the heart of a northern wilderness, on the shore of
an unnamed lake, stands the ruin of a small hut. Half
the roof has fallen in. The logs are rotted and covered
with moss. In the dark corners spectral weeds and ferns
die longing for the sun. The winter wind, untamed out
of the north, charges against its crumbling walls and
drives the sifted snow, hissing like steam, across the
surface of the lake. The haunts of men seem as far away
as the stars that throb faintly in the lonely vastness
of the summer sky. The silence that dwells forever in
the waste places of the world is shaken by unheeded
storms and the muffled cries of life in the gloom of
the immense forests that darken beneath her brooding
The words came in short gusts across the water to where
Octave Ducharme stood, pike-pole in hand. They were
running the logs on the St. Joseph. The river was racing
over the rapids to where the falls were roaring and
pulsing under the dome of mist which the April sun was
smiting with rainbow shafts that broke and glanced upon
its shifting sides.
Ducharme struck his pole deep
into the boom, and gazed under his hand up the gleaming
river. The water was broken and curled, and came turning
the sudden bend with foam-topped waves that were bright
now in the afternoon sun. He looked steadily for a moment;
then, as he saw something drift into sight other than
the dipping logs, he pulled off his heavy boots, threw
down his hat, and watched again. There was a rush of
men on the river road, with waving of arms and confused
cries. But Ducharme ever watched the speck in the swift
water, that drew near to him and took the shape of a
white face drawn with pain and rocked to and fro in
the current. They were shouting from the bank: “Don’t
go in!”—“You’ll both go over!”—
jostling of men, and waving of arms. But he stood as
calmly as if he were watching a musk-rat cleave the
brown waters of some quiet lake in an ever-widening
wedge. Suddenly he drew himself up and plunged just
in front of the floating face. [Page 3]
The two men spoke to one another quickly as they were
drifted swiftly together.
“Oh! Octave, my leg, my
“Never mind, little brother;
put your hand on my shoulder.”
The strong arms were making
new eddies in the torn water. The crowd ran along the
bank shouting wildly: “Get into the eddy!”—“Ducharme!”—
“Ducharme!”—“Strike into the
eddy, or you’ll go over!”—“My
God!”— “Catch the boom!”—“Strike
in!”—“We’ll pull you out!”
They ran out on the boom where
it was swinging dangerously at the mouth of the chute.
The water there was curved in a great glassy heap with
long wiry streaks. Above was the eddy, wheeling and
turning. To get into its power was safety. The swimmer
kept edging in. In a few moments he would be abreast
of it. He was muttering, under his breath: “Keep
up, little brother; keep up, little brother.”
The men on the shore strained
forward, struck in the air as if swimming, stamped with
their feet, and reached out over the river.
“My God! he’s safe!”—“No!
he’s missed it!” One huge fellow sank on
his knees and hid his face. “No! boys, he’s
in!”—“They’ll get him!”—
“They’re against the boom!”—“Baptiste
has him!”—“They’re safe!”—
and a wild yell of joy tore through the air.
“Take him first,”
Octave was saying; “two of you hang on—the
water will carry him under—I’m all right—pull
him along out of the current— there now.”
The men stood around as they
strove to bring François to, and when he opened
his eyes they went back to their work and left him with
Octave and the three who had taken him out of the water.
His leg was broken in two places and his head was gashed;
but he was all right, he said, and they carried him
into the shanty.
That was almost the first year
they were on the river together, and all the dangers
that crowded thickly about them in the years of toil
that followed were warded off by the strength of four
arms; for one Ducharme was never alone, and it was always
“The Ducharmes,” not “François”
or “Octave,” but “The Ducharmes,”
“The Ducharmes of the Baskatonge.” Whether
hunting, or logging, or driving, or running the rafts
down to the St. Lawrence, or at home on the Baskatonge,
it was always the same. “Have you the Ducharmes?”
one foreman would say to another; “then you’re
How the work went when there
was Octave to sing and François to lead the musical
cry, when all arms strained together! And they never
seemed to think of one another. They went along unconsciously,
working together, [Page 4] and when
François was hurt it was Octave who stayed with
him until he was better.
