A Widow's Wills
Translated from the French
by Ann Marie Staples
Original Title: LES DEUX TESTAMENTS
"L'Indépendant," Fall River, Massachusetts,
Translated with permission of the Franco-American
Center in Manchester, New Hampshire, repository for the books and materials
produced by the National Materials Development Center for French and Créole,
formerly located in Bedford, New Hampshire. "Les Deux Testaments"
in Santerre, Richard, "Littérature Franco-américaine de la
Nouvelle Angleterre," Tome II Ed. Renaud S. Albert. Distributed by Dept.
of Media Services, University of New Hampshire, 1980-81.
When Anna Duval-Thibault was publishing her installments
of "A Widow's Wills" in the weekly Franco-American newspaper "L'Indépendant,"
she was 26 and had lived in the United States since the age of three.
Her voice was tuned for speaking to the Franco-American population in the
booming cultural melting-pot of Fall River, Massachusetts. The storyline
of "A Widow's Wills" was meant to amuse and entertain French-speaking,
American readers who identified with the joys and perils of the characters.
In "A Widow's Wills" Anna Duval-Thibault documents the essence of an era
in Franco-American history.
The young modern will also question the probability
of the events unfolding in the drama. They should be advised that
the story paints a true and stunning portrait of the condition of the American
bourgeoise at the end of the 19th century. In these pages it becomes
clear that the young Franco-American woman of the era was not only subject
to her own ancient French culture's norms, but also to the rules imposed
on her by Victorian idealism. And, remarkably, the misfortune she
endured was in direct proportion to the fortune she possessed. For
women, including French-Canadian women of property, America was hardly
"the land of the free."
The novice student of Franco-American culture
may be perplexed by the author's overwhelming inclusion of God, church
and religion in her storytelling. They are forewarned that as they
progress in learning about this people, they will encounter thoughts of
holiness and sinfulness in abundance and in the most unlikely places.
They are about to study a people molded by Faith and fired by Morality
- who really enjoy a good party.
Ann Marie Staples
The story begins in Montréal around
1860. The first chapter introduces Maria Renaud, daughter of a prosperous
St. Laurent Street grocer, and Xavier Leclerc, a young employee.
"So, Maria, thereís no hope at all for
us, is there?"
The one who spoke these words was a handsome
young man with an honest, sensitive face. His voice sounded troubled
and discouragement masked his face.
The young lady he'd addressed remained
silent. She, too, appeared sad and disheartened.
Cheery rays of June sunshine slid through
the half-closed shutters, dancing on the furniture and rugs in the room
occupied by the two young people. A fresh, softly caressing breeze
-- one of those springtime breezes that triggers dreams of who knows what,
blew in from time to time through the open window. A darling canary
flitted happily about in his cage singing a hymn to the springtime just
as sweetly as do the free wild birds of the forest. The lively voices
of children playing in the street drifted in. Generally, it seemed
everything rejoiced on that day -- everything except the two young people
who maintained a somber silence, preoccupied as they were with their heartache.
Xavier Leclerc, that was the young man's
name, finally raising his eyes to the girl he loved, saw two heavy tears
running slowly down her rosy cheeks. At the sight of this, he could
no longer contain himself.
"Maria," he said, taking her hands and
pressing them gently in his, "Maria, my love, I beg you, calm yourself.
It breaks my heart to see you weep."
After a pause, he continued.
"I'll take a new approach with your father.
I'll tell him that I'm willing to wait two or three years, if I must.
During that time, I'll do my best to improve my situation. I'll economize
and save. I could even go try my luck in the United States if I'm not successful
"But my boss is fair and honest.
He thinks highly of me and has promised me a raise next year. Even
more opportunities might come up while I'm waiting. If two or three
of my co-workers with longevity should leave for any reason, it would make
room for a promotion. Then I'd earn a salary sufficient to set us
up comfortably, if not luxuriously. I'm young and hard working.
I'm in good health. I belong to a respectable family. I have
all that in my favor. Your father will think twice before breaking
"Yes," replied the young lady sadly, "That
would be fine if Papa didn't have his heart set on marrying me to that
horrible widower that he thinks is such a great prospect. He's so
serious and so religious that papa thinks he's the most perfect man in
the world. Me, I hate him."
"And me, do you hate me?" asked Xavier
bringing his face closer to the young lady's.
"Silly!" whispered Maria, "you know very
well that I love you."
"Give me a kiss then!"
Without waiting for a reply, which might
have been unfavorable, he placed a long kiss on her lips.
Unnerved and confused, Maria hid her face
against the young man's shoulder while he whispered passionately in her
"Promise you'll be my wife. Promise
you won't marry another!"
Maria was probably about to make the awaited
promise, when footsteps were heard in the stairway. Frightened, she
escaped Xavier's arms and an instant later, her mother who was returning
from vespers (it was Sunday) entered the room.
Seeing the young man, she took on a stiff,
haughty air and greeted him coldly, for she was hardly leaning in his favor.
After a half-hour of dry, reserved conversation,
Xavier took his leave of the mother and daughter, throwing a long look
of love and regret on the latter.
He went away with a heart full of sad premonitions.
Mr. Renaud, Maria's father, had started
his family life without a cent, but, blessed with uncommon energy and considerable
talent, he had mastered his own fate and created his place in the sun.
In 1860, the time when our story begins,
he had a lovely grocery store on St. Laurent Street in Montréal,
and his business enjoyed steady prosperity.
He was a man of high morals and strong
reputation, but vanity and stubbornness were major faults of his.
When he had an idea in his head, it was
difficult to get around it, especially because it was nearly impossible
to make him see him that his logic might be wrong.
On the outside he seemed in pretty good
form, even though he was approaching 50 years of age and balding.
He had average features, and a fairly long
gray beard that lent him a venerable air. His blue eyes were expressive
enough, and his skin kept its rosy tone.
He loved his daughter very much, but in
his own tyrannical way.
For some time, he'd had a son-in-law in
mind. It was a widower, a very stern man of about thirty-six years
who gave the impression of being well-off. Very religious, with an
excellent reputation, in the eyes of Mr. Renaud he must have appeared the
most qualified for making any woman happy. Heíd resolved to make
him his son-in-law.
In the meantime, Xavier Leclerc had respectfully
asked Mr. Renaud's daughter's hand in marriage. Xavier had more love
than fortune since he was nothing but a clerk in the shops of suburban
What Xavier lacked in wealth, he made up
for in character and looks for he had the most friendly demeanor and honest
work ethic. When added to his youthful vigor it made him a potentially
But the old man had reddened in rage and
sharply refused. Xavier had left deeply discouraged.
The following Sunday, he'd gone, as usual,
to the home of his beloved, and had been delighted to find himself alone
in the house with her where he'd had the conversation we heard earlier.
Having left the house, he walked briskly
He was so absorbed in his thoughts that
he didn't notice a man coming from the opposite direction. This man
was none other than the widower Bernier himself. He didnít fail to
notice Xavier and his face took on a hateful expression, which would have
astonished his friends who considered him practically a saint.
He passed by Xavier as though he hadn't
seen him and pressed onward toward the Renaud residence, where he soon
arrived and where the father and mother gave him a most warm welcome.
But the young lady offered him very little attention.
When evening fell and the widower was still
lingering, he was cordially invited to stay for supper. He accepted
without having to be asked twice. From time to time during the meal,
his stony gray eyes fixed on Maria's face with an intensity that would
have frightened her if she'd been paying attention. But her mind
was elsewhere, thinking only of Xavier.
The widower wanted this lovely young lady
with all the fervor of a first passion because he'd never loved his deceased
wife, but had wed only as a matter of good business.
He said to himself while watching Maria:
"Thereís no doubt she has no feelings for
"She loves no one but that young fool I
met this afternoon and thinks of nothing but him.
"Yet, Iëll have her! Yes, I shall
"Whether she loves me or not, sheíll be
He chatted with Mr. & Mrs. Renaud,
mulling over these thoughts all the while. He talked about the procession
of the Blessed Sacrament to be held on the following Sunday. He discussed
a pastor's illness -- he had connections with several priests. He
talked about the pilgrimage to St. Anne's Basilica that a certain congregation
was arranging. His conversation literally flowed with sacred or religious
topics of this nature.
Mr. Renaud weighed sober conversations
like this one against the light, spontaneous chatter of ordinary young
When talking about the widower, he often
mentioned to his wife:
"Do you see, old girl, that good man there
is devout; he doesn't have the faults of so many other men and a woman
couldnít help but be perfectly happy with him. He's well-positioned,
has some cash and along with that, he most probably will inherit a portion
of his mother-in-law's estate, and she loves him like her own son.
What I like the most about him, is that he has temperance.
Mr. Renaud had an aversion to drunkenness.
In this he had a point, and it would be a better world if more people agreed
with him. The worst thing one could tell him about a man was to tell
him that he liked to drink, even just a bit.
The widower knew this, and while gluttonously
gobbling the raspberry preserves that Mrs. Renaud prepared to perfection,
he offered quite naturally:
"I met Xavier Leclerc on Mignonne Street
Maria raised her eyes, finally becoming
The widower continued, "He was near old
man Picard's house, and my word, I believe he was going toward it."
"Why, he's nothing but an old good-for-nothing,"
trilled Mrs. Renaud pompously.
"There is no doubt that heís one proud
old drunkard," added the father with conviction, " and I donít understand
why a good boy like Xavier Leclerc should like going to such a house."
"Ah! as for that," said the widower coyly,
"he has lovely girls, the old man Picard, even though they are pretty wild,
and well, there is always a band of young fellows there looking for a good
time. Youth, you know, they like having a good time."
"That's no excuse," said Mr. Renaud who
was becoming quite agitated. If I had known that Xavier fraternized
with that type of folk, I would never had allowed him into my home."
"But, Papa!" dared Maria, "Mr. Bernier
didn't say that he'd seen Xavier go into the Picard home. He only
saw him in that area. How can you be sure that he went there?"
"And you," replied the father in a surly
tone, "how can you be sure he didn't go into the house?"
Maria didn't know what to say and kept
When the meal was over, all went to the
bishop's church to attend the diocesan steering committeeís devotional
The bishop's old church was destroyed by
fire in 1851, and while awaiting construction of the new cathedral, the
unimaginative building that still stands today was erected.
Maria would have preferred to stay at home,
but didn't dare, for fear of irritating her parents.
Mr. Renaud gave his wife his arm and the
widower offering his to Maria, left her no choice but to accept it, even
though she did so with an instinctive repugnance.
Arriving at the church, she completely
forgot about the widower by thinking about Xavier for whom she prayed fervently
with head bowed and eyes filled with tears.
Xavier was in the church also, and had
seen Maria entering on the arm of his despised rival. The sight had
filled his heart with cruel jealousy.
"Ah! If he could have read Maria's mind,
how his fears would have vanished! How much grief would have been
spared the two of them!
Bernier's mother-in-law, the widow Champagne,
lives with her orphaned grand-son Joseph Allard. Bernier, in hopes
of inheriting his mother-in-law's real estate, showers her with care, but
without successfully hiding his hypocrisy from the young boy, Joseph, who
feels an instinctive distrust for his uncle. One day, the widow suffers
a near-fatal fall and Bernier convinces her to sign a will in which she
bequeaths him her property, and gives him a $10,000 trust fund for Joseph.
Jubilant, he withholds the widow's medicine to hasten her death.
At the same time, he continues to slander Xavier's reputation in hopes
of winning Maria's hand.
On a dreary, cold autumn night, a young
pale and grief stricken man, paced back and forth on St. Laurent Street
before the Renaud residence.
It was Xavier Leclerc.
From time to time, he looked up at the
first story windows, where a cheerful light shone. From time to time
he stopped in front of the house for a few moments, then resumed his hopeless
march, his heart shattered by a thousand cruel regrets.
In his mind, he retraced all those moments
when he'd been happy in the presence of his beloved. He recalled
the hopes that filled his heart each time he received some sign of love
from her. He saw her as he had so often, happy, lovable and smiling.
He thought he could still feel the gentle touch of the dainty hand so often
folded in his. Then, all at once, the gloomy, hopeless reality hit
him and he remembered that Maria was beyond his reach.
One evening while returning from the shop,
he had met Maria's father, who had flatly ignored him and had intimated
the order to stay away from his house, with the understanding that he didn't
want to entertain a young man who patronized cabarets and got drunk with
his equally foul companions.
Xavier who had never set foot in a cabaret,
and whose friends were but two or three young men as straight laced as
himself, was more offended than he would have been if he had been capable
of committing the deeds for which he was accused. Shock and indignation
left him speechless, and before he could regain his composure and defend
himself, Mr. Renaud had quickly fled the scene.
After reflecting at length, Xavier concluded
that surely the widower had invented these slanderous stories, because
no one else but him had any reason to mar his reputation with Maria's father.
This deeply discouraged him because he
knew that Mr. Renaud held the widower in such high esteem that there'd
be no way to make him understand he'd been fooled.
He had good reason. All efforts toward
this cause would have been useless, because Edmond Bernier knew how to
slander so deftly and knew so well the art of adding "a grain of truth
to a pound of lies" that it would have been difficult to prove the falseness
of his stories, especially to a man as full of prejudices as Maria's father.
One day, several young men of questionable
character who knew Xavier casually met him on the street and stopped to
chat, despite his obvious signs of impatience. Unfortunately, the
widower passed there at that very moment and made a great urgency of
rushing to Maria's father to report he'd seen Xavier loitering in the streets
in the company of ill-reputed young men.
Another time, Xavier was passing by an
inn when he saw a man stagger out and fall seriously injuring his head
right in front of him.
Putting aside his disgust, Xavier charitably
helped the man home.
Having learned of this event, the widower
let it be known Xavier had rescued one of his rowdy friends.
Also, Mr. Renaud now looked with aversion
and contempt upon the young man whom he had once respected.
His wife shared his opinion, and even Maria
started to feel her faith in him waver because even though she still showed
the same antipathy for the widower, she was not aware of his underhandedness.
Still a naive girl, it had not yet occurred to her to doubt his credibility.
However, she never stopped loving Xavier
and the poor child was very unhappy.
The evening when he was pacing before her
house, his soul full of sadness and regret, Maria was not in the parlor.
While her father and the widower played
dominos, and her mother knitted, chatting with a relative whoíd come to
visit that evening, Maria, feigning a head ache, had closed herself in
her room to weep freely because she was feeling more desperate than ever.
Did she sense Xavier's presence nearby?
Was her pain an echo of her lover's?
After shedding many tears, instead of feeling
better her desperation doubled.
Finally, broken and exhausted, she fell
asleep only to dream fitfully.
During this time, Xavier continued to pace,
falling deeper and deeper into despair.
It wasn't the first time that he snooped
around the house of girl he loved; he'd taken on the habit some time ago.
But that night, he was even more miserable than usual. Feeling worse
than ever since he'd seen the widower go in with a happy, satisfied air
about him, a stabbing jealousy had taken hold.
His good mother, who'd become aware of
his problem, guessed the cause. She preached him the value of resignation
and submission to the will of God. She told him that this world was
but a place for expiation and that we must not expect to go through life
without suffering. She spoke to him of the Savior who had suffered
so much to redeem men; of the martyrs who had given their lives for their
faith; of the saints who had sacrificed all their lives to please God and
asked him after giving these examples if he could not also resign himself
to suffer without complaining against Providence.
But, these wise remonstrances only made
the young man impatient and although he was faithful enough to his religious
obligations, had never quite attained that high degree of devotion that
soothes sorrows and strengthens against temptation.
Never having tasted divine consolation,
his soul was incapable of understanding its sweetness. The time had come
when these consolations would have been most helpful.
The trial had arrived, temptation was near.
Where would he find the strength needed
to resist it? Around nine o'clock a few young fellows walked along
St. Laurent Street, talking and laughing loudly.
They were the same fellows who'd stopped
Xavier on the street before.
They'd never been his friends, but he known
them since childhood because they'd always lived in the same neighborhood.
They treated him like a chum without recognizing the obvious disdain Xavier
was showing for them.
"Say there! what are you doing here?" they
"You see quite well that I'm strolling,"
said Xavier dryly.
"It must be mighty cheery to stroll down
the street like that all by yourself," remarked one of them.
"I don't think so," quipped another. "But,
if he had his girl with him."
"Yeah, his girl!" said a third, "don't
you know she's giving him a tough time right now?"
"That's right," replied the first, "she
planted him out here and took in the widower St. Creepo. That girl
has no taste."
"You know, in your place, I wouldn't give
her the satisfaction of being miserable."
"Darn right! Just the opposite, I'd show
her that I was just as carefree as ever," said the gang leader.
"You're spewing words of wisdom, Big Pierre!
Let's bring this poor boy with us so he can forget all his troubles."
"Yeah! Yeah! We know how to take his mind
off them," the others shouted.
How will they succeed in getting Xavier
to go with them?
The Devil who inspires them will know how!
That night, the old mother awaited her
son in vain.
How she was worried, the poor old woman,
and how she wept reciting her rosary for her son, believing him the victim
of some accident.
She stayed up night keeping watch, making
sure the light stayed on.
But the hours passed and Xavier didn't
On a lovely May morning in 1861, a man
slowly stepped down from the train at Bonaventure Station and briskly strode
toward one of the area hotels. He looked rather elderly but his agility
and vigor contrasted with his graying hair.
