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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFort Amity - Chapter 10. Boisveyrac
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Fort Amity - Chapter 10. Boisveyrac Post by :alwee Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur Thomas Quiller-couch Date :May 2012 Read :649

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Fort Amity - Chapter 10. Boisveyrac

CHAPTER X. BOISVEYRAC

Along the river-front of Boisveyrac, on the slopes between the stone walls of the Seigniory and the broad St. Lawrence, Dominique Guyon, the Seigneur's farmer, strode to and fro encouraging the harvesters.

"Work, my children! Work!"

He said it over and over again, using the words his father had always used at this season. But the harvesters--old Damase Juneau and his wife La Marmite, Jo Lagasse, the brothers Pierre and Telesphore Courteau, with Telesphore's half-breed wife Leelinau (Lelie, in French)--all knew the difference in tone. It had been worth while in former times to hear old Bonhomme Guyon say the words, putting his heart into them, while the Seigneur himself would follow behind, echoing, "Yes, that is so. Work, my children: work is the great cure!" But Bonhomme Guyon was dead these two months--rest his soul; and the Seigneur gone up the river to command a fortress for the King of France; and no one left at Boisveyrac but themselves and half a dozen militiamen and this young Dominique Guyon, who would not smile and was a skinflint.

It was as if the caterpillars had eaten the mirth as well as the profits out of this harvest which (if folks said true) the Seigneur needed so badly. Even the children had ceased to find it amusing, and had trooped after the priest, Father Launoy, up the hill and into the courtyard of the Chateau.

"Work, my friends!" said Dominique. He knew well that they detested him and would have vastly preferred his brother Bateese for overseer. For his part, he took life seriously: but no one was better aware of the bar between him and others' love or liking.

They respected him because he was the best _canotier on the river; a better even than his malformed brother Bateese, now with the army. When he drew near they put more spirit into their pitchforking.

"But all the same it breaks the back, this suspense," declared La Marmite. "I never could work with more than one thing in my mind. Tell us, Dominique Guyon: the good Father will be coming out soon, will he not?--that is, if he means to shoot the falls before sunset."

"What can it matter to you, mother?"

"Matter? Why if he doesn't come soon, I shall burst myself with curiosity, that is all!"

"But you know all that can be told. There has been a great victory, for certain."

"Eh? Eh? You are clever enough, doubtless; but you don't think you can question and cross-question a man the way that Father Launoy does it? Why the last time I confessed to him he turned me upside down and emptied me like a sack."

"There has been a great victory: that is all we need to know. Work, my friends, work with a good heart!"

But when his back was turned they drew together and talked, glancing now towards the Seigniory above the slope, now towards the river bank where a couple of tall Etchemin Indians stood guard beside a canoe, and across the broad flood to the woods on the farther shore stretching away southward in a haze of blue. Down in the south there, far beyond the blue horizon, a battle had been fought and a great victory won.

Jo Lagasse edged away towards Corporal Chretien, who kept watch, musket in hand, on the western fringe of the clearing. Harvests at Boisveyrac had been gathered under arms since time out of mind, with sentries posted far up the shore and in the windmill behind the Seigniory, to give warning of the Iroquois. To-day the corporal and his men were specially alert, and at an alarm the workers would have plenty of time to take shelter within the gateway of the Chateau.

"Well, it seems that we may all lift up our hearts. The English are done for, and next season there is to be a big stamping-out of the Iroquois."

"Who told you that, Jo Lagasse?"

"Everyone is saying it. Pierre Courteau has even some tale that two thousand of them were slaughtered after the battle yonder-- Onnontagues and Agniers for the most part. At this rate you idlers will soon be using your bayonets to turn the corn with the rest of us."

"Yes; that's right--call us idlers! And the Iroquois known to be within a dozen miles! You would sing to another tune, my friend, if we idlers offered to march off and leave you just now." The corporal swung round on his thin legs and peered into the belt of trees.

Jo Lagasse grinned.

"No, no, corporal; I was jesting only. To think of me undervaluing the military! Why often and often, as a single man with no ties, I have fancied myself enlisting. But now it will be too late."

"If M. de Montcalm has really swallowed the English," answered the other drily, "it will be too late, as you say."

"But these English, now--I have always had a curiosity to see them. Is it true, corporal, that they have faces like devils, and that he who has the misfortune to be killed by one will assuredly rise the third day? The priests say so."

Corporal Chretien had never actually confronted his country's foes. "Much would depend," he answered cautiously, "upon circumstances, and upon what you mean by a devil."

