WOOING OF MONSIEUR CUERRIER
HAD been one of those days that go astray in the
year, and carry the genius of their own month
into the alien ground of another. This one
had mistaken the last month of spring for the
last month of summer, and had lighted a May day
with an August sun. The tender foliage of
the trees threw almost transparent shadows, and
the leaves seemed to burn with a green liquid
fire in the windless air. Toward noon the
damp fields commenced to exhale a moist haze that
spread, gauze-like, across the woods. Growing
things seemed to shrink from this heavy burden
of sun, and if one could have forgotten that there
were yet trilliums in the woods, he might have
expected summer sounds on the summer air.
After the sun had set the atmosphere hung dense,
falling into darkness without a movement, and
when night had come the sultry air was broken
by flashes of pale light, that played fitfully
and without direction. People sat on their
door-steps for air, [Page 25] or
paced the walks languidly. It was not a
usual thing for Monsieur Cuerrier to go out after
nightfall; his shop was a general rendezvous,
and the news and the gossip of the neighbourhood
came to him without his search. But something
had been troubling him all day, and at last, when
his evening mail was closed, he put on his boots
and went out. He sauntered down the street
in his shirt sleeves, with his fingers in his
vest pockets. His face did not lose its
gravity until he had seated himself opposite his
friend Alexis Girouard, and put a pipe between
his teeth. Then he looked over the candle
which stood between them, and something gleamed
in his eye; he nursed his elbow and surveyed his
friend. Alexis Girouard was a small man,
with brown side-whiskers; his face was so round,
and the movements of his person so rapid, that
he looked like a squirrel whose cheeks are distended
with nuts. By occupation he was a buyer
of butter and eggs, and went about the country
in a calash, driving his bargains. This
shrewd fellow, whom no one could get the better
of at trade, was ruled by his maiden sister with
a rod of iron. He even enjoyed the friendship
of Cuerrier by sufferance; their interviews were
carried on almost clandestinely, with the figure
of the terrible Diana always imminent.
When a sufficient cloud of
smoke was spread around the room, Cuerrier asked,
"Where is she?" Alexis darted
a glance in the direction of the village, removing
his pipe and pointing to the same quarter; then
he heaved a relieved sigh, and commenced smoking
again. [Page 26]
"So you are sure she's
out?" said Cuerrier.
Alexis looked uneasy.
"No," he answered, "I can't be
sure she's out."
Cuerrier burst into a hearty
laugh. Alexis stepped to the door and listened;
when he came back and sat down, Cuerrier said,
without looking at him, "Look here, Alexis,
I'm going to get married."
His companion started so that
he knocked some of the ashes from his pipe, then
with a nervous jump he snatched the candle and
went into the kitchen. Cuerrier, left in
the dark, shook with silent laughter. Alexis
came back after making sure that Diana was not
there, and before seating himself he held the
candle close to his friend's face and surveyed
"So, are you not mad?"
"No, I'm not mad."
Alexis sat down, very much
troubled in mind. "You see," said
Cuerrier, "I'm not young, and the mother
is getting old—see? Now, last week she fell
down into the kitchen."
"Well, your getting married
won't prevent her falling into the kitchen."
"It is not that so much,
Alexis, my good friend, but if you had no one
to look after things—" here Alexis winced—"you
would perhaps think of it, too."
"But you are old—how old?"
Cuerrier took his pipe from
his mouth and traced in the air what to Alexis's
eyes looked like the figure fifty. Cuerrier
offered him the candle. "There is not
a grey [Page 27] hair in my head."
Girouard took the light and glanced down on his
friend's shock of brown hair so finely disordered.
He sat down satisfied.
"To whom now—tell me what
charming girl is to be the postmistress of Viger;
is it the Madame Laroque?"
Cuerrier broke again into one
of his valiant laughs.
"Guess again," he
cried, "you are near it. You'll burn
yourself next time."
"Not the second cousin—not
possible—not Césarine Angers?"
Cuerrier, grown more sober,
had made various signs of acquiescence.
"And what will your friend
the widow say?"
"See here, Alexis, she's—"
he was going to say something violent—"she's
one of the troubles."
"Bah! Who's afraid
of her! If you had Diana to deal with, now."
"Well, Alexis, my good
friend, that is it. Could you not drop a
little hint to the widow some time? Something
like this—" he was silent.
"Something like a dumb
"Paufh! I have no
way with the women, you will make a little hint
to the widow."
Just then there was a sound
of footsteps on the walk. Alexis promptly
blew out the candle, grasped his friend by the
arm, and hurried him through the dark to the door.
