The Uncollected Short Stories of Duncan Campbell Scott

By Duncan Campbell Scott, edited by Tracy Ware



The Triumph of Marie Laviolette



    It was a still night. Long clouds, pervaded with a peculiar moony lustre, lay above the horizon; higher in the sky hung patches of diaphanous vapor, with a vast and steady outline, pierced here and there with stars. The very air had the seeming consciousness that awaits some event expected since the framing of the world. Even the black hill shrouded with pines, at whose base the river swept, seemed to wait. Over its crest, at first twinkling in the pines and then swinging clear above, the stars rose. Even the rapids seemed controlled, and their contemplative murmur was withdrawn and sounded afar off. Through the dense shadows of the forest, climbing a steep road cut into the bank high above the river, two figures were toiling. The man, with a canoe on his shoulders, was of gigantic stature, and carried this burden as lightly as a feather. Behind him walked a young girl, who paused now and then in the ascent to gaze through the gaps in the trees, over the river to the hill, which covered the horizon with its shadow. After the steep there was a level piece of road, and then a descent, almost to the river. As they reached the foot of this hill, the man under the canoe gave a long whoop, and a few moments after a turn in the road brought them in view of a log-house, set back from the road. The door was open, and there was a light within.
    “Is that you, Donald?” asked a voice.
    “It is,” shouted the man under the canoe, “and Maggie.”
    “Why Maggie; what did she come for?”
    “Came to see her father, I guess; besides, she may be of some use.”
    “She wasn’t asked, and besides she may be in the way.”
    This last remark was almost whispered to the giant, as he swung the canoe off his shoulder. Maggie, without speaking, went into the house; the man followed.
    There was only one room in this house; in the middle of the floor stood a stove, on a raised square of hard clay; around three sides ran two rows of bunks, one above the other; on the fourth side was built a sort of loft, [Page 41] reached by a small ladder; there was one window; the walls were discolored with smoke, and a smoky odor pervaded the place.
    Before Maggie O’Mara fell asleep that night, she heard her father and Black Donald talk over their plans.
    “Is it the phosphates?” said Donald.
    “It is, you’re right, Donald, it’s the phosphates.”
    “Is it a good show now?”
    “It is, you’re right, it’s a fine show. You know, knowing the phosphates as I do, I would call it a damn fine show, and there’s no use talking but it is.”
    “If it turns out well now, how would it show up?”
    “That’s rather hard to tell, Donald; you know enough about the phosphates to know that; it’s as hard to tell as how a woman is going to behave after she’s married; but if a capitalist was to plank down ten thousand dollars on this here stove for that there show, I’d tell him to shove it in the fire.”
    Donald whistled softly to himself.
    “But there’s somebody on it?”
    “There is; that is, there’s a Frenchman.”
    “Well, what’s the good of our bothering over it; I guess he’ll hang on, won’t he?”
    “Perhaps he will, and perhaps he won’t; perhaps he could be coaxed off, and perhaps he could be scared off. You see, he don’t know anything more about them phosphates being there than that girl Mag does; and he’s only a Frenchman. He’s got a young thing for a wife there, and a little kid; and that’s all there is to it.”
    “Well, and what are you going to do?”
    “I’m going to coax him, and you’re going to scare him, but Frenchy’s got to go. We’ll go over the the ‘show’ in the morning and put in a shot, if you like.”
    “Is it far?”
    “No, it’s back of the lake, under a little hill like.”
    The next morning a dense mist had shrouded the world; it filled in the gaps in the trees and hung close to the river; everything was dripping with moisture. It was so dark that Marie Laviolette had to light a candle to get the breakfast. Going about her work, singing softly to herself, she heard a sound a little heavier than the discharge of a gun. She listened, but it did not come again; and when her husband came in from his morning work she said, “Gabriel, what was that firing back in the woods?” [Page 42]
    “Some prospectors letting off a blast, I suppose. I saw the little man they call The Tim O’Mara around here last week.”
    “Perhaps they’re finding phosphates on our land.”