On the way he looked about him with a keep
interest. From time to time his eyes turned lovingly toward the beautiful
blue sky where a few light clouds floated peacefully. When two men
engaged in discussion passed by, he turned quickly to look at them even
though the words they had spoken had no significant meaning to him.
It's that this man was a Canadian returning
to the country after a 35-year absence.
Those who've never left their mother land
couldn't understand the joy and delight one feels when returning to her.
It's one of those feelings difficult to
describe in words.
The sky so blue, the air so clean seem
to give new life; and the wonderful French language striking the ear from
every angle fills the soul with pleasure.
It was so with our traveler and pure joy
painted his tired face.
Having been away from Montréal since
the age of 25, Charles LeCompte had traveled the United States from north
to south and east to west for many years. Finally he'd settled in
New York where he'd found a good job and married a Canadian woman -- a
good and worthy wife, who'd made him happy to this day. He had several
children, now all married.
Even though he'd been separated from his
native land for a long time, heíd kept its memory alive and his greatest
ambition had always been to save enough money to return to live out his
Through hard work and frugal living he
accomplished his goal and accumulated a considerable amount. He was
coming to Montréal aiming to purchase some property where he could
spend his last years with his dear wife.
His children, in whom he had instilled
his love for Canada, planned on joining him sooner or later.
Even though this was the main goal of his
voyage, he had a strong urge to locate some of his relatives and old friends
not seen since five years ago.
His father and mother had died before he'd
left for the United States. Since then he'd received word of his
only brother's death. Only a few cousins remained, and he wasn't
certain that they were still living, since he'd had no news in a long time.
As far as his old friends, he didn't have
much hope of finding any of them either.
First, he set out to locate some cousins.
Alas! They were all dead, and their children, however sympathetic and hospitable
toward their long lost relative, were but strangers to him.
It was the same case with his friends.
Not a single one remained, except for the
old widow of one of his childhood friends.
This widow was Mrs. Champagne.
If he was disappointed to find only this
one lady out of all the people he'd known and loved, as far removed as
she was, she was someone he could talk to about the old times and her dear
departed husband, and somebody to whom he could tell all his worries and
Little by little the communication problems
resulting from her paralysis lessened and she began understanding more
clearly what was going on around her.
Alas! The poor woman had become more and
more miserable during the last year.
Her son-in-law, so good and devoted, seemed
to have changed personalities during that time. He wasn't as attentive
and caring toward her. He was rough with the little orphan.
He often refused to allow her or the little boy some of the necessities
and other things they'd never lacked before. It had come to a point
where the widow didn't have a cent available, and that she had to ask her
son-in-law for everything she needed. He always seemed ready to accuse
her of being extravagant -- she who had always economized.
Finally, he was acting like the master
of the house. He alone handled the affairs of the other properties,
supervised the rents, made (or didn't make) repairs, and on one pretext
or another, found the way to pocket all the money he received from the
tenants without making any accounting to the widow.
The poor woman became more and more alarmed
and wept frequently, especially when thinking about her little grandson's
future. But she lacked the courage to stand up to her son-in-law's
Her spirit, never very strong, had grown
weaker with age.
She began to understand her sorry situation,
but could neither see nor imagine any solution. Before the arrival
of Charles LeCompte, her old friend, she'd had no one from whom to ask
All these astonishing details outraged
the good old man who couldn't comprehend this excessive, perverse boldness,
especially by a man who looked so honest and god-fearing.
From his first visit with the widow, he
thought he understood that Mrs. Champagne had made a last will and testament
in favor of her son-in-law. This had upset him.
But after she'd explained things more clearly
and precisely, and after she had spoken of the will, he bolstered his courage
and started thinking about what he could do to help her out of this bind.
The thing to do was to prepare a new will,
and the sooner the better in case things got worse.
Then, that would mean inspiring the widow
to summon the strength needed to make herself tell her son-in-law that
his presence in her home was no longer required.
Right there, that was the most difficult,
because Edmond Bernier, little by little, had empowered himself over the
woman so that she never dared speak to him first, always treating him like
However, time was running out, and the
good old man having concluded his business satisfactorily, was eager to
return to New York to gather his wife and bring her back.
"She and Mrs. Champagne will make good
friends," he thought. "However, we never know what can happen.
The old woman could well be dead when I return and if so, woe is her grandson!"
It would take too long to describe how
he managed to influence the widow. He spoke of her duty as the only
relative and protector of the child that the Lord had left to her care;
he talked about her worthy husband who would certainly have advised her
to listen to his old friend's counsel if he could have appeared and spoken
to her himself.
But the widow still hesitated.
Fortunately, an unforeseen event came to
his aide at the very moment he was beginning to lose hope of succeeding
in his benevolent project. Upon his departure for Montréal,
one of his friends from New York had asked him to pay a call and bring
news to one of his relatives who lived on St. Laurent Street.
As he began planning his departure, he
thought about doing his errand.
He made his way to the said relative and
was received with grand Canadian courtesy.
Having sat down by the window, he noticed
all at once the widower Bernier (he'd seen him once at Mrs. Champagne's
house) walking along across the street toward a nice grocery store.
"There!" he couldn't help but exclaim,
"Mrs. Champagne's son-in-law!"
"What, you know him?" asked his host.
"Why, yes! He's my oldest friend's son-in-law.
Do you know him, too?"
"Only by sight. I know that soon,
according to what they say, he should be marrying Renaud's daughter.
He owns the grocery Bernier just entered. They say that he'll inherit
from his very wealthy mother-in-law. That's the reason Renaud refused
his daughter's first suitor. He was a nice boy, but with no money.
At least, thatís what the word is around
here. In any event, the young girl's suitor who was, like I said,
a nice boy and his mother's pride and joy, has since become a drunken bum.
Renaud says that he always was, but I know better. It's heartbreak
that made him like that, Iím certain.
ìBut youíll think Iím an old gossip, Sir.î
ìNot at all. On the contrary, what
you're telling me is very interesting.î
"That young man seemed interesting to me,"
continued the old fellow. "He looked honest and good. He looked
radiant when standing at Mr. Renaud's door on Sunday afternoons."
The conversation having continued on this
tone for some time, Charles LeCompte went away quite happy with his discovery,
because he felt that this situation would weigh more heavily with the widow
than any solid reasoning.
He rushed to her home and told her the
story noting the seriousness of the circumstances.
He had not erred in judgment. In
learning that her son-in-law was planning to remarry, and that he was engaged
to a young girl, she went into a fit of anger and resolved to rewrite her
Taking advantage of her good state of mind,
her friend sought out a good notary to whom he explained the situation.
On a fine day, he brought him in triumph to the widow.
Two hours later, the kind old man seeing
the notary to the door muttered to himself, "There you're defeated, my
good Mr. Bernier!"
With the will that Mrs. Champagne had just
signed, she bequeathed all her worldly goods to her grand-son; and named
her old friend Charles LeCompte his guardian, which was quite convenient,
since he'd be returning to Montréal permanently.
As for Edmond Bernier? His name wasn't
even mentioned. In the event of the young boy's death, the inheritance
would be distributed among several of the widow's favorite charities.
She had momentarily held the notion of
leaving a small legacy to her son-in-law as a reward for the services he'd
But her old friend talked her out of it.
"He doesn't deserve another reward, the
scoundrel!" said he. "In fact, what services did he render to you?
He moved in with you after his wife's death, yes, but it was to his advantage,
it seems to me. He handed you hypocritical warmth and sympathy, and
in your presence he pretended to be mourning his wife while he already
had another one in mind.
"He collected the rent money but kept it
all, according to what you have told me. That paid him well.
Finally, he holds all your money and never gives you an accounting.
All that is suspicious, very suspicious. What I think is that he
must have made great financial progress while he was here, and at your
"There won't be much left for your grandson,
you can be assured."
And the widow, not being able to argue
the justice in his reasoning, finally decided to leave nothing to her son-in-law.
The will being signed and sealed, she expressed
her preference to keep it in her possession.
Suspecting and stubborn like so many old
persons, it seemed that this precious document would be safer with her
than with the notary and that it could be found more readily when it was
But the notary had already gone when she
changed her mind again, and she was suddenly terribly frightened at the
thought of the important act she'd just executed.
The feeling of submission that her son-in-law
had created in her resurfaced and she felt that she wouldn't be able to
withstand his anger and chastising if he ever found the new will.
She thought that it would be better if
he never knew anything about it before her death. Like the great
monarch, she said to herself "après moi le déluge."
She asked Charles LeCompte just as he was
leaving, to take the will to the notary on his way back.
He took the document and slid it into his
coat pocket. Having bid the widow goodbye, along with many words
of encouragement, he left, promising to go immediately to the notary.
On the way, he passed the hotel where he'd been staying since arriving
in Montréal and decided to go in to see if the letter from home
that he'd been awaiting impatiently for several days had arrived.
One of the staff immediately handed him a letter addressed to him but in
a stranger's handwriting.
Seeing it was a telegram, he felt his heart
He tore open the envelop with trembling
hands and read these words,
"Come quickly, mother is very ill."
That was all, but it was enough.
Even though he felt wobbly and about to
lose his breath, he maintained his composure because he was blessed with
a firm character and strong will power.
He paid his bill to the clerk and ordered
his luggage sent to the station where he arrived just moments before the
train departed for New York.
What he suffered during the early part
of the trip is indescribable.
The minutes seemed like hours. The
train, although traveling at top speed, seemed to be creeping hopelessly.
Tormented by the dread eating at him and the worst premonitions, he thought
sometimes that he would go insane.
Finally, some sort of calm followed this
nervous state and the rest of the trip seemed like a fitful dream.
Something strange and mysterious had taken
place in him.
In New York, he mechanically stepped from
the train and aimed his feet toward home.
The weather was gloomy and gray; a fine,
gentle rain glistened on the sidewalks. Raindrops ran down the old
man's cheeks like tears; but he didn't feel them. A passing friend
greeted him, but he didn't even notice.
Finally, he arrived at home.
A long black crepe swayed in the wind.
But this sight didn't phase him.
On the contrary, it seemed part of his dream.
His children, who had expected his arrival
from one moment to the next, threw themselves into his arms weeping.
But without speaking to them, he freed himself from their grasp and walked
toward the bedroom, where instinct told him he would find the woman he
There she was, colorless and cold, this
life-long companion, the person he'd loved the most in the world.
The lovely features that the years had
been unsuccessful in facing were calm and gentle.
Her slightly parted lips seemed to be smiling.
But her eyes, closed by death, would never
again open to look at the one she had loved so. Her cold hands folded
on her breast would never again respond to the touch of her husband's.
The soft voice that had whispered so sweetly,
so often in his ear and that had uttered so many words of consolation during
life's sorrows would never be heard again.
He knelt near the bed and rested his feverish
forehead on the cold, deathly still bosom.
After a few moments, his children who were
more frightened by his silence and dreadful calm than they would have been
of intense lamenting, approached him each speaking in turn, trying every
means possible to remove him from this alarming state.
Finally, his eldest son, terrified by his
stillness, gently lifted his head from its place on his dead spouse.
From his breast unleashed a terrible cry.
His father was dead!
The husband and wife who had so loved each
other during life, would not be separated in death!
One day, Maria Renaud was sitting near
the window absorbed in her embroidery.
From time to time her mother tossed her
an inquisitive look, forming a deep wrinkle between her thick dark eyebrows.
The widower had worked at becoming more
and more pleasing and gallant, making great efforts at giving the young
girl beautiful things. Obstinate, she was not encouraging him.
She didn't respond to his questions with anything but monosyllables, and
her face showed her boredom each time he visited.
However, he couldn't be discouraged.
On the contrary, he doubled his attentiveness
Yet, her parents who held firmly to the
idea of having Edmond Bernier as a son-in-law, began worrying that he might
become discouraged and decide to take his attentions elsewhere.
The mother had promised herself to have
a serious talk with her daughter on the subject, and she found that afternoon
a suitable occasion.
"What ever are you thinking, Maria?" said
she suddenly. "You look very serious."
"That is not very profitable, my dear child.
You would be better to consider something more important than that."
Seeing her daughter remained silent, she
continued after a pause.
"Listen, Maria, there is something I've
wanted to discuss with you for some time. It's about the widower Bernier.
I'd like to know why you are so disagreeable toward him."
"But, Maman, how can I be disagreeable
toward him? I never say a word to him."
"It's just that. You treat him with
"I don't scorn him, but he bores me when
he comes here."
"Do not be a hypocrite!" said the mother
becoming agitated. "You hate the poor man, and it doesnít embarrass you
to let him know.
"What wrong has he done to you to deserve
being treated with such insolence? He must have an unusually gentle
nature to endure your disdain without complaining, he who's been so generous,
he who's given you so many lovely gifts.
"It's that he loves you madly, the poor
man, and you're too stupid see it. And I see very well why.
You still love that miserable Xavier Leclerc, that drunkard, that good-for-nothing
who'll make his poor old mother die of grief."
Alas! The epithets that Mrs. Renaud applied
to poor Xavier Leclerc were with merit.
Since that cold, gloomy autumn night when
giving in to temptation, he'd sought comfort by going astray, he'd sunken
lower and lower, and Mrs. Renaud was not lying in saying that he was driving
his grieving mother to her death.
The mere name of the boy she still loved,
despite her efforts to forget him, made Maria's brow blush. Still,
she was humiliated by her mothers reproach, and replied proudly even though
her voice trembled with emotion:
"I no longer love Xavier, Maman."
"Yes, you still love him, hypocrite!
If you didn't love him, you wouldn't refuse to see poor Mr. Bernier's good
qualities, you wouldn't be angry every time your father urges you to accept
him for your husband; and, finally, if you didn't still love him, you'd
love Mr. Bernier, because a girl in her right mind couldn't help but love
him, that excellent man, especially a girl he loves in return, like you.
Mrs. Renaud spoke lengthily on that note,
and with as much energy, that she was convinced that the marriage between
the widower and Maria would be the greatest source of happiness for her
But the poor child was destined never to
taste the sweetness of peace.
This conversation was followed by a great
number of the same nature, all during winter her parents never stopped
preaching and scolding her, begging her and threatening her, and finally
doing everything in their power to make her decide to marry the man she
On a cold and snowy day in January, Maria
went to one of her friends who lived on St. Marguerite Street, in the St.
The latter who was ill, had asked for her
and Maria had not been able to avoid going to visit her.
They were bonded by a strong friendship
and told each other everything.
Maria, who had plenty of worries and woes
to confide, lost track of time. When she left her friend's home,
evening darkness had veiled the streets. She went out courageously,
however even though she didn't feel very safe. But, after having
walked a few moments, she realized she was being followed. Very alarmed,
she walked faster, but to no avail. The man following her was gaining
and would catch her in no time.
Unfortunately, she realized she was in
one of the most deserted areas of St. Marguerite Street, as it was sparsely
populated at that time.
Having quickly caught up with her and seizing
her by the arm he spoke to her with a voice mixing tender passion, anger
and bitterness all together:
"So now you're very much afraid of me?"
At the sound of this familiar voice, Maria
having nearly fainted, lifted her eyes to face the person who had so terrified
It was none other than poor Xavier Leclerc
before her very eyes.
Her fears subsided a moment, but suddenly
returned when looking closer at the young man because she noticed he was
drunk. He wasn't drunk enough, however, to have lost his ability
to speak clearly.
He began by reproaching her for the infidelity
she'd shown by accepting the widower's attentions, and in consenting to
her father banishing him from his home -- he whom she'd professed loving.
Maria wanted to justify her actions but
he didn't give her the chance because changing tone suddenly he started
telling her about his love in the most exaggerated and fiery language.
He ended by proposing that she elope with
him to the United States.
While he spoke, Maria felt a strange, painful
It seemed to her that he was the prey in
a horrible nightmare.
Was that in fact her beloved Xavier, her
handsome Xavier, noble and true, this staggering young man with a swollen
face and wild, bloodshot eyes, who was neatly proposing that she should
let herself be swept away by him?
"If this is a dream, I really would very
much like to wake up," thought she.
But, alas! This was reality.
The icy damp wind struck her face and pulled
her from her trance.
"Don't touch me!" said she firmly and with
dignity to the young man who wanted right then to press her to his heart.
"Don't touch me, I forbid you!"
Giving in, despite himself, to the proud
young girl's command, Xavier retreated several steps and satisfied himself
to look at Maria with eyes that expressed so well his hopeless love, to
which she, conquered by compassion, softened her voice, and spoke to him
in these terms.
"Listen to me, Xavier, and try to understand
"I truly loved you faithfully as you were
good and honest. I loved you like I can never love another, I feel.
ìBut, you yourself killed the love I had
for you. And even though I would still love you, my parents would
never consent to our union.
ìWe have to resign ourselves and accept
the will of God.
ìBut if you still love me, I beg you, change
your ways, reform yourself; become again what you were, honest and good;
stop breaking your mother's heart and the heart of everyone who loves you.
ìOh! I beg you, change your ways, so that
I might at least have the joy of meeting you in heaven!î
Unfortunately, these words failed to have
the desired effect on Xavier.
Flying into a rage, he cried: "No!"
"I will not resign myself!
"I do not want to wait until the next life
to have the happiness that I deserve on this earth! I sense that you still
love me, despite your cold words, and I want you, do you understand?
