Baptiste Larocque peered again into her cupboard and
her flour barrel, as though she might have been mistaken
in her inspection twenty minutes earlier.
“No, there is nothing,
nothing at all!” said she to her old mother-in-law.
“And no more trust at the store. Monsieur
Conolly was too cross when I went for corn-meal yesterday.
For sure, Baptiste stays very long at the shanty this
“Fear nothing, Delima,”
answered the bright-eyed old woman. “The
good God will send a breakfast for the little ones,
and for us. In seventy years I do not know Him
to fail once, my daughter. Baptiste may be back
to-morrow, [Page 125] and with more
money for staying so long. No, no; fear not, Delima!
Le bon Dieu manages all for the best.”
“That is true; for so
I have heard always,” answered Delima, with conviction;
“but sometimes le bon Dieu requires one’s
inside to pray very loud. Certainly I trust, like
you, Memere; but it would be pleasant if He
would send the food the day before.”
“Ah, you are too anxious,
like little Baptiste here,” and the old woman
glanced at the boy sitting by the cradle. “Young
folks did not talk so when I was little. Then we did
not think there was danger in trusting Monsieur
le Curé when he told us to take no heed
of the morrow. But now! to hear them talk,
one might think they had never heard of le bon Dieu.
The young people think too much, for sure. Trust
in the good God, I say. Breakfast and dinner and
supper too we shall all have to-morrow.”
replied the boy, who was [Page 126]
called little Baptiste to distinguish him from his father.
“Le bon Dieu will send an excellent breakfast,
sure enough, if I get up very early, and find some good
doré (pickerel) and catfish on the night-line.
But if I did not bait the hooks, what then? Well,
I hope there will be more to-morrow than this morning,
“There were enough,”
said the old woman, severely. “Have we not
had plenty all day, Delima?”
Delima made no answer.
She was in doubt about the plenty which her mother-in-law
spoke of. She wondered whether small André
and Odillon and ’Toinette, whose heavy breathing
she could hear through the thin partition, would have
been sleeping so peacefully had little Baptiste not
divided his share among them at supper-time, with the
excuse that he did not feel very well?
Delima was young yet,—though
little Baptiste was such a big boy,—and would
have rested fully on the positively expressed trust
of her [Page 127] mother-in-law, in
spite of the empty flour barrel, if she had not suspected
little Baptiste of sitting there hungry.
However, he was such a strange
boy, she soon reflected, that perhaps going empty did
not make him feel bad! Little Baptiste was so
decided in his ways, made what in others would have
been sacrifices so much as a matter of course, and was
so much disgusted on being offered credit or sympathy
in consequence, that his mother, not being able to understand
him, was not a little afraid of him.
He was not very formidable in
appearance, however, that clumsy boy of fourteen or
so, whose big freckled, good face was now bent over
the cradle where la petite Seraphine lay smiling
in her sleep, with soft little fingers clutched round
his rough one.
“For sure,” said
Delima, observing the baby’s smile, “the
good angels are very near. I wonder what they
are telling her?”
“Something about her father,
of course; for [Page 128] so I have
always heard it is when the infants smile in sleep,”
answered the old woman.
Little Baptiste rose impatiently
and went into the sleeping-room. Often the simplicity
and sentimentality of his mother and grandmother gave
him strange pangs at heart; they seemed to be the children,
while he felt very old. They were always looking
for wonderful things to happen, and expecting the saints
and le bon Dieu to help the family out of difficulties
that little Baptiste saw no way of overcoming without
the work which was then so hard to get. His mother’s
remark about the angels talking to little Seraphine
pained him so much that he would have cried had he not
felt compelled to be very much of a man during his father’s
If he had been asked to name
the spirit hovering about, he would have mentioned a
very wicked one as personified in John Conolly, the
village storekeeper, the vampire of the little hamlet
a quarter of a mile distant. Conolly [Page
129] owned the tavern too, and a sawmill up
river, and altogether was a very rich, powerful, and
dreadful person in little Baptiste’s view.
Worst of all, he practically owned the cabin and lot
of the Larocques, for he had made big Baptiste give
him a bill of sale of the place as security for groceries
to be advanced to the family while its head was away
in the shanty; and that afternoon Conolly had said to
little Baptiste that the credit had been exhausted,
“No; you can’t get
any pork,” said the storekeeper. “Don’t
your mother know that, after me sending her away when
she wanted corn-meal yesterday? Tell her she don’t
get another cent’s worth here.”
