WAS the sunniest corner in Viger where old Garnaud
had built his cabin—his cabin, for it could not
be called a house. It was only of one storey,
with a kitchen behind, and a workshop in front,
where Etienne Garnaud mended the shoes of Viger.
He had lived there by himself ever since he came
from St. Valérie; everyone knew his story, everyone
liked him. A merry heart had the old shoemaker;
it made a merry heart to see him bending his white
head with its beautiful features above his homely
work, and to hear his voice in a high cadence
of good-humoured song. The broad window
of his cabin was covered with a shutter hinged
at the top, which was propped up by a stick slanted
from the window-sill. In the summer the
sash was removed, and through the opening came
the even sound of the Blanche against the bridge
piers, or the scythe-whetting from some hidden
meadow. From it there was a view of a little
pool of the stream where the [Page 63]
perch jumped clear into the sun, and
where a birch growing on the bank threw a silver
shadow-bridge from side to side. Farther
up, too, were the willows that wore the yellow
tassels in the spring, and the hollow where burr-marigolds
were brown-golden in August. On the hill
slope stood a delicate maple that reddened the
moment summer had gone, which old Etienne watched
with a sigh and a shake of the head.
If the old man was a favourite
with the elder people of Viger, he was a yet greater
favourite with the children. No small portion
of his earnings went toward the purchase of sugar
candy for their consumption. On summer afternoons
he would lay out a row of sweet lumps on his window-sill
and pretend to be absorbed by his work, as the
children, with much suppressed laughter, darted
around the corner of his cabin, bearing away the
spoils. He would pause every now and then
to call, "Aha—Aha! Where are all my
sweeties? those mice and rats must have been after
them again!" and would chuckle to himself
to hear the children trying to keep back the laughter,
out of sight around the corner. In the winter,
when the boys and girls would come in to see him
work, he always managed to drop some candy into
their pockets, which they would find afterward
with less surprise than the old man imagined.
But his great friend was the
little blind daughter of his neighbour Moreau.
"Here comes my little fairy," he would
call out, as he saw her feeling her way down the
road with her little cedar wand. "Here
comes my little fairy," and he would go out
to guide her across the one [Page 64]
plank thrown over the ditch in front
of his cabin. Then they would sit and chat
together, this beautiful old man and the beautiful
little girl. She raised her soft brown,
sightless eyes to the sound of his voice, and
he told her long romances, described the things
that lay around them, or strove to answer her
questions. This was his hardest task, and
he often failed in it; her questions ran beyond
his power, and left him mystified.
One spring he bought a bobolink
from some boys who had trapped it; and he hung
its cage in the sun outside his cabin. There
it would sing or be silent for days at a time.
Little Blanche would sit outside under the shade
of the shutter, leaning half into the room to
hear the old man talk, but keeping half in the
air to hear the bird sing.
They called him "Jack"
by mutual consent, and he absorbed a great deal
of their attention. Blanche had to be present
at every cage cleaning. One day she said,
"Uncle Garnaud, what is he like?"
"Why, dearie, he's a beauty;
he's black all over, except his wings and tail,
and they have white on them."
"And what are his wings
"Well, now, that finishes
me. I am an old fool, or I could tell you."
"Uncle Garnaud, I never
even felt a bird; could I feel Jack?"
"Well, I could catch him;
but you mustn't squeeze him."
Jack was caught with a sudden
dart of the old man's hand; the little blind girl
felt him softly, traced the shape [Page
65] of his outstretched wing, and put
him back into the cage with a sigh.
"Tell me, Uncle Garnaud,"
she asked, "how did they catch him?"
"Well, you see, they put
a little cage on a stump in the oat-field, and
by-and-by the bird flew over and went in."
"Well, didn't he know
they would not let him out if he once went in?'
"Well, you know, he hadn't
any old uncle to tell him so."
"Well, but birds must
have uncles, if they have fathers just like we
Old Etienne puckered up his
eyes and put his awl through his hair. The
bird ran down a whole cadence, as if he was on
the wind over a wheat-field; then he stopped."
"There, Uncle Garnaud,
I know he must mean something by that. What
did he do all day before he was caught?"
"I don't think he did
any work. He just flew about and sang all
day, and picked up seeds, and sang, and tried
to balance himself on the wheat-ears."
"He sang all day?
Well, he doesn't do that now."
The bird seemed to recall a
sunny field-corner, for his interlude was as light
as thistledown, and after a pause he made two
little sounds like the ringing of bells at Titania's
"Perhaps he doesn't like
to be shut up and have nobody but us," she
said, after a moment. [Page 66]
"Well," said the
old man, hesitatingly, "we might let him
"Yes," faltered the
child, "we might let him go."
The next time little Blanche
was there she said, "And he didn't do anything
but that, just sing and fly?"
"No, I think not."
"Well, then, he could
fly miles and miles, and never come back, if he
didn't want to?"
"Why, yes; he went away
every winter, so that the frost wouldn't bite
"Oh! Uncle Garnaud,
he didn't, did he?"
"Yes, true, he did."
The little girl was silent
for a while; when the old man looked at her the
tears were in her eyes.
"Why, my pretty, what's
"Oh, I was just thinking
that why he didn't sing was because he only saw
you and me, and the road, and our trees, when
he used to have everything."
"Well," said the
old man, stopping his work, "he might have
everything again, you know."
"Might he?" she asked,
"Why, we might let him
The bird dropped a clear note
"Oh, Uncle Garnaud, do
let him go!"
"Why, beauty, just as
The old man put off his apron
and took the cage down.
"Here, little girl, you
hold the cage, and we'll go where he can fly free."
Blanche carried the cage and
he took her hand. They walked down to the
bridge, and set the cage on the rail.
"Now, dearie, open the
door," said the old man.
The little child felt for the
slide and pushed it back. In a moment the
bird rushed out and flew madly off.
"He's gone," she
said, "Jack's gone. Where did he go,
"He flew right through
that maple-tree, and now he's over the fields,
and now he's out of sight."
"And didn't he even once
"No, never once."
They stood there together for
a moment, the old man gazing after the departed
bird, the little girl setting her brown, sightless
eyes on the invisible distance. Then, taking
the empty cage, they went back to the cabin.
From that day their friendship was not untinged
by regret; some delicate mist of sorrow seemed
to have blurred the glass of memory. Though
he could not tell why, old Etienne that evening
felt anew his loneliness, as he watched a long
sunset of red and gold that lingered after the
footsteps of the August day, and cast a great
colour into his silent cabin above the Blanche.