"You have to consent to follow me to the
United States. There, we can be married without any problems and
you'll be happy, I swear to you.
"Maria, tell me you will."
"No, never! You'll have to kill me," said
the young girl firmly.
"I won't kill you, but I'll bring you by
force, since you don't want to follow me," and seizing the young girl he
tried to drag her away.
Maria resisted violently, but began losing
"Good Blessed Virgin, save me!" she murmured,
ready to faint.
Just then came the sound of voices from
further down the street.
"Here comes help," said Maria, regaining
strength. "If you don't let me go quietly, Iíll scream."
Taking advantage of the young man's hesitation
while he listened to the approaching voices, Maria tore away from his grasp
and lunged, light as a bird in front of the people coming in her direction.
Her first move was to place herself in
their protection, but, no longer in imminent danger having distanced herself
from Xavier's reach, she got herself to St. Antoine Street, where there
were several people passing by.
She arrived at last at home and guarded
well against mentioning her adventure to her mother, who scolded her for
having returned so late. She preferred listening to all the reprimands
rather than having to prove her innocence.
The encounter had made such a strong impression
that she didn't dare go out alone again.
Furthermore, she felt the need for strong
protection against Xavier's influence, influence that she very much feared
because despite the feelings of disgust and disdain that he invoked in
her now, she felt that she couldn't help but to love him again, and regret
Still, she understood more than ever that
her marriage with him was woefully impossible.
She was still facing this dilemma, troubled
with anxiety and fear and crushed in despair, when one day her father put
on a most violent scene at the end of an evening during which she had seemingly
treated the widower with more disdain and indifference than usual.
Maria had often seen her father enraged,
but never as much as this.
The old man was starting to worry that
his potential son-in-law would give up on winning the young girl's hand,
and this idea upset him more than if his own business were in trouble and
Maria was so frightened by her father's
violence that she ended by letting her defenses drop, and promising to
marry the widower she so despised.
Making this promise, she had said to herself:
"Xavier will no longer think about taking
me away me when I'm married to someone else."
Maria had consented to marriage and Bernier
congratulated himself on his shrewdness and good fortune, all the while
continuing to watch the widow Champagne's health. Impeded by the
presence of the little orphan who despised his uncle more and more, Bernier
succeeded in convincing the widow to let him place the boy in a boarding
school run by teaching monks.
A few days after her grandson's departure,
Mrs. Champagne fell seriously ill and was forced to stay in bed for several
Only because of this did the widower find
it necessary to bring a maid into the house.
But he kept the exclusive responsibility
of caring for his mother-in-law and administering her medications.
He had his reasons.
He deemed it better that his mother-in-law
not take too much medicine, especially that she take no stimulants whatsoever,
even though the doctor prescribed a daily dose of them.
"As a member of the temperance league,"
he said to himself, "I cannot tolerate intoxicating liquors in my house
(he always said "my houses" nowadays) and I know that you are too Christian
to argue with me on this point. Only, you mustn't tell the doctor
because he would treat us, you and me, as temperance fanatics."
The widow was too broken and disheartened
to even think about resisting to her son-in-law's wishes, and the notion
of complaining to the doctor had never occurred to her.
However, to the great disappointment of
her son-in-law, she recovered somewhat and was able to walk and sit in
her rocking chair near the window.
"She'll never die, that old fool!," said
Edmond Bernier to himself angrily.
And seeing that she was no longer forced
to stay in bed, he hastened to fire the maid on some pretext or other.
The poor woman returned to passing her
days alone in her rooms that felt so empty since her grandson's departure.
The end of winter had come and the once
intense cold became more moderate.
"Here comes the springtime," thought the
poor old lady." Vacations will come soon and I'll be able to see
my poor little Joseph again."
These thoughts consoled her a bit, sometimes,
but at other times she was still in the grip of despair.
The mother Champagne was truly Christian.
She had confidence in God and she was always unquestionably submissive
to his will.
"The good Lord wants it," she told those
who pitied her. But her resignation and confidence didn't stop her
from feeling cruelly isolated.
Since the day when the young orphan left,
the poor grandmother had not enjoyed a single moment of tranquility.
In her troubled mind there flashed images of the poor child enduring cruel
treatment from wicked classmates, or severe punishments from the schoolmasters.
These thoughts made her so unhappy that
she regretted having let him leave, more so now as she realized sheíd been
pressed to send her last, and only, source of joy so far away.
She wallowed in the grief that continued
to deepen, for alone and isolated as she was, there was nothing to distract
her from her painful thoughts.
What might seem odd, is that her tenants
and neighbors didn't visit her.
The widower, who constantly feared that
the neighbors might know too much about the widow's affairs, and his, too,
had taken care long ago to warn the tenants when he picked up the rent
that his mother-in-law didn't like to be bothered, and that she didn't
The tenants and neighbors, from the most
sympathetic to the most nosy, had in the end practically forgotten the
old lady existed, and for them like for everybody else the real landlord
was the widower.
Now, the poor woman prayed.
Abandoned by everyone, she turned with
more fervor towards her Creator and his divine Mother, the "consoler of
Suddenly, a strange lassitude took over
her mind and body.
Her stiffened fingers refused to continue
the rosary beads and closed up with nervous tension.
She tried uselessly to lift up her weighted
head from its position against the rocking chair back.
She wanted to try to get up, she wanted
to try to shake off this frightening numbness, but her limbs refused to
obey and her body stayed frozen in the chair.
"It's death!" thought she finally.
"My God, have pity on me!"
The poor woman had awaited death for a
long time; her clear conscience had nothing to reproach, and she had the
great faith, hope and love that make one feel the peace of death even while
living. But the thought of dying like this, alone and abandoned,
without seeing her grandson one last time to say goodbye, without seeing
a priest and receiving the last sacraments and the comfort they bring,
without a friend to close her eyes, felt terrible.
She tried again to get up, but uselessly,
she tried to scream, to cry out, in the hope of being heard by one of the
tenants, but her mouth couldn't utter a sound.
The numbness she felt all over was beginning
to invade her mental faculties. She felt herself dying and started
praying with all her soul. Then her thoughts went to the young boy
who was being left alone in the world.
"May the good Lord and his patron saint
watch over him!
"My God, take my soul! . . . Jesus! . .
It was over. The widow was dead.
The day ended. The clouds in the
west scattered a bit and let in the last rays of sunshine.
These golden rays formed a halo around
the lovely, noble brow with its calm, serene features of death.
In death's repose, an expression of happiness
had replaced the worry and suffering that had tensed her face before.
When the widower returned at the usual
time, he was first astonished to see the lamp not yet lighted.
Troubled by some unknown feeling, he crept
slowly into the room saying in a voice somewhat trembling:
"Mrs. Champagne, what ever are you doing?
Are you sick?"
Receiving no response, in the darkness
he walked toward the outline of the widow in her chair.
He bent toward her and took her hand.
Its cold touch hand chilled him through to the heart.
Seized by a horror that he couldn't overcome,
he hastened to get the lamp and light it. Then he approached his
There was no doubt. She was quite
He dropped into another chair and stayed
motionless for a long time, haunted by a mass of conflicting emotions.
Finally, pulling himself together, he hastened
to inform the tenants and neighbors and went himself to fetch the pastor
and doctor. The latter pronounced Mrs. Champagne had succumbed to
an attack of the paralysis from which she'd suffered for several years.
Two days later, the funeral was held with
all the appropriate pomp, and Mrs. Champagne's body was placed in the Côte-des-Neiges
cemetery near her two daughters.
The day after her will was read, her first will,
in which she left her properties to Edmond Bernier and her money to her
While everyone was busy with the reading
of the will, the notary who'd prepared the second will, the one the widow
had confided to her only friend, suddenly came forth declaring that there
must be another, more recent, will in the house.
At these words, the widower whitened like
a corpse, but summoning up great nerve, he declared that he had no knowledge
of such a will, but a search, if one was necessary, should be conducted
But the investigation turned up nothing
and the unanimous opinion of those present was that Mrs. Champagne had
destroyed the second will herself.
All the obstacles have vanished.
The wedding day so long awaited arrives.
Spring had returned again, and nature glowed
with joy and hope.
How happy you are, Nature, to have no memory
of the past and the dead!
When buds appear on the trees, let the
flowers bloom. Let the sun, gentle and ardent at once, scatter the
dark clouds that blemished the blue sky. Let the singing birds return
to build their nests. You don't dwell on the trees felled by storms
or the leaves crumpled and scattered by the wind, or the birds killed by
the hunter's arrow, or a cruel child's pitiless hand.
Proud and glad from the praises of the
living, you don't give a thought to the poor dead who sleep in the cemetery,
cold and unmoving, despite the warmth coaxing the world to life. They too,
somehow, should be covered with praises and love, but you forget them like
you will forget us too, one day.
You are beautiful, oh Nature! but you are
callous. And even so, senseless men would rather adore you than God.
On a lovely sunny morning in May, several
groups of curious gapers stood around in front of Notre Dame Church, obviously
waiting for something impatiently.
Finally, a line of carriages exited St.
Laurent Street and started down Notre Dame Street.
"There they are, there they are, at last!"
was murmured from here and there as the crowds formed rows according to
the directives of the Swiss Guard opening the door where they stood.
Proud and pompous in his new, elegant suit,
the father Renaud descended from the carriage with his daughter following,
beautiful and gracious despite her pallor.
A superb blue silk dress and graceful hat
with a long white feather brought out the milky whiteness of her complexion
and the gold of her yellow hair.
She held a magnificent bouquet of white
roses exuding a delicious perfume.
"How she is beautiful! How she's
well dressed! How happy she must be!" was murmured among the spectators.
The young girls, especially, envied the
beautiful bride and more than one of them would have loved to be in her
They couldnít understand. They weren't
detecting the depth of the sadness and despair into which poor Maria had
Haunted by her parents and Bernier himself,
she had finally consented to give her hand to the one for whom she bore,
now more than ever, an insurmountable aversion.
So she wasn't as happy as the envious young
There was one in particular who had absolutely
no reason to be jealous of Maria Renaud's destiny.
It was little Rosanna Michon, a perky brunette
with rich dark brown eyes, wearing a pink calico dress which to be honest,
suited her marvelously.
This little Rosanna was to be married next
to the best and most handsome, if not the most well-off, boy in her neighborhood.
This boy loved her with all his heart and had no other goal than to make
her happy. She very much loved him, too, that sweet, lovable and
eager to please young man. She loved him "in a big way" and felt
very happy making the simple light brown wool dress that would be her wedding
gown, for the pretty brunette was to be married in fifteen days.
But the sight of Maria's silk dress made
her think of her simple wool dress with contempt.
Oh! If she had a silk dress, too.
Nowadays, silk has become vulgar.
Everybody wears it.
Laborer's wives as well as banker's wives,
servants as well as their mistresses, the lowest little shop girls as well
as the well-bred ladies; but twenty five years ago, it wasn't so.
Nevertheless, folks weren't any unhappier.
Even Rosanna Michon, who upon seeing the bridegroom, was quickly relieved
that she wasn't Maria Renaud as the groom appeared even more unimpressive
and much less personable in his wedding attire.
"I much prefer my Tony to that ugly groom,"
thought she. And Maria's dress no longer made her envious.
The wedding party entered the church and
the ceremony began at once.
The happy widower was triumphant.
"Iíve won the spoils," he gloated silently.
"Mrs. Champagne's houses are finally mine;
I have the little one's inheritance and according to the will's stipulations
nobody has the right to ask me for an accounting; I'll be able to use it
at liberty while waiting for him attain majority.
And to top it all off, the only person
whom I ever loved will become my wife in a few moments.
"Why is it they say that there's no happiness
on earth?" he said to himself.
Happiness exists. It's for those
who have enough talent and determination to know how to reach it, overcoming
all the obstacles in their path, like I've done, and how I well intend
on doing it in the future.
It was in this most Christian state of
heart that he received the solemn nuptial blessing.
As far as Maria goes, she was paler than
she'd been before coming into the church. She would have liked to
run now, run far from this despised man who was about to become her master.
She would have like to say no instead of
yes when the priest asked her if she accepted Bernier for her husband.
Too late. Alas!
"May my destiny be fulfilled," said she
to herself, hopeless and bitter, and the fatal "yes" escaped from her lips
whitened from emotion.
During the whole length of the nuptial
mass the new wife let herself go in her misery and beaten state; but when
the time came to leave the church, she had to make frantic efforts to maintain
her dignity and did so quite successfully. She was very proud and
the thought of making a scene in front of the crowd who would undoubtedly
have been amused by the spectacle helped her keep her composure.
But the final blow was yet to come.
As she descended the last step holding
her husband's arm she found herself practically face to face with a miserably
dressed young man whose pale, drawn features were painful to look at.
Instinctively, she looked up and recognized
Xavier Leclerc, or rather his ghost, because the poor wretch standing there
two feet before her, looked rather like someone just out of his grave.
The fixed gaze had something supernatural about it and left her chilled.
She muffled the cry that escaped from her
lips, but she started trembling violently and whitened so that the spectators
thought she would faint, even though they didn't guess the cause for this
Seeing the pain that his presence was causing
to the girl he loved so much, Xavier looked at her one last, long time,
full of regret, full of despair; a look expressing better than words an
eternal goodbye, and disappeared into the crowd.
The wedding party rode off in carriages
to the Renaud home where a sumptuous meal was waiting. And all day
long, the rejoicing went on with as much momentum as if the bride wasn't
the most unhappy woman on earth.
Sixteen years later, Maria, Bernier and
their daughter Marie-Louise live in Beauport, near Québec.
Sinking softly into its bed of clouds between
curtains of scarlet and gold, the sun
poured out its last splendid rays on the hills
and fields of Beauport, that beautiful, graceful village nestled on the
slope of the old city of Cartier.
The somber blue mountains of Laval stood,
proud and serene, at attention against a backdrop of exploding sunset.
A soft pink lighted the air and lent a
magical charm to the beauty of the countryside, softening even the darkness
of the wide gray river passing calmly and majestically at the foot of the
cliffs bordering the north bank. Just visible far in the distance,
sits Québec high and sublime, on a steep throne from where he sends
his eternal defiance over the waters to Leviathan.
From time to time, a breeze rises and races
lightly down the road.
In passing it stirs the foliage, both up
in the trees and down in the brush, carrying the smooth, sweet fragrance
of flowers opening up in the gardens of homes along the street.
Among these houses, there was one that
stood out for its elegant perfection and well kept grounds.
It was built on the south side of the road
in the section of the village called the Sault, because of its proximity
to the Montmorency waterfalls.
A well manicured lawn offered onlookers
several beds where the stuff of daydreams bloomed: the delicately scented
columbine, soft, melancholic marigolds, carnations atop their long coquette
stems, bees balm with dark blue stems -- in short, the flowers on which
the beautiful Canadian sun smiles.
But the prettiest flower there was Marie-Louise
Bernier, daughter of the house's owner.
At the moment she was posing gracefully,
but quite naturally, in deep thought leaning her elbows on the gate.
She was of average height with a slender,
supple figure. That night she wore a simple, yet stylish white muslin
dress with tiny blue flowers that brought out her fresh, creamy complexion.
Her features were classically beautiful,
like those of a Madonna, and her big sky-blue eyes softened by the half-veils
of her long brown lashes expressed her candor and goodness.
Her warm brown hair with golden flecks
was woven into a long braid ribbonned in blue. Silky, softly curled
bangs covered half of her clear white forehead and lent her face which
otherwise might be a little too serious, a perky, flirtatious quality,
but not too flirtatious, perhaps, that suited her marvelously.
Her hands were white, well-shaped and plump,
and through the transparent muslin sleeves was seen the roundness of her
rosy white arms.
The radiant clarity that made the sky,
the land and the river so beautiful right then added to her charm, accentuating
the golden highlights in her hair.
In her floating white dress, she looked
like a fairy, or an angel from heaven.
At the time, the omnibus from Beauport
was coming through, returning to their homes passengers whose business
or pleasure had transpired that day in Québec.
This transportation system is an inhuman
invention that seems out of the dark ages.
But it's especially so at night that it
seems impractical and dangerous. It returns from Québec crammed
full of passengers looking like sardines in a can, while carrying a number
carefree nature lovers on its roof.
It's that it never refuses passengers;
on the contrary, it lures them in even should it already be carrying a
Parked an hour or two on DuPont Street,
it slowly stuffs itself with men, women, children, baggage, and baskets
right up to the time of departure.
So, woefully wobbling with sinister creaks
that seem to be portend an eventual catapulting, the heavy mass gets itself
going and follows its route, jolting importantly, and cruelly tossing its
unfortunate passengers of whom a good number are stricken with sea sickness
within a half-hour on this charming projectile.
However, for those lucky enough to not
feel convoluted by this crude balancing act, the trip isn't too unattractive.
First of all, the countryside is fabulous.
The road follows, sometimes closer, sometimes further away, the edge of
the river whose opposite bank looks gracefully green and fertile from a
Pretty soon, a tip of the Island of Orleans,
that fresh oasis of the waters, shows itself to enchanted eyes and puts
the finishing touch on this captivating painting.