“For why not? My
fader always he pay,” said the indignant boy,
trying to talk English.
“Yes, indeed! Well,
he ain’t paid this time. How do I know what’s
happened to him, as he ain’t back from the shanty?
Tell you what: I’m going to turn you all
out if your mother don’t pay rent in advance for
the shanty to-morrow,—four dollars a month.”
“What you talkin’
so for? We doan’ goin pay no rent for our
“You doan’ goin’
to own no house,” answered Conolly, mimicking
the boy. “The house is mine any time I like
to say so. If the store bill ain’t paid
to-night, out you go to-morrow, or else pay rent.
Tell your mother that for me. Mosey off now.
‘Marche, donc!’ There’s
no other way.”
Little Baptiste had not told
his mother of this terrible threat, for what was the
use? She had no money. He knew that she
would begin weeping and wailing, with small André
and Odillon as a puzzled, excited chorus, with ’Toinette
and Seraphine adding those baby cries that made little
Baptiste want to cry himself; with his grandmother steadily
advising, in the din, that patient trust in le bon
Dieu which he could not always entertain, though
he felt very wretched that he could not.
Moreover, he desired to spare
his mother and grandmother as long as possible.
“Let [Page 131] them have their
good night’s sleep,” said he to himself,
with such thoughtfulness and pity as a merchant might
feel in concealing imminent bankruptcy from his family.
He knew there was but one chance remaining,—that
his father might come home during the night or next
morning, with his winter’s wages.
Big Baptiste had “gone
up” for Rewbell to jobber; had gone in November,
to make logs in the distant Petawawa woods, and now
the month was May. The “very magnificent”
pig he had salted down before going away had been eaten
long ago. My! what a time it seemed now to little
Baptiste since that pig-killing! How good the
boudin (the blood-puddings) has been, and the
liver and tender bits, and what a joyful time they had
had! The barrelful of salted pike and catfish
was all gone too,—which made the fact that fish
were not biting well this year very sad indeed.
Now on top of all these troubles
this new danger of being turned out on the roadside!
[Page 132] For where are they to get
four dollars, or two, or one even, to stave Conolly
off? Certainly his father was away too long; but
surely, surely, thought the boy, he would get back in
time to save his home! Then he remembered with
horror, and a feeling of being disloyal to his father
for remembering, that terrible day, three years before,
when big Baptiste had come back from his winter’s
work drunk, and without a dollar, having been robbed
while on a spree in Ottawa. If that were the reason
of his father’s delay now, ah, then there would
be no hope, unless le bon Dieu should indeed
work a miracle for them!
While the boy thought over the
situation with fear, his grandmother went to her bed,
and soon afterward Delima took the little Seraphine’s
cradle into the sleeping-room. That left little
Baptiste so lonely that he could not sit still; nor
did he see any use of going to lie awake in bed by André
So he left the cabin softly,
and reaching the [Page 133] river with
a few steps, pushed off his flat-bottomed boat, and
was carried smartly up stream by the shore eddy.
It soon gave him to the current, and then he drifted
idly down under the bright moon, listening to the roar
of the long rapid, near the foot of which their cabin
stood. Then he took to his oars, and rowed to
the end of his night-line, tied to the wharf.
He had an unusual fear that it might be gone, but found
it all right, stretched taut; a slender rope, four hundred
feet long, floated here and there far away in the darkness
by flat cedar sticks,—a rope carrying short bits
of line, and forty hooks, all loaded with excellent
fat, wriggling worms.
That day little Baptiste had
taken much trouble with his night-line; he was proud
of the plentiful bait, and now, as he felt the tightened
rope with his fingers, he told himself that his well-filled
hooks must attract plenty of fish,—perhaps
a sturgeon! Wouldn’t that be grand?
A big sturgeon of seventy-five pounds! [Page
He pondered the Ottawa statement
that “there are seven kinds of meat on the head
of a sturgeon,” and enumerating the kinds, fell
into a conviction that one sturgeon at least would surely
come to his line. Had not three been caught in
one night by Pierre Mallette, who had no sort of claim,
who was too lazy to bait more than half his hooks, altogether
too wicked to receive any special favors from le
Little Baptiste rowed home,
entered the cabin softly, and stripped for bed, almost
happy in guessing what the big fish would probably weigh.
