WAS too true that the city was growing rapidly.
As yet its arms were not long enough to embrace
the little village of Viger, but before long they
would be, and it was not a time that the inhabitants
looked forward to with any pleasure. It
was not to be wondered at, for few places were
more pleasant to live in. The houses, half-hidden
amid the trees, clustered around the slim steeple
of St. Joseph's, which flashed like a naked poniard
in the sun. They were old, and the village
was sleepy, almost dozing, since the mill, behind
the rise of land, on the Blanche had shut down.
The miller had died; and who would trouble to
grind what little grist came to the mill, when
flour was so cheap? But while the beech-groves
lasted, and the Blanche continued to run, it seemed
impossible that [Page 1] any
change could come. The change was coming,
however, rapidly enough. Even now, on still
nights, above the nose of the frogs in the pools,
you could hear the rumble of the street-cars and
the faint tinkle of their bells, and when the
air was moist the whole southern sky was luminous
with the reflection of thousands of gas-lamps.
But when the time came for Viger to be mentioned
in the city papers as one of the outlying wards,
what a change there would be! There would
be no unfenced fields, full of little inequalities
and covered with short grass; there would be no
deep pools, where the quarries had been, and where
the boys pelted the frogs; there would be no more
beech-groves, where the children could gather
nuts; and the dread pool, which had filled the
shaft where old Daigneau, years ago, mined for
gold, would cease to exist. But in the meantime,
the boys of Viger roamed over the unclosed fields
and pelted the frogs, and the boldest ventured
to roll huge stones into Daigneau's pit, and only
waited to see the green slime come working up
to the surface before scampering away, their flesh
creeping with the idea that it was old Daigneau
himself who was stirring up the water in a rage.
New houses had already commenced
to spring up in all directions, and there was
a large influx of the labouring population which
overflows from large cities. Even on the
main street of Viger, on a lot which had been
vacant ever since it was a lot, the workmen had
built a foundation. After a while it was
finished, when men from the city came and put
up the oddest wooden house that one could [Page
2] imagine. It was perfectly square;
there was a window and a door in front, a window
at the side, and a window upstairs. There
were many surmises as to the probably occupant
of such a diminutive habitation; and the widow
Laroque, who made dresses and trimmed hats, and
whose shop was directly opposite, and next door
to the Post Office, suffered greatly from unsatisfied
curiosity. No one who looked like the proprietor
was ever seen near the place. The foreman
of the labourers who were working at the house
seemed to know nothing; all that he said, in answer
to questions, was: "I have my orders."
At last the house was ready;
it was painted within and without, and Madame
Laroque could scarcely believe her eyes when,
one morning, a man came from the city with a small
sign under his arm and nailed it above the door.
It bore these words: "Mademoiselle Viau,
Milliner." "Ah!" said Madame
Laroque, "the bread is to be taken out of
my mouth." The next day came a load
of furniture—not a very large load, as there was
only a small stove, two tables, a bedstead, three
chairs, a sort of lounge, and two large boxes.
The man who brought the things put them in the
house, and locked the door on them when he went
away; then nothing happened for two weeks, but
Madame Laroque watched. Such a queer little
house it was, as it stood there so new in its
coat of gum-coloured paint. It looked just
like a square bandbox which some Titan had made
for his wife; and there seemed no doubt that if
you took hold of the chimney and lifted the roof
off, you would see the gigantic bonnet, with its
strings and [Page 3] ribbons,
which the Titaness could wear to church on Sundays.
Madame Laroque wondered how
Mademoiselle Viau would come, whether in a cab,
with her trunks and boxes piled around her, or
on foot, and have her belongings on a cart.
She watched every approaching vehicle for two
weeks in vain; but one morning she saw that a
curtain had been put up on the window opposite,
that it was party raised, and that a geranium
was standing on the sill. For one hour she
never took her eyes off the door, and at last
had the satisfaction of seeing it open.
A trim little person, not very young, dressed
in grey, stepped out on the platform with her
apron full of crumbs and cast them down for the
birds. Then, without looking around, she
went in and closed the door. It was Mademoiselle
Viau. "The bird is in its nest,"
thought the old postmaster, who lived alone with
his mother. All that Madame Laroque said
Mademoiselle Viau did not stir
out that day, but on the next she went to the
baker's and the butcher's, and came over the road
to Monsieur Cuerrier, the postmaster, who also
kept a grocery.