    “Never a bit; no such good luck; I’ve been over the whole place, and there isn’t a dollar’s worth on it.”
    But whether this was so or not, there was not a happier home on the Lievres than Gabriel Laviolette’s. He had built his log-house about a stone’s throw from the river; it was as white without and within as whitewash could make it. A group of sunflowers blazed against the shining wall, and scarlet runners covered the windows. The floor was as clean as the walls; just under the ceiling there was a row of saints’ pictures; there was the good St. Anne, and St. Nicholas with the children in the tub, and one of the Christ, with His wounded heart upon His breast. On a very high chest of drawers, that Marie had brought from her own home when she was married, was a clock, and when it struck a rooster came out and crowed. Her little baby boy, Desiré, watched every hour for this rooster to crow. Gabriel had the whole of fifty acres of land of his own, but most of it was covered with timber. He had cleared some new land, and had a fine crop of oats, which he was going to sell to the lumbermen for their horses.
    A few days after Marie had heard the shot in the woods, she took Desiré in her arms and went back to where Gabriel was working. He was where she had expected to find him, but as two men were talking to him, she put Desiré down and let him play about in the long grass. By and by the men went away.
    “Who were they?” asked Marie.
    “The little man was The Tim O’Mara; the great big man was Black Donald McDonald.”
    “I don’t like them; they look very bad.”
    “And they’re just as bad as they look; that Black Donald is the worst man on the river. I have heard tell how he has smashed a man’s jaw with one blow.”
    “Oh, Gabriel, I hope he’ll never be angry with you.”
    “I’m not afraid of him. They’re over at the old shanty.”
    “And what did they want?”
    “They want us to sell the place; they say they will give us a thousand dollars for it.”
    “And what do they want it for?”
    “I don’t know; I didn’t ask them, and they didn’t tell me.”
    “Gabriel, they’ve found something on our land.”
    “Never, there’s nothing on it; but—“he hesitated.
    [Page 43]
    “But we won’t give it up, will we?” said Marie.
    Gabriel shook his head.
    Day after day Tim O’Mara came to talk it over with him. Gabriel asked him what he wanted the land for. “I don’t mind telling you,” said Tim; “I have found the phosphates back here about two miles, not anywhere near your land, but I want to get a clear road to the river, and your place is on the line. We’re going to work that mine, and we want all this land for a farm, and for horses and such.”
    Gabriel told Marie this. “And where will we go if we leave here?” she asked.
    “Well, there are plenty of places.”
    “But this is our home, and besides, if they want our land for all that, it is worth more.”
    Gabriel was wavering. The next time he saw Tim that speculator offered him twice as much. He had hard work to keep from saying yes, but he said “Well, I’ll see.” “He’s just about done,” said Tim to Black Donald, “if that little wife of his doesn’t talk him over.”
    When Gabriel told Marie of this last offer she said, “Gabriel, don’t give in; I’m sure they don’t want it for that; they could get out to the river in other places; say No, and we’ll wait and see what comes of it.”
    “It’s always the way with you women,” said Gabriel. “You’re afraid to make a move.”
    He was angry and went out on the river in his canoe; but Marie had won her point.
    “It’s no use,” said Tim, “The Frenchman won’t budge.”
    “He will,” said Black Donald, with an oath.
    “I don’t see why you can’t leave him alone, there’s plenty of phosphates lying around,” said Maggie, who was leaning against the door looking across the river.
    “What do you know about phosphates?”
    “I was back and looked at the show.”
    Her father jumped up and came over to her. “Will you give the thing away?” he said.
    “Let go of me, I’ll do as I please,” she said, sullenly, shaking him off.
    “That girl’s taken a shine to Frenchy,” he said.
    “Can’t you leave her alone,” said Black Donald, with a scowl. So they all fought and did not speak for three days.
