said Madame Labrosse, quietly, through her tears—"Josephine,
we must set up a little shop."
Said Josephine, with a movement
of despair, "Everyone sets up a little shop."
"True, and what everyone
does we must do."
"But not everyone succeeds,
and ours would be a very little shop."
"There are some other
things we could do."
"Mamma," said Josephine,
"do not dare! Let us set up a little
And accordingly the front room
was cleared out and transformed. What care
they took! How clean it all was when they
were at last ready for customers, even to a diminutive
"My daughter, who will
wait?" asked Madame Labrosse. [Page
"I will wait," answered
Josephine, and she hung her bird in the window,
put the door ajar, and waited.
That was in the early summer,
before the Blanche had forgotten its spring song.
"Mother," said Josephine,
"we belong to the people who do not succeed."
"True!" replied Madame
Labrosse, disconsolately. "But we must
live, and there is the mother," and she cast
her eyes to the corner where her own mother sat,
drawing on her pipe, so dark and withered as to
look like a piece of punk that had caught fire
and was going off in smoke. "But there
are some things we can do."
"Mamma, do not dare!"
But this time Madame Labrosse
dared, and she put on her cloak and went into
the city. When she came back her face was
radiant, but Josephine cried herself to sleep
All this was in the early March,
before the Blanche had learned its spring song.
In truth, if the shopkeeping
had been a failure, was it the fault of Josephine
or Madame Labrosse? Their window was brighter
than other shop-windows, and one would have thought
that people would have come in, if only to look
at the sweet eyes of Josephine and hear her bird
sing. But, no! In vain for months
had the candy hearts and the red-and-white walking-sticks
hung in the window. It was the crumble and
crash of one of these same walking-sticks that
had startled Josephine into the confession that
the shop was not a success. In vain had
[Page 84] Madame Labrosse placed
steaming plates of pork and beans in the window.
Their savour only went up and rested in beads
on the pane, making a veil behind which they could
stiffen and grow cold in protest against an unappreciative
public. In vain she had made latire
golden-brown, crisp, and delicate; it only grew
mealy and unresisting, and Josephine was in danger
of utterly spoiling her complexion by eating it.
"There must be something
wrong with the window," said Madame Labrosse.
"Well, I will walk out
and see," said Josephine, and she came sauntering
past with as little concern as possible.
"Mother, there is nothing
wrong with the window."
"Wait! I will try,"
said Madame Labrosse, and she in turn came sauntering
by. But Josephine had stood in the door,
and her mother, chancing first to catch sight
of her, lost her view of the window in her surprise
at the anxious beauty of her daughter's face.
"Josephine, why did you
stand in the door?" asked her mother, kissing
her on either cheek.
"But the window?"
"Let the fiend fly away
with the window!" said her mother; and Josephine's
bird, catching the defiance of the accent, burst
into a snatch of restless song.
Now that Madame Labrosse had dared so much, Josephine
was not to be outdone, and she commenced to [Page
85] sew. Her mother always went
away early in the morning and came back before
noon, and one day she caught Josephine sewing.
She snatched the work.
"Josephine, do not dare!"
When she next found her at work, she said nothing,
but instead of kissing her cheek, kissed her fingers.
But why was it that trouble
seemed never very far away? Josephine sewed
so hard that she commenced to take stitches in
her side, and of a sudden Madame Labrosse fell
sick—so sick that she could not do her work, and
Josephine had to go to the city with a message.
Her heart beat as she passed the office-doors
covered with strange names; her heart stopped
beating when she came to the right one.
She tapped timidly. Someone called out,
"Come in!" and Josephine pushed open
the door. There was a sudden stir in the
room. The lawyers' clerks looked up, and
then tried to go on with their work. A supercilious
young man minced forward, and Josephine gave her
message. The clerks pretended to write,
but the only one who was working wrote Josephine's
words into a lease that he was drawing—"the
said party of the second part cannot come."
When she went away, he leaned
over the supercilious young man and asked: "Where
did she say she lived?"
"At St. Renard,"
said the young man; at which everyone laughed,
except his inquirer. He sat back in his
chair peering through his glasses at the place
where Josephine had stood. St. Renard—St.
