A SMALL HILL near Lake Achigan two girls were
gazing into the valley beneath them. Through the
light haze that hung in the air, shot with intense
warmth from the June sun, they could see a figure
in the cultivated patches which broke the undergrowth
of the valley.
was hoeing potatoes. The elder of the two girls
had just said “There he is.” “Who?”
said her companion. “Our father.”
They spoke a wild sort of French, but the heavy,
black hair, dark skin, and vivid black eyes, told
that their Chippewa blood had triumphed.
the younger girl was still gazing with parted
lips, her sister was thinking. Her face betrayed
her thought, for a contemptuous expression changed
to one of moodiness. Suddenly she sprang to her
feet. “Come on,” she said, and began
to descend. They went down the hill-side breaking
their way through raspberry bushes and patches
of sumac. “Where are you going, Epinette?”
asked the younger girl following the impulsive
advance of her sister. Epinette paused instantly.
“I’m going to take him home; don’t
see why he should work always for those Boulays,
Thomasine; he is our father too.”
waited when she reached the edge of the potato
patch. Epinette went on and touched the bending
figure on the shoulder. He turned his whole bulk
around heavily, letting the hoe drop. He gazed
on the girl without a sign of intelligence in
his small eyes. His face was almost covered with
hair. Above the bushy eyebrows, below a mink cap,
water was standing in great beads; it collected
at his temples, rolled into his beard and dropped
upon the front of his shirt and upon the ground.
Epinette caught him by the arm and led him away;
he accompanied her unresistingly as an obedient
child. Thomasine upon the outskirts of the plot,
when she saw them advance, darted amongst the
vines, seized the hoe and followed. As she went
an inspiration seized her; she turned and obliterated
their steps, filling them with the light sandy
this order they proceeded to their home at Lake
Achigan, which lay out of sight in a depression
amid the hills.
who lagged a little in the rear peered curiously
ahead; for as long as she could remember she had
never been so close to her father. With her keen
sense of smell she caught his particular odour,
a mixture of old leather cured in smoke, crude
tobacco, and the wild scent of dried blood and
partridge feathers. She carried the hoe like a
trophy; it shone like silver, worn as it was with
toil and stones.
a sharp descent they found the edge of a clearing
with the bright lake in front, hills on the distant
shores, and a rude shanty.
were greeted with a cry from a young fellow who
sprang into a sitting position where he was lolling.
He was evidently too surprised to utter a word.
Epinette paused and began vehemently as if renewing
a discussion on the propriety of her acts. “Well,
why should he work always for those Boulays, hoeing
potatoes? We have potatoes to hoe. I brought him
off, that’s all.” An older man, attracted
by the sound of the protesting voice, appeared
from the back of the shanty. When he saw the group
which had paused in its marching order, he began
to laugh and leaned against the house shaking
as if all his bones were loosened by his mirth.
A smoky cloud of passion blew across Epinette’s
face; Thomasine began to giggle; the old bear-like
man stood without movement.
can’t you stop laughing? You’re a
fool.” Ambise straightened up and resigned
a plucky one,” he said, coming forward,
“brought over the old man. He hasn’t
been here for fifteen years, eh, Laus?”
take him back again,” said the young fellow
said Epinette, angrily.
be trouble,” he said, “trouble with
do I care?”
might have been less if you hadn’t brought
the hoe,” said Laus.
all looked at Thomasine who dropped her head and
dug in the earth with her toes. The implement
for which she was responsible hung over her shoulder.
As an act of explanation she advanced to the house
side and propped it there beside the native implement
made of black birch with an ash sapling handle,
with which Ambise was wont to labour. He, at least,
received the reason as conclusive, free from all
fear of the Boulays.
with the free impulsive movement of a marauder
and the defiant energy of a young woman who had
stolen her own father, went into the house, leaving
the old man as if her responsibility ceased. Then
Laus rose up and led him to the bench by the wall
which was in the shadow.
Agatha Boulay came over the hill to lead her father
home, she did not find him. He and his hoe had
disappeared. There was no mark of his footsteps;
the earth might have devoured him. After calling
several times she became frightened at the sound
of her voice and dashed out of the potato patch
and on toward home.
years before this incursion it would have been
impossible to lead the old man who now followed
with such apathy the girl who boldly laid hands
upon him. In his youth and middle age Clute Boulay
was a terror, a man who was feared for his strength,
for his lawlessness, and for his passion. He bent
neither to God nor man. He struck with his hands;
he went where he listed; ate what bread he chose.