There he thrust his hat into the hand, and saying
in his ear, "Good-night—good luck,"
bolted the door after him.
The night had changed its mood.
A gentle breeze, [Page 28] laden
with soft moisture, blew from the dark woods;
the mist was piled in a grey mass along the horizon;
and in spaces of sky as delicately blue as blanched
violets, small stars flashed clearly.
Cuerrier pursed up his lips
and whistled the only tune he knew, one from "La
Fille de Madame Angot." He was uneasy,
too uneasy to follow the intricacies of his tune,
and he stopped whistling. He had told his
friend that he was going to marry, and had mentioned
the lady's name; but what right had he to do that?
"Old fool!" he said to himself.
He remembered his feuds with his love's guardian,
some of them of years' standing; he thought of
his age, he ran through the years he might expect
to live, and ended by calculating how much he
was worth, valuing his three farms in an instant.
He felt proud after that, and Césarine Angers
did not seem quite so far off. He resolved,
just before sleep caught him, to open the campaign
at once, with the help of Alexis Girouard; but
in the dream that followed he found himself successfully
wooing the widow, wooing her with sneers and gibes,
and rehearsals of the old quarrels that seemed
to draw her smilingly toward him, as if there
was some malign influence at work translating
his words into irresistible phrases of endearment.
Monsieur Cuerrier commenced
to wear a gallant blue waistcoat all dotted with
white spots, and a silk necktie with fringed ends.
"You see, I am in the fashion now,"
he explained to his friends. Villeblanc,
the superannuated [Page 29] hairdresser,
eyed him critically and commenced to suspect him.
He blew a whistle of gratification when, one evening
in mid-June, he saw the shy Cuerrier drop a rose,
full blown, at the feet of Césarine Angers.
His gratification was not unmixed when he saw
Césarine pick it up and carry it away, blushing
delicately. Cuerrier tried to whistle "La
Fille de Madame Angot," but his heart leaped
into his throat, and his lips curled into a nervous
"So—so!" said Villeblanc.
"So—so! I think I'll curl my gentleman's
wig for him."
He was not unheedful of the
beauty of Césarine. He spoke a word of enigmatical
warning to the widow. "You had better
put off your weeds. Are we not going to
have a wedding?"
This seed fell upon ready ground,
and bore an unexpected shoot. From that
day the widow wore her best cap on week days.
Then along came the good friend, Alexis Girouard,
with his little hint. "My friend Cuerrier
wants to get married; he's as shy as a bird, but
don't be hard no him." The plant blossomed
at once. The widow shook her finger at her
image in the glass, took on all the colours of
the rainbow, and dusted off a guitar of her youth.
Cuerrier came in the evenings
and sat awhile with the widow, and that discreet
second cousin, hiding her withered rose; sometimes
also with a stunted farmer from near Viger, who
wore shoe-packs and smelt of native tobacco and
oiled leather. This farmer was designed
by the widow for that rebel Césarine, who still
resisted behind her [Page 30] barricade,
now strengthened by secret supplies of roses from
an official of the government itself.
"But it is high time to
speak," thought Cuerrier, and one night,
when there was not a hint of native tobacco in
the air, he said:
"Madame Laroque, I am
thinking now of what I would like to happen to
me before I grow an old man, and I think to be
married would be a good thing. If you make
no objection, I would marry the beautiful Césarine
The widow gathered her bitter
fruit. "Old beast!" she cried,
stamping on the guitar; "old enough to be
She drove the bewildered postmaster
out of the house, and locked Césarine into her
room. She let her come down to work, but
watched her like a cat. Forty times a day
she cried out, "The old scoundrel!"
and sometimes she would break a silence with a
laugh of high mockery, that ended with the phrase,
"The idea!" that was like the knot to
a whip-lash. She even derided Cuerrier from
her chamber window if he dared to walk the street.
The postmaster bore it; he pursed up his lips
to whistle, and said, "Wait."
He also went to see his friend Alexis. "I
have a plan, Alexis," he said, "if Diana
were only out of the road." But Diana
was in the road, she was in league with the widow.
"Fancy!" she cried, fiercely, "what
is to become of us when old men behave so.
Why, the next thing I know, Alexis—Alexis
will want to get married." [Page
Whatever Cuerrier's plan was,
he got no chance to impart it. Diana was
always in the road, and reported everything to
the widow; she, in turn, watched Césarine.
But one night, when Alexis was supposed to be
away, he appeared suddenly in Cuerrier's presence.
He had come back unexpectedly, and had not gone
home first. The plan was imparted to him.
