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III. A Brave Heart Henry van Dyke


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"That was truly his name, m'sieu'--Raoul Vaillantcoeur--a name of the fine sound, is it not? You like that word,--a valiant heart,-- it pleases you, eh! The man who calls himself by such a name as that ought to be a brave fellow, a veritable hero? Well, perhaps. But I know an Indian who is called Le Blanc; that means white. And a white man who is called Lenoir; that means black. It is very droll, this affair of the names. It is like the lottery."

Silence for a few moments, broken only by the ripple of water under the bow of the canoe, the persistent patter of the rain all around us, and the SLISH, SLISH of the paddle with which Ferdinand, my Canadian voyageur, was pushing the birch-bark down the lonely length of Lac Moise. I knew that there was one of his stories on the way. But I must keep still to get it. A single ill-advised comment, a word that would raise a question of morals or social philosophy, might switch the narrative off the track into a swamp of abstract discourse in which Ferdinand would lose himself. Presently the voice behind me began again.

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"But that word VAILLANT, m'sieu'; with us in Canada it does not mean always the same as with you. Sometimes we use it for something that sounds big, but does little; a gun that goes off with a terrible crack, but shoots not straight nor far. When a man is like that he is FANFARON, he shows off well, but--well, you shall judge for yourself, when you hear what happened between this man Vaillantcoeur and his friend Prosper Leclere at the building of the stone tower of the church at Abbeville. You remind yourself of that grand church with the tall tower--yes? With permission I am going to tell you what passed when that was made. And you shall decide whether there was truly a brave heart in the story, or not; and if it went with the name.

Thus the tale began, in the vast solitude of the northern forest, among the granite peaks of the ancient Laurentian Mountains, on a lake that knew no human habitation save the Indian's wigwam or the fisherman's tent.

How it rained that day! The dark clouds had collapsed upon the hills in shapeless folds. The waves of the lake were beaten flat by the lashing strokes of the storm. Quivering sheets of watery gray were driven before the wind; and broad curves of silver bullets danced before them as they swept over the surface. All around the homeless shores the evergreen trees seemed to hunch their backs and crowd closer together in patient misery. Not a bird had the heart to sing; only the loon--storm-lover--laughed his crazy challenge to the elements, and mocked us with his long-drawn maniac scream.

It seemed as if we were a thousand miles from everywhere and everybody. Cities, factories, libraries, colleges, law-courts, theatres, palaces,--what had we dreamed of these things? They were far off, in another world. We had slipped back into a primitive life. Ferdinand was telling me the naked story of human love and human hate, even as it has been told from the beginning.

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The Ruling Passion
Henry van Dyke

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