Putting his arms around little
André, he tried to go to sleep; but the threats
of Conolly came to him with new force, and he lay awake,
with a heavy dread in his heart.
How long he had been lying thus
he did not know, when a heavy step came upon the plank
outside the door.
cried little Baptiste, springing to the floor as the
door opened. [Page 135]
“Baptiste! my own Baptiste!”
cried Delima, putting her arms around her husband as
he stood over her.
“Did I not say,”
said the old woman, seizing her son’s hand, “that
the good God would send help in time?”
Little Baptiste lit the lamp.
Then they saw something in the father’s face that
startled them all. He had not spoken, and now
they perceived that he was haggard, pale, wild-eyed.
“The good God!”
cried big Baptiste, and knelt by the bed, and bowed
his head on his arms, and wept so loudly that little
André and Odillon, wakening, joined his cry.
“Le bon Dieu has forgotten us!
For all my winter’s work I have not one dollar!
The concern is failed. Rewbell paid not one cent
of wages, but ran away, and the timber has been seized.”
Oh, the heartbreak! Oh,
poor Delima! poor children! and poor little
Baptiste, with the threats of Conolly rending his heart!
“I have walked all day,”
said the father, [Page 136] “and
eaten not a thing. Give me something, Delima.”
“O holy angels!”
cried the poor woman, breaking into a wild weeping.
“O Baptiste, Baptiste, my poor man! There
is nothing; not a scrap, not any flour, not meal, not
grease even; not a pinch of tea!” but still she
searched frantically about the rooms.
“Never mind,” said
big Baptiste then, holding her in his strong arms.
“I am not so hungry as tired, Delima, and I can
The old woman, who had been
swaying to and fro in her chair of rushes, rose now,
and laid her aged hands on the broad shoulders of the
“My son Baptiste,”
she said, “you must not say that God has forgotten
us, for He has not forgotten us. The hunger is
hard to bear, I know,—hard, hard to bear; but
great plenty will be sent in answer to our prayers.
And it is hard, hard to lose thy long winter’s
work; but be patient, my son, and thankful, yes, thankful
for all thou hast. [Page 137]
“Behold, Delima is well
and strong. See the little Baptiste, how much
a man! Yes, that is right; kiss the little André
and Odillon; and see! how sweetly ’Toinette
sleeps! All strong and well, son Baptiste!
Were one gone, think what thou wouldst have lost!
But instead, be thankful for behold, another has been
given,—the little Seraphine here, that thou hast
not before seen!”
Big, rough, soft-hearted Baptiste
knelt by the cradle, and kissed the babe gently.
“It is true, Memere,”
he answered, “and I thank le bon Dieu
for his goodness to me.”
But little Baptiste, lying wide
awake for hours afterwards, was not thankful.
He could not see that matters could be much worse.
A big hard lump was in his throat as he thought of his
father’s hunger, and the home-coming so different
from what they had fondly counted on. Great slow
tears came into the boy’s eyes, and he wiped them
away, ashamed even in the dark to have been guilty of
such weakness. [Page 138]
In the gray dawn little Baptiste
suddenly awoke, with the sensation of having slept on
his post. How heavy his heart was! Why?
He sat dazed with indefinite sorrow. As, now he
remembered! Conolly threatening to turn them out!
and his father back penniless! No breakfast!
Well, we must see about that.
Very quietly he rose, put on
his patched clothes, and went out. Heavy mist
covered the face of the river, and somehow the rapid
seemed stilled to a deep, pervasive murmur. As
he pushed his boat off, the morning fog was chillier
than frost about him; but his heart got lighter as he
rowed toward his night-line, and he became even eager
for the pleasure of handling his fish. He made
up his mind not to be much disappointed if there were
no sturgeon, but could not quite believe there would
be none; surely it was reasonable to expect one,
perhaps two—why not three?—among the catfish
How very taut and heavy the
rope felt as he [Page 139] raised it
over his gunwales, and letting the bow swing up stream,
began pulling in the line hand over hand! He had
heard of cases where every hook had its fish; such a
thing might happen again surely! Yard after yard
of rope he passed slowly over the boat, and down into
the water it sank on his track.
Now a knot on the line told
him he was nearing the first hook; he watched for the
quiver and struggle of the fish,—probably a big
one, for there he had put a tremendous bait on and spat
on it for luck, moreover. What? the short
line hung down from the rope, and the baited hook rose
clear of the water!