François would say, but in return it was always
“Little brother.” No one could tell why.
One was as tall as the other, and as strong. They were
like two stalwart young pines, straight and towering;
only, if you watched them closely, François never
even lit his pipe until he saw the smoke part Octave’s
lips and curl about his face. Octave was always first.
They did not know it themselves, but François
Their little house back on the
Baskatonge was heaped round with snow in the winter,
and the frosty wind blew no wreaths of smoke from the
chimney into the pines. But that had not always been
so; there had been a time when there were four Ducharmes
instead of two, and when the frost drew curtains across
the windows of the happiest home in the north.
Hypolite Ducharme was a trapper
and hunter who sold his furs to the traders, and never
swung an axe except to cut his own firewood. He had
lived for some years on the Baskatonge, and did not
find himself lonely until one day, when he took his
winter’s haul of furs down the Gatineau, he saw
a pair of brown eyes that told him plainly that he could
not visit his traps day after day, and hear the sound
of the wild fowl driving in a wedge southward to the
sunlit sweeps of reeds and curved reaches of moving
marsh grass, without seeing that house, back from the
river about the flight of a wounded partridge, and the
girl with the plaited hair working to the music of her
At noon the next day many were
the bends and rapids between him and the three logs
where he had landed the night before; but, as his canoe
steadied and swung out into the current, he was watched
from the bushes, and until the river hid behind the
stony spur of the hill, that never before looked as
cold and hopeless, the dark eyes under the arch of brown
hands timed the flashing paddle, and when the sun burned
red for a moment on the canoe, as it turned behind the
hill—would it ever come back?—the November
mists came into that May day, and the wind kept turning
the dead leaves in the forest.
The way had never seemed so
long before; the canoe was never so heavy, and one season
he had twice as many furs. But when he turned north
again it was a short road he had to travel; and when
he reached the rocky point the current bore him a white
wood-lily, which he took out of the water as it grazed
He travelled north again, but
not alone, and many were the thickets that trembled
to the unknown sound of a woman’s voice. For it
was a little matter [Page 5] whether
it was on the Baskatonge or the Gatineau that Marie
Delorme lived so long as she was with the man she loved.
But that was long ago; and all
the marks which Hypolite Ducharme blazed on the trees
have grown over in ridges, and when an otter is caught
he is always the finest the trapper ever saw.
Before Hypolite was killed by
the bear, and before Marie died, the boys had learned
all their father could teach them of hunting and trapping;
but when they were left to themselves they chose to
go to the shanties, where there was company and better
pay. But in the summer, when the season’s work
was over, they went back to their old home and hunted
and fished until the autumn came again.
When they were there alone they
would often talk of their father and mother. Octave
always remembered his father as he saw him striding
through the bushes with a young doe across his shoulders;
but François always remembered him as he found
him, that night, dead under the bear. Their mother,
too—whenever Octave spoke her name a cheery face
looked out into the night to welcome the tired trappers;
but François saw her pale, and heard the thin
voice, “François, François, I am
dying!” And now they were not so much alone as
they had been. Gradually the settlement had crept boldly
from the Desert, up the river and back into the country,
and now in a day’s journey there were many families;
on the Bras d’Or, Dubois and Granden; on the Claire,
Charbonneau and Faubert; and on the Castor, McMorran—White
McMorran, to distinguish him from his brother, who,
however, was never called Black McMorran—and the
Phelans and O’Dohertys.
The Castor, where there were
no beavers, but only broken dams, was five miles from
the Baskatonge. There was a path through the woods,
and an hour and a quarter would take a good walker from
the Baskatonge to the McMorrans’. Octave Ducharme
could walk that distance in an hour, but then few could
walk as fast as Octave.