Frenchman by blood, savage by habit and inclination,
he had not a friend in the settlement nor one
in the camp.
he was a youth he appeared and disappeared, “learnin’
the country”, he said. The winters he would
spend with pelt hunters, deep in the woods; the
summers he would come out to the settlement. But
one winter he spent at the settlement and people
saw that his habits were changing. But it was
not on account of age for he had begun to live
the spring of that year he went right through
the village to the Orphanage where Père
Ambrose cared for the children who were left alone
in the world, and asked him for a wife. The good
Father stared at his demand; he considered; he
looked upon the uncouth figure and thought upon
he asked, “do you not marry a girl from
the village?” Clute Boulay fixed his eyes
on the spotless boards of the floor and replied,
“I, Clute Boulay, want a wife who has no
one to come between.”
said Père Ambrose, “if you want to
marry one of my girls I will ‘come between’.”
Clute Boulay looked up at him and with the savagery
on his face softened, said: “That will be
different, I don’t want them smoking there,
asking all sorts of questions.”
good Père Ambrose thought upon his girls,
and he chose Lucette Laronde, who had no kin in
the world so far as he knew. But before he would
allow the marriage he counselled Lucette and showed
her how she might lead Clute Boulay and have a
wife’s power over him. So they were married,
but the counsels of Père Ambrose were of
no avail; Clute Boulay was still his own master.
To Lucette he was not fierce; he treated her with
kindness. They were together five years continuously.
Then one autumn Clute Boulay showed signs of restlessness.
Lucette had never seen him behave exactly in that
way before. It was the longing of the woods which
had possessed him. He went away without warning
and was absent three years.
he returned, one spring, he seemed quite unchanged
to the observer, but to his wife Lucette he was
different. He would be away from home days together.
One day when she was returning home from picking
the blueberries upon the hills above Lake Achigan,
she discovered the reason. Upon the shore of the
lake where a chopper had built a shanty he had
established himself anew. He had taken to himself
a savage, in the manner of ancient, natural persons,
a daughter of Chief Peau de Chat, of the Chippewas,
“Woman at War” was her name.
Lucette discovered this she went to Père
Ambrose. The good father rose and went in search
of Clute Boulay, knowing that the time had arrived
when he must ‘come between’.
found him in his camp surrounded by the primitive
luxuries. The “Woman at War” had already
small images of Clute Boulay at her knees. Père
Ambrose remonstrated vigorously; Clute Boulay
stood looking at the ground. Finally the priest
said: “I promised you to ‘come between’,
and I must. I made you husband to Lucette; back
to her you go. I will save the soul of this heathen.”
anger overcame Clute Boulay. He seized Père
Ambrose about the waist, shouldered him and carried
him to a point below which rocks broke the waters
of the lake. Over these he held him. Père
Ambrose drew his crucifix and held it up, suspended
as he was between earth and heaven.
would kill you,” snarled Clute Boulay, “even
at the feet of your Christ.”
nevertheless he drew him back and set him on the
rock again and went into the woods. Père
Ambrose, released from peril, attempted to find
“Woman at War”, but she had disappeared
with her covey, like a wary partridge. He related
his failure to Lucette, but advised her to abide
her time patiently. On his way to the Mission
his lips moved to words that sounded like a prophecy.
only result from his visit was that Clute Boulay
called the eldest of his new brood after the man
of God, Ambrose, which speedily became corrupted
the years that followed he went and came as he
pleased, living sometimes in the whitewashed house
within sound of the Mission bells, and sometimes
on the shores of the still lake, surrounded by
sombre spruces, in the bosom of paganism.
in one night his power went from him. When he
was living one winter under the shadow of the
cross, he went into the village to witness the
departure of a train of sleighs, loaded with provisions
for the lumber shanties. There were many drivers
there who hated him, and in the general carousal
which preceded the departure, in which he shared,
an old enemy beat him over the head with a sleigh
stake. For months he was insensible, and he never
afterwards possessed his mind, but moved a great
bulk of strength without volition.
