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0105_001E III. A Brave Heart Henry van Dyke

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Down in the store of old Girard, that night, Vaillantcoeur was holding forth after a different fashion. He stood among the cracker-boxes and flour-barrels, with a background of shelves laden with bright-coloured calicoes, and a line of tin pails hanging overhead, and stated his view of the case with vigour. He even pulled off his coat and rolled up his shirt-sleeve to show the knotty arguments with which he proposed to clinch his opinion.

"That Leclere," said he, "that little Prosper Leclere! He thinks himself one of the strongest--a fine fellow! But I tell you he is a coward. If he is clever? Yes. But he is a poltroon. He knows well that I can flatten him out like a crepe in the frying-pan. But he is afraid. He has not as much courage as the musk-rat. You stamp on the bank. He dives. He swims away. Bah!"

"How about that time he cut loose the jam of logs in the Rapide des Cedres?" said old Girard from his corner.

Vaillantcoeur's black eyes sparkled and he twirled his mustache fiercely. "SAPRIE!" he cried, "that was nothing! Any man with an axe can cut a log. But to fight--that is another affair. That demands the brave heart. The strong man who will not fight is a coward. Some day I will put him through the mill--you shall see what that small Leclere is made of. SACREDAM!"

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Of course, affairs had not come to this pass all at once. It was a long history, beginning with the time when the two boys had played together, and Raoul was twice as strong as the other, and was very proud of it. Prosper did not care; it was all right so long as they had a good time. But then Prosper began to do things better and better. Raoul did not understand it; he was jealous. Why should he not always be the leader? He had more force. Why should Prosper get ahead? Why should he have better luck at the fishing and the hunting and the farming? It was by some trick. There was no justice in it.

Raoul was not afraid of anything but death; and whatever he wanted, he thought he had a right to have. But he did not know very well how to get it. He would start to chop a log just at the spot where there was a big knot.

He was the kind of a man that sets hare-snares on a caribou-trail, and then curses his luck because he catches nothing.

Besides, whatever he did, he was always thinking most about beating somebody else. But Prosper eared most for doing the thing as well as he could. If any one else could beat him--well, what difference did it make? He would do better the next time.

If he had a log to chop, he looked it all over for a clear place before he began. What he wanted was, not to make the chips fly, but to get the wood split.

You are not to suppose that the one man was a saint and a hero, and the other a fool and a ruffian. No; that sort of thing happens only in books. People in Abbeville were not made on that plan. They were both plain men. But there was a difference in their hearts; and out of that difference grew all the trouble.

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The Ruling Passion
Henry van Dyke

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