"But to bring the calash out of the yard
at half-past twelve at night without Diana hearing,
never—never—she has ears like a watch-dog."
But he pledged himself to try. The widow
saw him depart, and she and Diana expected a coup-d'état.
Madame Laroque turned the key on Césarine, and
fed her on bread and water; Diana locked her brother's
door every night, when she knew he was in bed,
much to Alexis's perplexity.
The lane that separated the
widow's house from Cuerrier's was just nine feet
wide. The postmaster had reason to
know that; Madame Laroque had fought him for years,
saying that he had built on her land. At
last they had got a surveyor from the city, who
measured it with his chain. The widow flew
at him. He shrugged his shoulders.
"The Almighty made this nine feet,"
he said, "you cannot turn the world upside
"Nine feet," said
Cuerrier to himself, "nine feet, and two
are eleven." With that length in his
head he walked over to the carpenter's.
That evening he contemplated a two-inch plank
eleven feet long in his kitchen. The same
evening Alexis was deep in dissimulation.
He was holding up an image of garrulous innocence
to Diana, who glared at it suspiciously. [Page
The postmaster bored a small
hole through the plank about two inches from one
end, through this he ran the end of a long rope
and knotted it firmly. Then he carried the
plank upstairs into a small room over the store.
Opposite the window of this room there was a window
in Madame Laroque's house.
"Good-night, sweet dreams,"
cried Alexis to Diana, as, cold with excitement,
he staggered upstairs. He made all the movements
of undressing, but he did not undress; then he
gradually quieted down and sat shivering near
the window. In a short time Diana crept
up and locked his door. It took him an hour
to gain courage enough to throw his boots out
of the window; he followed them, slipping down
the post of the veranda. He crept cautiously
into the stable; his horse was ready harnessed
and he led her out, quaking lest she should whinny.
The calash was farther back in the yard than usual;
to drive out he would have to pass Diana's window.
Just as he took the reins in his hand the horse
gave a loud, fretful neigh; he struck her with
the whip, but she would not stir. He struck
her again, and, as she bounded past the window
it was raised, and something white appeared.
Alexis, glancing over his shoulder, gave a hoarse
shout, to relieve his excitement; he had seen
the head of the chaste Diana.
Cuerrier let down the top window-sash
about two inches, then he raised the lower sash
almost to its full height, and passed the end
of the rope from the outside through the upper
aperture into the room, and tied it to a nail.
Then he pushed the plank out of the window, and
[Page 33] let it drop until it
swung by the rope; then he lifted it up hand over
hand till the end rested on the sill. Adjusting
it so as to leave a good four inches to rest on
the opposite ledge, he lowered away his rope until
the end of the plank reached the opposite side,
and there was a strong bridge from Madame Laroque's
house to his own. He took a stout pole and
tapped gently on the window. Césarine was
stretched on her bed, sleeping lightly.
The tapping woke her; she rose on her elbow; the
sound came again; she went to the window and raised
a corner of the curtain. Cuerrier flashed
his lantern across the glass. Césarine put
up the window quietly. She heard Cuerrier
calling her assuringly. She crept out on
the plank, and put the window down. Then
she stood up, and, aided by the stout pole, which
the postmaster held firmly, she was soon across
the abyss. The plank was pulled in, the
window shut down, and all trace of the exploit
At sunrise, pausing after the
ascent of a hill, they looked back, and Césarine
thought she saw, like a little silver point in
the rosy light, the steeple of the far St. Joseph's,
and below them, from a hollow filled with mist,
concealing the houses, rose the tower and dome
of the parish church of St. Valérie.
A week after, when the farmer
from near Viger came into the post office for
his mail, bearing the familiar odour of native
tobacco, the new postmistress of Viger, setting
the tips of her fingers on the counter, and leaning
on her pretty wrists until four dimples appeared
on the back of each of her hands, said, "I
have nothing for you." [Page 34]
The rage of Madame Laroque
was less than her curiosity to know how Césarine
had effected her escape. She made friends
with her, and wore a cheerful face, but Césarine
was silent. "Tell her 'birds fly,'"
said Cuerrier. Exasperated, at last, the
widow commenced a petty revenge. She cooked
a favourite dinner of Cuerrier's, and left her
kitchen windows open to fill his house with the
odour. But, early that morning, the postmaster
had gone off to St. Valérie to draw up a lease,
and had taken his wife with him. About noon
he had stopped to water his horse, and had climbed
out of his calash to pluck some asters; Césarine
decked her hat with them, and sang a light song—she
had learned the air from "La Fille de Madame
Angot." [Page 35]