Already the McMorrans’
place began to look like a farm; there were always fires
eating into the bush, and the small barn was getting
The Ducharmes were favorites
with their neighbors. Octave always did most of the
talking; and as François was quick-tempered,
he had sometimes to step forward and take the lead in
a conversation that would have surely ended in blows.
It was seldom that this last ever happened, as the general
saying was, “fight one Ducharme, fight two,”
and so François’s hot words usually passed
unnoticed. But Octave was so good-tempered that the
balance was kept even. [Page 6]
The brothers seemed so entirely
at one that the people were not surprised when they
learned in after years that they had both fallen in
love with the same girl. It seemed quite natural; and
then, “you couldn’t blame them, for everyone
was in love with Keila McMorran.”
There were some things about
it, though, that nobody could understand.
“One of them didn’t
know the other was in love with her.”
“Well, I used to see them
down there together, and they’d walk off home
like two lambs.”
“That couldn’t last
“No, and it didn’t
This was the general drift of
the remarks the neighbors made when they commenced to
talk on the subject. It was an ever-recurring topic
of conversation, and never was settled to the satisfaction
of everyone, although some had decided for themselves.
However these talks commenced,
they always ended in one way. There would be a pause,
then the words would come slowly, as if the speakers
were dreaming of a form they could not forget.
“Strong? I believe he
could lift an ox.”
“Yes; and he was the best
chopper on the river.”
“And what a man on the
was a bright August morning, and François was
sitting at his door smoking. He was watching a squirrel
that was seated at the root of a tree, twirling something
between his front feet, when a small, tattered boy,
with wide, frightened eyes that turned to all sides
as if he expected to be pounced on by some hidden enemy,
came toward him from the bush. François turned
and spoke to him. He answered:
“But I must see Octave.”
“But I must.”
“Can’t; gone away.”
“Is he going to come back?”
“But I must see him before
to-night. I have to tell him something.”
“Can’t; home to-night.
It was the youngest of the McMorran
boys—Tim. He could not understand François’s
French, and François could speak but little English.
“I can’t tell you.
Will you tell Octave?”
“Well, when I was fishing
last night, down by the bank, two fellows came and talked
near where I was, and I heard them, and one of the Phelan
boys is going to shoot Octave to-night.”
“To shoot Octave!”
François jumped to his feet. “Why?”
“Because our Keila won’t
marry him, and he thinks she’s going to marry
“I don’t know.”
“To shoot Octave—when?”
“To-night, down at the
“To shoot Octave—to-night—one
of the Phelan boys—old road.”
“Will you tell Octave?”
tone that set Tim’s teeth chattering—“Yes,
yes, yes; go home.” The small boy ran away, but
was soon stealing back. “Will—will—
you tell Octave?”
“Yes; go home.”
François thought a long
time, and then began to throw chips at the squirrel
that was hanging head downward half way up the tree.
It was twilight; and down where
the path from the Ducharmes’ joined the old road
a figure crouching in the bushes held a gun, steadied
in the low crotch of a shrub and pointed right across
the path. His jaws were tightly locked, and whenever
he chanced to open them his teeth chattered as if the
warm evening breeze that just stirred the bushes was
a blast from the north. Every now and then his whole
body shook convulsively, and the gun rattled in the
forked branch. He was listening for a step in the path.
Now he thought he heard it, and drew himself together
with a great effort; but it was some other sound in
the woods. He noticed nothing stirring behind him; and
when a collie, with an angry growl, jumped out into
the path and ran away, with its tail between its legs,
the cold sweat burst out on his face and hands. But
now he could make no mistake—there was someone
coming, and he huddled over the gun. The twigs were
cracking in the still air, and he thought he could hear
the bushes sway; but before he could be sure, there
was a grip on his neck like a vice, and his hands left
the gun to grasp [Page 8] a pair of
iron wrists. He turned slowly over on the ground, and
a figure knelt on his chest, choking him until his eyes
glared whitely in the darkness and his tongue shot out
between his teeth, and held him among the little ferns
and mosses so tightly that he could not even have stirred
them with his breath. And now the twigs commenced to
break, the rustle of leaves grew louder, and someone
passed with long, swinging strides. They could hear
him breathe, and it seemed like a century before the
air was quiet again. Then the hands relaxed and an arm
reached for the gun. The figure rose slowly, but the
other did not stir. He drew in his tongue, grasped his
throat with his hands, and continued glaring with white,
distended eyes into the face of the form above him.
