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III. A Brave Heart Henry van Dyke

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It was hard on Vaillantcoeur, of course, to see Leclere going ahead, getting rich, clearing off the mortgage on his farm, laying up money with the notary Bergeron, who acted as banker for the parish--it was hard to look on at this, while he himself stood still, or even slipped back a little, got into debt, had to sell a bit of the land that his father left him. There must be some cheating about it.

But this was not the hardest morsel to swallow. The great thing that stuck in his crop was the idea that the little Prosper, whom he could have whipped so easily, and whom he had protected so loftily, when they were boys, now stood just as high as he did as a capable man--perhaps even higher. Why was it that when the Price Brothers, down at Chicoutimi, had a good lumber-job up in the woods on the Belle Riviere, they made Leclere the boss, instead of Vaillantcoeur? Why did the cure Villeneuve choose Prosper, and not Raoul, to steady the strain of the biggest pole when they were setting up the derrick for the building of the new church?

It was rough, rough! The more Raoul thought of it, the rougher it seemed. The fact that it was a man who had once been his protege, and still insisted on being his best friend, did not make it any smoother. Would you have liked it any better on that account? I am not telling you how it ought to have been, I am telling you how it was. This isn't Vaillantcoeur's account-book; it's his story. You must strike your balances as you go along.

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And all the time, you see, he felt sure that he was a stronger man and a braver man than Prosper. He was hungry to prove it in the only way that he could understand. The sense of rivalry grew into a passion of hatred, and the hatred shaped itself into a blind, headstrong desire to fight. Everything that Prosper did well, seemed like a challenge; every success that he had was as hard to bear as an insult. All the more, because Prosper seemed unconscious of it. He refused to take offence, went about his work quietly and cheerfully, turned off hard words with a joke, went out of his way to show himself friendly and good-natured. In reality, of course, he knew well enough how matters stood. But he was resolved not to show that he knew, if he could help it; and in any event, not to be one of the two that are needed to make a quarrel.

He felt very strangely about it. There was a presentiment in his heart that he did not dare to shake off. It seemed as if this conflict were one that would threaten the happiness of his whole life. He still kept his old feeling of attraction to Raoul, the memory of the many happy days they had spent together; and though the friendship, of course, could never again be what it had been, there was something of it left, at least on Prosper's side. To struggle with this man, strike at his face, try to maim and disfigure him, roll over and over on the ground with him, like two dogs tearing each other,--the thought was hateful. His gorge rose at it. He would never do it, unless to save his life. Then? Well, then, God must be his judge.

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The Ruling Passion
Henry van Dyke

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