At the Mermaid Inn

The Globe, Toronto: May 13, 1893


Sister Ste. Colombe.

       The man was sick and wasted, and he looked as if he was not far from death. Tertulien stopped running away, and commenced to take a great interest in him. "Look, here," said he, "have you got a knife? I know you haven't, because I've got it," pulling it out of his pocket. "You dropped it when you were coming in. Do you want it back? Look here, did your mother ever whip you for running off?" The man stirred under the coverlet.
       "My sister tells on me sometimes; that little girl that comes in here; did your sister ever tell on you?" The man never answered; he brought his arms over his chest and drew them tight. "I don't mind that," said Tertulien. "How yellow you are, and your face is full of holes. Why aren't you fat, like me? You're just like old Pierre Moreau. Perhaps Sister Ste. Colombe might come and take care of you if you haven't been bad?"
       The child prattled on, the man watching him with dull eyes, but never speaking. He had not opened his lips since he came in. He kept his teeth clenched so that the muscles of his jaws stood out under his skin. He lay propped up by the back of a chair with a pillow for his head. He never seemed to sleep.
       Madame Dorion sent for the cure, but the man hardly looked at him. He would not answer the questions; the grip of his hands and jaws only got a trifle tighter. Father Campeau sat down beside him quietly, and stayed for an hour; neither he nor the man spoke. The neighbors came by in twos and threes to look and wonder at him. The women were half frightened at his grimness and his silence. Tertulien brought in all the neighbors' children one by one and exhibited him to them. "See his eyes," said Tertulien; "this is his knife, he gave it to me; you needn't be afraid. He can't speak, but he's a good old man."
       The third day Tertulien was alone with him, when he raised his arms, and waved them about in the air. Then they dropped on the coverlet, his eyelids sank, he seemed to sleep. His breathing was gentle and regular, his eyes were not quite shut, his hands had relaxed by his side. Tertulien crept up close to him; he had never seen him asleep before, and he peered into his face. The man commenced to talk, in his waking doze. He saw Tertulien. "You are brave, go and see for yourself. Any one will show you the way. The house has a gable and there is a dove-cote in the yard."
       Tertulien was afraid to move; he was fascinated by the gleam through the half-shut lids. "There is no need for so much noise. Good-bye, we say, and we never come back." Then the eyes shut and the man slept. He slept soundly, and when Tertulien came back he had slipped away from the chair and pillow. He went and told his mother. She stooped over the sleeper to raise him. The rough shirt was open. She noticed a sort of little hollow on his breast, chaffed and callous, where something must have pressed; slipping out of sight down his side was a leather cord. She raised him gently and smoothed the hair back from his forehead.
       That night, when the sun had commenced to go down, the man woke. Tertulien had just come in and was standing close to him. He reached out his hand suddenly and caught the little boy by the arm and drew him close. Then he kissed him once firmly and let him go. Tertulien did not move; he threw his arms about the man's neck and gave him a child's kiss, full on the lips. Then such a strange look stole across the warn face, that Tertulien in fear ran for his mother.
       "Mon Dieu," she said, "run, run for someone." Tertulien ran to the door and his mother hurried after him. "Run, Tertulien; call Sister Ste. Colombe." She was coming up the street with a bowl in her hands. The sunlight had glorified everything about her; even the bowl that she held was gilded. Her wan, transparent face shone beneath her wimple. Sparrows fluttered across her path. Tertulien, half abashed, could only point to the door where his mother stood, and Sister Ste. Colombe hurried on. Madame Dorion went back to prepare the man. She found him with his head resting on the floor, and, with a cry, she knelt behind him, raising his head and letting it rest in the hollow of her hands. Sister Ste. Colombe was coming along the passage. She put down her bowl. Tertulien was pulling at her dress. She reached the door. She saw Madame Dorion holding up the half-dead face. She tottered and sank down, holding her hands to her side. One sharp pang seemed to cross her face, her lips moved. Tertulien, who was lingering at the door, heard some half-articulated name, and the look of pain was transfigured to a smile of ineffable peace.
       "Jesu, pity us," cried Madame Dorion, but added softly, as she dropped her eyes to the head in her hands, and caught the light that shone from the face, "Hush, hush; he has seen heaven."
       Outside the last light lingered in the sky. The vesper bell rang softly from St. Joseph's. The disturbed swallows, eddying far into the glow, swept round the steeple, their sharp twitterings seeming to fall from each bell-stroke like a shower of sparks from a whirling torch; until the ringing ceased and they slipped one by one into their vibrating nests. Then the drowsy hum of the bell faded off, with the waning light, leaving the night voiceless and dim.
       And Sister Ste. Colombe?
       She was in very truth a good angel of God.