The hands had grasped the gun, and had torn the stock
from the barrel and thrown each in a different direction.
Then the foot stirred the man who was struggling for
breath on the ground. He turned over slowly and lay
still for a moment; then he rose on his hands and knees
and crawled, like a wounded snake, into the low, uncertain
cedar shadows. Watching for a while where the darkness
had swallowed up that cringing form, parting the bushes
and standing on the path, where the first trembling
star of evening was shining, François Ducharme
stepped homeward to the Baskatonge.
Octave had walked steadily until
he came to where the path turned along the lake-side.
There was a thin screen of bushes between the path and
the shore, but where the ground rose suddenly the point
that jutted into the water was bare of trees, save a
maple or two. As he approached this point the sound
of singing reached his ears, and he almost knelt as
he stretched himself at full length to listen.
From where the shore line shone
like silver against the clear, black shades, from where
the night was bending earthward, violet-shadowed, from
where the night wind waited in the sedges; stilling
the distant trilling and whirring, floating into the
rocking reeds, trembling about the dreaming arrow-heads,
waking evasive echoes from sleep-shrouded thickets,
calling out the wondering stars—the voice floated
on the lake to where the listener lay with hidden face
and stilled breath.
All the grass seemed stirring
about him, and a leaf, withered before its time, dropped
lightly on his head. How far away the singing sounded;
and now he seemed not to hear it at all.
The past years—the wide
silence of the woods—the far-away fall of trees—the
call of some moss-mantled stream—the mother’s
quiet ways— the future, the future—a home
somewhere—and Keila McMorran singing in the evening—until
a wilful wind sprang up and caught the unfinished strain
and bore it away up the hills, where the young birds
just heard it and [Page 9] opened their
wings and slept again. And the years that passed him
slowly found him, with the unfinished song in his ears,
waiting for the strain that went with the wind over
He rose and walked on to the
McMorrans’, and when his face was set again toward
the Baskatonge, and the moon was half way up the sky,
there was a song in the air which the trees had never
The house was dark. He opened
the door quietly, and went softly to where François
was sleeping on the low bed built against the wall.
He sat down beside him and passed his hand gently over
his face. Then François awoke, and the brothers
talked for a long time in low tones.
“It is all right. I have
“And she has said ‘Yes—Yes;’
Keila herself said ‘Yes.’ I am happy, little
was white in the dimness.
“And now what will you
“I will have a farm, and
you will live with me.”
“No, not here; down by
the Castor, when I get money enough.”
“You will have the money.”
“No; it is yours too.”
“But I don’t want
it. I will live here just the same—only you, Octave,
you will not be here.”
“No, little brother, you
will live with me. Keila said so.”
“Did she say that, Octave?”
his voice trembled.
“Yes; Keila said so.”
Then there was a long silence,
and the cry of the loons came from the lake, through
the open door, across the strip of moonlight.
“Will you come to bed,
“No, not yet.”