    One day when Marie was working outside, she took Desiré and put him on the grass to play. He had a pink blossom of hollyhock and a wooden horse, which divided his attention. He would throw the flower as far as he [Page 44] could, and then crawl after it and come back and present it to the horse, which stood stolidly observing the proceedings. Marie kept her eye on him, and called to him not to get too near the edge of the bank, and once she had to go and lift him back to safety. Then she left him and went into the house. When she came back, after a moment, he was nowhere to be seen. There stood the wooden horse headed to the river; but Desiré was not by. She ran to the edge of the bank and looked over; he was not there; he could not have crept as far as the bushes, she had only been away a moment. She rushed into the house and gave one hurried glance at the cradle. She felt faint; “Desiré,” she cried, “Desiré!” and listened. There was no cry in answer; she ran into the bushes and then back, crying out all the time “Desiré, Desiré!” Then she rushed down to the landing and looked along the shore. There was nothing; he was not there. But something caught her eye in the water; her heart stopped; slowly in the turn of an eddy rose the pink hollyhock blossom. She darted into the water with a scream, and holding on by a bush waded in up to her waist, and leaned far enough out to catch it as it rounded with the swirl. Then her one thought was for Gabriel; he could swim and dive, and she could do nothing. So she ran back through the garden and into the clearance, shouting—“Gabriel, Gabriel!” She knew he was back at the lake nearly a mile away. On she went, struggling over the uneven ground, calling out as she caught her breath, and almost falling with terror and fatigue, until at last her voice reached him where he was working.
    Before Marie had returned to the river, Gabriel had dived time and again, and was standing up in his canoe paddling slowly with the current. Down he went; and Marie climbed the point and sank there to watch him. He went right into the head of the rapid, until she thought he would go over; but he turned and came back. Then he paddled about the shores until almost dark, Marie watching him in a sort of dream. Suddenly he called out “Desiré,” with a loud, choking cry. Marie answered him from the bank, and crying “Desiré, Gabriel!” ran along the shore to the landing.
    The summer days passed; but how heavily without Desiré. Marie could not bear to look at the river; she tried not to think of it, and would shut her eyes when she went out, and not open them until she had turned away. She had pressed the hollyhock in her prayer-book; the wooden horse and the cradle she kept by themselves, until Gabriel would not let her have them, she cried so much, and hid them away and would not tell her where.
    Black Donald and Tim were seldom seen; they made no overtures for the place, and seemed to have forgotten they had a desire for it. Maggie was the only one who seemed to pay any attention to her neighbors. Twice, [Page 45] when Gabriel was mowing, she rose almost from under his eyes, as he paused to whet his scythe, and went trailing through the grass, giving him a look over her shoulder. Then she would sit watching coolly from the bush as Marie and he turned the hay. This enraged Black Donald. “The girl’s daft on the Frenchman,” he said one night to Tim. That gentleman was mending a pair of shoe packs beside a smoky coal-oil lamp. “Maggie’s a fine girl,” said he.
    “And what for do you say that?”
    “Because you are too coarse, Donald; if you were educated, now, you might carry on the negotiations in French with Frenchy; and there’s no telling what would come of it.”
    “Come of it—I’ll French him. I’ll talk to him a language he can understand. I’ll fire his hay for him, and see how he likes that.”
    There was a silence, broken only by the pulling of Tim’s threads, and Donald’s hard breathing. “That mightn’t be a bad idea,” said the former, quietly; “to warm him up a bit.” But no more was said about it, and Black Donald went off to Paltimore in a rage with Maggie.
    Gabriel had built his stack in the field and was cutting his last hay; when he had circled round a charred stump and had cut the hay clean away from it, he noticed a piece of paper pinned there. He pulled it off; there was writing on it; English writing. Gabriel put it in his hat and showed it to Marie. She read it to him. “Look out, Mr. Laviolette, watch that hay, that’s wat’s the matter, it may get skorched.”
    “It means that they’ll burn the stack. Oh, Gabriel!”
    “They’ll burn the stack, will they; well, let them try, that’s all. I can’t sit out there and watch it all night, but if they burn my hay—” and here he brought his fist down on the table, thinking of all the work he had had with it; but he did not finish his threat. Every morning at gray daylight he walked out to his field; but two weeks passed and no sign of fire was on the stack.