Adjacent to this picturesque panorama is
the beauty of the wide prairies in the distance. Massive green trees
and pretty white houses, surrounded with flowers and greenery appear and
reappear along the route. In springtime, marvelous fragrances from
the clover in blossom; or in fall the sultry aromas from ripening hay combine
to fill the heart and soul with a feeling of thankfulness and joy.
It could be expressed as:
My God, how the land you've given us is
magnificent and noble, and how we must be proud and joyful to be Canadians.
The poetry of Crémazie:
"How it's good to be Canadian" comes to
mind and one feels full of pity for that poor sorry poet, condemned by
his sad destiny to die far away from the banks of the beautiful Canadian
In addition to the pleasure of viewing
the wonders of the scenery, the journey offers yet another feature that
certainly can't be overlooked, and that's listening to the totally unrestrained
conversations of the regular passengers who represent every single social
class in Beauport.
Here's an sampling of the omnibus' load:
In the corner near the door sits a hearty
farmer with a round, lit-up but somewhat wily face. He's dressed
like he was headed for the fields, but he's no longer humble because he's
aware of his self-worth and that all the passengers know him.
Next to him a skinny tobacconist looking
somewhat starved eyes him with a queer mix of respect and disdain.
The two men chat about politics, and by gosh, the farmer isn't debating
the worst of the two.
Two fine farm wives have just picked up
their provisions in Québec. Their laps are buried under piles
of packages of all shapes and sizes. Theíre discussing happenings
in the village in general, and the little LaPlante girl's wedding in particular.
When these good women will have finished
their conversation, there'll be no one in the vehicle who doesn't know
not only even the minute details, but the entire genealogy of the LaPlante
family including their link to the LaPlante's and Grenier-du-Chateau's
etc., etc. and the good or bad things that will come of it, and how the
grandfather came from Carlebourg, etc., etc., etc.
It's always about history, and even about
Three young girls who went to Québec
for the same reason as the two farm wives had, are chatting too, but with
hushed voices. However a few words uttered more loudly and reach
the curious ear.
"Yes, he went there last Sunday."
And other similar phrases, but from that
angle, one can't get the whole story.
Two other farmers, made from the same mold
as the first, discussed the care of young apple trees with a doctor.
It's most instructional, if one wants to
take the trouble to listen.
The notary sitting near them doesn't say
much that night.
Like several other passengers, he's made
a place for a seat-less passenger on his lap. One has to believe
that this is causing him considerable distraction, because he's silent
Three or four boys, sitting one on top
of the other aren't the least noisy of the group. They're telling
each other stories that make them burst into laughter from time to time.
There's also a little dog aboard.
He barks, jumps, goes snooping under the seats, sticks his little pointed
muzzle in a few baskets within in his reach, and generally makes a nuisance
of himself, as dogs on a trip know how to do so well.
Finally, to top it all off, there's a gentle
mother and her one-year-old, a chubby little chap with a care-free look
about him. He's amusing himself drawing arabesque designs his mother's
shoulder with the half-sucked barley candy glued in his hand.
A charming portrait of maternal bliss!
The bus continues on its route leaving
a cloud of dust behind and stopping now and then to drop a passenger at
his or her home.
It was thus that it stopped in front of
the house we spoke of earlier, and a man of about 60-years of age, but
still spry, descended carrying several packages.
"Goodnight, Mr. Bernier!" called passengers
and conductor; and the bus took up its habitual trot while the one called
Mr. Bernier headed for his house.
"There, it's you, Marie-Louise!" said he
joyously upon noticing his daughter waiting at the gate. "Guess what
I've brought you from the city!"
Instead of answering, the young girl wrapped
her pretty arms around her father and kissed him affectionately, then she
assumed her duty of helping him with his packages.
"Hurry and come in, supper must have been
ready ages ago."
Father and daughter entered the house and
headed toward the dining room where an appetizing meal was waiting for
Mrs. Bernier was already in the room.
Her daughter ran quickly to show her the
gifts her father had brought back from the city. The mother smiled
at the excitement, but found only a few bland words to thank her husband
when he presented her with the splendid lace shawl he'd bought especially
Did Edmond Bernier notice this lack of
Still when taking his place at the table,
he stifled a long sigh. But that was probably due to the relief of
being back home after the long tiring day.
Some time after his wedding to Maria Renaud,
Edmond Bernier had advantageously sold the properties on Papineau
Road and set up residence in Beauport.
Not finding himself wealthy enough yet
to live off the sales, he had formed a partnership with a tanner in Québec
and had enjoyed prosperity for fifteen years, after which, feeling his
age, he retired to enjoy the fruit of his labor in his graciously comfortable
house in Beauport.
He was considered among the wealthiest
and happiest of the village. Consequently, he was highly esteemed
Truly, all had gone his way since his marriage.
But one thing especially had cinched his happiness, even though he let
on that it was a source of sorrow at the time.
It was the disappearance of his nephew
Joseph Allard whoíd never been found after running away from school two
years following Bernier's marriage.
The uncle had make plenty of noise about
the affair, talking of nothing but all the searching he was having done.
All the searches, real or fictitious, had amounted to nothing and the good
uncle had to resign himself to the loss of his nephew.
But one thought must have contributed greatly
toward consoling him.
It had been several months since he'd drawn
the little boy's ten thousand dollars from the bank of Montréal
under the pretext of investing it more advantageously. The truth
was, he did it to help establish himself in Beauport and go into business
with the tanner we talked about.
The child having disappeared, Bernier had
nothing more to fear about accounting for the way he'd spent the inheritance,
and even less to fear if it should turn out that the boy had died.
Now, he had Mrs. Champagne's entire estate
sheltered safely. Only one thing was missing to make him totally
happy, and that was his wife's love. However, in his customary manner,
he didn't give up.
On the contrary, he became twice as attentive
and thoughtful and showed himself to be the most lovable and most indulgent
of husbands, but up until now his efforts had not resulted in glorious
"It doesn't matter" he told himself, "I've
always succeeded in my endeavors and I'll succeed in this one, too.
I swear it."
Leaving Beauport, the action moves to New
The bitter, penetrating March wind ruled
over the streets of New York where it was hurling dust around with a terrible
force and threatening to topple pedestrians.
It was one of those days when one prefers
to huddle near the fire rather than go for a leisurely stroll.
So thought a young girl sewing at the window
watching the fantastic acrobatics of a stray hat and its owner.
Though no great beauty, this young girl
was pretty enough.
A small figure of a girl but well proportioned,
she has a creamy fresh complexion, even though a little pale. Dark
strands seemed compelled to unravel from her hairstyle to curl as they
pleased. She had sharp features if not totally proportioned and magnificent
brown eyes glistening with gold. They were expressive eyes reflecting
all the lively emotions in her soul.
At the time, they expressed lightheartedness
and mischief. When the man in the hat took a tumble trying heroically
to reclaim his property and the hat flew even further, a clean, spirited
smile revealed the girlís even pearly teeth.
But the expression in her eyes changed
suddenly when recognized a woman crossing the street with considerable
difficulty, encumbered as she was with her huge knitted shawl recently
transformed into a sail by the wind that threatened to set her adrift.
"Maman, Maman!" said she turning quickly.
"Mrs. Prévost is coming to see us, but we should go rescue her because
surely the wind will take her away before she makes it to the door."
"Good heavens!" cried the mother awakening
in a jolt because she'd been dozing in a big rocking chair near the stove.
"She really must be courageous to come out in weather like this."
Already standing, the girl had kept watch
at the window and thought Mrs. Prévost had safely docked.
An instant later a discrete knock at the door announced the visitor who
was welcomed eagerly by mother and daughter. She was an old and intimate
She was still out of breath from the battle
sheíd waged with the wind.
"Hello, Mrs. Bonneville! Hello, my pretty
Emma! I thought the wind would take me to the river just now. 'It's windy
enough to knock the horns off the bullsí as my grandfather used to say.
Here I am, finally."
"And why come out in such weather, Mrs.
Prévost? It isn't that we aren't delighted you've come to
see us, it's just that I think you're taking chances coming out in such
terrible wind. There's always the chance of learning a lesson with
a knock on the head. (Mrs. Bonneville was a very high-strung woman.)
"It's just that I had news to tell you,"
said Mrs. Prévost getting rid of her shawl and hat. "And I
was to impatient to wait until tomorrow."
"But I'll tell you all about it," she added
settling in to the rocking chair which she filled completely for she was
a very well set woman weighing in at 205 pounds as she often pointed out
"Picture this," she began alternating glances
at Mrs. Bonneville and her daughter who'd attentively sat down near her,
"picture this. This morning while I was washing my dishes, I all
of a sudden hear the doorbell then the postman's whistle.
"That startled me. I hadn't received
a letter from anyone since the one from my brother last year telling me
about the death of my dear departed mother. All of a sudden I expected
of bad news.
But I ran quickly still wiping my hands
on my apron and with trembling fingers took the letter the man handed me.
But what reassured me on looking at it closely was that the envelope didn't
have a black border like a letter of mourning. It's not a death anyway,
I said to myself.î
While Mrs. Prévost talked, Emma
bored by all the details, stopped listening and started thinking about
On the subject of thought "L'Imitation"
says "I am where my thoughts are and my thoughts are usually in a place
Emma was letting herself go in a sweet
daydream when Mrs. Prévost spoke directly to her and snapped her
back to reality.
The old lady was telling her:
"It's on you that I'm counting the most
to entertain my little cousin. You'll be good for her, right, my
pretty, and you'll show her around?"
"The companionship of young lady like you
will be more agreeable, no doubt, than having an old lady like me around;
plus she doesn't really know me from any other old lady because we've never
With her feminine intuition, Emma caught
on to what was being asked of her, and she promised to do it in good will
because she was likeable and liked to please by nature, and furthermore,
she was truly fond of Mrs. Prévost.
"What did you say your young cousin's name
was?" she asked innocently.
"Marie-Louise Bernier, but that's about
all I know about her except that she's my first cousin Maria Renaud's daughter,
and that she's eighteen.
If she looks like her mother, she must
be lovely because her mother was a very pretty girl before her marriage.
Now, I don't know because I haven't seen her since then.
Poor child, she went through plenty of
suffering before resolving herself to wed Edmond Bernier. She hadnít
liked him from the beginning.
The one she loved was a fellow named Leclerc
. . . Xavier Leclerc, I believe. Now that was a handsome boy, and
a good one, while he was courting her.
But he was poor and the old man Renaud
didn't want to consent to his marrying Maria.
Leclerc, who loved Maria madly turned to
drink and became one of the most wayward boys in Montréal.
After five or six years, he died in the hospital, from the DT's they say.
It was after Maria's wedding. I'd
already left Montréal then, but I learned the whole story from one
of my cousins who knew the young man well. I don't know if Maria
ever learned of her former lover's death. I think it would have hurt
her, because after all, it was her fault. She should have been more
faithful than that.
But I'm still jabbering here and I'll never
get back home in time to make my old man's supper.
"Goodnight, then. Come see me!" and she
The Prévosts and the Bonnevilleís
live in an area called Yorkville.
Canadians have always been particularly
fond of this section of New York. Their luck, whether good or bad,
has brought them here to establish a new life in the city.
The section that we call Yorkville, extends
from 59th Street to 99th on one side and from the East River to Fifth Avenue,
that is, all the way to Central Park, on the other side.
Yorkville is a striking example of the
rapid growth of New York City and the extraordinary mix of its cultures.
Twenty years ago it was but an insignificant
little village, separated from the city by vast uncultivated fields.
Over the course of ten years, changes gradually
took place that would make this one of the most densely populated areas
of the city.
There were but a few totally constructed
buildings in 1877.
From either side one could still see open
fields, low lying areas and green slopes, a good number of which were adorned
with miserable shacks referred to as shanties, dwellings of a certain common
class of Irish.
These shanties were grouped together, forming
For a nominal sum, their residents had
obtained the right to build them on property owned either by the city or
private land owners; in general they cherished them and were happier in
them than kings in their castles.
But their happiness, like that of the kings,
wasn't eternal. The day came when they received the order to evacuate
the land, taking along remnants of their shanties if they wanted.
These unfortunate areas displayed scenes of wrenching desolation.
A few years ago, we actually saw an old
woman come daily to weep on the ruins of her shanty while it was being
demolished along with several others to make room for those tall apartment
buildings on 84th Street near Fourth Avenue.
It was an odd spectacle, but distressing.
Sitting on a boulder near her former abode,
the old lady cried and lamented in a sort of psalmist tone that made one
think of Beushee's incantations, sort of a ghost or Irish witch who for
all the terror she instilled in her countrymen is definitely equal to the
werewolf tales of France and Canada.
Every day, she returned to sit in the same
place, uttering the same moans, right up until the last traces of her hovel
disappeared to make way for the new building's massive foundation.
Then, and only then did she cease her daily
We always liked to believe that she had
found a similar hovel to relocate her gods of the hearth.
But shanties have become rare enough since
In 1879 after the Third Avenue L train
was built, rapid change swept through Yorkville.
New York's population feeling crowded from
rapid growth, a large number immigrated towards the upper side of the city,
especially to Yorkville.
Construction companies came onto the scene.
The green slopes were flattened, the picturesque
rocks where light footed goats once grazed were blasted away. Some
of the low lands were filled with street rubble and others with unhealthy
soil excavated from the depths of the Fourth Avenue Tunnel construction.
It probably explains the intermittent fever terrorizing so many areas that
apparently had been healthy before.
For a while you couldn't see anything but
buildings under construction and Yorkville soon lost its scenic greenery.
Even the beautiful old houses surrounded
by shady grounds gracing the banks of the East River weren't respected.
Soon with triumphant brutality, from every angle rose those monotonous
apartment buildings. Those immense, vulgarly square houses that make
you think of prisons, and they are in a way, since the long narrow apartments
they usually contain are generally as gloomy (as if they're lighted by
square conduits) and as lugubrious as prison cells.
However, a few streets kept their gracefulness
a little longer.
One of those is 83rd Street. It kept
its pretty cottages with flowered lawns and beautiful trees shading
it nearly the whole length.
Alas! the pretty cottages are going one
after the other today to be replaced by the invading apartment buildings.
But in 1882 the destructive deed hadn't
Mrs. Prévost, Mrs. Bernier's cousin,
lived in one of these attractive cottages, and it was there that she was
headed after leaving the Bonnevilleís who lived on 81st Street.
Despite the wind that hampered her progress,
she made good time covering the distance that separated her from her home,
where she arrived somewhat winded but cheerful and happy.
Her husband, a plasterer foreman who was
as tall and thin as she was round and fat, was already home and somewhat
indignantly asked his wife where she'd been and whether she planned on
making him fast that night.
Mrs. Prévost, knowing her husband's
personality well, answered his questions with a loveable smile and while
hastily preparing supper she told him about what she referred to as the
event of the day.
Suddenly interested, Mr. Prévost
forgot he was hungry and stopped dwelling on his late supper until his
wife having finished preparing it, invited him to come to the table.
Mrs. Prévost's house was clean and
comfortable. Without being luxurious, her furniture was tasteful
A golden canary flitted about in its cage.
A little gray cat stretched lazily under the dining room stove.
Everything in this house represented cleanliness
The husband and wife had just sat down
at the table when Mrs. Prévost said suddenly,
"But where's Mr. Allard? Hasn't he
"No, not yet," replied her husband, "but
he won't be too late."
Mr. Allard was a young man who had roomed
at the Prévost's for a few months.
A likeable, congenial fellow, he'd known
how to capture the friendship and admiration of the couple who treated
him like a relative rather than a roomer.
Actually, he came in moments later.
Without being exactly handsome, he was interesting and gracious.
Of medium height, but slender and straight,
his easy going manner contrasted with Mrs. Prévost's husband's clumsy
His dark complexion was usually pale, even
though right then his skin was flushed from the cold and wind whipping
him face first.
His expression was sober but not lacking
His eyes were big, dark and dreamy; however,
they could light up sometimes and completely change his expression.
A silky black moustache shadowed his upper
His softly curling hair was also black.
What was most agreeable about him was his
cheerful, honest smile with just a hint of good-natured mischief.
He looked to be between 25 and 30-years-old.
After having eaten his fill and joining
Mr. Prévost for a cigar, he put his overcoat back on, took his hat
and got ready to go out.
"Where ever are you going on a night like
this, Mr. Allard?" asked Mrs. Prévost.
"I'm going to visit with the Bonnevilleís
for a while. Wouldnít you like to come along with me?"
"Why thanks, but I've been there today,
and the wind is just to bothersome. And you, old boy, do you feel
like going to the Bonnevilleís?"
"I don't think so," solemnly proclaimed
Mr. Prévost. "I've been pushed around enough in that abominable
wind. I'm sleepy and plan on going to bed early tonight."
"That's OK, I'll go by myself. Goodnight,
then!" And he left, apparently undaunted by the wind reeking havoc in the
dark street below.
At the Bonnevilleís, supper was over.
Everything was neatly put away, and a hearty fire reddened the stovetop,
filling the kitchen and dining room with a glow of comfort and well being.
Thatís where the whole Bonneville family was assembled, surrounded by a
warm feeling that you could search for fruitlessly in a much more elegant
Mrs. Bonneville, her daughter Emma, and
two of her sons sat around the big table on which rested the lamp that
lit this modest home.
The mother read a romance novel installment
from the newspaper that her good friend Mrs. Prévost had cut out
Oh my! It was breathtakingly interesting!