Renard; was there ever such a [Page 86]
saint in the calendar? was there ever
such a suburb to the city? When he left
the office he walked as straight home as he could
go. He kept repeating Josephine's words
to himself: "My mother, Madame Labrosse,
being sick, cannot come; she lives at"—St.
Renard? No, no; not St. Renard. When
he had arrived at the house, where he had boarded
for ten years, he went up to his room, and did
not come down until the next morning. When
he had shut himself in, he commenced to rummage
in his trunk, and at last, after tossing everything
about, he gave a cry of joy and pulled out a flat,
thin book. He spread this out on the table
and turned the leaves. On the first page
were some verses, copied by himself. The
rest of the book was full of silhouettes, cut
from black paper and pasted on the white.
He found a fragment of this paper, and taking
his scissors he commenced to cut it. It
took the form of a face; but, alas! not the face
that was in his mind, and he let it drop in despair.
Then he tried to sleep, but he could not sleep.
Through his head kept running Josephine's message,
and he would hesitate at St. Renard, trying to
remember what she had said. At last he slept
and had a dream. He dreamed that he was
sailing down a stream which grew narrower and
narrower. At last his boat stopped amid
a tangle of weeds and water-lilies. All
around him on the broad leaves was seated a chorus
of frogs, singing out something at the top of
their voices. He listened. Then, little
by little, whatever the word was, it grew more
distinct until one huge fellow opened his mouth
and roared out "VIGER!"
which brought him wide awake. [Page 87]
He repeated the word aloud, and it echoed in his
ears, growing softer and softer until it grew
beautiful enough to fill a place in his recollections
and complete the sentence—"My mother, Madame
Labrosse, being sick, cannot come; she lives at
The next Sunday, Victor dressed
himself with care. He put on a new puce-velvet
coat, which had just come home from the tailor's,
and started for Viger. What he said when
he found Madame Labrosse's he could never distinctly
remember. The first impression he received,
after a return of consciousness, was of a bird
singing very loudly—so loudly that it seemed as
if its cage was his head, and that, in addition
to singing, it was beating against the bars.
He was less nervous the next time he came, and
the oftener he came the more he wondered at the
sweetness of Josephine's face. At last he
grew dumb with admiration.
"He is very quiet, this
Victor of yours."
"Mamma!" said Josephine,
"Does he never say a word?"
"Now, what does he say?"
"Mamma, how can I remember?"
"Well, try, Josephine."
"He said that now the
leaves were on the trees he could not see so far
as he used to. That before, he could see
our house from the Côte Rouge, but not now."
"Well, and what else?"
"Mamma, how can I remember?
He said that the [Page 88] birds
had their nests all built now. He said that
he wondered if any birds boarded out; that he
had boarded out for ten years. Mamma, what
are you laughing at? How cruel!"
"My little José, the dear
timid one is in love."
"Mamma, with whom?"
"How can I tell?
I think he will tell you some day."
But the "some day"
seemed to recede; and all the days of May had
gone and June had begun, and still Josephine did
Victor grew more timid than
ever. Josephine thought a great deal about
his silence, and once her mother caught her blushing
when he chanced to stir in his chair. She
intended to ask her about it, but her memory was
completely unhinged by a letter she received.
It was evidently written with great labour, and
it caused the greatest excitement in the house.
"Mon Dieu!" Madame
Labrosse exclaimed, "François Xavier comes
to dine tomorrow!" And preparations
were at once commenced for the reception of this
François Xavier, who was Madame Labrosse's favourite
His full name was François
Xavier Beaugrand de Champagne. He had just
come down from his winter's work up the river,
and on the morning of the day he was to dine with
his cousin he stood leaning against the brick
wall of a small hotel in the suburbs. The
sunlight was streaming down on him, reflected
up from the pavement and back from the house,
and he basked in the heat with his eyes half shut.
His face was burned to a fiery brown; [Page
89] but as he had just lost his full
beard, his chin was a sort of whitish-blue.
