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X. At the Sign of the Balsam Bough Henry van Dyke


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But the birds were not our only musicians at Kenogami. French Canada is one of the ancestral homes of song. Here you can still listen to those quaint ballads which were sung centuries ago in Normandie and Provence. "A la Claire Fontaine," "Dans Paris y a-tune Brune plus Belle que le Jour," "Sur le Pont d'Avignon," "En Roulant ma Boule," "La Poulette Grise," and a hundred other folk-songs linger among the peasants and voyageurs of these northern woods. You may hear

    "Malbrouck s'en va-t-en guerre--
    Mironton, mironton, mirontaine,"


    "Isabeau s'y promene
    Le long de son jardin,"

chanted in the farmhouse or the lumber shanty, to the tunes which have come down from an unknown source, and never lost their echo in the hearts of the people.

Our Ferdinand was a perfect fountain of music. He had a clear tenor voice, and solaced every task and shortened every voyage with melody. "A song, Ferdinand, a jolly song," the other men would say, as the canoes went sweeping down the quiet lake. And then the leader would strike up a well-known air, and his companions would come in on the refrain, keeping time with the stroke of their paddles. Sometimes it would be a merry ditty:

    "My father had no girl but me,
    And yet he sent me off to sea;
    Leap, my little Cecilia."

Or perhaps it was:

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    "I've danced so much the livelong day,--
    Dance, my sweetheart, let's be gay,--
    I've fairly danced my shoes away,--
    Till evening.
    Dance, my pretty, dance once more;
    Dance, until we break the floor."

But more frequently the song was touched with a plaintive pleasant melancholy. The minstrel told how he had gone into the woods and heard the nightingale, and she had confided to him that lovers are often unhappy. The story of La Belle Francoise was repeated in minor cadences--how her sweetheart sailed away to the wars, and when he came back the village church bells were ringing, and he said to himself that Francoise had been faithless, and the chimes were for her marriage; but when he entered the church it was her funeral that he saw, for she had died of love. It is strange how sorrow charms us when it is distant and visionary. Even when we are happiest we enjoy making music

"Of old, unhappy, far-off things."

"What is that song which you are singing, Ferdinand?" asks the lady, as she hears him humming behind her in the canoe.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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