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- Pierre And His People, [Tales of the Far North], Volume 5. - 1/9 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
PIERRE AND HIS PEOPLE
TALES OF THE FAR NORTH
By Gilbert Parker
ANTOINE AND ANGELIQUE THE CIPHER A TRAGEDY OF NOBODIES A SANCTUARY OF THE PLAINS
ANTOINE AND ANGELIQUE
"The birds are going south, Antoine--see--and it is so early!"
"Yes, Angelique, the winter will be long."
There was a pause, and then: "Antoine, I heard a child cry in the night, and I could not sleep."
"It was a devil-bird, my wife; it flies slowly, and the summer is dead."
"Antoine, there was a rushing of wings by my bed before the morn was breaking."
"The wild-geese know their way in the night, Angelique; but they flew by the house and not near thy bed."
"The two black squirrels have gone from the hickory tree."
"They have hidden away with the bears in the earth; for the frost comes, and it is the time of sleep."
"A cold hand was knocking at my heart when I said my aves last night, my Antoine."
"The heart of a woman feels many strange things: I cannot answer, my wife."
"Let us go also southward, Antoine, before the great winds and the wild frost come."
"I love thee, Angelique, but I cannot go."
"Is not love greater than all?"
"To keep a pledge is greater."
"Yet if evil come?"
"There is the mine."
"None travels hither; who should find it?"
He said to me, my wife: 'Antoine, will you stay and watch the mine until I come with the birds northward, again?' and I said: 'I will stay, and Angelique will stay; I will watch the mine.'"
"This is for his riches, but for our peril, Antoine."
"Who can say whither a woman's fancy goes? It is full of guessing. It is clouds and darkness to-day, and sunshine--so much--to-morrow. I cannot answer."
"I have a fear; if my husband loved me--"
"There is the mine," he interrupted firmly.
"When my heart aches so--"
"Angelique, there is the mine."
"Ah, my Antoine!"
And so these two stayed on the island of St. Jean, in Lake Superior, through the purple haze of autumn, into the white brilliancy of winter, guarding the Rose Tree Mine, which Falding the Englishman and his companions had prospected and declared to be their Ophir.
But St. Jean was far from the ways of settlement, and there was little food and only one hut, and many things must be done for the Rose Tree Mine in the places where men sell their souls for money; and Antoine and Angelique, French peasants from the parish of Ste. Irene in Quebec, were left to guard the place of treasure, until, to the sound of the laughing spring, there should come many men and much machinery, and the sinking of shafts in the earth, and the making, of riches.
But when Antoine and Angelique were left alone in the waste, and God began to draw the pale coverlet of frost slowly across land and water, and to surround St. Jean with a stubborn moat of ice, the heart of the woman felt some coming danger, and at last broke forth in words of timid warning. When she once had spoken she said no more, but stayed and builded the heaps of earth about the house, and filled every crevice against the inhospitable Spirit of Winds, and drew her world closer and closer within those two rooms where they should live through many months.
The winter was harsh, but the hearts of the two were strong. They loved; and Love is the parent of endurance, the begetter of courage. And every day, because it seemed his duty, Antoine inspected the Rose Tree Mine; and every day also, because it seemed her duty, Angelique said many aves. And one prayer was much with her--for spring to come early that the child should not suffer: the child which the good God was to give to her and Antoine.
In the first hours of each evening Antoine smoked, and Angelique sang the old songs which their ancestors learned in Normandy. One night Antoine's face was lighted with a fine fire as he talked of happy days in the parish of Ste. Irene; and with that romantic fervour of his race which the stern winters of Canada could not kill, he sang, 'A la Claire Fontaine,' the well-beloved song-child of the 'voyageurs'' hearts.
And the wife smiled far away into the dancing flames--far away, because the fire retreated, retreated to the little church where they two were wed; and she did as most good women do--though exactly why, man the insufficient cannot declare--she wept a little through her smiles. But when the last verse came, both smiles and tears ceased. Antoine sang it with a fond monotony:
"Would that each rose were growing Upon the rose-tree gay, And that the fatal rose-tree Deep in the ocean lay. 'I ya longtemps que je t'aime Jamais je ne t'oublierai."
Angelique's heart grew suddenly heavy. From the rose-tree of the song her mind fled and shivered before the leafless rose-tree by the mine; and her old dread came back.
Of course this was foolish of Angelique; of course the wise and great throw contumely on all such superstition; and knowing women will smile at each other meaningly, and with pity for a dull man-writer, and will whisper, "Of course, the child." But many things, your majesties, are hidden from your wisdom and your greatness, and are given to the simple --to babes, and the mothers of babes.
It was upon this very night that Falding the Englishman sat with other men in a London tavern, talking joyously. "There's been the luck of Heaven," he said, "in the whole exploit. We'd been prospecting for months. As a sort of try in a back-water we rowed over one night to an island and pitched tents. Not a dozen yards from where we camped was a rose-tree-think of it, Belgard, a rose-tree on a rag-tag island of Lake Superior! 'There's luck in odd numbers, says Rory O'More.' 'There's luck here,' said I; and at it we went just beside the rose-tree. What's the result? Look at that prospectus: a company with a capital of two hundred thousand; the whole island in our hands in a week; and Antoine squatting on it now like Bonaparte on Elbe."
"And what does Antoine get out of this?" said Belgard.
"Forty dollars a month and his keep."
"Why not write him off twenty shares to propitiate the gods--gifts unto the needy, eh!--a thousand-fold--what?"
"Yes; it might be done, Belgard, if--"
But someone just then proposed the toast, "The Rose Tree Mine!" and the souls of these men waxed proud and merry, for they had seen the investor's palm filled with gold, the maker of conquest. While Antoine was singing with his wife, they were holding revel within the sound of Bow Bells. And far into the night, through silent Cheapside, a rolling voice swelled through much laughter thus:
"Gai Ion la, gai le rosier, Du joli mois de Mai."
The next day there were heavy heads in London; but the next day, also, a man lay ill in the hut on the island of St. Jean.
Antoine had sung his last song. He had waked in the night with a start of pain, and by the time the sun was halting at noon above the Rose Tree Mine, he had begun a journey, the record of which no man has ever truly told, neither its beginning nor its end; because that which is of the spirit refuseth to be interpreted by the flesh. Some signs there be, but they are brief and shadowy; the awe of It is hidden in the mind of him that goeth out lonely unto God.
When the call goes forth, not wife nor child nor any other can hold the wayfarer back, though he may loiter for an instant on the brink. The poor medicaments which Angelique brings avail not; these soothing hands and healing tones, they pass through clouds of the middle place between heaven and earth to Antoine. It is only when the second midnight comes that, with conscious, but pensive and far-off, eyes, he says to her: "Angelique, my wife."
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