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VII. A Year of Nobility Henry van Dyke

Enter The Marquis

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"Magnificent!" thought Alden. "It is the real thing, a bit of the seventeenth century lost in the forest for two hundred years. It is like finding an old rapier beside an Indian trail. I suppose the fellow may be the descendant of some gay young lieutenant of the regiment Carignan-Salieres, who came out with De Tracy, or Courcelles. An amour with the daughter of a habitant,--a name taken at random,--who can unravel the skein? But here's the old thread of chivalry running through all the tangles, tarnished but unbroken."

This was what he said to himself. What he said to Jean was, "Well, Jean, you and I have been together in the woods for two summers now, and marquis or no marquis, I hope this is not going to make any difference between us."

"But certainly NOT!" answered Jean. "I am well content with m'sieu', as I hope m'sieu' is content with me. While I am AU BOIS, I ask no better than to be your guide. Besides, I must earn those other hundred dollars, for the payment in the spring."

Alden tried to make him promise to give nothing more to the lawyer until he had something sure to show for his money. But Jean was politely non-committal on that point. It was evident that he felt the impossibility of meanness in a marquis. Why should he be sparing or cautious? That was for the merchant, not for the noble. A hundred, two hundred, three hundred dollars: What was that to an estate and a title? Nothing risk, nothing gain! He must live up to his role. Meantime he was ready to prove that he was the best guide on the Grande Decharge.

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And so he was. There was not a man in all the Lake St. John country who knew the woods and waters as well as he did. Far up the great rivers Peribonca and Misstassini he had pushed his birch canoe, exploring the network of lakes and streams along the desolate Height of Land. He knew the Grand Brule, where the bears roam in September on the fire-scarred hills among the wide, unharvested fields of blueberries. He knew the hidden ponds and slow-creeping little rivers where the beavers build their dams, and raise their silent water-cities, like Venice lost in the woods. He knew the vast barrens, covered with stiff silvery moss, where the caribou fed in the winter. On the Decharge itself,--that tumultuous flood, never failing, never freezing, by which the great lake pours all its gathered waters in foam and fury down to the deep, still gorge of the Saguenay,--there Jean was at home. There was not a curl or eddy in the wild course of the river that he did not understand. The quiet little channels by which one could drop down behind the islands while the main stream made an impassable fall; the precise height of the water at which it was safe to run the Rapide Gervais; the point of rock on the brink of the Grande Chute where the canoe must whirl swiftly in to the shore if you did not wish to go over the cataract; the exact force of the tourniquet that sucked downward at one edge of the rapid, and of the bouillon that boiled upward at the other edge, as if the bottom of the river were heaving, and the narrow line of the FILET D'EAU along which the birch-bark might shoot in safety; the treachery of the smooth, oily curves where the brown water swept past the edge of the cliff, silent, gloomy, menacing; the hidden pathway through the foam where the canoe could run out securely and reach a favourite haunt of the ouananiche, the fish that loves the wildest water,--all these secrets were known to Jean. He read the river like a book. He loved it. He also respected it. He knew it too well to take liberties with it.

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The Ruling Passion
Henry van Dyke

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