He rose and closed the door
behind him, shutting out the light, and walked up and
down the beach until the sun drove the last laggard
star out of the sky.
from the path, near to the Castor, in the dense forest,
was a little oval plot of the greenest grass. The flowers
never bloomed there, but hovered about the silver stems
of the poplars that circled the spot, and when they
commenced to die the wind carried their petals inside
the close and [Page 10] strewed them
on the grass. At one side a large stone had thrust itself
for a foot or so into the space, and its moss-covered
ledge formed a low bench.
was a June evening of the next year. The darkness had
closed in early, and the poplars were the only trees
that answered to the faint breeze. Octave was walking,
almost as quickly as usual, in the direction of the
Castor. The path was familiar to him, and even in the
darkness he stepped over the logs and avoided the low
branches. He was whistling to himself so softly that
the breath just vibrated on his lips.
he approached the line of underbrush that separated
the path from the little circle of grass, he heard the
sound of voices. He went on, without slacking his pace,
until he came to a place where the hazels were less
thick. Then he stopped suddenly, as if he had stepped
against a stone wall, and put his hand to his head.
voice was saying: “We should not have come here;
we must go away.” He could make no mistake. That
was Keila’s voice.
I have something to say.” It was when he heard
these words that he put his hand to his head. That was,
it must be, he knew it was François.
stepped off the path on the opposite side from where
they were talking, and leaned against a young tree,
twining his arms through the low branches. The words
came very distinctly to him, mingled with the light
shivering rustle of the poplars.
know that you love me, Keila,” François
“You must not say so.”
“But I cannot live without
“You must. We must think
of Octave; he is so good.”
“Yes; but I wish he had
never seen you. Why did you ever tell him you loved
“I did love him, François—only—only,
you should never have come near me, then I would always
have loved him the best.”
you must not talk to me; you don’t know how Octave
“And you don’t know
how I love you.”
“Yes; but think of Octave.
How many times he has fought for you, and
saved your life.”
it is true. But what can we do?”
“We can both be true to
Octave. Yes, François, I must be true to Octave.”
“Why can’t you go
away with me down the river and never come back?”
“You must go away alone,
and never see me again.”
“Keila, I cannot leave
“You must. Do promise
me, François! Think of poor Octave.”
There was a long silence. The
wind had risen and all the trees were sighing softly.
“Do promise me!”
“Yes, Keila, I will promise
you; but I must go away. I can never come back. Only
let me see you once again, here, to-morrow night, and
I will promise you anything.”
François, I will come for a little while. You
must not come home with me. Octave will come to-night.
They came out into the path
and walked in opposite directions.
seemed to be thinking the words as they came to him
so slowly. It could never be that they were there talking;
but François passed quite close to him, and he
could have no doubt.
words kept recurring as he had heard them, only the
rustle of the trees was still, and from about his feet
rose the smell of crushed moss and wet leaves. Very
near him were a few large white lilies that shone through
the darkness dimly, like shrouded stars. He hung there,
like a stag caught by the antlers, waiting for death,
until the dark forest pools commenced to brighten with
the dawn, and the birds near him began to wake; then
he drew himself up and walked away.
went, by paths through the tangled forest, toward the
lake that was lying silvered somewhere in the north.
He passed the spots where they used to set their traps
when his father was alive. He seemed to be back in that
faded time again, and paused often to wait for the little
brother who would always lag behind.
lake was reached at last. He threw himself down where
a group of poplars and a few maples made a shady place,
where the shore was high and the water stretched away
to the island, where the wrecked cedars lay blanched,
like the bones of giants, on the broken shore.
day wore on. Now and then a small, shadowy cloud drifted
dreamily out of the west and vanished like a vision.
The winds touched the water lightly, making ripples
that never reached the shore.
day long he lay quietly, as if asleep, and the shadows
of leaves kept fluttering over him with countless soothing
hands. The sun sank, leaving no color in the sky, and
already the twilight was falling.
water was very quiet, and seemed to be heaving toward
him as he gazed at it. He folded his arms, and a great
calm stole over him, as he [Page 12]
looked past the island where the lake seemed shoreless.
And when it was dark he rose and went back by the track
that he had followed in the morning, and stood at last
very near to the place where he had paused the night
was a low talking in the bushes. He waited for a moment,
and then parted the branches and stood just within the
he said. His voice was very clear. They were seated
on the low stone, and had not heard him. They started.