The hero, leader of a band of Parisian bandits, had just committed his
13th murder (ominous number), and had just kidnapped the extraordinarily
beautiful heiress for the third time while her father and fiancé
searched for her in the mysterious Paris underground, and while the hero,
a brilliant man with a keen sense of smell, had just realized that he'd
been promenading through the sewers in a daze. A handkerchief, dropped
from the young girl's hand, had been a signal for those who were searching
Mrs. Bonneville was truly absorbed and
wouldn't have thought to lift her eyes from the page, even if the wind
still unleashing its furor, had lifted the roof off the house.
The lace Emma was tatting grew longer and
longer in her skillful fingers.
She said to herself, "The weather's really
too foul, he won't come tonight."
But her heart hoped the opposite.
Georges, her 24-year-old big brother with
fresh cheerful looks was reading a newspaper. Occasionally, he reported
the more interesting news to his father seated further away in one of the
big rocking chairs.
François, the 13-year-old, worked
on his assignments for class tomorrow.
Little Fonse, baby of the family, a rambunctious
10-year-old, teased his faithful companion. The smart and docile
little black mutt was warming himself under the stove, all tired out from
running around all afternoon with his young master.
Suddenly, a light step was heard coming
up the stairs and everyone's ears perked up. Emma felt her heart
beating. A second later came the knock at the door and Emma wasted
no time opening it.
Joseph Allard came in , pretty much chilled
to the bone, but jolly nevertheless.
Everyone seemed glad to see the young man
who was a favorite visitor.
"But how ever did you make yourself come
out on a night like this?" he was asked.
"It's just that I felt like playing a couple
hands to avenge the defeat I suffered last week," he replied cheerfully.
"Great" said the father. "Where you're
warmed up, we can get started."
"Oh, don't worry about that, I'm already
"Well, then, let's start right away.
Quick, Emma, get the cards, my girl."
The mother, postponing her reading, gathered
up her romance clippings into a pile and moved over to make room for the
players at the table where each took his place.
The father played with his eldest son,
and the visitor with the young girl.
Now and then, the hand was interrupted
for a few minutes of cheerful conversation, then it was resumed even more
Except, Emma and Joseph Allard always won,
which irked the old man.
"You're certainly avenging yourself," he
said to the young man now and then.
"It's because of my partner," he replied,
smiling amicably at Emma.
ìLast week, if you remember, I was playing
with Charles Rivard. I think he was bringing me bad luck.î
This compliment, which was nothing but
a kind pleasantry among many others, made a strong impression on naive
little Emma's active imagination.
Loving Joseph Allard, Joe to his friends,
with all her carried-away heart, she couldn't help but imagine that he
loved her as much as she loved him.
The truth was that he was always pleasant
toward the young girl he found to be kind and charming. He was happy
surrounded by these good people -- happy and together -- this poor orphan
who'd never known the joy of having a family.
He often pondered that life would have
been so much better having a devoted mother, a good and wise father, happy
brothers and a sweet, gentle sister.
Then, turning towards the future, his mind
painted a smiling picture full of hope.
He saw himself a loving, loved husband,
and proud, father in the warm environment that would be his home.
How he'd have courage to work hard.
How he'd soon forget the miseries of his unhappy childhood.
But he wasn't in a hurry to live out his
dreams because until then he'd known many nice or pretty girls, but so
far not one about whom he'd been serious.
Of all the girls he'd known, Emma was the
one who'd most inspired feelings of friendship, but it wasn't love and
Joseph wanted to love.
He said to himself that in his future wife,
he hoped to find the qualities and grace he saw in Emma, but that's where
the similarities between the young girl and the ideal woman stopped.
His ideal woman he always pictured as a sort of blond haired, blue eyed
angel who would appear one day to light up his lonely life.
If Emma had been able to read his mind,
she certainly would have not cradled any hopes like she'd been doing for
But she could only go by what she saw,
and appearances are so often deceiving. She thought Joe liked her
since he seemed to enjoy her company so much that he came to the house
However, she was too shy and reserved for
the young man to detect the impression he'd made on her.
If that had happened, it certainly would
have changed the way he acted toward her, and he would have done everything
in his power to gently erase her illusions without letting her know that
he knew her secret. Joseph Allard was a young man of honor.
But, unfortunately, he was far from knowing
Joe tells the Bonneville's his eventful
life story -- his childhood in Montréal, his escape from the brothers'
boarding school, his frequent relocations in the United States -- and meets
Marie-Louise Bernier, arrived in New York on vacation. Unaware that
Marie-Louise is the daughter of the despised uncle whose name he doesn't
even remember, Joe falls in love with the young girl, much to the chagrin
of Emma Bonneville who suffers in silence.
Towards the end of a lovely day in May,
Joe and Marie-Louise sit on the rustic bench deep in Mrs. Prévost's
garden, as this good woman kept a garden.
In those days, all the cottages had gardens,
but like the cottages, the fragrantly blooming gardens have disappeared
The month had just begun and there were
but a few flowers opening. Yet, the lilacs, and there was a huge
bush near the bench, were already open, and their delightful fragrance
spread all around.
Supper just finished, Mrs. Prévost
was still busy in her kitchen. Mr. Prévost smoked quietly
on the porch looking at, without actually seeing, the blue spirals of smoke
escaping from his cherished pipe.
The two young people could then talk freely,
however they both kept a melancholic silence.
Joe finally broke the quiet.
"So, you're leaving the day after tomorrow,
"Yes, I have to," sighed the young girl.
"I would have liked to stay a while longer, but Papa writes that Maman's
"They aren't as lonely as I'm going to
be when you're gone," said Joe sadly.
Seeing the young girl didn't respond, he
"Time passes quickly with you here.
Itís hard to believe that itís been a month since you arrived."
"It's true," replied Marie-Louise innocently,
"time has passed quickly."
A few moments of silence followed these
words, then Joe started again:
"Won't you miss some of those folks you're
leaving behind when you're back home?"
"That goes without saying, because everybody
has been good to me here, but Mrs. Prévost and her husband will
probably come to see us during the summer, that is if Mr. Prévost
manages to take a vacation."
"How happy they will be!"
"Do you really think so?"
"Who could think otherwise! Won't
they enjoy being in your company?"
Marie-Louise didn't answer, but she was
wracking her brain thinking up a way to invite Joe to take the trip with
the Prévost's without looking too daring.
But a notion stopped her. Would it
be appropriate for her to do so? And then what would her parents
say? But, yet, if she was sure Joe loved her, but how could she know
for sure, since he'd never told her? Maybe she'd fooled herself since
the beginning into thinking that this young man had serious intentions
Maybe he'd only wanted to amuse himself
a little in passing. How could she know otherwise?
While she was absorbed with these thoughts,
Joe pondered a few of his own. Oh! If I only knew she loved me, he
thought. "It would give me the courage to declare my affection.
But how do I know she isn't just a flirt amusing herself by being charming
to me during her visit here?
How do I know she doesn't have a fiancé
up there, and that it's not for him that she's decided to go back.
If she was from my own social class, then
Iíd be more daring.
But, how do I know she wouldn't be indignant
at my asking.
Sheíd be justified since who am I to dare
look upon her, me the poor boy without any family or fortune who has nothing
but poverty to offer her. While she, beautiful, young and wealthy, she
can aspire to marry into one of the better families of her hometown.
Mrs. Prévost joined them and jumped
right into the conversation in her habitual way.
After having spoken for some time, she
"I just thought of it, since you're leaving
the day after tomorrow, my little one, you should go say goodbye to the
Bonneville's tonight, because you won't have time to go tomorrow."
"You're right, cousin. Let's go tonight
then, as I wouldn't want to go without seeing them once more. They've
been so kind to me, especially the girl who's been such a friend."
"That doesn't surprise me, because Emma
is one girl everybody likes, but we'd better go right away because it's
nearly eight o'clock. Are you coming, old boy?" she asked approaching
her husband who was still smoking on the porch.
"On no, old girl!" he replied stretching
his arms lazily. "I'd rather stay right where I am. Go ahead without
If Joe had dared speak his mind right then
and there he would have avowed that Mr. Prévost was the laziest,
most self-centered man on earth, but he contented himself scorning him
under his breath, and set out to the Bonneville's with a lady on each arm.
He had to be satisfied with Mrs. Prévost's endless chatter instead
of the intimate talk he so longed for.
That night, Emma was alone at home as the
rest of the family had gone to the chapel for the Month of Mary services.
The news of Marie-Louise's departure delighted
her, even though she knew enough to express her regrets politely.
The poor child thought that once Marie-Louise
was gone, Joe would probably forget about her, and the hope of seeing her
beloved come back made her heart leap.
However the other members of the family
returned from church. Before long, Mrs. Prévost announced
that it was time to go because she and Marie-Louise had to get up early
the next morning to prepare for her departure.
Getting back to the house, Joe felt himself
getting progressively sadder realizing that this was probably the last
time he'd be walking with Marie-Louise like this, feeling her soft little
hand rest so gently on his arm.
The following morning, he awoke with the
gloomy thought that this was the last day Marie-Louise would spend in New
York. This thought preoccupied him all day at the store.
He would have loved to find an excuse to
go back to the house to bask in the presence of his beloved as long as
He hoped he'd have another chance to spend
some time with her on the rustic bench deep in the garden that night, and
he promised himself to not miss the chance to declare his love. "It's
better that I know what to expect," he thought.
But disappointment was in store.
Towards evening it started raining in torrents,
and he had to resign himself to spending the evening with Mr. & Mrs.
The latter monopolized Marie-Louise's attention
so that he barely had a chance to speak to her.
But the evening was coming to a close and
Mrs. Prévost announced that soon it would be time to think about
While she was down in the basement making
sure everything was in order for the night, Marie-Louise exclaimed suddenly:
"How dizzy I am! I left my woolen
shawl on the bench this morning.
It must be soaking wet, but I'll have time
to make it dry by tomorrow noon. I have to go get it.î
"I'll go get it for you," said Joe.
"Just wait a minute."
It had stopped raining, but the sky was
still overcast and the young man couldn't see a thing.
"Did you find it?" asked the girl who'd
come out onto the porch.
"No, not yet, Miss, but I won't have any
trouble retrieving it. Tell me about where you left it."
"I guess I'd better go myself. I
know exactly where I left it,î and in an instant the girl had reached the
far end of the garden without a second thought.
"Here it is," she said placing a hand affectionately
on the shawl. "My God, how it's soaked!"
"Let me carry it then, it'll drip all over
your dress," and he reached to out take the shawl from her hands.
Right then he realized he was finally alone
with her, alone under the night's cover.
His heart started pounding violently.
He wanted to speak. He wanted to take advantage of the opportunity
to declare his love, and to ask her to have mercy on him, but he seemed
choked with emotion.
Right then, Mrs. Prévost's voice
echoed loud and clear into the night:
"Marie-Louise! Marie-Louise! come
on back and leave your shawl if you can't find it. It's cold and
damp and you'll surely catch cold."
So, for just an instant, Joe forgot everything,
except that he was there alone with Marie-Louise, that he adored her, that
she was leaving the next day, and that he'd probably never see her again.
Losing control, he drew her close and placed a long burning kiss on her
lips while whispering softly.
"Marie-Louise, my angel, my treasure, I
worship you, I love you!"
"Don't forget me!"
"Marie-Louise!" cried out Mrs. Prévost's
As if in a dream, he followed Marie-Louise
automatically as she hastened back trembling and in a tangle of confusion.
When Marie-Louise was back in her room,
instead of going to bed right away as her cousin had recommended, she threw
herself into a chair, hiding her face in her hands in a terrible state.
Her heart pounded violently. Her
Torn between virtue, fear, and indignation,
an other even more powerful feeling dominated for a moment, causing her
heart to beat even faster.
She thought she could still feel Joe's
sudden embrace and the fire of his kiss on her lips. She was horrified
to remember that her first impulse had been to hide her face against the
young man's shoulder, and anxiously wondered if he'd noticed this reaction.
First, she accused herself of having been
imprudently daring to have gone deep into the darkened garden as she had
"He'll have taken me for a girl with no
scruples, accustomed to things like that," she said to herself while shedding
tears of rage and shame.
Then her anger turned suddenly toward the
"He has to be wicked and very bold to have
dared do that. A respectable boy would never have acted that way.
Had I encouraged him? I should have slapped him right across the
face. Yes, that would have taught him how to behave more appropriately."
"The louse! Taking advantage of my ignorance.
Louse! Louse! Oh why didn't I call him that to his face? He would
have understood that I didn't like it, at least, while just the opposite,
my silence will seem to be a sort of consent. Oh, the louse, the
The horror then took over again.
She thought she'd have to bring this incident up in confession and the
thought of it made her tremble, she who'd never had anything extraordinary
to tell her old confessor since her first communion.
"If he was my fiancé, well," she
thought bitterly, "but a stranger that I'll probably never see again."
And her tears started all over.
She decided finally to say her prayers,
her soul torn between remorse and hopelessness, and she went to bed.
Crushed by so many different emotions,
she soon fell into a deep sleep and didn't awaken until very late the next
She got right up and dressed in a hurry,
and came downstairs without being sure what her motive was for hastening.
But she understood only too well just a moment later when Mrs. Prévost,
whom she found alone in the dining room told her that Mr. Allard, seeing
she was taking too long coming down, had left putting her in charge of
saying goodbye to the young girl.
"I think he wanted me to wake you up, but
didn't dare to ask, and seeing you were sleeping so well, I didn't want
to do it."
Marie-Louise felt her heart tighten, but
she controlled herself as best she could and tried to eat the breakfast
her cousin brought her.
"He's a good boy," continued the latter,
"but a little timid."
Despite her problems, Marie-Louise couldn't
help but smile at that comment. He was timid alright, that Mr. Allard.
But serious concerns took over right away.
"If he'd really loved me," she said to
herself hopelessly, "he wouldn't have gone without telling me goodbye himself."
He would also have understood that he owed
me an apology for his behavior last night.
But he wanted to amuse himself at my expense,
and that's that, and Iím foolish enough to be contrite.
How he'd laugh at me if he knew I'd taken
his advances seriously.
Still, I'd rather he think of me as stupidly
gullible than bold and poorly raised, for in the latter case he'd disdain
me while the other way he couldn't help but be remorseful for having abused
But the time to go approached and Marie-Louise
left for the central station with her cousin who began to notice tears
welling in her eyes as the moment of separation neared.
They soon arrived at the station where
the train for Montréal appeared to be awaiting them, for five minutes
after Marie-Louise settled into a compartment, it started rattling for
Right then, while Mrs. Prévost was
giving Marie-Louise her last bits of advice through the window, a drawn
and winded young man came into the station.
It was Joe Allard.
He had only a moment to toss an expressive
glance at Marie-Louise who had blushed considerably upon seeing him, and
A long train whistle replied to his cry,
and a few moments later, the train was disappearing into the depths of
the great tunnel.
In Marie-Louise's absence, Bernier tries
to get his wife to say she loves him.
Mr. & Mrs. Bernier spent the evening
alone in the dining room.
Mr. Bernier read the papers, Mrs. Bernier
The weather was horrible. Torrential
rains inundated the road turning it into a river.
The wind blew violently, howling sinisterly
in the chimneys.
"What dreadful weather," finally spoke
Mrs. Bernier didn't answer, apparently
caught up in thought. It was quite possible she hadn't heard her
After a few moments of silence, he resumed:
"I sure wouldn't want to be out in weather
This time Mrs. Bernier looked up with curiosity.
Encouraged by this sign of attention, Mr. Bernier went on:
"I'd really like to know what our Marie-Louise
is doing right now."
He knew by experience that the subject
was the only one that could make his wife somewhat communicative.
"She's enjoying herself no doubt," she
"It's just that I'm starting to get lonely.
The house seems so big and empty without her."
"That's true. I say that to myself
"Don't you think it's time we have her
come back? It's already May 15th. They say the weather warms
up early in New York. Marie-Louise who's used to the pure clean air
here could find it uncomfortable."
"You're probably right. We'd better
have her come back."
"She could easily come as far as Montréal
by herself, and I could be there to meet the train and bring her back here."
"Then, we'll have to write her right away,
so she'll have time to get ready for the trip."
On that note, Mrs. Bernier retreated into
That didn't satisfy her husband.
The impatience that his wife's coldness and indifference caused him had
peaked in the absence of their daughter, because Mrs. Bernier who had no
other source of joy on earth but this child, had become more morose and
silent than ever since the girl had gone. Now, he understood more
clearly than ever that he meant nothing to his wife.
There are somethings we can tolerate for
a long time without complaining and even appear indifferent.
But during all that time the resentment
and indignation accumulated little by little like snow on mountain tops.
Then, suddenly, comes the moment when the avalanche
is unleashed. So it was with his anger and resentment brewing over
the course of many years.
Mr. Bernier had never understood why his
wife couldn't love him like she'd loved Xavier Leclerc.
Hadn't he always been kind and generous
toward her? What had she to reproach him?
Since his daughter's departure, heíd had
more spare time than usual to reflect on thoughts like this.
That night, a resolution took shape in
his mind. He decided to get his wife to explain herself.
However, before beginning, he began to
tremble and a mysterious premonition warned him he'd better leave things
as they were.
But he toughened up against this prudent
feeling and started in anyway.