That evening, according to
her custom, Madame Laroque called on Madame Cuerrier.
"We have a neighbour,"
"She was making purchases
"Tomorrow she will expect
people to make purchases." [Page
"It is very tormenting,
this, to have these irresponsible girls, that
no one knows anything about, setting up shops
under our very noses. Why does she live
"I did not ask her,"
answered Cuerrier, to whom the question was addressed.
"You are very cool, Monsieur
Cuerrier; but if it was a young man and a postmaster,
instead of a young woman and a milliner, you would
not relish it."
"There can only be one
postmaster," said Cuerrier.
"In Paris, where I practised
my art," said Monsieur Villeblanc, who was
a retired hairdresser, "there were whole
rows of tonsorial parlours, and everyone had enough
to do." Madame Laroque sniffed, as
she always did in his presence.
"Did you see her hat?"
"I did, and it was very
"Nice! with the flowers
all on one side? I wouldn't go to St. Thérèse
with it on." St. Thérèse was the postmaster's
"The girl has no taste,"
"Well, if she hasn't,
you needn't be afraid of her."
"There will be no choice
between you," said the retired hairdresser,
But there was a choice between
them, and all the young girls of Viger chose Mademoiselle
Viau. It was said she had such an eye; she
would take a hat and pin a bow on here, and loop
a ribbon there, and cast a flower on somewhere
else, all the time surveying her work with [Page
5] her head on one side and her mouth
bristling with pins. "There, how do
you like that?—put it on—no, it is not becoming—wait!"
and in a trice the desired change was made.
She had no lack of work from the first; soon she
had too much to do. At all hours of the
day she could be seen sitting at her window, working,
and "she must be making money fast,"
argued Madame Laroque, "for she spends nothing."
In truth, she spent very little—she lived so plainly.
Three times a week she took a fresh twist from
the baker, once a day the milkman left a pint
of milk, and once every week mademoiselle herself
stepped out to the butcher's and bought a pound
of steak. Occasionally she mailed a letter,
which she always gave into the hands of the postmaster;
if he was not there she asked for a pound of tea
or something else that she needed. She was
fast friends with Cuerrier, but with no one else,
as she never received visitors. Once only
did a young man call on her. It was young
Jourdain, the clerk in the dry-goods store.
He had knocked at the door and was admitted.
"Ah!" said Madame Laroque, "it
is the young men who can conquer."
But the next moment Monsieur Jourdain came out,
and, strangely enough, was so bewildered as to
forget to put on his hat. It was not this
young man who could conquer.
"There is something mysterious
about that young person," said Madame Laroque
between her teeth.
"Yes," replied Cuerrier,
"very mysterious—she minds her own business."
"Bah!" said the widow,
"who can tell what her [Page 6] business
is, she who comes from no one knows where?
But I'll find out what all this secrecy means,
So the widow watched the little
house and its occupant very closely, and these
are some of the things she saw: every morning
an open door and crumbs for the birds, the watering
of the geranium, which was just going to flower,
a small figure going in and out, dressed in grey,
and, oftener than anything else, the same figure
sitting at the window, working. This continued
for a year with little variation, but still the
widow watched. Everyone else had accepted
the presence of the new resident as a benefaction.
They got accustomed to her. They called
her "the little milliner." Old
Cuerrier called her "the little one in grey."
But she was not yet adjusted in the widow's system
of things. She laid a plot with her second
cousin, which was that the cousin should get a
hat made by Mademoiselle Viau, and that she should
ask her some questions.
"Mademoiselle Viau, were
you born in the city?"
"I do not think, Mademoiselle,
that green will become you."
"No, perhaps not.
Where did you live before you came here?"
"Mademoiselle, this grey
shape is very pretty." And so on.
That plan would not work.
But before long something very
suspicious happened. One evening, just about
dusk, as Madame Laroque was walking up and down
in front of her door, a man of a [Page
7] youthful appearance came quickly up
the street, stepped upon Mademoiselle Viau's platform,
opened the door without knocking, and walked in.
Mademoiselle was working in the last vestige of
daylight, and the widow watched her like a lynx.
She worked on unconcernedly, and when it became
so dark that she could not see she lit her lamp
and pulled down the curtain. That night
Madame Laroque did not go into Cuerrier's.