Baptiste instantly made up his
mind that that hook had been placed a little too far
in-shore; he remembered thinking so before; the next
hook was in about the right place!
Hand over hand, ah! the
second hook, too! Still baited, the big worm very
livid! It must be thus because that worm was pushed
up the shank of the hook in such a queer way: he had
[Page 140] been rather pleased when
he gave the bait that particular twist, and now was
surprised at himself; why, any one could see it was
a thing to scare fish!
Hand over hand to the third,—the
hook was naked of bait! Well, that was more satisfactory;
it showed they had been biting, and, after all, this
was just about the beginning of the right place.
Hand over hand; now
the splashing will begin, thought little Baptiste, and
out came the fourth hook with its livid worm!
He held the rope in his hand without drawing it in for
a few moments, but could see no reasonable objection
to that last worm. His heart sank a little, but
pshaw! only four hooks out of forty were up yet!
wait till the eddy behind the shoal was reached, then
great things would be seen. Maybe the fish had
not been lying in that first bit of current.
Hand over hand again, now!
yes, certainly, there is the right swirl!
What? a losch, that [Page 141]
unclean semi-lizard! The boy tore it off and flung
it indignantly into the river. However, there
was good luck in a losch; that was well known.
But the next hook, and the next,
and next, and next came up baited and fishless.
He pulled hand over hand quickly—not a fish!
and he must have gone over half the line! Little
Baptiste stopped, with his heart like lead and his arms
trembling. It was terrible! Not a fish,
and his father had no supper, and there was no credit
at the store. Poor little Baptiste!
Again he hauled hand over hand—one
hook, two, three—oh! ho! Glorious!
What a delightful sheer downward the rope took!
Surely the big sturgeon at last, trying to stay down
on the bottom with the hook! But Baptiste would
show that fish his mistake. He pulled, pulled,
stood up to pull; there was a sort of shake, a sudden
give of the rope, and little Baptiste tumbled over backward
as he jerked his line up from under the big stone! [Page
Then he heard the shutters clattering
as Conolly’s clerk took them off the store window;
at half-past five to the minute that was always done.
Soon big Baptiste would be up, that was certain.
Again the boy began hauling in line: baited hook! baited
hook! naked hook! baited hook!—such was still
implored little Baptiste, silently,“I shall find
some fish!” Up! up! only four remained!
The boy broke down. Could it be? Had he
not somehow skipped many hooks? Could it be that
there was to be no breakfast for the children?
Naked hook again! Oh, for some fish! anything!
“Oh, send just one for
my father!—my poor, hungry father!” cried
little Baptiste, and drew up his last hook. It
came full baited, and the line was out of the water
clear away to his outer buoy!
He let go the rope and drifted
down the river, crying as though his heart would break.
[Page 143] All the good hooks useless!
all the labor thrown away! all his self-confidence come
Up rose the great sun; from
around the kneeling boy drifted the last of the morning
mists; bright beams touched his bowed head tenderly.
He lifted his face and looked up the rapid. Then
he jumped to his feet with sudden wonder; a great joy
lit up his countenance.
Far up the river a low, broad,
white patch appeared on the sharp sky-line made by the
level dark summit of the long slope of tumbling water.
On this white patch stood many figures of swaying men
black against the clear morning sky, and little Baptiste
saw instantly that an attempt was being mad to “run”
a “band” of deals, or many cribs lashed
together, instead of single cribs as had been done the
The broad strip of white changed
its form slowly, dipped over the slope, drew out like
a wide ribbon, and soon showed a distinct slant [Page
144] across the mighty volume of the deep raft-channel.
When little Baptiste, acquainted as he was with every
current, eddy, and shoal in the rapid, saw that slant,
he knew that his first impression of what was about
to happen had been correct. The pilot of the band
had allowed it to drift too far north before
reaching the rapid’s head.
Now the front cribs, instead
of following the curve of the channel, had taken slower
water, while the rear cribs, impelled by the rush under
them, swung the band slowly across the current.
All along the front the standing men swayed back and
forth, plying sweeps full forty feet long, attempting
to swing into channel again, with their strokes dashing
the dark rollers before the band into wide splashes
of white. On the rear cribs another crew pulled
in the contrary direction; about the middle of the band
stood the pilot, urging his gangs with gestures to greater
Suddenly he made a new motion;
the gang [Page 145] behind drew in
their oars and ran hastily forward to double the force
in front. But they came too late! Hardly
had the doubled bow crew taken a stroke when all drew
in their oars and ran back to be out of danger.