François stood up and looked at Octave standing
in among the ghostly white poplars.
do not speak. Last night I heard you. You need not go
away, you and Keila. She loves you, and I—I love
you both. I am older than you, little brother. And do
you remember when I gave you the little doe I caught
back by the Ruisseau?—so long ago; and now—now
it is Keila that I give you. You need not go away, and
I will come and see you sometimes.”
had hidden her face and was trembling, and François
had turned away. When the voice ceased he came forward,
but Octave said: “No, little brother, do not come
near me—you will see me often—but I will
go home now,” and the bushes closed behind him.
sun was setting one October evening, and under a steep
ridge of rock, that rose in steps and made a jagged
outline against the sky, two men were talking.
“Where are you going,
“Yes, to-night. You will
“Yes. Will you be down
in the morning?”
“I don’t know.”
“You will come down for
“Yes, I think so.”
“You must come, Octave.”
“Yes, I must come.”
“Are you going now?”
It was growing dark rapidly.
The sun had set and the sky was flushed and knotted
like the forehead of an angry god. François turned
his back to the hill, but lingered to look after Octave.
He could not see him leaping up from ledge to ledge,
but suddenly he sprang from the low brow of the hill
[Page 13] and stood for a moment outlined
firmly against the sky, then as suddenly vanished. Into
the gloom, François thought; but all the little
hollow was filled with clear light, and away where the
low bushes crouched along the stream a wakeful bird
was uttering a few long-drawn, passionate notes. The
night that followed was dark and starless, and the wind,
searching for forgotten paths among the trees, heaved
long, low, tremulous sighs.
On the morrow there was a wedding
at the Mission; but hearts would have been happier for
the presence of one who never came, and eyes would have
been brighter for the sight of one they never saw again.
have passed. On many silent hills and in many lonely
valleys the stumps of pines stand where the sun used
to touch the green tops a hundred feet above them. The
stalwart trunks have gone to cover homes in the south,
and to shelter the heads of happy children from the
storms which they learned to resist on their native
hills in the north.
greater changes have taken place at the Castor. The
lake seems wider now, but that is because there is only
one little strip of forest on the west side. The fields
rise gradually on the rounded hill, and the sun, which
used to cast gloomy shadows into the lake, has to smile
now across golden fields of ripe oats and barley.
rocky eastern shore remains unchanged; but on the west
there are two houses, with their barns and low outbuildings.
the evening the collie drives home the cows, and the
bells clang wildly through the bushes. A young voice
keeps calling to him, and he answers with sharp yelps.
Soon a stalwart lad bursts through the underbrush into
the path, and goes singing after the cows. He hears
a voice calling from the bars. “Octave! Octave!
Octave!” His brother waits there for him to pass,
and they put up the bars and go home together.
there is often singing in the evening, and laughter;
and White McMorran loves to come over and smoke, and
listen to his grandchildren talk, and hold the youngest
on his knees. But now it is always the Ducharmes of
the Castor; no more the Ducharmes of the Baskatonge.
the heart of a northern wilderness, on the shore of
an unnamed lake, stands the ruin of a small hut. Half
the roof has fallen in. The logs are rotted and covered
with moss. In the dark corners spectral weeds and ferns
die longing for the sun. The spring winds, touching
the water lightly, make ripples that never reach the
shore. In early summer the small, shadowy clouds drift
dreamily out of the west and vanish like a vision. [Page
14] In autumn the sky is flushed and knotted,
like the forehead of an angry god; a wakeful bird, somewhere
in the bushes, utters a few long-drawn, passionate notes;
the night that follows is dark and starless, and the
wind, searching for forgotten paths among the trees,
heaves long, low, tremulous sighs. The winter wind,
untamed out of the north, drives the sifted snow, hissing
like steam, across the surface of the lake. The haunts
of men seem as far away as the stars that throb faintly
in the lonely vastness of the summer sky. The silence
that dwells forever in the waste places of the world
is shaken by unheeded storms and the muffled cries of
life in the gloom of the immense forests that darken
beneath her brooding wings. [Page 15]