It commenced to rain, but she put on a large frieze
coat of the deceased Laroque and crouched in the
dark. She was very much interested in this
case, but her interest brought no additional knowledge.
She had seen the man go on; he was rather young
and about the medium height, and had a black moustache;
she could remember him distinctly, but she did
not see him come out.
The next morning Mademoiselle
Viau's curtain went up as usual, and as it was
her day to go to the butcher's she went out.
While she was away Madame Laroque took a long
look in at the side window, but there was nothing
to see except the lounge and the table.
While Madame Laroque had been
watching in the rain, Cuerrier was reading to
Villeblanc from Le Monde. "Hello!"
said he, and then went on reading to himself.
"Have you lost your voice?"
asked Villeblanc, getting nettled.
"No, no; listen to this—'Daring
Jewel Robbery. A Thief in the Night.'"
These were the headings of the column, and then
followed the particulars. In the morning
the widow borrowed the paper, as she had been
too busy [Page 8] the night before
to come and hear it read. She looked over
the front page, when her eye caught the heading,
"Daring Jewel Robbery," and she read
the whole story. As she neared the end her
eyebrows commenced to travel up her forehead,
as if they were going to hide in her hair, and
with an expression of surprise she tossed the
paper to her second cousin.
"Look here!" she
said, "read this out to me."
The second cousin commenced
to read at the top.
"No, no! right here."
"'The man Durocher, who
is suspected of the crime, is not tall, wears
a heavy moustache, has grey eyes, and wears an
ear-ring in his left ear. He has not been
seen since Saturday.'"
"I told you so!"
exclaimed the widow.
"You told me nothing of
the kind," said the second cousin.
"He had no ear-ring in
his ear," said the widow—"but—but—but
it was the right ear that I saw.
Hand me my shawl!"
"Where are you going?"
"I have business; never
mind!" She took the paper with her
and went straight to the constable.
"But," said he, "I
"There is no time to be
lost; you must come now."
"But he will be desperate;
he will face me like a lion."
"Never mind! you will
have the reward."
And the constable went upstairs to get his pistol.
He came down with his blue
coat on. He was a very fat man, and was
out of breath when he came to the little milliner's.
"But who shall I ask for?"
he inquired of Madame Laroque.
"Just search the house,
and I will see that he does not escape by the
back door." She had forgotten that
there was no back door.
"Do you want a bonnet?"
asked Mademoiselle Viau. She was on excellent
terms with the constable.
"No!" said he, sternly.
"You have a man in this house, and I have
come to find him."
"Indeed?" said mademoiselle,
very stiffly. "Will you be pleased
"Yes," said he, taking
out his pistol and cocking it. "I will
first look downstairs." He did so,
and only frightened a cat from under the stove.
No one knew that Mademoiselle Viau had a cat.
"Lead the way upstairs!"
commanded the constable.
"I am afraid of your pistol,
will you not go first?"
He went first and entered at
once the only room, for there was no hall.
In the meantime Madame Laroque had found out that
there was no back door, and had come into the
lower flat and reinspected it, looking under everything.
"Open that closet!"
said the constable, as he levelled his pistol
at the door.
Mademoiselle threw open the
door and sprang away, [Page 10] with
her hands over her ears. There was no one
there; neither was there anyone under the bed.
"Open that trunk!"
eyeing the little leather-covered box.
"Monsieur, you will respect—but—as
you will." She stooped over the trunk
and threw back the lid; on the top was a dainty
white skirt, embroidered beautifully. The
little milliner was blushing violently.
"That will do!" said
the constable. "There is no one there."
"Get out of the road!"
he cried to the knot of people who had collected
at the door. "I have been for my wife's
bonnet; it is not finished." But the
people looked at his pistol, which he had forgotten
to put away. He went across to the widow's.
"Look here!" he said,
"you had better stop this or I'll have the
law on you—no words now! Making a fool of
me before the people—getting me to put on my coat
and bring my pistol to frighten a cat from under
the stove. No words now!"
inquired Madame Laroque that night, "who
is it that Mademoiselle Viau writes to?"
"I am an official of the
government. I do not tell state secrets."
"State secrets, indeed!
Depend upon it, there are secrets in those letters
which the state would like to know."
"That is not my business.