While Jo Lagasse scratched his head over this, the wicket opened in the great gate of the Seigniory, and Father Launoy came forth with a troop of children at his heels. The harvesters crowded about him at once.

He lifted a hand. He was a tall priest and square-shouldered, with the broad brow and set square chin of a fighting man.

"My children," he announced in a voice clear as a bell, "it is certain there has been a great battle at Fort Carillon. The English came on, four to one, gnashing their teeth like devils of the pit. But the host of the faithful stood firm and overcame them, and now they are flying southward whence they came. Let thanks be given to God who giveth us the victory!"

The men bared their heads.

"When I met 'Polyte Latulippe and young Damase on my way down the river, I could scarcely believe their tale. But the Ojibway puts it beyond doubt; and the few answers I could win from the wounded sergeant all confirm the story."

"His name, Father?" asked La Marmite. "We can get nothing out of Dominique Guyon, who keeps his tongue as close as his fist."

"His name is a Clive, and he is of the regiment of Beam. He has come near to death's door, poor fellow, and still lies too near to it for talking. But I think he is strong enough to bear carrying up to Fort Amitie, where the Seigneur--who, by the way, sends greeting to you all--"

"And our salutations go back to him. Would he were here to-day to see the harvest carried!"

"The Seigneur, having heard what 'Polyte and Damase have to tell, will desire to hear more of this glorious fight. For myself, I must hasten down to Montreal, where I have a message to deliver, and perhaps I may reach there with these tidings also before the boats, which are coming up by way of the Richelieu. Therefore I am going to borrow Dominique Guyon of you, to pilot me down through the Roches Fendues. And talking of Dominique"--here the Jesuit laid a hand on the shoulder of the young man, who bent his eyes to the ground-- "you complain that he is close, eh? How often, my children, must I ask you to judge a brother by his virtues? To which of you did it occur, when these men came, to send 'Polyte and Damase up to Fort Amitie with their news? No one has told me: yet I will wager it was Dominique Guyon. Who sat up, the night through, with this wounded stranger? Dominique Guyon. Who has been about the field all day, as though to have missed a night's sleep were no excuse for shirking the daily task? Dominique Guyon. Again, to whom do I turn now to steer me down the worst fall in the river? To Dominique Guyon. He will arrive back here to-night tired as a dog, but once more at daybreak it will be Dominique who sets forth to carry the wounded man up to Fort Amitie. And why? Because, when a thing needs to be done well, he is to be trusted; you would turn to him then and trust him rather than any of yourselves, and you know it. Do you grumble, then, that the Seigneur knows it? I say to you that a man is born thus, or thus; responsible or not responsible; and a man that is born responsible, though he add pound to pound and field to field, is a man to be thankful for. Moreover, if he keep his own counsel, you may go to him at a pinch with the more certainty that he will keep yours."

"What did I tell you?" whispered La Marmite to Jo Lagasse, who had joined the little crowd. "The Father's eye turns you inside out: he knows how we have been grumbling all day. But all the same," she added aloud, "he is young and ought to laugh."

"I have told you," said Father Launoy, "that you should judge a man by his virtues: but, where that is hard, at least you should judge him by help of your own pity. All this day Dominique has been copying his dead father; and the same remembrance that has been to him a sorrowful incitement, has been to you but food for uncharitable thoughts. If I am not saying the truth, correct me."

They were silent. The priest had a great gift of personal talk, straight and simple; and treated them as brothers and sisters of a family, holding up the virtues of this one, or the faults of that, to the common gaze. They might not agree with this laudation of Dominique: but no one cared to challenge it at the risk of finding himself pilloried for public laughter. Father Launoy knew all the peccadilloes of this small flock, and had a tongue which stripped your clothes off--to use an expression of La Marmite's.

They followed him down to the shore where the Etchemins held the canoe ready. There they knelt, and he blessed them before embarking. Dominique stepped on board after him, and the two Indians took up their paddles.

Long after the boat had been pushed off and was speeding down the broad waterway, the harvesters stood and watched it. The sunset followed it, gleaming along its wake and on its polished quarter, flashing as the paddles rose and dipped; until it rounded the corner by Bout de l'lsle, where the rapids began.

The distant voice of these rapids filled the air with its humming; but their ears were accustomed to it and had ceased to heed. Nor did they mark the evening croak of the frogs alongshore among the reed beds, until Jo Lagasse imitated it to perfection.

"To work, my children!" he croaked. "Work is the only cure!"

They burst out laughing, and hurried back to gather the last load before nightfall.

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