    Marie used to go out and help Gabriel with his work; she was so lonely.
    “I wish you’d sing a bit,” he said.
    “Gabriel, I couldn’t sing.”
    “Sing now “Sur le pont d’Avignon.’” He tried to start it himself; she joined in and he let her finish it alone. “That’s good,” he smiled; but Marie commenced to cry. Gabriel went on with his work bitterly.
    When Marie went home to get supper, she found a scrap of paper pinned to the door. She read it with her hand on the latch. “Missus, your little kid ant drown, that’s all; if you go of that land that’s all right, but if you don’t go he’s safe enuf, but you won’t hav him.” [Page 46]
    Marie hung to the door for support; then she went in and had to sit down, trembling all over. She went about her work wildly. Now she was all for giving up the land. “I’ll have him back,” her heart cried, “my little boy; I’ll have him back again.” She let Gabriel sit at his supper for a minute as if nothing had happened, then she cried out—“He’s alive, Desiré isn’t drowned!” He thought she had gone crazy. She went on, leaving her place and going over to him. “There, this paper says so; I can have him back if we only leave the land and let them have it.”
    “The land?” cried Gabriel with an angry accent.
    “Oh, Gabriel, what’s the good of the land to us without Desiré! Let them have it.”
    “The land? Let who have it?”
    “The Black Donald and the little man.”
    “Never, I’ll never let them have it.”
    Marie tried to coax him, but he would not hear. He was angry, and struck the table, and broke his dish. “You women are always talking,” he said; and then he was silent.
    He did not eat a thing, but Marie sat and watched him thinking. He walked up and down for a while, and then went out. As it was getting quite dark, Marie lit a candle. It threw a light on Gabriel, who came in carrying Desiré’s cradle and the wooden horse. Marie flung her arms around his neck and commenced to cry softly; she thought “He has made up his mind to sell the land.” When she asked him that, he said, “No, I am going to have Desiré, and I am not going to sell the land.” Then a terrible look came into his eyes, and he walked to and fro and then stood and glared at the floor, with his hands in his pockets. Marie was frightened when she saw him take up his hat; she put herself against the door.
    “I am going to get Desiré,” he said. She could not keep him, but she snatched her shawl, threw it over her head, and followed. It was bright starlight; a whippoorwill in the dark woods gave his notes boldly; his call was answered from the black hill, rebounding across the rapids. Marie kept close to Gabriel, who walked fast; she wanted to say something to him about being careful, but she wanted to get Desiré and she did not know what to say. Just as they got to the door she touched him on the shoulder. He did not feel her; he struck the door with his fist and shoved it open.
    The room was dimly lighted; by the stove, in which a little fire was burning, Tim sat hunched together smoking; Black Donald was smoothing a whip-handle; Maggie was hidden in the shadow.
    “I want my boy,” said Gabriel. [Page 47]
    No one spoke for a moment; then Tim glanced up at Black Donald. “He wants his boy, you know!”
    “What have I got to do with his boy?”
    “One of you devils has got my little boy, Desiré, and I have come to have him or I want to know the reason.”
    “Your little boy ain’t here, mister.”
    “He is, or you’ve got him somewhere, and I’m going to have him, or else I’ll kill somebody before I move out of here.”
    “I guess,” said Black Donald, putting down the stick and rising slowly to his full height, “you’d better kill me.”
    Marie, standing by the door, gave a little moan, and hid her face in her shawl. Gabriel stood with his hands by his side as Black Donald came on.
    “You’d better go away, Mr. Lavilet,” he said, reaching out one big hand for his shoulder. Gabriel tossed it aside and stepped back. Black Donald hit down on him and broke through his guard. Gabriel staggered, but recovered himself, and gathering all his force, sprang and struck at the same time. Black Donald flew off his feet and fell crashing into the stove, knocking it off its legs; the pipes came down with a clatter. He did not move. Maggie was down over him, holding up his head; her hand showed some blood.