"Maria, I'd like to have a serious talk
with you tonight. We're alone and the occasion seems suitable."
Not doubting that it would be about her
daughter, Mrs. Bernier let her knitting fall on her knees and disposed
herself to listening attentively to her husband.
Her clear and firm look bothered Bernier
a little, but after having hesitated a few seconds he continued:
"Here it is nearly 20 years that we've
been married. I would like to know if, during this time, I haven't
been all that a good husband should be for a wife whom he adores; if I've
ever refused you anything; if I haven't done all in my power to make you
happy, if you've had any complaints against me in any way."
He stopped a moment. His wife listened
"You hate me, I know it all too well.
You dislike being with me. I'm a burden you must bear and it's been
so since our wedding. Why is it? What have I done to deserve
ìI've endured your inexplicable conduct
towards me for a long time without complaining, but I've finally lost patience.
ìI'd like to know the reason for this aversion
you have for me.î
While talking he'd become more and more
animated. His features were all contorted in anger. A wild
flame shone in his eyes.
Mrs. Bernier sat, whitened in terror at
the changes she'd seen take place in her husband during the last few moments.
She couldnít understand how the man who'd
been so gentle, so indulgent and so peaceable for 20 years could become
as violent as he was right then in such a short time.
She'd have been less astonished if she'd
known her husband's character a little better.
The fault dominating Edmond Bernier was
an absolute, brutal, concentrated egoism.
It wasn't out of goodness, or indulgence
that he'd been so gentle and agreeable towards his wife up until then.
He'd always wanted to conquer her coldness and aversion with his fake tender
He had imposed a rule of conduct on himself
that he'd always adhered to scrupulously.
Often, very often, a gesture, a look, a
word from his wife revealing her absolute indifference had driven him mad,
but he'd known how to tame his temper and guard the mask of gentleness
he'd put on.
He wanted to be loved by his wife, he wanted
it with all his soul. For a voluntary caress, for a long loving look,
he would have given half his life.
But the day when he would have given up
hope of inspiring Maria to feel a love as strong as the love that consumed
him, would have been the day he could have crushed her under foot in rage,
because his love was all about himself. True love and sincere affection
didn't play any part in it. However, Mrs. Bernier, distraught at
first, had regained her composure, but at the same time it seemed to her
that some kind of revolution was taking place in her soul.
For twenty years, she'd lived as though
sleep walking, semi-conscious to what was going on around her.
Until then her resentment for her husband
had been apathetically passive. Now she felt emotions she'd thought
had died rekindle inside her, and that she herself had loved somebody once
like she'd never loved anyone else. She remembered the radiant hope
that had brought so much beauty to her youth when falling in love with
Xavier and knowing she was loved in return.
She had dreamed of a peaceful happy life
with that handsome young man; a humble and tranquil life maybe, but full
of sunshine and happiness; a life full of tenderness and devotion.
That had been all she'd hoped and dreamed.
Why hadn't these gentle dreams been fulfilled?
Why had heaven not given her the humble happiness she'd so prayed for?
At that moment, infinitely bitter regrets
filled her soul and tore open her heart at the memories of her poor ruined
life and shattered dreams.
What had she done to deserve this?
Then she was forgetting her own unhappiness
to think only of poor Xavier's, that poor Xavier whose despair had dragged
him to his death.
Poor Xavier! Dead alone and miserable
in the hospital without a friend to close his eyes; perhaps hoping to see
the girl he'd loved so much before dying, and asking in vain about her
to people around him.
And who'd been the cause of this premature
death? Who had broken these two lives? Wasn't it this man standing
right before her, this man who'd become her husband practically despite
her, and who was reproaching her now for not loving him, to not have responded
to his love, this fatal and damned love that had caused the demise of Xavier,
Her eyes finally opened, after all these
years she understood like she'd never understood before, the cruel part
that Edmond Bernier had had in her father's rejection of Xavier.
She understood the source of the slanderous
tales that had ruined his reputation long before he'd fallen to a wicked
Still, she said nothing. Her appearance
stayed cool and composed.
But her husband had watched her face turn
hard and wild all of a sudden, and he became more and more furious.
It was as though he could follow her train
of thought because he cried out finally in a terrible rage:
"Yes, I know it. It's him you've
always loved, and you still love. Him, that drunk, that miserable
one your father had such good reason to chase away. I know you still
love him, you, my lawful wife. You have no shame to harbor this love
although your face should redden like a criminal's. And isn't it
in effect a crime for you to harbor the memory of another man after having
vowed faithfulness to me at the altar?
"Don't you fear heaven's punishment?
Don't you worry that He will scorn you, throwing you to the depths of Hell
to repent, miserable woman?"
That was too much.
White with indignation, Mrs. Bernier stood
up squashing her husband with a look loaded with angry contempt and screamed:
"Is it really you who dares speak to me
"You, the hypocrite, the coward, the liar
who've never stopped at anything to get what you want.
ìYou who cajoled and fooled your mother-in-law
so you could rob the orphan of a part of his heritage that should have
been his entirely. He had no one but her in this world.
ìYou who neglected that poor old woman
after having gotten all you wanted from her. You left her alone in
her house, day after day, and took her little grandson from her by some
scam or other. He was the single joy in her life.
ìYou who were the cause of her dying alone
and helpless in her rooms. You who took care to keep everyone who
could unmask you away from her. She couldn't have known like I know
your true character. If she'd known it, she would never have left
her grandson in your care.
ìYes, I see. Now, I understand your
conduct towards her and the motives that drove you back then.
ìShe died alone and abandoned, the poor
woman. A little help in the nick of time might have saved her.
With the necessary care, her life could have been prolonged enough to allow
her to watch over the child, the poor child who perished miserably, too,
ìAs God is my witness, you are the one
responsible for these two deaths and another yet, because it's you who
pushed Xavier Leclerc to no good. You know it well.
ìWith your infernal skill, you knew how
to ruin him in my father's eyes, him the best, most honest, truest of men.
ìYou knew I loved him, you knew he'd try
all in his power to conquer my father's resistance to our marriage, and
with your underhanded stories and diabolical slander, you succeeded in
having him banished from our home.
ìI didn't understand all that back then,
but I understood it later -- alas, too late.
ìIt was then that he turned to drink, driven
by despair. Then, and no sooner. And you know it. You
knew it then.
ìAnd far from regretting your black deeds,
you seemed happy to watch that poor wretch live out the tales of the scandalous
behavior you'd brought upon him.
ìHe died in a hospital, yes, but he died
as a Christian. I know it. And for a long time, he's been in
heaven enjoying the happiness that was denied him on earth, while you,
deceitful as you are, you'll die as you lived, in hypocrisy and lies.
ìYou want me to love you? Me, whose
life you've ruined?
ìYou reproach me for the crime of not cherishing
you. You've murdered. Yes, murdered the only man I've ever
loved just as though you might have killed him with a fire iron or with
ìCherish you? No! It's sufficient that
I was lazy enough, demeaned enough to consent to marrying you in the end.
I was too lazy to resist all the forces united against me; weak against
my mother's complaints and reproaches, my fatherís threats and your brutal,
ìIn those days, I couldn't see the truth
that slapped me in the face later on.
ìI was ashamed for still loving Xavier
after his downfall, and I wanted to build a barrier between him and me.
ìI was cowardly and unfaithful and God
punished me. Yes, punished cruelly, for I never enjoyed a day of
real peace since the moment when I saw Xavier Leclerc gaunt and hopeless
at the church doors on the day of our wedding. But you, you who robbed
the widow and the orphan blind; you whose whole life was nothing but a
veil of hypocrisy and lies; you who has three deaths on his conscience,
what mercy do you expect to find in heaven?î
Right then, Bernier, fuming in rage, lunged
at his wife as though to crush her.
She, however, calm, bristled up proudly
and threw him a disdainful look speaking in a slow, low tone:
"Coward! That would be the only thing you
haven't done. Strike me then if you dare," and she left leaving Bernier
beside himself in rage and indignation.
The calm returns to mask the uneasiness
gnawing at the household. Marie-Louise, unaware of what's going on
between her parents, is delighted at the news that the Prévostís
will be visiting accompanied by Joe.
Toward the end of July, Mrs. Prévost
receives a letter from her cousin inviting her and her husband to come
spend a few weeks. She added she'd be very pleased if Mr. Allard
would honor them with his company.
Joe was tempted to decline at first.
"It's just a gesture of politeness," he
told himself, "and I shouldn't take her seriously."
But the temptation to see Marie-Louise
again was too strong to resist.
He was able to get a vacation from his
boss, and with a soul filled with hope and love, he set off for Beauport
with the Prévostís who were delighted to have him as a traveling
When Emma Bonneville learned the news,
she was overcome with grief.
"Alas," she thought, "he still loves her
just as much."
The travelers arrived in Beauport without
Mrs. Bernier received them most graciously
as she was truly pleased to see her cousin with whom she'd been very close
With more reserve than his wife, Mr. Bernier
put on a friendly and polite appearance, nevertheless.
It isn't that the visitors meant anything
to him. On the contrary, their presence displeased him, but he'd
always placed a great deal on appearances and he wasn't inclined to be
taken for a disagreeable bully of a husband.
As for Marie-Louise, she felt truly happy
and made no effort to hide it.
She felt pretty embarrassed around Joe
because of the scene in the garden, but she told herself that if the young
man hadn't really loved her, he wouldn't have accepted her mother's invitation.
So she was inclined toward forgiving him
his bold act.
From his point of view, Joe was waiting
for an opportune moment to ask her forgiveness, and wasted no time finding
A few days after the visitors' arrival,
Mrs. Bernier suggested an excursion to the Natural Stairway.
The proposal was accepted with pleasure.
Only Mr. Bernier feigned a headache and
stayed at home, which caused no one any grief, since his daughter was the
only one who felt comfortable in his presence.
They tramped gaily through the open fields.
Mr. Prévost led the way, nose to
the wind and looking happy, taking long steps and smoking his precious
That good fellow was a Québéquois
and the native air suited him marvelously.
Plus, this walk through the fields reminded
him of his childhood and the times he went off barefoot and carefree to
the country school on the banks of the St. Charles River.
Marie-Louise and Joe followed.
They weren't saying much to each other,
to tell the truth, but you'd be hard pressed to find two people in the
world who were happier at that moment.
They were young and in love. What
more did they need than that in the middle of these fragrant fields under
such a gentle blue sky?
Mrs. Bernier and Mrs. Prévost brought
up the rear of the group.
Like Mr. Prévost, the two cousins
were reminiscing about the happy days of their youth, especially the long
vacation days they'd spent together at their grandfather's house.
Mrs. Bernier forgot all about her womanly
worries and pondered only the joys of childhood.
"Do you remember the little forest where
there were so many strawberries?" she asked her cousin.
"Do I remember? I sure do, and also the
good pies Mémère made us when we brought her some home."
"Me too, I remember Mémère's
pies and the little doughnuts that tasted even better."
"Do you remember the neighbor's black cow
that nearly rammed us with its horns in the field we were crossing to get
to the river's edge?"
"And the large dog we mistook for a wolf
in the hollow?"
"And Pépère who'd taken out
his gun to go shoot it?"
Thus chatted the two cousins getting more
and more excited.
From time to time, their peals of laughter
found their way to the young people's ears.
"I've never seen Maman so gay," said Marie-Louise
Finally arriving at the edge of the forest
that lies between the stairway and the Montmorency River, they had to form
a line in order to descend the steep narrow path.
"Let me help you down," said Joe to Marie-Louise.
"Oh, thank you, no, I'm well accustomed
to climbing down this path by myself."
Mr. Prévost who had long legs was
already at the bottom at the beginning of the steps and was gazing in wonder
at this beautiful and strange scenery like nothing found anywhere else
in the world.
A tall, narrow, and massive rock face rising
up on the opposite side of the river especially drew his attention.
"You'd think it was built by masons," said
he stepping out onto the narrow ledge he was standing on.
"You're going to fall, old man!" his good
wife hollered at him.
Still, she found the nerve to step out
enough to grab her husband by the coat tails in case he should fall.
Anyway, the open air having caused the
party to work up a hearty appetite, Mrs. Bernier opened the basket that
Mr. Prévost had put himself in charge of carrying since they'd left
the house. She pulled out bread, cheese, cakes, fruits and several
bottles of root beer and all sat down to do right by this simple, frugal
feast. The beauty of the surroundings, the bird song and the cheerful
demeanor of the participants made it sumptuous.
After their modest meal, Mr. Prévost
settled to read his paper. Mrs. Prévost and Mrs. Bernier continued
exploring the river side, and Joe and Marie-Louise began gathering tiny
blue flowers growing abundantly between the massive stones.
When they'd gathered enough, they sat down
on one of the steps to make bouquets. Joe spoke first.
"Miss, he said softly with a musical, somewhat
shaky voice, "Miss, before all else, I'd like to ask you to forgive my
inappropriate behavior when last I saw you in New York.
"I can't imagine what you must think of
me, but you couldn't have judged me more severely than I've judged myself.
"Oh! If you only knew how sorry I was,
you'd forgive me."
Upon hearing these very emotional words,
Marie-Louise turned her pretty blue eyes to Joe's as if to read his thoughts.
Under the spell of this pretty, innocent
look, Joe continued even more agitated than before.
"Don't you want to tell me you forgive
me, dear angel? Don't you want to give this sole consolation to an
unfortunate who loves you desperately, but who's well aware of the difference
between your situation and his to have any hope.
"Oh, no! Don't think that I'm being even
more presumptuous in speaking to you like this. All I ask is your
forgiveness. All I ask is that you don't hate and disdain the one
who loves you more than his own life.
"Speak to me, I beg you! Tell me
you can forgive me."
"Since that's all you ask," said Marie-Louise
after a few moments of silence, "I very much want to forgive you.
But I swear your conduct that night made me suffer a good deal.
"On the one hand I regretted having given
my friendship and respect to someone who could take advantage of my foolish
imprudence. On the other hand I was worried that you acted like that
with me because you didn't have the respect for me that I'd flattered myself
into thinking I'd inspired in you."
"How could you have thought that, my dearest,"
cried out the fiery young man. "I take you for the holiest and most virtuous
"I thought it, nevertheless, and it caused
me great suffering, but since you've explained, I forgive you in good faith.
Let's be friends then." She held out her pretty white hand which he had
to content himself to squeeze gently, even though he'd rather have covered
it in kisses.
During all this, Mrs. Bernier was getting
information from her cousin about the young man who seemed very interesting
to her. The abundance of data she got from her voluble reporter was
not of the type to diminish the good feelings she'd had about Joe since
That night, she found a way to have a talk
with her daughter, and without trying to force a direct admission from
her, she had no trouble convincing herself that the girl truly loved Joe
"This is very good," she said to herself,
"because I'm sure the boy will make a good husband."
He's poor, that's his only problem, if
it is indeed a problem. But Marie-Louise is well-off enough for the
both of them.
Poor young man! I can tell that his
poverty is preventing him from making serious advances.
If he knew how much I was leaning in his
favor, he wouldn't be as concerned.
But will my husband be satisfied with this
It remains to be seen.
He loves money so much that he's probably
dreaming a multi-millionaire will marry Marie-Louise.
But no, he can't already be thinking about
He doesn't seem to realize she isn't a
He always talks to her like she's a little
In any case, he'll have to give in, even
though he might have other ideas concerning Marie-Louise's future.
He'll give in. I'll find a way to make him.
I don't want my daughter's life ruined
like mine was.
But before talking to my husband, I'll
have to discuss this matter with the young man himself. I have to
sound him out, for after all, I could be wrong about my daughter's feelings.
One can never be sure of anything in this world.
Mrs. Bernier soon found the opportunity
to speak to the young man.
"Mr. Allard," said she, "I have to discuss
something serious with you. Please lend me your full attention if
Frightened by these opening remarks, Joe
was frozen, not knowing what he should think of say.
"Don't worry," said Mrs. Bernier smiling
for she noticed his discomfort. "There's nothing terrible in what I have
to tell you.
ìOn the contrary.î
"Mr. Allard," she continued after collecting
her thoughts for a moment, "I have an important question to ask you, and
I ask you to answer honestly and directly.
"I believe I've noticed since your arrival
here, that you love my daughter. Am I wrong?"
"No, ma'am," Joe replied raising his honest
expressive eyes. "You're not mistaken. I do love your daughter.
"However, I've made every effort to not
let my feelings show. But you've guessed anyway.
"Don't be angry with me, I beg you, because
I'm not at fault. Who could look at your daughter and not love her?"
"I can't see why I should be angry with
"And it's not to scold you that I've asked
to speak with you.
"On the contrary. If you understood
how fond I am of you, you wouldn't be as discouraged as you seem to be."
"Ma'am," said Joe very moved, "what am
I to understand from your words? Am I allowed to hope then?"
"Pull yourself together, my friend," said
Mrs. Bernier softly. "You're not dreaming. It's just as I'm
telling you. If my daughter loves you, too, which I don't doubt she
does, I'll do all in my power to make the two of you happy."
"But, Ma'am, are you forgetting I'm poor,
that I live only on my weekly salary?"
"No, I'm not forgetting, but I don't see
it as a serious problem.
"The first thing about marriage is love
and mutual respect. Also, there has to be a certain compatibility
as far as age, personality, social status, and likes and dislikes.