Père Ambrose heard of this occurrence his
lips again were moved to words that sounded like
an ancient prophecy, applicable to the unfolding
circumstances of Clute Boulay’s life.
he was with Lucette at the time of the fight,
he remained there, and gradually was put to some
use in the small plantation which made up the
farm. Until the wild Epinette, overcome with the
injustice of his toil “always for the Boulays”,
led him away captive.
Agatha Boulay rushed in breathless and told of
the disappearance of the old man, her family rose
up and told her she was beside herself, crazy.
never thought of the Peau de Chats, whom they
hated from their childhood, taught by their mother,
Lucette. For days they searched, helped by the
neighbours, but no sign could they discover. Lucette,
who had survived “Woman at War”, said
it was the will of God, and the Boulay family
settled back to work.
the meantime the Peau de Chats were as alert as
a war party, and gradually, as the search failed,
they took their father into the potato patch and
watched him labour for them. Ambise, like a true
Indian, smoked his pipe with infinite satisfaction
and watched the play of the steel hoe amongst
the vines. The old man did not observe much difference,
but his sensations were heightened by the acrid
smoke of the open fire in the caboose, the wild
flavour of those stews which Epinette concocted
in the black pot, and the uneven elasticity of
his bunk covered with spruce poles and marsh hay.
the old days Epinette had been his favourite among
all his children, and still, through his clouded
mind, the old affection seemed to grope. She looked
to his comfort in a rude way, led him out of the
rain, covered him at night, gave him what he liked
best of her primitive cookery. She remembered
him in his lawless days, and she had a perception
of the pathetic in his condition of tyrant in
soon boldness took the place of caution and before
the corn was ripe Clute Boulay was allowed to
sit on the bench in the shadow, when there was
no work for him to do.
it happened that when one of the Boulay cows took
to the woods, Cesar, beating the shore of Lake
Achigan, came suddenly on his father on the other
side of the Indians’ corn patch, and when
Laus went out to bring him in he was not to be
found, being already within sight of the Mission.
Whereupon a fatal anger sprang up in all their
hearts; the Peau de Chats were wild with rage;
and the Boulays could hardly rest; their old hatred
burned up like fire in a dry cedar.
spent all her days watching her opportunity to
carry off her father. At length it came, when
Clute Boulay was led down into the field guarded
by Athanase and Agatha. Down swooped Epinette
like a young eagle, frightened Agatha by a yell,
and clawing Athanase, who clung to her father,
finally overcame her by a blow upon the mouth
which sent her home bleeding.
in the capture there was no chance of concealment,
the person had been taken by force and by wounds.
Swiftly the Boulays began to prepare for a fray
which would humble their enemies, heal the stroke
given to Athanase, and return the old man to his
with the primeval instinct for defence, the Peau
de Chats prepared to resist them. They knew that
it was war and rejoiced thereat.
were equally matched as to numbers. Cesar, ‘Poleon,
Athanase and Agatha of the Boulays; of the Peau
de Chats, Ambise, Laus, Epinette and Thomasine;
Clute Boulay and Lucette on either side were non-combatants.
They were equal in courage and resource; their
mutual hatred was vindictive and consuming.
front of the Peau de Chat shanty was a well-cleared
space stretching about one hundred feet to the
lake. Upon this stage was the vendetta to be satisfied.
was the noon of a September day when Lucette blessed
the banner and watched the small procession file
over the hill. Thomasine, who was on duty as scout,
sank back into the woods like a shadow and fled
to the lake. In an hour the Boulays surrounded
the cabin in a stillness so absolute that the
chatter of a squirrel throwing cones in the lake
from the highest branch of a pine sounded like
was expected by the Boulays that the Peau de Chats
held the small shanty in force, but only Epinette
and Thomasine with Clute Boulay were there. The
hiding place of Ambise was revealed the moment
‘Poleon moved in the bracken, a breathing
motion that would have meant a little sway of
the frond to a less keen eye. A bullet took the
skin off his elbow and sent shattering sensations
from his wrist to his shoulder. Ambise was behind
a giant cedar that leant into the lake. When the
shot broke out Epinette began to scream in a way
to call for scalps and a general massacre; she
also threw open the door and uttered an unintelligible
defiance mingled in two languages.
fell again. Cesar made no sound as he crept like
a snake through the corn waiting for a sight of
Ambise behind the cedar. At length, after minutes
of straining, he saw him crouching there loading
his rifle as cautiously as he could. Small movements
of the corn gave him to Cesar’s eyes, and
then obscured him. He worked his gun into range,
and when the leaves unveiled the swarthy figure
leaped to his feet and fell with his weight against
the cedar; his dead body slid around the tree
and was hidden in the underbrush at its roots.
