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III. A Brave Heart Henry van Dyke

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So it was that these two men stood against each other in Abbeville. Just as strongly as Raoul was set to get into a fight, just so strongly was Prosper set to keep out of one. It was a trial of strength between two passions,--the passion of friendship and the passion of fighting.

Two or three things happened to put an edge on Raoul's hunger for an out-and-out fight.

The first was the affair at the shanty on Lac des Caps. The wood- choppers, like sailors, have a way of putting a new man through a few tricks to initiate him into the camp. Leclere was bossing the job, with a gang of ten men from St. Raymond under him. Vaillantcoeur had just driven a team in over the snow with a load of provisions, and was lounging around the camp as if it belonged to him. It was Sunday afternoon, the regular time for fun, but no one dared to take hold of him. He looked too big. He expressed his opinion of the camp.

"No fun in this shanty, HE? I suppose that little Leclere he makes you others work, and say your prayers, and then, for the rest, you can sleep. HE! Well, I am going to make a little fun for you, my boys. Come, Prosper, get your hat, if you are able to climb a tree."

He snatched the hat from the table by the stove and ran out into the snow. In front of the shanty a good-sized birch, tall, smooth, very straight, was still standing. He went up the trunk like a bear.

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But there was a dead balsam that had fallen against the birch and lodged on the lower branches. It was barely strong enough to bear the weight of a light man. Up this slanting ladder Prosper ran quickly in his moccasined feet, snatched the hat from Raoul's teeth as he swarmed up the trunk, and ran down again. As he neared the ground, the balsam, shaken from its lodgement, cracked and fell. Raoul was left up the tree, perched among the branches, out of breath. Luck had set the scene for the lumberman's favourite trick.

"Chop him down! chop him down" was the cry; and a trio of axes were twanging against the birch tree, while the other men shouted and laughed and pelted the tree with ice to keep the prisoner from climbing down.

Prosper neither shouted nor chopped, but he grinned a little as he watched the tree quiver and shake, and heard the rain of "SACRES!" and "MAUDITS!" that came out of the swaying top. He grinned--until he saw that a half-dozen more blows would fell the birch right on the roof of the shanty.

"Are you crazy?" he cried, as he picked up an axe; "you know nothing how to chop. You kill a man. You smash the cabane. Let go!" He shoved one of the boys away and sent a few mighty cuts into the side of the birch that was farthest from the cabin; then two short cuts on the other side; the tree shivered, staggered, cracked, and swept in a great arc toward the deep snow-drift by the brook. As the top swung earthward, Raoul jumped clear of the crashing branches and landed safely in the feather-bed of snow, buried up to his neck. Nothing was to be seen of him but his head, like some new kind of fire-work--sputtering bad words.

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The Ruling Passion
Henry van Dyke

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