"I find that you're well suited for Marie-Louise
in all these things, and I believe you'll make her very happy."
"Oh! You can be certain of that, I love
her so much!" In saying this, he looked at Mrs. Bernier very openly
through his big dark eyes, moist with tears of gratitude and joy.
"And you who are so good, so generous,
you would let me love and cherish you as a mother? Oh! If you knew
how much motherly love was lacking in this poor abandoned orphan's life.
"And I've always wanted a good trustworthy
son like you. My wishes will finally be granted for you'll be a son
to me. I can sense it." Having gotten up, she placed a motherly
kiss on the young man's noble forehead and left him alone intoxicated from
hope and happiness.
"Now, it's time to talk with my husband,"
she said to herself, "and without delay."
She went straight to Mr. Bernier's room
where she knew she'd find him.
"I have to talk with you," said she, seeing
the astonishment on his face from this sudden visit.
"Fine, sit down," he said coldly, for since
the stormy scene between them, he'd put away his attentiveness and displays
of affection that he'd hoped for so long would win her over.
"It's about Marie-Louise."
"Ah!" remarked Mr. Bernier suddenly interested.
"Mr. Allard, my cousin's friend, loves
our daughter and she loves him.
"He a good, honest young man, religious
and well brought up, and he's very well suited to Marie-Louise in all respects."
"Except with respect to his fortune," interrupted
her husband dryly.
"Marie-Louise is rich enough for two, and
I know her enough to know she'd prefer happiness to wealth.
"You should know better than anybody that
love is the most important element of a marriage," she added looking at
her husband fixedly. "As for the rest, it isn't right to say the
young man is truly poor. He's talented, ambitious, has a good job,
his boss likes him, and he earns a sufficient salary to support a wife
comfortably, if not in luxury.
"Finally, I don't see how we can reasonably
reject his request, knowing that Marie-Louise loves him and that she'd
be very unhappy if we refused to let her marry him."
While Mrs. Bernier spoke her husband thought
She'd not mistaken in thinking he was dreaming
of a wealthy husband for his daughter. In fact, it was his greatest
desire. He'd also made up his mind never to consent to his daughter
marrying this young man who had so little going for him financially.
But his wife wanted this marriage and would
do her best to make it happen.
And since the revealing scene he'd had
with her, he sensed some sort of fear that warned him to not openly dispute
He resolved to employ betrayal, a weapon
with which he was most familiar.
Composing his face and taking on the contrary
air of someone to whom something is being done despite his opposition,
he finally said:
"I admit that this young man isn't the
son-in-law of my dreams, but I love my daughter too much to stand in the
way of her happiness.
"However, I could never decide to give
her away to a boy of whom we know nothing except for what your cousin has
told us, especially since she doesn't know much about him herself.
"I have to find a way to learn more about
him. You yourself must understand that it's absolutely necessary."
"Ah! As for that you have very good reason.
It won't be me who argues with you on that.
"You haven't told me whether you've spoken
to Marie-Louise about this, and what she has to say on the subject."
"No, I haven't spoken to her yet."
"Well, how do you know she loves him?"
"Ah! As for that, I'm certain. But
as far as talking to her seriously about the prospect of marriage to the
young man, I thought it would be better to wait until all was decided before
"Good thinking. So, everything's in order."
Thinking the discussion ended, Mrs. Bernier
left and her worthy husband now alone, began designing plans to foil the
While the parents were discussing this
important question, another discussion was taking place in the garden.
When Mrs. Bernier had left the young man
whom she'd just made very happy, he lingered some time in an ecstatic dream
He pictured himself in a little living
room overlooking a garden. From his spot he could see the whole landscape
without leaving his chair.
While he was allowing himself these dreams
of gold, a light graceful shape appeared amid the many flower beds in the
Instinctively, he rose and headed toward
this place and in a few minutes he'd joined the young girl.
Seeing him approach, she smiled sweetly
and her eyes suddenly took on a look of such tenderness that the young
At that very moment he felt convinced for
the first time that he really was loved and this thought transported his
"Marie-Louise, my angel," he whispered,
"would it be possible that you love me?"
Understanding that she'd given herself
away but without knowing how, she lowered her eyes in an inexplicable uneasiness.
"Please forgive my indiscretion, my cherished,
but I'm so happy right now, that I've lost all reason. But you'll
judge me less severely when you learn that your mother has just blessed
my love for you and that she has permitted me to hope that you share my
"Do you understand my happiness, my beloved?
"I'm free to love you and to tell you so,
and what I just saw in your eyes confirms what your mother told me."
Seeing that the young girl remained silence,
he continued with emotions rising and falling.
"I beg you, Marie-Louise, talk to me.
Tell me your mother isn't mistaken. Tell me that I wasn't fooling
myself in interpreting the feelings in those beautiful blue eyes that I
love so much."
"No, you weren't wrong," her soft voice
"You love me then? Oh! Tell me those
words that I've so longed to hear. Tell me you love me."
"Yes, I love you," she said very low, as
though she was afraid the flowers or birds would hear.
"And I, I adore you, dear angel!" And seizing
his beloved's dainty hand, he covered its delicate white fingers with fervent
He would have willingly brought his lips
close to his beloved's, but remembering what she'd told him on that subject,
he didn't dare, fearing she'd only consider it another sign of disrespect.
"We'd better return to the house, now,"
timidly spoke Marie-Louise. "Maman will be worried."
They had just returned when the maid came
to warn Marie-Louise that her father wanted to talk to her.
The young girl went right away to her father's
room. He started with a tender embrace, took her on his knees as
he always did and started talking thus:
"You know I love you very much, my dear."
"Have I ever doubted it, father?" she asked
looking at him affectionately.
"I know very well that you haven't, my
girl, but listen well to what I'm going to tell you.
"Mr. Allard has asked your mother for your
hand. He's a handsome and gracious young man, I'll admit. He
seems good and upright, I'll admit that, too. But he's poor, as you
know. This in itself isn't a fault. On the contrary, poverty suffered
in patience is a virtue. Also, I don't mean to blame him for his
"But what I dislike a little in this young
man, is that, poor as he is, he aspires to take the hand of a wealthy young
girl like yourself, because he's well aware of the considerable property
you own and that you're my only heir.
"If I was sure that he loved you for yourself,
and not for your dowry, this lack of gentility on my part would seem more
"But how can we tell what people are thinking?
"The very thought of that young man seeking
you out purely for financial interests causes me great discomfort, I assure
"Your mother who doesn't know the ways
of the world like I do, is all enthusiastic about this proposed alliance,
but I'm full of concerns.
"Think about it yourself, my child.
Would you be very happy if you realized after your wedding that your husband
had never nor would ever love you?"
Marie-Louise whose eyes were now filled
with tears didn't reply, but her father saw clearly by the expression on
her face, that he'd made his point. With his insinuations, he'd succeeded
in putting doubt, that dreaded enemy of love and happiness, in the girl's
"However," he added,î we mustn't judge
the young man without giving him a chance to defend himself and I'd like
to have a conversation with him, too.
"You can trust me. If the young man
is really good and honest like you and your mother believe, then I'll know
how to do him justice."
"Isn't it true, my dear, that you trust
the father that you love so much?"
"Oh! Yes, Papa," replied the young girl
"Well, then, dry your tears, and understand
that what I have to do is for your own good."
Bernier sets his plan in motion to foil
the wedding. Cunning and libelous, he makes Joseph believe that Marie-Louise
doesn't love him anymore and accuses the young man of being merely an opportunist
after a dowry. Joseph, mortified and wounded, leaves Beauport immediately
without seeing Marie-Louise again. She believes her father's lies
that the young man fled because he'd been found out.
To revel in his triumph, Bernier proposes
to have Marie-Louise marry Théophile LaPlante, a fickle, pretentious
boy who happens to be a wealthy farmer's heir.
Several days later while on a carriage
ride with his daughter, Edmond Bernier took advantage of the opportunity
to talk about the marriage he had in mind.
"Théophile LaPlante is the best
looking, most charming boy in the village," said he. "He's been well educated,
his manners are impeccable, furthermore, he's rich enough in his own right
so you don't have to worry about him being after your dowry. In addition,
he's crazy about you, the poor young man. There's nothing to be mistaken
about, as far as that young man goes. He really has strong feelings
"But, father," said the young girl astonished
to learn so suddenly of the existence of a great love that she'd never
had reason to suspect, "I assure you that Mr. Théophile doesn't
love me as much as that.
"You're forgetting that he's courted every
girl in town at the same time."
"Little fool, go on! Don't you see
that he's done that to make you jealous? You're always so cool and reserved
around that boy."
"Despite what you say about it, Papa, I
can't make myself believe that Mr. Théophile loves me as much as
that. He's never even spoken to me about love."
"He's too well brought-up for that.
He knows he has to come to me, your father."
(That cut Joe Allard down to size.)
"But do you think, Papa, that he always
starts by talking to all the fathers of the girls he courts? In that
case, he must spend all his time in serious consultation with all the heads
of families in the village."
"Your stupid remarks are making me lose
patience," replied Bernier roughly.
"Where did you come up with the idea that
he's so fickle? It must be another piece of libel fabricated by some
girl who would have noticed that Théophile was partial to you, and
it made her jealous.
"It's entirely possible that he amuses
himself a little with a few girls. He's easy-going, likes to talk
and joke around, but he's only courting only you, and you're too silly
to see it."
Marie-Louise was starting to wonder if
her father might be right. She thought she remembered that Théophile
had whispered some more or less complimentary words in her ear, and that
he might have looked at her with gentle enough eyes.
"But, still, he does the same thing with
all the girls. I'm sure of it," she said to herself.
"Papa thinks I'm the only noticeable girl
She thought for a few more moments.
Finally, she started again looking frankly at her father.
"I don't know whether or not you're right,
Papa, but whether Mr. Théophile loves me or not doesn't matter to
me. I don't love him and I'd never want to become his wife." Mr.
Bernier's expression hardened at this quick, neat declaration.
"How," said he in an indignant tone," do
you, my own daughter, dare speak to me like that? You whom I've always
loved more than myself; you for whom I've toiled long years to build a
fortune; you whose wishes and whims I've always made come true. Can
it really be you talking to me like that? Can it be you who without
giving it a moment's thought are saying no to the first demand I've ever
made of you since the day you were born?
"Aren't you frightened that Heaven will
punish your ungratefulness?"
Then seeing Marie-Louise's face turning
white while she began to tremble, he immediately changed his tone and attitude.
"Forgive me," my dear girl," the harsh
words that I just spoke. This isn't my affair. What am I in
your young life? Nothing but a poor old man who doesn't have much
time left and that you'll soon forget when he's gone from this world."
Seeing his daughter sufficiently unnerved
with remorse for her cruel ingratitude toward the "poor old man who doesn't
have much time left," he pressed on.
"All I wish is your well-being, your happiness.
This is my only earthly desire.
"I know that Théophile LaPlante
is the best boy in the world, that he's honest, virtuous and generous and
that you'd be happy with him. He's handsome, young and likeable.
What more can you want? If I wanted to push an old or repulsive man
on you, you could complain, but I'm choosing the most charming boy I know
in order to be certain of your happiness, and without taking the time to
think it over you sharply assert that you don't want anything to do with
"Is it right to act this way, my dear?"
"Well, Father, I will think about it, since
you wish, and I'll ask for Mother's advice.î On mentioning the mother,
Bernier's brows knit but he didn't dare object.
On returning home, Marie-Louise wasted
no time making her way to her mother who was slightly indisposed and resting
in her room.
"What ever is wrong, my child?" she asked
seeing the young girl so sadly serious.
Marie-Louise told her about her father's
plans and her promise to reflect on the decision she'd have to make.
"My child," said Mrs. Bernier slowly, ìdo
you love this Théophile LaPlante?"
"No, Maman, I don't."
"Do you think you could ever love him at
all? Think carefully."
"No, Maman, I don't think so," replied
Marie-Louise, after a few moments of deep thought.
"Do you at least have any feelings of friendship
or admiration for him? Do you like his personality?"
"If I must speak frankly, I feel some kind
of contempt for him. I don't find anything about him admirable.
He's too much of a playboy despite what Papa says, I know he's romanced
every girl he's met."
"Very well, my girl, here's my advice.
"Don't ever marry this young man because
you'll always be unhappy with him, and your life can become hellish."
"But if Papa insists?"
"Your father doesn't have the right to
make you marry against your will, before either God or man.
"He had the right to oppose your marriage
with the one I'd chosen for you and I would never have advised you to disobey
him in that matter, even though you could have done so. But your
father can't force you to marry a man for whom you feel neither love nor
"I believe you're right, Maman, and I wish
Papa thought like you on the subject, but I'm afraid I won't be able to
resist to his will. I feel he dominates me when I'm with him and
he always ends up making me see things his way. And I love him so
much, this good father."
"Poor child!" thought Mrs. Bernier, "if
she knew what kind of man her father was, she wouldnít have so much confidence
in him, and she wouldn't be so disposed to submitting meekly under his
But how crushed she'd be to learn that
the man she's always treasured and revered is but a treacherous wretch.
No, it was better that she never know.
But my task is to prevent this marriage
by any means available.
Furious in the face of Marie-Louise's opposition,
Bernier becomes more and more brutally demanding. The young girl,
pale and miserable, begins coughing up blood. Her mother, succumbing
to all the vengeance accumulated by Bernier during his years of indifference
is so weakened by the unfolding events that she must spend her days in
Mr. Bernier regaining his former stubbornness
was set on using any means to impose his will on his daughter.
He loved her in his way. He loved
her probably more than he'd ever loved any other living being, but he couldn't
tolerate resistance even from those he loved the most.
What's more, the thought that his wife
didn't like Théophile LaPlante made him want that young man for
a son-in-law even more.
A consummate actor, he could change roles
One day he put on a sorrowful, unhappy
face. He didn't eat, he spoke little, and his whole demeanor proclaimed
him a beaten man. He was succeeding at softening up Marie-Louise
who felt herself almost ready to say she'd accept the husband he'd destined
Fortunately, her mother watched over her.
"My girl," she told her, "your father is
chagrined but it will pass, and very soon perhaps, while yours will never
pass if you marry a man you can't love. After all, your father's
unhappiness isn't at stake in this affair."
I'd understand his grief if you married
a man he didn't like, but he won't die from being deprived of such an mediocre
son-in-law as Théophile LaPlante.
Mrs. Bernier's common sense usually succeeded
in comforting her daughter.
But what she couldn't dissipate was the
fear and remorse the poor child felt when her father, taking on a severe,
terrifying air, tortured her with all the chastisement and curses that
the Lord reserves for those children ungrateful towards their parents.
During each of these violent scenes, Marie-Louise
thought she'd lose her mind.
Her health began failing, her rosy complexion
paled, rings appeared under her pretty blue sinking eyes, and the smile
seemed to have left her lips never to return.
In his brutal stubbornness, Bernier didn't
seem to notice he was killing his daughter.
But Mrs. Bernier saw clearly. The
poor woman became more and more desperate because she didn't know what
Bernier was becoming impatient from his
failure to breakdown the weakened child's resistance.
He was sure Mrs. Bernier was encouraging
Marie-Louise against giving in, but he didn't dare attack her because he
always felt chastened and uneasy in her presence.
He didn't dare speak ill of her to his
daughter, because he anticipated Marie-Louise would take her mother's part
in the event there would be trouble between them.
As for Marie-Louise, she could feel her
health deteriorate rapidly but death wasn't terrifying to her. On
"I would be happy if I died," she said
to herself. "Life is too burdensome and I'm tired of it."
"Oh, Joe! My love. Why didn't you
love me like I loved you? Then, Papa would have consented to our
marriage and I'd have been so happy with you!
When Théophile's father came to
see him one afternoon to see where things stood, several weeks had passed
since Mr. Bernier had made his first overtures to the old man.
"Have you spoken to your daughter," said
he. "I've spoken to my son and he's in heaven."
"That's great! I've spoken to my daughter
and she didn't hide the fact that she prefers Théophile to all the
other boys she knows. However, like all young girls, she's hesitating
a little before making her decision."
"Oh, I understand that. In any case,
we're not in a great hurry."
One mustn't rush these things too much.
We have to give the young folk time to think before tying themselves down
"Youíre very reasonable, LaPlante.
"But aside from Marie-Louise's natural
enough hesitation, there's another thing that bothers me sometimes."
"Whatever is it? You're worrying
"My wife doesn't want to hear of having
her daughter married. I gather from what she says that she wants
to always keep her near."
"But that's ridiculous! Wanting to
make an old maid out of that charming child. And why! Does she have
a reason at least?"
"No, she doesn't seem to have any in particular.
I don't know what's going on with my wife, and I haven't for some time.
She who was always so reasonable, so wise, seems to becoming more and more
unpredictable and surly.
"It's really very strange. Your wife
isn't very old. She mustn't be much more than forty."
"She's exactly forty-one years old.
No, what's affecting her doesn't have anything to do with aging, because
she's still young."
"In any case, since Marie-Louise is fond
of your son, we can draw up the marriage contract."
"I'd very much like that and I'll do my
best to convince Marie-Louise that she isn't bound to obey her mother in
When the old man LaPlante was gone, Bernier
got ready to do some serious thinking.