He was evidently dressed with great care, in a
completely new outfit. He appeared as if
forced into a suit of dark-brown cloth; on his
feet he wore a tight pair of low shoes, with high
heels, and red socks; his arms protruded from
his coat-sleeves, showing a glimpse of white cuffs
and a flash of red under-clothes. His necktie
was a remarkable arrangement of red and blue silks
mixed with brass rings. On his head he wore
a large, gum-coloured, soft felt hat. He
had little gold ear-rings in his ears, and a large
ring on his finger. As he leaned against
the wall he had thrust his fingers into his pockets,
and the sun had eased him into a sort of gloomy
doze; for he knew he had to go to Madame Labrosse's
for dinner, and he was not entirely willing to
leave his pleasures in the first flush of their
novelty. He had made arrangements to break
away from the restraint early in the evening,
which softened his displeasure somewhat; but when
his friends came for him he was loath to go.
How beautiful Josephine had
grown, how kind that cousin was, and how quickly
the time went—now dinner,
now tea; and who is this that comes in after tea?
This is Victor Lucier. And who is this that
sits so cheerfully, filling half the room with
his hugeness? This is François
Xavier Beaugrand de Champagne; he has just returned.
Just returned! Just returned from where?
What right has he to return? Who is this
François Xavier, who returns suddenly and fills
the whole room? Can it be so? A vague
feeling of jealousy springs up in Victor.
Can this [Page 90] be the one
of Josephine's choosing? Yes, true it is;
he calls her José. José, just like
But he is going now, and
he is very loath to go; but he will be back some
day soon, and off he goes. And by and by
away goes Madame Labrosse, "just for a moment,"
she says. They are alone now as they have
never been before. Josephine sits with the
blood coming into her face, wondering what Victor
will say. Victor also wonders what he will
Josephine's bird gives a
faint, sleepy twitter. They both look up,
then he hops down from his perch and pecks at
his seed-font. Suddenly he gives a few sharp
cries, as if to try his voice. They both
start to their feet. Now he commences to
sing. What a burst of rapture! In
a moment Josephine is in Victor's arms, her cheek
is against the velvet coat. Is it her own
heart she hears, or is it Victor's? No need
of words now. How the bird sings!
High and clear he shakes out his song in a passionate
burst, as if all his life were for love.
And they seem to talk together in sweet unsaid
words until he ceases. Now they are seated
on the sofa, and Madame Labrosse comes in.
"Mamma, how can I help
it?" and the tears of joy creep out on her
Suddenly the grandmother,
catching sight, through her half-blind eyes, of
Victor and Josephine on the sofa, cries out and
menaces him with her shrivelled fist, when they
all rush upon her with kisses and pacify her with
And now, what is this noise
that breaks the quiet? [Page 91]
It is a wild song from the street, echoing in
the room. There is a shout, and a cab draws
up at the door. It is François Xavier, returned
for the second time. He stands swaying in
the middle of the floor. There is a vinous
lustre in his eyes. His coat is thrown back
from his shoulder. Someone has been dancing
on his hat, for it is all crushed and dusty.
He mutters the words of the song which the chorus
is roaring outside—"C'est dans la vill' de
Bytown." Madame Labrosse implores him
with words to come some other time. Josephine
implores him with her eyes, clinging to Victor,
who has his arm around her. But François
Xavier stands unimpressed. Suddenly he makes
an advance on Josephine, who retreats behind Victor.
"Scoundrel! base one,"
calls out Victor, "leave the house, or I
myself will put you out!" François
Xavier gazes for a moment on the little figure
peering at him so fiercely through his spectacles.
Then, as the chorus lulls for a moment, a smile
of childish tenderness mantles all his face, and
with the gesture of a father reclaiming his long-lost
son he stretches his arms toward Victor.
He folds him to his breast, and, lifting him from
the floor, despite his struggles he carries him
out into the night, where the chorus bursts out
anew—"C'est dans la vill' de
It is late when Victor at last
escapes, and hears them go roaring away as he
flees, hatless, through the fields to his home.
It is still later when he falls asleep, overcome
by excitement and the stimulants which have been
administered [Page 92] to him;
and through his feverish dreams runs the sound
of singing, of Josephine's voice, inexpressibly
sweet and tender, like the voice of a happy angel,
but the song that she sings is—"C'est dans
la vill' de Bytown." [Page 93]