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  III. A Brave Heart Henry van Dyke

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There were two young men in Abbeville who were easily the cocks of the woodland walk. Their standing rested on the fact that they were the strongest men in the parish. Strength is the thing that counts, when people live on the edge of the wilderness. These two were well known all through the country between Lake St. John and Chicoutimi as men of great capacity. Either of them could shoulder a barrel of flour and walk off with it as lightly as a common man would carry a side of bacon. There was not a half-pound of difference between them in ability. But there was a great difference in their looks and in their way of doing things.

Raoul Vaillantcoeur was the biggest and the handsomest man in the village; nearly six feet tall, straight as a fir tree, and black as a bull-moose in December. He had natural force enough and to spare. Whatever he did was done by sheer power of back and arm. He could send a canoe up against the heaviest water, provided he did not get mad and break his paddle--which he often did. He had more muscle than he knew how to use.

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Prosper Leclere did not have so much, but he knew better how to handle it. He never broke his paddle--unless it happened to be a bad one, and then he generally had another all ready in the canoe. He was at least four inches shorter than Vaillantcoeur; broad shoulders, long arms, light hair, gray eyes; not a handsome fellow, but pleasant-looking and very quiet. What he did was done more than half with his head.

He was the kind of a man that never needs more than one match to light a fire.

But Vaillantcoeur--well, if the wood was wet he might use a dozen, and when the blaze was kindled, as like as not he would throw in the rest of the box.

Now, these two men had been friends and were changed into rivals. At least that was the way that one of them looked at it. And most of the people in the parish seemed to think that was the right view. It was a strange thing, and not altogether satisfactory to the public mind, to have two strongest men in the village. The question of comparative standing in the community ought to be raised and settled in the usual way. Raoul was perfectly willing, and at times (commonly on Saturday nights) very eager. But Prosper was not.

"No," he said, one March night, when he was boiling maple-sap in the sugar-bush with little Ovide Rossignol (who had a lyric passion for holding the coat while another man was fighting)--"no, for what shall I fight with Raoul? As boys we have played together. Once, in the rapids of the Belle Riviere, when I have fallen in the water, I think he has saved my life. He was stronger, then, than me. I am always a friend to him. If I beat him now, am I stronger? No, but weaker. And if he beats me, what is the sense of that? Certainly I shall not like it. What is to gain?"

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The Ruling Passion
Henry van Dyke

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