense burned upon the altar of gratitude and contentment.

Patrick, I noticed about this time, liked to get on the leeward side of as many pipes as possible, and as near as he could to the smokers. He said that this kept away the mosquitoes. There he would sit, with the smoke drifting full in his face, both hands in his pockets, talking about Quebec, and debating the comparative merits of a boy or a girl as an addition to his household.

But the great trial of his virtue was yet to come. The main object of our trip down the River of Barks--the terminus ad quem of the expedition, so to speak--was a bear. Now the bear as an object of the chase, at least in Canada, is one of the most illusory of phantoms. The manner of hunting is simple. It consists in walking about through the woods, or paddling along a stream, until you meet a bear; then you try to shoot him. This would seem to be, as the Rev. Mr. Leslie called his book against the deists of the eighteenth century, "A Short and Easie Method." But in point of fact there are two principal difficulties. The first is that you never find the bear when and where you are looking for him. The second is that the bear sometimes finds you when--but you shall see how it happened to us.

We had hunted the whole length of the River of Barks with the utmost pains and caution, never going out, even to pick blueberries, without having the rifle at hand, loaded for the expected encounter. Not one bear had we met. It seemed as if the whole ursine tribe must have emigrated to Labrador.

At last we came to the mouth of the river, where it empties into Lake Kenogami, in a comparatively civilized country, with several farm-houses in full view on the opposite bank. It was not a promising place for the chase; but the river ran down with a little fall and a lively, cheerful rapid into the lake, and it was a capital spot for fishing. So we left the rifle in the case, and took a canoe and a rod, and went down, on the last afternoon, to stand on the point of rocks at the foot of the rapid, and cast the fly.

We caught half a dozen good trout; but the sun was still hot, and we concluded to wait awhile for the evening fishing. So we turned the canoe bottom up among the bushes on the shore, stored the trout away in the shade beneath it, and sat down in a convenient place among the stones to have another chat about Quebec. We had just passed the jewelry shops, and were preparing to go to the asylum of the orphans, when Patrick put his hand on my shoulder with a convulsive grip, and pointed up the stream.

There was a huge bear, like a very big, wicked, black sheep with a pointed nose, making his way down the shore. He shambled along lazily and unconcernedly, as if his bones were loosely tied together in a bag of fur. It was the most indifferent and disconnected gait that I ever saw. Nearer and nearer he sauntered, while we sat as still as if we had been paralyzed. And the gun was in its case at the tent!

How the bear knew this I cannot tell; but know it he certainly did, for he kept on until he reached the canoe, sniffed at it suspiciously, thrust his sharp nose under it, and turned it over with a crash that knocked two holes in the bottom, ate the fish, licked his chops, stared at us for a few moments without the slightest appearance of gratitude, made up his mind that he did not like our personal appearance, and then loped leisurely up the mountain-side. We could hear him cracking the underbrush long after he was lost to sight.

Patrick looked at me and sighed. I said nothing. The French language, as far as I knew it, seemed trifling and inadequate. It was a moment when nothing could do any good except the consolations of philosophy, or a pipe. Patrick pulled the brier-wood from his pocket; then he took out the cake of Virginia leaf, looked at it, smelled it, shook his head, and put it back again. His face was as long as his arm. He stuck the cold pipe into his mouth, and pulled away at it for a while in silence. Then his countenance began to clear, his mouth relaxed, he broke into a laugh.

"Sacred bear!" he cried, slapping his knee; "sacred beast of the world! What a day of the good chance for her, HE! But she was glad, I suppose. Perhaps she has some cubs, HE? BAJETTE!"


III

This was the end of our hunting and fishing for that year. We spent the next two days in voyaging through a half-dozen small lakes and streams, in a farming country, on our way home. I observed that Patrick kept his souvenir pipe between his lips a good deal of the time, and puffed at vacancy. It seemed to soothe him. In his conversation he dwelt with peculiar satisfaction on the thought of the money in the cigar-box on the mantel-piece at St. Gerome. Eighteen piastres and twenty sous already! And with the addition to be made from the tobacco not smoked during the past month, it would amount to more than twenty-three piastres; and all as safe in the cigar-box as if it were in the bank at Chicoutimi! That reflection seemed to fill the empty pipe with fragrance. It was a Barmecide smoke; but the fumes of it were potent, and their invisible wreaths framed the most enchanting visions of tall towers, gray walls, glittering windows, crowds of people, regiments of soldiers, and the laughing eyes of a little boy--or was it a little girl?

When we came out of the mouth of La Belle Riviere, the broad blue expanse of Lake St. John spread before us, calm and bright in the radiance of the sinking sun. In a curve on the left, eight miles away, sparkled the slender steeple of the church of St. Gerome. A thick column of smoke rose from somewhere in its neighbourhood. "It is on the beach," said the men; "the boys of the village accustom themselves to burn the rubbish there for a bonfire." But as our canoes danced lightly forward over the waves and came nearer to the place, it was evident that the smoke came from the village itself. It was a conflagration, but not a general one; the houses were too scattered and the day too still for a fire to spread. What could it be? Perhaps the blacksmith shop, perhaps the bakery, perhaps the old tumble-down barn of the little Tremblay? It was not a large fire, that was certain. But where was it precisely?

