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VII. A Year of Nobility Henry van Dyke

Enter The Marquis

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Alden swore softly in English, under his breath. A rustic comedy, a joke on human nature, always pleased him; but beneath his cynical varnish he had a very honest heart, and he hated cruelty and injustice. He knew what a little money meant in the backwoods; what hard and bitter toil it cost to rake it together; what sacrifices and privations must follow its loss. If the smooth prospector of unclaimed estates in France had arrived at the camp on the Grande Decharge at that moment, Alden would have introduced him to the most unhappy hour of his life.

But with Jean Lamotte it was by no means so easy to deal. Alden perceived at once that ridicule would be worse than useless. The man was far too much in earnest. A jest about a marquis with holes in his hat! Yes, Jean would laugh at that very merrily; for he was a true VOYAGEUR. But a jest about the reality of the marquis! That struck him as almost profane. It was a fixed idea with him. Argument could not shake it. He had seen the papers. He knew it was true. All the strength of his vigorous and healthy manhood seemed to have gone into it suddenly, as if this was the news for which he had been waiting, unconsciously, since he was born.

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It was not in the least morbid, visionary, abstract. It was concrete, actual, and so far as Alden could see, wholesome. It did not make Jean despise his present life. On the contrary, it appeared to lend a zest to it, as an interesting episode in the career of a nobleman. He was not restless; he was not discontented. His whole nature was at once elated and calmed. He was not at all feverish to get away from his familiar existence, from the woods and the waters he knew so well, from the large liberty of the unpeopled forest, the joyous rush of the great river, the splendid breadth of the open sky. Unconsciously these things had gone into his blood. Dimly he felt the premonitions of homesickness for them all. But he was lifted up to remember that the blood into which these things had entered was blue blood, and that though he lived in the wilderness he really belonged to la haute classe. A breath of romance, a spirit of chivalry from the days when the high-spirited courtiers of Louis XIV sought their fortune in the New World, seemed to pass into him. He spoke of it all with a kind of proud simplicity.

"It appears curious to m'sieu', no doubt, but it has been so in Canada from the beginning. There were many nobles here in the old time. Frontenac,--he was a duke or a prince. Denonville,--he was a grand seigneur. La Salle, Vaudreuil,--these are all noble, counts or barons. I know not the difference, but the cure has told me the names. And the old Jacques Cartier, the father of all, when he went home to France, I have heard that the King made him a lord and gave him a castle. Why not? He was a capable man, a brave man; he could sail a big ship, he could run the rapids of the great river in his canoe. He could hunt the bear, the lynx, the carcajou. I suppose all these men,--marquises and counts and barons,--I suppose they all lived hard, and slept on the ground, and used the axe and the paddle when they came to the woods. It is not the fine coat that makes the noble. It is the good blood, the adventure, the brave heart."

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The Ruling Passion
Henry van Dyke

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