Next moment the front cribs struck the “hog’s-back”
Then the long broad band curved
downward in the centre, the rear cribs swung into the
shallows on the opposite side of the raft-channel, there
was a great straining and crashing, the men in front
huddled together, watching the wreck anxiously, and
the band went speedily to pieces. Soon a fringe
of single planks came down stream, then cribs and pieces
of cribs; half the band was drifting with the currents,
and half was “hung up” on the rocks among
Launching the big red flat-bottomed
bow boat, twenty of the raftsmen came with wild speed
down the river, and as there had been no rush to get
aboard, little Baptiste knew that the [Page
146] cribs on which the men stood were so hard
aground that no lives were in danger. It meant
much to him; it meant that he was instantly at liberty
to gather in money! money, it sums that
loomed to gigantic figures before his imagination.
He knew that there was an important
reason for hurrying the deals to Quebec, else the great
risk of running a band at that season would not have
been undertaken; and he knew that hard cash would be
paid down as salvage for all planks brought ashore,
and thus secured from drifting far and wide over the
lake-like expanse below the rapid’s foot.
Little Baptiste plunged his oars in and made for a clump
of deals floating in the eddy near his own shore.
As he rushed along, the raftsmen’s boat crossed
his bows, going to the main raft below for ropes and
material to secure the cribs coming down intact.
“Good boy!” shouted
the foreman to Baptiste, “Ten cents for every
deal you fetch [Page 147] ashore above
the raft!” Ten cents! he had expected
but five! What a harvest!
Striking his pike-pole into
the clump of deals,—“fifty at least,”
said joyful Baptiste,—he soon secured them to
his boat, and then pulled, pulled, pulled, till the
blood rushed to his head, and his arms ached, before
he landed his wealth.
he, bursting breathlessly into the sleeping household.
“Come quick! I can’t get it up without
cried the shantyman, jumping into his trousers.
“Oh, but we shall have
a good fish breakfast!” cried Delima.
“Did I not say the blessed
le bon Dieu would send plenty fish?”
“Not a fish!” cried
little Baptiste, with recovered breath. “But
look! look!” and he flung open the door.
The eddy was now white with planks.
“Ten cents for each!”
cried the boy. “The foreman told me.”
“Ten cents!” shouted
his father. “Baptême! it’s
my winter’s wages!”
And the old grandmother!
And Delima? Why, they just put their arms round
each other and cried for joy.
“And yet there’s
no breakfast,” cried Delima, starting up.
“And they will work hard, hard.”
At that instant who should reach
the door but Monsieur Conolly! He was a man who
respected cash wherever he found it, and already the
two Baptistes had a fine show ashore.
said Conolly, politely, putting in his head, “of
course you know I was only joking yesterday. You
can get anything you want at the store.”
What a breakfast they did have,
to be sure! the Baptistes eating while they worked.
Back and forward they dashed till late afternoon, driving
ringed spikes into the deals, running light ropes through
the rings, and, when a good string had thus been made,
going ashore to [Page 149] haul in.
At that hauling Delima and Memere, even little
André and Odillon gave a hand.
Everybody in the little hamlet
made money that day, but the Larocques twice as much
as any other family, because they had an eddy and a
low shore. With the help of the people “the
big Bourgeois” who owned the broken raft
got it away that evening, and saved his fat contract
“Did I not say so?”
said “Memere,” at night, for the
hundredth time. “Did I not say so?
Yes, indeed, le bon Dieu watches over us all.”
“Yes, indeed, grandmother,”
echoed little Baptiste, thinking of his failure on the
night-line. “We may take as much trouble
as we like, but it’s no use unless le bon
Dieu helps us. Only—I don’ know
what de big Bourgeois say about that—his raft
was all broke up so bad.”
oui,” said Memere, looking puzzled
for but a moment. “But he didn’t put
his trust [Page 150] in le bon
Dieu; that’s it, for sure. Besides,
maybe le bon Dieu want to teach him a lesson;
he’ll not try for run a whole band of deals next
time. You see that was a tempting of Providence;
and then—the big Bourgeois is a Protestant.”