       If it be true that the Democratic and Republican spirit is doomed in the neighboring republic, owing to the rapid absorption of the middle classes into the very rich or the very poor, it is time that our neighbors began to consider the form of aristocratic government they would prefer. As long as there is the usual accompaniment of pomp and titles, the wealthy classes will care very little. Some may look upon this matter as a joke, but the love of personal grandeur and family distinctions has long permeated the classes outside the four hundred. To-day conventionality rules the world; there is no ordinary family in the States, Canada, or England that would refuse ennoblement of some sort. The large number of American heiresses who have placed millions in the scale against a worn-out or impoverished lordling have proved the theory to be true. It is all very well to say this only represents the wealthy classes, but as the poorer classes depend largely on the wealthy for their living, they are likely to grow more and more subservient for the sake of material gain, and will be quite willing to pander to the aristocratic tendency so long as their personal interests are ensured. If all this tendency be on the increase, and it be necessary for Columbia to choose a sovereign of some sort to act as crowned head, she could not do better than choose the duke of Veragua, the lineal descendant of the one man who ever had any right claim of sovereignty over this continent. This gentleman, who has been closely associated with all the recent celebration display at Chicago and New York, would probably make as good a figure-head ruler as any crowned head of modern days. He is of noble blood and had the great discoverer 400 years behind him as an impressive background to begin on. Then those wealthy families who have already bought up the most of the junk shop duchies and earldoms that Europe has to spare might bargain with the old world governments for the sole right of the patent. This would give the Columbian empire or monarchy as decent a nobility, as far as numbers and wealth go, as could be found anywhere. This idea might also be a new inducement to Canada in the direction of annexation, doing away with the objection many would have to a change in the form of government, and might obviate the difficulty where a knighthood or a C.M.G. might stand between a man and his natural inclinations. I throw out this stray idea as a hint. It is not copyrighted, and the only compensation I would ask of our Columbian friends in case they might at some future time adopt my idea is that they kindly forbear from associating my memory with the suggestion.

       Although a great deal of the glory has departed from Boston, it yet remains and will remain a city of much intellectual importance and much individuality of character. There is still in Boston something which suggests the capacity to originate great intellectual and spiritual movements, a thing which can hardly be said, so far as I know, of any other American city. Emerson, Lowell, Hawthorne, Channing, Longfellow and Whittier are gone, and there are no great personalities to take their place, but they have implanted in the heart of the city that shared their fame the vital seed of their spirit. In its multitude of sweet and serious minds it carries on the tradition of high thought and noble purpose given by them. There is great good, great seriousness, great humanity, in Boston, and it may be that when the social movement, which the increasing strain of the present condition of things is bringing daily nearer, really begins, it will proceed from Boston, just as the anti-slavery movement did forty years ago. In Boston, even in our day, there is very little of the exaggerated luxury and display which disgrace the wealthy classes of New York, and make the observer tremble for the possible outcome of so colossal a madness, so reckless a taunt flung in the faces of the millions whom their huge fortunes leave destitute. I am told that among the richest and oldest circles in Boston there are many people, first and foremost the women, who set aside the vanities of dress and appearance, with an almost Spartan scorn, and that these persons may generally be known by the bareness and simplicity of their garb and manner. With these sensitive and delicate-minded people the very possession of inordinate wealth seems a reproach, and the continual spectacle of human suffering, together with the consciousness of the great difficulty of properly relieving it, breeds in them a sort of melancholy and restlessness, which is becoming one of the hopeful signs of our time.

       I have been wandering recently about the streets of Boston. It appeared to me at first that the people whom I saw were thinner and paler than the people of our Canadian cities, a feebler and wearier generation; but when I came in contact with some of them personally I found myself mistaken. I perceived that there was a degree of strength and energy in them which was not at first evident. What I had noted simply amounted to this: that the aspect of the average Boston face was less robust and more keenly intellectual than the average Toronto or Montreal face. There is a greater quietness and seriousness in the look and bearing of the Bostonian than in that of the Canadian, and there is also, it seems to me, a tenderer kindliness and a quicker sympathy. This must necessarily be so, for he is in the midst of a sweeter culture, breathing a wider intellectual air. The Boston young man of the better sort, for instance, has less exuberant gaiety, developing often into horse-play, than the average Canadian young gentleman, but he has more ideas, he feels deeper, he is more companionable for a thinking man. If what I learned is true, he is also a purer and more wholesome specimen of the race. He has in fact reached a higher level of development. The Boston women are brave, clever, independent, and they show it in the grace and freedom, and I had almost said majesty, of their bearing. I admire this bearing, different as it is from the fine manner of the English or older-fashioned Canadian women. The grace and freedom which we perceive in the bearing of English or Canadian women generally has its source in the consciousness of superior culture and position; in American women it springs from the sense of their own independence, of their own fearlessness, of their own self-control. It is democratic and founded, like every beautiful thing, upon a true and indestructible principle. Something of this fine grace and dignity we are beginning to see in our own women of the young generation, and for the same reason they are being democratized, they are entering consciously upon a new and nobler life—a life of unlimited activities.

       To the eye Boston is one of the most interesting of American cities. In the variety of its architecture, the peculiarity of its situation, the narrowness, crookedness and irregularity of its streets in the more crowded parts, the curious remnants of age to be frequently met with, the beauty of its great Central park, the common and the adjoining public gardens, it has abundant charm for the stranger, accustomed to the desperate neatness and uniformity of more recent cities. The roar and confusion at midday in the narrow and winding thoroughfares of its congested business portion are a joy to the heart of the loafer, and the unintelligible complexity of its street railway system is enough to turn the head of the stranger who has a number of places to go to, and wants to reach them in a hurry. Boston is said by some people to be a very expensive place to live in; by others to be a comparatively cheap one. The dearness or cheapness of it in reality depends upon one's knowledge of the city and skill in shopping.