    “You’d better get away before you kill me,” said Tim, who was bringing some water in a dish.
    Gabriel strode out past Marie; she followed him, but just on the threshold she turned about and called “Desiré! Desiré!” very clearly; but there was no answer. She cast a glance at the group by the dismantled stove; a thin smoke from the fire was ascending into the room and travelling along the rafters; the wounded man lay immovable.
    The night was as clear as before, only the whippoorwill had come over the river and was in the woods, and the two birds moved about, singing monotonously. The rapids roared below the black hill, with no sound beyond.
    Gabriel owned he had spoiled everything by fighting. “Now we’ll never get him back,” he said, moodily. Marie turned white; she could not blame him, because she had let him go without trying to hold him.
    One night, just a week after his fight with Black Donald, Gabriel woke up to see a glow on the wall. He sprang out of bed and looked from the window; there was a glare in the sky. Marie sprang up and lit a candle.
    “That’s the hay, sure,” said Gabriel, as he struggled into his clothes. He snatched his gun and ran out. Marie bolted the door and put out the candle; then she sat and cried; and the fire on the wall swelled and wavered [Page 48] through her tears. When Gabriel got to the stack it was burning up straight into the air. He could do nothing; he stood and watched it blaze. Gradually it smouldered down, and in a transport of rage, he fired his gun into the woods. An owl commenced to hoot, and he went home, half blinded, through the dark.
    Black Donald had set fire to the hay; Tim did not try to prevent him, and Maggie could not. He went about with his head tied up in a red handkerchief, and he swore, as deep as he knew, not to take it off until he had his revenge. But the burning of the stack did not satisfy him.
    “I must have a shot at him,” he growled to himself. He was still angry at Maggie. One night she went out and did not come back until late; this time he was furious and commenced to break things like a child. Tim got up on one of the highest bunks and kept perfectly still, while Donald raged underneath. When the girl came in, he sat down still for a while, then he said, quietly enough: “Where have you been?”
    “That’s none of your business,” she said.
    He leaped up and caught her around the neck. Tim raised a doleful howl from the bunk, and, as Donald was near enough, he threw a blanket over his head. He let Maggie go and threw off the blanket; then he pulled Tim down, threw him on the floor, and stood over him for a minute. Then he went out and did not come back that night.
    Marie could neither sleep nor eat; she thought of Desiré all the time. Gabriel, too, had become morose; he walked about with a frown, looking at the ground. He found that a bear had come into his oats one night, and he had built a little stand by a stump, and for two or three nights had sat there watching for him, and thinking all the time how he could get Desiré back. Black Donald knew he was watching for the bear. He said to Tim, when he thought that Maggie was nowhere about:
    “I must have a shot at him; there’s no use. He’s down there every night watching his oats. I must have a shot at him, that’s all there is to it.” His eyes were bloodshot, and he broke his pipe-stem in his teeth.
    Gabriel had been half wild all that day because Marie would do nothing but cry, and his fighting mood came over him again. “To-night,” he said to himself, “I’ll leave the bear alone, but I’ll have Desiré back.”
    “I’m going out to watch the oats,” he said to Marie, and when it was darker he slipped away. When he had been gone some time she noticed he had not taken his gun. She was frightened when she thought the bear might come in when Gabriel had no gun; so she took it up and went off to the oat-field. [Page 49]
    So soon as it had got dark, Maggie had stolen away from the shanty, and had gone down to the place where Gabriel had waited for the bear. She laid down on the stand and waited, but Gabriel did not come. After an hour she heard things breaking in the woods.