He was starting to feel awkward and unsettled
because he knew that things couldn't keep going smoothly very long.
"Marie-Louise absolutely has to consent,"
he said to himself, enraged, "and her mother has to leave her alone.
She's the one who's thwarted my plan until now. She'd better be careful
or she'll see my revenge."
Just then, Marie-Louise came into the parlor.
She looked pale and sad, but composed.
Without seeing her father sitting in a
darkened corner, she sat down at the piano and started playing a soft plaintive
Bernier who listened in silence remembered
that Joe Allard had sung that tune on several occasions.
"She's still thinking of that nobody,"
he said to himself with growing anger. No longer able to control
himself he gruffly called out in a tone that made the young girl start:
"What do you want, Father?" said she pulling
"I want a definitive answer. I want
you to consent to marrying Théophile LaPlante."
"I'll remain a single girl all my life,
if you want, Father, but I won't marry that young man; I've already told
Choking with fury, the father cried:
"If you don't marry him, I'll condemn you,î
and he looked ready to pounce upon the child whoíd addressed him in a calm
yet firm tone.
More frightened than she'd ever been in
her life, Marie-Louise ran out of the parlor and rushed to the refuge of
her mother's room. Her mother got up trembling upon seeing her daughter
enter so suddenly.
"What ever is wrong, my girl? Are you ill?"
she asked, deeply concerned.
"Papa just threatened to condemn me if
I don't marry Théophile."
She couldn't say any more. Feeling
herself suffocating, she went to the open window to breathe. At the
same time, she quickly brought her handkerchief to her mouth, and when
she took it away it was covered in blood.
"My God! Have pity on us," cried Mrs. Bernier.
"That wretch will kill her!"
Marie-Louise tried to reassure her mother
the best she could, but to no avail.
"Listen, Maman," said she finally, "I assure
you I'd rather die than marry Théophile, and if I die, my father
won't be able to condemn me."
In her concerned state, Mrs. Bernier didn't
think of calling for anyone, nor sending for a doctor. The truth
was, she so much felt that grief and anxiety were killing her daughter
that she thought it useless to look for relief by any other means than
lifting the worries that were making her so unhappy.
Feeling weak and beaten the young girl
had flung herself on her mother's bed.
"Listen my dear," said Mrs. Bernier.
"I'll try something that might solve our problems. You stay here
and wait for me.
"I might have good news for you on my return."
Without taking the time to put on a hat
and coat, she grabbed a big woolen shawl, threw it over her head and shoulders,
and left the house without anyone seeing her go.
Once on the way, she took the road towards
the LaPlante house for a good fifteen minutes' walk.
She was so concerned and absorbed in thought
that she didn't realize that her being on this road wearing a simple shawl
on her head was drawing the attention of the whole village. She rarely
went out unless well-groomed and in a proper carriage.
"Whatever is going on at Mr. Bernier's,"
was the general question, and the gossips had a field day of it as one
can well imagine.
Finally, she arrived at LaPlanteís house.
On seeing her arrive in this condition
-- pale, panting with disheveled hair under the shawl covering her head,
Mrs. LaPlante who'd been standing on the porch nearly lost control.
"But Mrs. Bernier!" she started, but couldn't
continue, such was her bewilderment at this strange apparition.
The old man LaPlante, who was nearby, soon
arrived, and was just as stunned as his wife.
"I'd like to speak with you alone, Mr.
LaPlante," said Mrs. Bernier in a voice weakened by the emotion and the
brisk walk. She followed the old man who walked mechanically into
the living room, not entirely recovered from the shock.
"Mr. LaPlante," she started after the door
had been closed. ìI've come to talk with you about my daughter.
She doesn't like your son and doesn't want to consent to marrying him.
"However, her father's threatening to condemn
her if she doesn't obey his will, and the poor child is dying of fright
"I know you're an honest man, and I don't
doubt that in learning these facts which my husband deemed inappropriate
to tell you, you'll retract the proposal you've made for your son.
I don't believe your son would consent to forcibly marrying a girl who
doesn't want anything to do with him.
"That's all I had to say.
"I pray you'll forgive this odd visit.
In a state of despair, my daughter came to me and being beside myself with
worry, I decided to come see you without delay."
While the poor woman spoke, the old man
LaPlante, already fully prejudiced against her because of what Mr. Bernier
had told him still fresh in his memory, said to himself:
Definitely this woman is insane.
Her husband hasn't known what was wrong with her for a while, but I can
see it clearly.
Wouldn't she have to be crazy to not want
a good sort like my boy for her daughter? And then the idea of coming
here, while it's still light out, and it's already getting cold, dressed
like she is with nothing but a woolen shawl on her head.
My wife isn't as proud as her, but she'd
never go out in that attire, especially out walking on the road in plain
sight of everyone. She has to be crazy.
However, Mrs. Bernier having finished speaking
seemed to be awaiting an answer.
"You have a point, my dear lady," said
the old man amicably, taking great pride in knowing how one goes about
dealing with the insane.
"Yes, you have a perfectly good point,
and I'll do as you said."
"In that case, I'll get back," said his
visitor wrapping herself in her shawl which she'd let drop on entering
the living room. I'm afraid that my absence at home will cause a
stir since I left without telling anybody.
"Permit me to not let you leave on foot,
Mrs. Bernier. In a minute, my carriage will be here at your disposal
and I hope you'll permit me to escort you home."
"I don't want to trouble you, Sir," said
Mrs. Bernier politely.
"It's no bother, it's a pleasure, I assure
you. And doesn't it tax you to walk down the road in a state of undress
as you are, with all due respect?"
Mrs. Bernier feeling this observation justified,
decided to accept the offer he'd made and fifteen minutes later, she climbed
up into the covered carriage with the old man LaPlante, who remarked to
himself again on how well he knew how to handle crazy people.
Mr. Bernier, who didn't know his wife had
gone, was quite surprised in seeing her step down from the carriage with
his friend's assistance at his front door.
"Where ever have you been, Madam?" he asked
severely, "and what is the meaning of this new folly?
On speaking these words, a diabolical thought
crossed his mind, and must have shown in his eyes for Mrs. Bernier felt
herself grow faint under his hard and cruel glare.
"My God! Have pity on me," said she. "He
wants to pass me off as crazy."
Essentially, that was her husband's intent,
the idea had already come to him when he'd complained to his friend about
his wife's strange behavior. With his usual insight, he guessed the
reason for this sudden yet relatively insignificant visit and clearly saw
the role it could play in case he needed to use it.
However, for the moment he was content
with thanking the old man LaPlante for having gone out of his way.
Taking his wife's arm authoritatively, he led her to her room, carefully
making enough noise and talking loudly so as to peak the two maids' attention,
both of whom rushed out of the kitchen to see what was going on.
It was precisely what Bernier wanted.
He pretended to toss them a reprimanding
glare, as though their curiosity displeased him greatly.
Marie-Louise had remained asleep on her
She awoke with a jolt hearing the door
to the room open, and seeing her mother pale and undone she wanted to rush
to her, but her father grabbed her arm abruptly dragging her out of the
room and slamming the door.
He dragged his daughter to one of the rooms
opening on the garden and there he said to her in a hard wicked voice:
"Your mother is insane. I have proof.
If you don't consent to marrying the man I've chosen for you, I'll have
her put in the asylum to punish you for your stubbornness."
"She isn't crazy, Father. You know
she isn't crazy, everybody knows it. No one will believe you."
"On the contrary. Everyone will believe
me, starting with the old man LaPlante and the two maids. She just
ran over to the LaPlanteís like a crazy woman in her dressing gown with
a shawl on her head. The whole village must have seen her go by and
no one will be surprised to learn she's lost her mind after that display.
Better yet, who'd dare accuse me of not telling the truth; me, the most
honorable and highly esteemed man in town. For a hundred dollars,
I'd easily find a doctor who'd agree with me."
"My God, have pity on us!" cried the poor
child in desperation.
"You'd be better off doing as I command
rather than putting yourself in God's hands, because He won't help you
"I hate Théophile! I despise him!
Oh! Father, don't force me to marry him."
"I know who's preventing you from liking
Théophile. It's that miserable Joe Allard, that beggar who
wants to marry you for your dowry."
Right then, a light glimmered in Marie-Louise's
heart, on thinking about Joe.
Understanding for the first time her father's
true character, she had a feeling he'd tricked her when talking about her
lover. She replied boldly.
"Yes, I love him. I've always loved
him, and I truly believe that you lied to me saying he didn't love me for
Foaming with rage at this frank accusation,
Bernier cried out:
"And so, damned daughter, go join him since
you love him, but your mother is going to the asylum. I'll have her
put there tomorrow."
"No, Uncle!" said a grave resounding voice
that made Marie-Louise quiver.
"You won't do that!"
And instantly Joe Allard himself climbed
through the window overlooking the garden and came to his beloved's side
as if protecting her.
Back in New York, Joe had succumbed to
a violent cranial fever. But thanks to the care and devotion of Emma
who watched over him day and night, he recovered. One day, Emma found
a strong box at her house that apparently had belonged to her grandfather
Charles LeCompte. It contained the widow Champagne's second will.
Deeply in love with Joe, Emma, with an anguished heart, had to decide whether
to give the strong box's contents to Joe knowing that in doing so she'd
lose him forever. Duty and submission to the will of God won out.
When the Prévostís returned to New
York, Joe Allard was convalescing.
They didn't see anything unusual about
the young man's illness.
"I told you that you shouldn't have made
the trip on foot in this kind of hot weather," said Mr. Prévost,
ìWhy you might have dropped dead on the
ìYou didn't get any further ahead either.î
Soon, Joe was ready to go out.
His first visit was to the Bonnevilleís
who'd shown such devotion for him.
He found Emma alone at home.
"If very happy to finally see you back
on your feet," said she, "especially since I have important news for you,
or rather to give you something that belongs to you."
At that, she left a moment and returned
with a small package which she handed him saying:
"I found this just recently in a strong
box that had belonged to my grandfather LeCompte, the one who'd been a
friend of your grandmother.
"You were too sick for me to share my discovery
with you before.î
And as Joe was full of curiosity and looked
eager to open the package that very moment, she quickly cried: "Not
here, please. Wait until you get back home. And since you must
be anxious to know what it's all about, I'll excuse you to leave right
away if you'd like."
"Thank you, Miss," said Joe his curiosity
mounting, and he left as soon as he'd given a brotherly squeeze to the
hand Emma held out to him.
When he'd finally gone, Emma allowed herself
to drop into a chair and weep bitterly.
"It's all over now," she thought.
"He'll leave and I'll never see him again. God, may your will be
Back at home, Joe locked himself in his
room and hastily opened the mysterious package.
It contained several letters, an urgent
telegram, and a little book on the outside of which was written the word
Plus, a folded paper on which Emma had
written the following words would to help Joe understand the relationship
between these seemingly different documents.
"This telegram is the same one that was
sent to my grandfather during my grandmother's illness. It must have
been in his coat pocket along with the will enclosed here. Somehow
it made its way into his possession.
"My grandfather died suddenly on arriving.
It must have been one of my uncles who found the telegram and will
in my grandfather's coat pocket, and put them in the strongbox without
giving it any thought.
"These letters were the ones my grandfather
wrote to his family while he was in Montréal.
"They contain much information about your
uncle which will be useful to you."
Joe who'd started by reading this paper,
seized the will with shaking hands.
He began to figure out the significance
of Emma's discovery.
He also searched for the signature on this
His eyes troubled with emotion, fear and
hope, sorrowfully read the name traced with a trembling hand: ELISABETH
BEAUDRY, WIDOW CHAMPAGNE.
It was indeed his grandmother's will he
was holding in his hands.
His first thought was about Marie-Louise.
"I'll probably be rich enough to ask for
her hand without anyone accusing me of being calculating," he thought.
And he began his task of reading the will
from start to finish.
"Four houses and ten thousand dollars!
That's more than I'd ever have hoped to have," he said to himself.
But his first thought had been about Marie-Louise,
his second was about the much hated uncle who had made his childhood so
unhappy, and he snatched up the letters Emma had talked about.
These very long letters contained many
details that left no doubt about the true deceitful character of one EDMOND
"Bernier! Edmond Bernier!" whispered Joe
to himself. "My uncle was called Edmond Bernier?"
Joe had always heard his grandmother call
his uncle, "son-in-law" or "Edmond." As for the brothers at the school,
they always said "your uncle" when speaking to him.
"Edmond Bernier!" he continued. "But that's
Marie-Louise's father's name. Can it be?" And he sank into thought.
"But yes," he finally said. It's
definitely the same unpleasant face, the hard, taunting gray eyes, the
same manner of speaking that made me want to punch him in the face when
I was a boy.
I felt and already understood that contemptible
man's conniving and hypocrisy. Oh! I understand now that what he said about
Marie-Louise was a lie -- a lie he invented to discourage me and make me
lose interest in his daughter so he could give her hand to somebody wealthier
He didn't recognize me either.
He thinks I'm dead, no doubt.
He'll be pleased to find out I'm resurrected.
In any case, I have to straighten these
family matters out right away.
If he wants to hand me a good part of my
inheritance and let me have Marie-Louise for a wife, then I won't ask for
I'll consult an attorney just in case he
refuses to listen to reason.
It was with these thoughts and feelings
that Joe arrived in Beauport.
Once arrived, he started feeling a little
It's easy to straighten things out from
a distance, he thought, but suddenly walking in to a house that one left
in anger a few weeks earlier and saying to the master of the house: ìI'm
your nephew, give me my inheritance, and give me your daughter in marriage.î
That's pretty dramatic, but embarrassing
all the same.
With these things in mind, he got to his
It was getting dark.
"Let's have a go through the garden entrance,"
he nudged himself, and pushing open the gate, he stepped into his uncle's
As he neared the house the sound of voices
in the parlor overlooking the garden caught his attention.
Instinctively, he listened and heard the
conversation between Marie-Louise and her father.
Finally, unable to contain himself, he
leapt into the parlor like we saw him do in the preceding chapter.
Bernier was in a state of shock at the
sudden apparition of this proud young man who so boldly called him "Uncle.î
Was it really little Joseph whom he'd thought
long dead, this tall young man, noble and handsome whose big dark honest
eyes were fixed on him with resolve?
It sure was that same look he'd so detested
in the child, that look that seemed to peer deeply into his soul.
His instinct, more than reason, told him
that this young man must in fact be his nephew, and the idea infuriated
"You're an impostor! A cur!" he screamed.
"Get out of here! I order you!"
"Calm down, sir," replied Joe, white with
rage, "or you might regret your words.
ìI don't come here as an enemy.
ìOn the contrary.
ìFor the sake of your daughter whom I love,
and your wife who's been so kind to me, I'd prefer if possible to avoid
taking this to court.
ìIt's up to you to take care of our business
But I must warn you that I've found my
grandmother's last will, the one in which she leaves me all her possessions.î
"It's not true! You're an impostor!" Bernier
screamed again. "Mrs. Champagne only made out one will."
"She made a second when she discovered
your true character. Here it is."
"You're a liar! This will, you've
made it yourself. I tell you, Mrs. Champagne only made out one will
in her life."
"You know very well that's not true," said
a firm, contemptuous voice. Mrs. Bernier who entered that moment
had come out of the state of shock in which her husband had left her upon
her return from the LaPlanteís home. She had been listening at the
door for a few moments.
ìYou know well that when your mother-in-law's
will was read, a notary came forth declaring that he'd prepared a more
recent will than the one we had in hand that moment. However, the
searches had turned up nothing.
ìIt was this will. There's no question
about it, and you'd better give this young man, your nephew, the inheritance
he should have been enjoying for a long time.î
At his wife's words, Bernier made a move
as though to jump at her, but he wavered all at once and fell heavily to
the floor, stricken by an attack of apoplexy.
However, he wasn't dead.
The care he was given brought him back
Still, he was ill a very long time and
ended by losing his mind.
He always thought himself in the cemetery
near the tombs of his victims who appeared to him suddenly, reproaching
him his misdeeds.
He finally became so violent he had to
be placed in the asylum, where he stays to this day.
"It's the judgment of God," said Mrs. Bernier,
Lord, have mercy on his soul.
Joe Allard and Marie-Louise Bernier have
been married for several years.
They set up housekeeping in a charming
village on the south bank of the St. Laurent River, because Joe couldn't
bear the thought of living in Beauport.
Mrs. Bernier lives with them. She's
as happy as she can ever be in this life.
The good people of Beauport never completely
understood exactly what happened in the Bernier household.
The old man LaPlante was one of the most
astonished. He said to himself:
"I thought she was the crazy one, and all
the time, he was the one who was insane. It's very strange affair."
As for the handsome Théophile, he
was somewhat disconcerted, but soon found comfort in courting a pretty
brunette just arrived in the village and finally decided to marry.
It riled the old man because the girl didn't have a cent, but he finally
gave in and his son was pleased.
Our New York friends are always the same.
Mrs. Prévost's charming cottage
suffered the customary demise. In a year it was demolished and the
Prévostís live in a nice flat now, but the good lady always gaining
weight and getting winded more and more often, complains a lot about the
Emma Bonneville isn't married yet despite
an abundance of suitors.
She loved Joe Allard too much to forget
But knowing that he's truly happy, and
that she had something to do with that happiness, has been her sweetest
consolation so far.