The question, becoming more and more anxious, was answered when we arrived at the beach. A handful of boys, eager to be the bearers of news, had spied us far off, and ran down to the shore to meet us.

"Patrique! Patrique!" they shouted in English, to make their importance as great as possible in my eyes. "Come 'ome kveek; yo' 'ouse ees hall burn'!"

"W'at!" cried Patrick. "MONJEE!" And he drove the canoe ashore, leaped out, and ran up the bank toward the village as if he were mad. The other men followed him, leaving me with the boys to unload the canoes and pull them up on the sand, where the waves would not chafe them.

This took some time, and the boys helped me willingly. "Eet ees not need to 'urry, m'sieu'," they assured me; "dat 'ouse to Patrique Moullarque ees hall burn' seence t'ree hour. Not'ing lef' bot de hash."

As soon as possible, however, I piled up the stuff, covered it with one of the tents, and leaving it in charge of the steadiest of the boys, took the road to the village and the site of the Maison Mullarkey.

It had vanished completely: the walls of squared logs were gone; the low, curved roof had fallen; the door-step with the morning-glory vines climbing up beside it had sunken out of sight; nothing remained but the dome of the clay oven at the back of the house, and a heap of smouldering embers.

Patrick sat beside his wife on a flat stone that had formerly supported the corner of the porch. His shoulder was close to Angelique's--so close that it looked almost as if he must have had his arm around her a moment before I came up. His passion and grief had calmed themselves down now, and he was quite tranquil. In his left hand he held the cake of Virginia leaf, in his right a knife. He was cutting off delicate slivers of the tobacco, which he rolled together with a circular motion between his palms. Then he pulled his pipe from his pocket and filled the bowl with great deliberation.

"What a misfortune!" I cried. "The pretty house is gone. I am so sorry, Patrick. And the box of money on the mantel-piece, that is gone, too, I fear--all your savings. What a terrible misfortune! How did it happen?"

"I cannot tell," he answered rather slowly. "It is the good God. And he has left me my Angelique. Also, m'sieu', you see"--here he went over to the pile of ashes, and pulled out a fragment of charred wood with a live coal at the end--"you see"--puff, puff--"he has given me"--puff, puff--"a light for my pipe again"--puff, puff, puff!

The fragrant, friendly smoke was pouring out now in full volume. It enwreathed his head like drifts of cloud around the rugged top of a mountain at sunrise. I could see that his face was spreading into a smile of ineffable contentment.

"My faith!" said I, "how can you be so cheerful? Your house is in ashes; your money is burned up; the voyage to Quebec, the visit to the asylum, the little orphan--how can you give it all up so easily?"

"Well," he replied, taking the pipe from his mouth, with fingers curling around the bowl, as if they loved to feel that it was warm once more--"well, then, it would be more hard, I suppose, to give it up not easily. And then, for the house, we shall build a new one this fall; the neighbours will help. And for the voyage to Quebec-- without that we may be happy. And as regards the little orphan, I will tell you frankly"--here he went back to his seat upon the flat stone, and settled himself with an air of great comfort beside his partner--"I tell you, in confidence, Angelique demands that I prepare a particular furniture at the new house. Yes, it is a cradle; but it is not for an orphan."


IV

It was late in the following summer when I came back again to St. Gerome. The golden-rods and the asters were all in bloom along the village street; and as I walked down it the broad golden sunlight of the short afternoon seemed to glorify the open road and the plain square houses with a careless, homely rapture of peace. The air was softly fragrant with the odour of balm of Gilead. A yellow warbler sang from a little clump of elder-bushes, tinkling out his contented song like a chime of tiny bells, "Sweet--sweet--sweet--sweeter-- sweeter--sweetest!"

There was the new house, a little farther back from the road than the old one; and in the place where the heap of ashes had lain, a primitive garden, with marigolds and lupines and zinnias all abloom. And there was Patrick, sitting on the door-step, smoking his pipe in the cool of the day. Yes; and there, on a many-coloured counterpane spread beside him, an infant joy of the house of Mullarkey was sucking her thumb, while her father was humming the words of an old slumber-song:

Sainte Marguerite,
Veillez ma petite!
Endormez ma p'tite enfant
Jusqu'a l'age de quinze ans!
Quand elle aura quinze ans passe
Il faudra la marier
Avec un p'tit bonhomme
Que viendra de Rome.


"Hola! Patrick," I cried; "good luck to you! Is it a girl or a boy?"

"SALUT! m'sieu'," he answered, jumping up and waving his pipe. "It is a girl AND a boy!"

Sure enough, as I entered the door, I beheld Angelique rocking the other half of the reward of virtue in the new cradle.


0

facebook share button twitter share button google plus share button tumblr share button reddit share button email share button share on pinterest pinterest


Create a library and add your favorite stories. Get started by clicking the "Add" button.
Add The Reward of Virtue to your own personal library.

Return to the Henry van Dyke Home Page, or . . . Read the next short story; The Ripening Of The Fruit

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson