WAS AN EVENING in January. It had been thawing
all day, but after sundown the wind had changed,
and was bringing a storm-cloud over Viger heavy
with snow. The first flakes, as large and as light
a moths, were fluttering into the village. It
grew colder and colder. The weather-wise thrust
their heads into their tuques and glanced at the
few stars and at the impenetrable blackness in
the north-east and whistled between their teeth,
for they knew the signs meant mischief. In Madame
Desrocher’s cottage the doors were shut,
and a fire roared in the great double stove. Thérèse
was gathering up the tea things, for that meal
was just over. She was singing carelessly, dropping
her song, and humming it over, and taking it up
du jeune age
Sont graves dans mon coeur,
Et je pense au village,
Pour rever le bonheur.”
mother sat knitting in her chair before the fire.
She heaved a deep sigh.
Dieu, Mamma, what is the matter? You sigh as if
you had the sins of the whole parish on your shoulders.”
my dear, you are like a bird, always on the wing
and always ready for a song. But you are young,
and we old people have our troubles.”
know, thought Thérèse, you are thinking
of Pierre. “Well, Mamma,” she said,
“I would not be downhearted; we have plenty
of things to make us cheerful, and why not think
so we have; but I would remember this year for
ever if it would only bring poor Pierre back again.”
I knew it was Pierre you were thinking of; but
do you think he will ever come back, Mamma? Think
how long it is since he went away.”
it is a long time; but then it seems like a day
to me; and sometimes I think he must come back.”
wonder what he would be like if he did come home.
He was always wild, that Pierre.”
but not bad-hearted; there was nothing bad-hearted
Mamma, I have heard you tell the truth about him
when you have been angry with his goings-on.”
Desrocher looked up incredulously from her knitting
and shook her head. Thérèse commenced
her singing again; she did not notice when her
mother rose and went up-stairs, and she sang on,
thinking of Pierre, how rough he used to be, and
how he would never stay at home, but loved to
wander about and sleep out in the fields, like
an animal. By-and-bye she took her dishes and
went into the kitchen. The storm was rising, and
every now and then an eddy of wind around the
house corner would shriek, and whistle off into
the silence. From the street came the sound of
sleigh bells and the shouts of the drivers. There
was the soft, long sound of the fire in the room.
the street door opened and a man entered. He wore
an old blue tuque without a tassel, a rough overcoat
bulging about him and drawn together by a leather
strap, and light trousers torn about the ankles.
His feet were covered—but not protected—by
a pair of broken boots. Over his shoulder he carried
a bundle wrapped in a piece of jute. He had not
endeavoured to announce his arrival, and when
he found the room empty he went over to the fire
with the instinct to warm himself, for he was
cold, bitterly cold. He threw his pack on a wooden
settle near the stove, and put one of his feet
on the fire-pan. His face, which was covered with
an unkempt beard, was rather attractive, but he
had a look of deep cunning in his eyes, and the
marks of fatigue and dissipation were deeply trenched
upon his cheek. He stood there warming himself
and glancing rapidly about the room, with an eye
that lost no detail of the arrangement.
found it little changed, but it awoke only a feeling
of bitterness for the comfort of it, when he was
so cold. He had not returned with any love for
his old home, but had drifted there as a ship
might put out of the storm into the haven where
she was built, without purpose, except for safety
and temporary shelter. He was evidently careless
whether he was discovered or not, but as the moments
passed the desire to see what he could find became
too strong to be resisted, and he moved over to
a large dresser which occupied one corner of the
room. Above it hung several pictures of saints;
there was St. Christopher with his great staff,
and St. John Baptist; there was the divine Christ
Himself with His heart upon His breast. On the
shelf of the dresser were some trinkets, amongst
them a little shrine in brass of the good Ste.
Anne, and a leaden image of St. Anthony of Padua.
It had belonged to him; it had been his chief
treasure. How well he remembered it, and the day
he bought it at Ste. Anne de Beauprè. It
had not changed an atom. There he stood, the good
saint, his mild face beaming on the child which
rested upon the open book in his hand.
had just pulled out one of the drawers, and his
roving eye caught sight of some notes and silver
in one corner, when he saw a small photograph
which he had not before observed. As he picked
it up he recognized the face of his old sweetheart;
he muttered her name. With this portrait in his
hand he remembered some things he had forgotten
so long ago that the memory of them surprised
him. He forgot that he was cold and hungry; that
he might be discovered.
he heard a voice singing in another room. He stopped
to listen, and had barely time to put down the
picture and return to the stove when Thérèse
entered. She half screamed when she saw this burly
figure, standing with impudent assurance, in the
middle of the room.
needn’t be frightened, Mademoiselle,”
he said, with a cunning smile.
am not frightened. I am never frightened of tramps,”
do you know I am a tramp?”
anyone could tell you that. What do you want?”
want to warm myself. I’m cold.”
maybe I am.”
down, and I’ll get you something to eat—not
there!” — as the man attempted to
take her mother’s rocking chair,—
“here;” placing another chair for
she was gone the man unloosened his belt, and
his old coat fell apart. He had that feeling which
so often comes to men of his class, who have known
better days, when they come into contact with
the kitchens of civilization, a feeling mingled
of envy, hatred, disgust, and a sort of amusement,
as if the occurrence were a passage of comedy
in the play. His face wore a dogged expression
and he sat there waiting, as he had often waited
before. She does not recognize me, he thought,
but what do I care? I’ll get warm, have
a bite, and be off again.
a moment Thérèse returned with a
bowl of milk and a half a loaf of bread. The man
took the bowl on his knees and slowly broke the
bread into the milk; then he pressed it down and
tasted it. Thérèse leaned against
the table and watched him. Well, well, she thought,
I wonder if Pierre is like that. He had taken
a mouthful, when he turned around and said quietly,
“This is good Mademoiselle, it’s a
year since I’ve had any bread and milk,
but my mother used to give me nutmeg in mine.”
There was something in the tone of his voice as
well as the words he had spoken which suddenly
linked him with the human race. A moment before
Thérèse had thought of him as a
tramp; after she had fed him, he would go and
she would sweep over his tracks, scour the chair
he had sat upon, and let in the burly January
wind to swallow the very air he had breathed.
His words have her mind a sudden shock. She had
a vision of the hearth at which this being could
have sat, and of the mother who could have studied
his palate. The remark had the accent of a request,
and she brought the nutmeg and grater. It crossed
her mind,—how strange! Mamma has often said
that Pierre used to like nutmeg in his bread and
milk. She stood and grated the nutmeg into the
bowl. The man stirred and tasted until his palate
was satisfied. “There,” he said.
at that moment Madame Desrocher came downstairs.
She had the group straight before her. The man
glanced up at her. “Thérèse!”
she cried. “It’s only a hungry tramp,
Mamma,” said Thérèse. “A
tramp Thérèse, it’s—yes—Thérèse—it’s
Pierre—Pierre—Pierre.” She threw
herself down beside him with a mighty cry. “It’s
you, isn’t it Pierre?”
Mother, there! You’ve made me spill the
milk on my trousers—they’re the best
ones I’ve got,” he said, growling
it out with a grim smile. He held the bowl high
in both hands.
you hear, Thérèse, he called me
‘Mother,’” cried Madame Desrocher,
didn’t know you, Pierre,” said Thérèse.
“I thought you were a tramp.”
I am a tramp.”
no, Pierre,” cried Madame Desrocher, “but
how wet you are! Your feet are wet, wet. Take
off your boots.”
I’m all right. I must be off in a minute.”
He tried to resume his spoon, but his mother took
the bowl away from him.
she said, with a terrified accent. “Where?”
anywhere, I’m not particular.”
you mustn’t go away any more—never
mustn’t eh!” he said, roughly.
no, I can’t let you. You don’t know
how long we’ve waited for you.”
guess it’s too late, I’m too hard
a ticket. You would not want me around here.”
Pierre, wait until I get you some warm clothes,
and then you’ll have something better than
bread and milk to eat,” said Madame Desrocher
eagerly, running up stairs.
made you stay away so long, Pierre?” asked
don’t know, I couldn’t help it. I’m
not like other people. I have to be on the move.”
you must get tired.”
yes; but that’s not so bad as being in one
place. I’d rather be tired, dead tired,
than to always be like a tree, in once place.
Besides no one wants me here; everyone was down
on me, it was always ‘that rascal Pierre,’
if anything went wrong.”
began to enjoy talking and the rare delight of
complaining to the well-fed of his kind.
tried that ‘being good.’ I stayed
in a refuge once for two months, but no man could
stand that. Everything was tied down, and I got
sick of it. An old mate of mine said there was
something in our heels that kept us on the move;
it may sleep for a while but when it’s awake
you’ve got to go.”
was beginning to feel thoroughly warmed by the
fire, and he stretched himself comfortably. “Well,”
he said, “you people have a good time,”
then he mused a while.
might have it too, Pierre, if you liked,”
you could find plenty to do if you stayed at home!”
do!” he cried fiercely, “I don’t
want anything to do. I hate work. Besides there’s
no use in working. That’s true what that
man told me in Chicago. There’s no use in
working, the men at the top get everything, and
we at the bottom get nothing, and so long as you
people keep on working, things will be the same.”
was so vehement that poor Thérèse
was frightened into silence. But, after this explosion,
Pierre began to think that perhaps he might stay;
the warmth and light were having an effect upon
him, and he felt rested. Madame Desrocher was
not long gone and she coaxed Pierre to go upstairs
and put on some clean clothes. The moment he was
gone, she commenced to bustle about and get something
for him to eat.
must keep him,” she said to Thérèse,
excitedly. “We must be good to him and he
will stay at home.”
seems very rough, Mamma,” said Thérèse.
but wait till you see him in those clean, warm
clothes; and he has been a long time from home.
Pierre came down stairs he looked a different
man, and he felt the change himself. His manner
seemed less rough. He was clothed in a suit of
grey homespun that fitted him loosely. On his
feet he wore a pair of shoepacks.
are warm socks,” he said with a grin, “and
a good pair of shoepacks.”
Pierre! you look like a prince.”
a prince ever wear shoepacks, Mamma?” said
Thérèse, gaily. Her mother did not
answer her; she spoke to Pierre:
Pierre, come and have some supper.”
sat down at the table, and, as he ate, he began
to ask questions about his brothers and sisters
and his old friends. When he had finished, he
pulled out his pipe and commenced to cut his tobacco.
From his movements, his mother knew that there
was something on his mind, but she was afraid
to ask him any questions, lest she might break
the charm which was gradually bringing him nearer
to a resolve to remain at home. There was a shamefast
expression on his face, as, with a great show
of cleaning and arranging his pipe, he asked if
Olivine Charbonneau was still in Viger.
said Madame Desrocher, “she is still at
home, and what a good girl she is.”
sat and smoked contemplatively; for years he had
not had such thoughts as were now passing through
his mind. He thought of his old sweetheart, and
the promise she had made always to be true, and
how he heard his mother telling him that she was
a good girl and had waited for him. He was gradually
losing sight of his old life, forgetting it; he
seemed to be in some pleasant dream. He rose,
and went over to the stove. Sitting on the chair,
facing its back, with his arms leaning on it,
he gazed at the hole in the damper about which
the fire played and purred.
Desrocher motioned to Thérèse to
go and bring Olivine, and Pierre heard the storm
leap in at the door as she went out. If I could
see Olivine, he thought, well! but it is too late
now. That sound of the storm charging the house
jarred his dream. He thought swiftly. Yes, he
could stay. He would marry Olivine and settle
down. But then the storm would shoulder against
the door, and he could hear the clink of the snow
as it sprang from the edge of the drift upon the
window. Something seemed to be calling him; tapping
the pane to attract his attention. His mother
watched him, wondering.
and Olivine came in so quietly that Pierre never
made a move, and Thérèse motioned
Olivine to put her hands over his eyes. It was
the old, childish play, and with it the years
rolled away like mist from the pleasant vale of
said Olivine, faintly. Pierre caught her wrists
and took her hands away from his eyes. They stood
up face to face. Olivine shrank away, Pierre saw
that she was afraid of him.
needn’t be frightened of me,” he said.
Pierre! you’re so different, I didn’t
think you would be so different.”
there’s not use crying,” he said,
with a roughish tenderness. “I’m a
hard lot; I’m nothing but a tramp in clean
you’re going to settle down now, Pierre?”
asked his mother. “You know every ship has
words somehow attracted him—“every
ship has its harbour”, kept running in his
well!” he said, “we’ll see.
I’ve led a hard life, but— —”
hardly heard the storm now, only the long breath
of the fire and the voices around him. He went
over to the table, and put his head on his arms.
He was tired and sleepy; he remembered he must
have walked twenty miles that day in the wet road.
He heard the women’s voices far away; he
thought his mother said, “Every ship has
its harbour”, and the words soothed him
again. Yes, he thought, I’ll stay at home
now, and I’ll marry Olivine; he dozed off.
A pleasant picture filled his mind. He remembered
a rich farmer who used to drive to mass with his
wife, his stout carriage drawn by two fat horses,
his many children wedged about him. Yes, he would
stay at home and become rich also, and drive to
mass, and everyone would take off his hat respectfully.
Once the storm disturbed him; he heard it calling
and striking the pane, but he heard the words
again – “every ship has its harbour”
–and they knew by his breathing that he
was fast asleep.
do you hear that?” said Madame Desrocher,
under her breath. “He’s tired, tired;
he used to breathe like that when he was a little,
girls sat close together and whispered. Olivine
glanced every now and then at Pierre’s head
lying upon his arm. He was breathing loudly and
irregularly. Suddenly a panting sound came with
his breath. Madame Desrocher was getting uneasy.
she said; “it was like me to let him fall
asleep where there is a draught from the door.”
took off the shawl she was wearing, went softly
to Pierre and put it over his shoulders. She stepped
back, but she had disturbed him. From the midst
of some horrid dream he rose up with a snarl,
clutching the table, glaring down at the floor,
and uttering an oath. Madame Desrocher cowered
away from him, and the girls ran to her side and
held her hands. Pierre did not see them for an
instant, and when he glanced at the women timorously
crowded together, he sank into his chair and muttered:
“I didn’t know where I was…
I thought…”, then he slouched his
head down on the table and pretended to sleep.
He heard his mother say: “What was it, Thérèse,
what did I do?” She was still trembling.
“There, Mother, Pierre was dreaming, he
did not know where he was.” The girls were
frightened and they coaxed Madame Desrocher to
go with them into the other room.
with his head on the table, simulating sleep,
had had a moment to reflect. That oath he had
uttered when was disturbed in his slumbers had
thrown him back into his old self, and, as he
twitched the shawl off his shoulders and rose
to his feet, his face was altered with passion.
The effect of the warmth and his physical comfort
had vanished. His one idea was to get away. He
rose noiselessly. His movements were quick decided.
His thoughts were out on the road. His demon was
again mounted, and only the world’s end
was his desire. He threw on his old overcoat and
strapped it in, drew his tuque over his ears,
threw his pack upon his shoulder. Then he remembered
the money in the dresser. Two steps brought him
before the drawer. He opened it; he hesitated.
But it was only while the eyelid moves; he had
never been a sneak-thief. The next moment he was
out in the storm; it was mounting about him wildly,
and he plunged into it, and onward to where the
little lights of the village showed the great
gulf of the night, his hand deep down in his pocket,
clutching only the small, leaden image of St.
Anthony of Padua.
Thérèse and Olivine succeeded in
quieting Madame Desrocher the former returned
to the room. Pierre was gone. Before she could
think what to do, her mother, followed by Olivine
cried Madam Desrocher, “Pierre! Where is
he, Olivine? Pierre!” she cried, going to
the foot of the stairway. There was no answer.
said Thérèse, “don’t
be frightened, Pierre has only gone to the village
to look up some of his old companions. See he
has left his boots and his mittens, and he will
back again.” She pointed to the wet boots
and mittens, steaming underneath the stove.
do you think so?” answered the old woman,
ready to believe anything, so that it assured
her that Pierre would come back. She sank into
her chair and took her knitting from Thérèse.
yes, to be sure,” she said simply, gazing
at the wet things. “He has left his boots,
he will surely come back.”
explanation satisfied her and she went on with
her knitting. Outside the snow rose above the
house in an impenetrable mass, hissing, seething,
blown every way with a sound of shrieking in the
blackness above. Madame Desrocher knitted and
rocked. She thought, Yes, my poor Pierre, he will
come back; he will come back again. There was
a sound of bells struggling with the storm. She
raised her head and listened. Then she smiled
and went on with her knitting.