I only send the letters where they are posted,
and refuse to tell amiable widows where they go."
The hairdresser, forgetting
his constant fear of disarranging his attire,
threw back his head and laughed wildly.
"Trust a barber to laugh,"
said the widow. Villeblanc sobered up and
looked sadly at Cuerrier; he could not bear to
be called a barber.
"And you uphold her in
this—a person who comes from no one knows where,
and writes to no one knows whom—"
"I know whom she writes
to—" The widow got furious.
"Yes, whom she writes
to—yes, of course you do—that person who comes
out of her house without ever having gone into
it, and who is visited by men who go in and never
"How do you know he went
"I saw him."
"How do you know he never
"I didn't see him."
"Ah! then you were watching?"
"Well, what if I was!
The devil has a hand in it."
"I have no doubt,"
said Cuerrier, insinuatingly.
"Enough, fool!" exclaimed
the widow—"but wait, I have not done yet!"
"You had better rest,
or you will have the law on you."
The widow was afraid of the
About six months after this,
when the snow was coming on, a messenger came
from the city with a telegram for Monsieur Cuerrier—at
least, it was in his care. He [Page
12] very seldom went out, but he got
his boots and went across to Mademoiselle Viau's.
The telegram was for her. When she had read
it she crushed it in her hand and leaned against
the wall. But she recovered herself.
"Monsieur Cuerrier, you
have always been a good friend to me—help me!
I must go away—you will watch my little place
when I am gone!"
The postmaster was struck with
pity, and he assisted her. She left that
the widow hissed in his ear the first chance she
About three weeks after this,
when Madame Laroque asked for Le Monde,
Cuerrier refused to give it to her.
"Where is it?"
"It has been lost."
the widow, derisively. "Well, I will
find it." In an hour she came back
with the paper.
"There!" said she,
thrusting it under the postmaster's nose so that
he could not get his pipe back to his mouth.
Cuerrier looked consciously at the paragraph which
she had pointed out. He had seen it before.
"Our readers will remember
that the police, while attempting to arrest one
Ellwell for the jewel-robbery which occurred in
the city some time ago, were compelled to fire
on the man in self-defence. He died last
night in the arms of a female relative, who had
been sent for at his request. He was known
by various names—Durocher, Gillet, etc.—and the
police have had much trouble with him." [Page
"There!" said the
"Well, what of that?"
"He died in the arms of
a female relative."
"Well, were you the relative?"
"Indeed! my fine fellow,
be careful! Do you think I would be the
female relative of a convict? Do you not
know any of these names?" The postmaster
felt guilty; he did know one of the names.
"They are common enough,"
he replied. "The name of my aunt's
second husband was Durocher."
"It will not do!"
said the widow. "Somebody builds a
house, no one knows who; people come and go, no
one knows how; and you, a stupid postmaster, shut
your eyes and help things along."
Three days after this, Mademoiselle
Viau came home. She was no longer the little
one in grey; she was the little one in black.
She came straight to Monsieur Cuerrier to get
her cat. Then she went home. The widow
watched her go in. "Now," she
said, "we will not see her come out again."
Mademoiselle Viau refused to
take any more work. She was sick, she said;
she wanted to rest. She rested for two weeks,
and Monsieur Cuerrier brought her food ready cooked.
Then he stopped; she was better. One evening
Madame Laroque peeped in at the side window.
She was the little milliner quite distinctly.
She was on her knees, her face was hidden in her
arms. The fire was very bright, and the
lamp was lighted.
Two days after that the widow
said to Cuerrier: "It is [Page 14]
very strange there is no smoke.
Has Mademoiselle Viau gone away?"
"Yes, she has gone."
"Did you see her go?"
"It is as she said—no
one has seen her go. But wait, she will
come back; and no one will see her come."
That was three years ago, and
she has not come back. All the white curtains
are pulled down. Between the one that covers
the front window and the sash stands the pot in
which grew the geranium. It only had one
blossom all the time it was alive, and it is dead
now and looks like a dry stick. No one knows
what will become of the house. Madame Laroque
thinks that Monsieur Cuerrier knows. She
expects, some morning, to look across and see
the little milliner cast down crumbs for the birds.
In the meantime, in every corner of the house
the spiders are weaving webs, and an enterprising
caterpillar has blocked up the key-hole with his
cocoon. [Page 15]