who was below the cedar under the overhanging
bank, sprang up, bounded across the open space
and into the corn like a panther. ‘Poleon’s
shot at him went into the lake. Not wasting his
breath in a sound, he dashed on brandishing his
knife and was upon Cesar before he could rise
to his feet or club his rifle. There they fought,
rolling in the corn that creaked and clashed about
them; fought while Cesar could keep a grip of
the knife which was constantly slashing him, fought
until the corn could close over him again, hiding
his body where it lay.
was a better shot than either of her brothers,
and from her vantage ground she espied, through
chinks in the wall, Athanase behind the clump
of dwarf cedars. Then she crouched over her rifle,
and when she was sure she fired, sending hate
all the way with the ball.
the cedar there was no movement; but Agatha started
up, half demented at the sight of her sister and
rushed up the path into the woods for home.
success had a strange effect on Epinette; she
ran straight out in the open space before the
house swinging her rifle around her head, shrieking
out a defiant chant. She swirled about like a
column of flame fanned by inner currents of passion.
Her eyes glowed with furious lustre.
his arm still burning from the shock of the ball,
gazed for a moment in stupefaction at this vision
of savage beauty. He felt his gun and hesitated.
Suddenly he glanced over to where Athanase had
been concealed, twenty feet away. If she had not
been injured, she was very still. Suddenly her
hair streaming over the log, hanging down from
her lifeless body, became apparent. He cursed,
and as Epinette’s figure seemed brandished
before him in hate and defiance, he fired.
staggered, dropped the rifle, and fell backwards
through the door of the shanty. Before the smoke
cleared away from ‘Poleon’s eyes,
Laus dashed out upon him from behind the house.
He had thrown away his gun; he was a fighter who
preferred the knife and a close struggle. But
‘Poleon stepped out of the bracken, felt
his feet on the level, clubbed his rifle, and
as the savage leaped upon him he swung it down,
breaking through the guard of his uplifted arm
and crashing into his head. He reeled, tried to
gather his knees under him, but before he fell
another swinging blow drove him to earth. He lay
still amongst the bracken.
Boulay was seated on his bunk facing the smouldering
fire. In the dimness of the place he looked like
some ancient idol; sacred fire before him, and
the smoke of the incense veiling his face. His
hands were upon his knees; on his head a huge
mink cap. He heard the firing dimly, as one hears
sounds under water. Suddenly something pierced
his lethargy. Epinette fell across his knees.
life was slowly leaving her magnificent body.
He felt her hair with his seamed fingers, and
the round of her arm that lay nearest him. He
shook himself and rose up like an awful giant,
placing her gently upon the bunk. He was full
of anger; the sensation which he had last felt
in that old fight, years before, flowed back upon
him, a sensation so strong that his very feeling
seemed mighty enough to break iron.
came out into the light hardly seeing ‘Poleon
except as a mass that approached him. He was coming
to lead him with his hands extended. Closer he
came and closer; Clute Boulay felt him with his
hands; then he knew what to do. He put his arms
around him and crushed him as a bear crushes a
hunter’s dog. Crushed him together and threw
him down like a sack, before ‘Poleon could
summon breath to utter a groan.
Boulay looked down upon him and wondered; then
he went back into the shanty and bore out the
body of Epinette. A little way he carried it sacredly;
then he laid it down and looked upon the earth
as if he would bury it. Thomasine the only living
thing there watched him. Then he wandered about
for a little, coming back to lay his hand upon
her heart and dwelling upon her face as if groping
in his mind for some clue, some explanation.
he rose suddenly and went away, as an animal does
who is satisfied. He went into the deepest forest,
and for a long time he could be heard crashing
though the underbrush. He was never seen again,
not even a trace of him.
at last there was deep silence about the shores
of Lake Achigan; and over came the night with
the lonely sound of night-birds, and stars in
the tranquil heaven looking down at stars in the
years ago that happened, many, many years ago;
but they still remember the words that Père
Ambrose spoke when they told him.
the pure, sorrow will come with night time and
joy in the time of morning; he shall be established;
but though the wicked be strong as a lion his
sin shall abide, and presently he shall be no
more in the desert of his iniquity.”