    “That’s Donald,” she thought. But he had been watching her for a long while. The moon was shining dimly behind a cloud. He leaned against a tree, and every little while he would raise his gun and take aim; but he did not shoot. “That thing’s too white for the Frenchman,” he thought. The crashing in the bush grew louder, and then ceased altogether. Suddenly a huge black bear came swinging down into the oats. He rolled about and pulled them down with his paws. Maggie watched him and drew a knife she had with her. Suddenly the bear rose up and came by just beside the stand. Maggie leaned over and struck down on him. The knife went in between his shoulder-blades, but her blow was not strong enough, and she had lost her balance, and fell almost over on the bear. He gave a growl, and as she tried to recover herself he rose and pulled her off the stand. She tried to cry out, and struggled with him. Just then Marie came up with the gun; she thought it was Gabriel struggling with the bear. “Gabriel!” she screamed: “Gabriel!” and she thought it was all over with him. But she put the muzzle up to the bear and fired. He swayed for a moment, and then fell over, and commenced to struggle about in the oats.
    Maggie was badly torn, but she tried to sit up. Marie shredded her apron into strips and bound up her arm. Then Black Donald appeared above them, looking like a demon in the half light. Maggie made him take the handkerchief off his head to bind her wrist; he looked about for Gabriel and then pulled it off.
    “I won’t forget you, missis,” said Maggie, as she walked away holding to Black Donald.
    Marie waited until they had gone a little way, then she left the gun and the bear and fled.
    When Black Donald and Maggie got home they found Tim tied to his chair and the room in disorder. He was going go say: “Frenchy’s been here, and he’s gone crazy;” but he saw how pale Maggie was and the blood on her dress. Gabriel had tied him in his chair, and had ransacked the room; but he did not find Desiré.
    Marie was sure now they would never get him back; but Gabriel was curing the bear’s skin. “It will make a coat for Desiré,” he said.
    “I believe he’s drowned all the time,” moaned Marie, “and they just said he was alive to make us give up the land.” [Page 50]
    Gabriel commenced to take in the oats; it was a fine crop, close and strong, and stood above the lake on the clear land. From a distance it looked like a wedge of gold driven into the forest. Marie worked with him, binding it and loading it on the cart. She could not sing, although Gabriel wanted her to, and would say: “Come now, ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon.’” But when she would not, he would go on working as though he was never going to leave off, until the sweat ran into his eyes. Marie always went home early to get the meals. One evening she went back to get supper. It was raining across the river, and a great rainbow sprang up, hardly touching the plain with one of its delicate wavering feet, curving grandly with deepened and gorgeous colors against the black cloud, until the hill cut it off. Marie looked at it, with a hand on the latch, and then she pushed the door; but there was something against it. Desiré had taken to his feet, had pushed a chair all across the room, and was holding it against the door. When his mother overcame the soft resistance, he laughed up in her face. There he was in his little pink dress, the same as the day she lost him, only bigger and stronger. When Gabriel came home supper was not ready; but Marie, when she heard him coming, put Desiré in his cradle and threw the bear-skin over him, and when Gabriel came in he stood up just as if he had been told, and his father had to catch him to keep him from falling out of the cradle.
    That night when Marie undressed Desiré she found a piece of paper pinned to his dress. She read there, printed with a pencil, these words:

“Dear Missis: What did I tell you? You safed my lif’. I g’e’s your lit’le kid is al’ rite. There’s fosfates on your place, that’s the reason why. My dad ses it’s worth a pot. Tel’ your man to go back by the old road and by the end of the lak’. The show is there. That’s all. We’re going to get out.
                                                                                      Maggie O’Mara.”

    The next day Gabriel went back to see the “show,” and Marie went with him, and carried Desiré all the way; but his father had to bring him back, he had grown so heavy.
    A week after this, a curious procession took its way down the steep road; first came Black Donald, carrying a canoe on his back; then came a wagon drawn by an ox and a horse; in the centre of the wagon a table was turned with its legs in the air; between these sat Maggie on a feather-bed and some brightly-colored quilts. She had her eyes half closed, her arm was bandaged, her face was rather pale and wore a contemptuous expression as she leaned back against one of the table-legs. Tim brought up the rear, with a pipe in his mouth, his hands in his pockets, and a whip under [Page 51] his arm, the lash of which trailed on the ground. It had been raining all day and the road was muddy; water lay in the ruts. Gradually the clouds rolled off, and the night came, still and very clear, with many stars over the black hill, and the rapids roaring loudly through the dark. [Page 52]