John Talbot Smith.

Saranac : a story of Lake Champlain online

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thing below their standard made the ladies indignant.
They found the stray holes in the decorations an I
widened them, found the loose tacks in the cedar
trimmings and pulled them out ; the hungrier and
rougher children dived under the walls of the restau-
rant secretly and carried off cake remnants ; some of
them scraped the ice cream cans and fought for the
privilege ; when they had spent their money, littered
the hall with paper and peanut-shells, and worked the
ladies into a fever, they stood around and voted the
fair a failure and a " fake." The beys guyed Robin
Hood and his cigars in the shooting gallery, and the
girls made remarks on the decorations Had not
Captain Sullivan, Mrs. DeLaunay the priest, and a
few other public spirited and thoughtful citizens given
them a final course of cream, candy, grab-bag, men-
agerie, minstrel, shooting, and soda water they would
have started a riot, and advertised the fair next day
as a great fraud.

Mrs. DeLaunay, who ever loved the crowd, was
inspired by the disorder they created ; Regina ob-
jected to it and hid herself in the restaurant with her
two pets, Remi and Elise, well-bred darlings, with


appetites that knew no limit. They appreciated her
attentions and told her all the child 'sh news of the
town with comments on that gossip peculiar to grown
people. It interested Regina sufficiently to rouse
pleasant blushes.

" You like Uncle Hugh, don't you, Miss DeLau
nay ?" said Elise archly, and Remi shouted,

"Nov that isn't fair, because I never said she
didn't. Ask her the right way. I said she didn't
like him to marry him. We all like him the other
way, don't we ?"

" Certainty," said Regina. " But why do you talk
about it at all, I'd like to know ?"

" Miss Ransom she said too ur teacher she thought
it was a match "

"What do those teachers know anyway?" said

" She said how in the play everyone saw it was
going to be a match, and I asked mamma, and she
said if it would be, then you'd be o ir aunt.''

" That is what I'd like," said Remi, " but Miss De-
Launay has all the say in it. Teachers' talk can't
mnkp thiroo tme."

" But is it true by itself ? " persisted Elise.

" When you call me aunt then you'll know it to be
true," said Regina gently, and they understood that
the happiness in store for them was not for conversa-
tion untfl a long time had passed. The crowd of chil-
dren, having now laid waste the fair, and reduced the
government to a most miserable condition were pre-
paring to depart in triumph, gorged with feasting and
laden with plunder. The fair was a mere wrecK, its
supplies gone, its draperies wilted and torn, its de

2 68

partments used up. The minstrels, the menagerie and
the art gallery had collapsed, the fortune-teller and
the grab bag girl, the Rebecca of the well and Robin
Hood had fled home to recuperate for the evening
performance. Only the children were alive to the
joys of life at a fair, and complained of the clock
which had brought around tea time so soon. They
had one supreme satisfaction in going, that peanuts
and cream having given out there was no use to stay
longer. Hugh marched them to the gate under the
eye of the priest, and blessed his luck when the door
was locked on the last one.

The grown people were hardly less troublesome in
the end than the children. Having set their heart on
certain prizes they felt bound to win them. They
dreamed of them and consulted dream oracles on the
matter ; they set mystic traps to prevent them going
to others ; they speculated on the mystical value of
certain numbers, and put their names to them ; and
they spent a certain amount of money besides to make
sure of them. Each night of the last three was de-
voted to naming the winners of these gifts, when the
town hall became a little Monte Carlo for the crowd,
eager to see some return for their investments. They
stood massed around the platform where the wheel
turned out the lucky numbers, of all creeds and con-
ditions, as nervous in a quiet way as the frequenters
of Monte Carlo. Not a few had their theories and
plans for winning the best and many gifts. The an-
nouncement of winners was received with various ex-
pressions of dissent or approval, with groans from the
disappointed, and cheers for the poor widow who
won a ton of coal or a sack of flour ; rcith secret


curses on the luck, or on the dream oracles, or on the
useless method ; with bitter determination to spend
no more money on fair books in the hope of winning
a prize. Mr. Grady, who was a Puritan of the most
advanced tjpe, denounced the proceedings like a pro-
phet born too soon amid a good-natured people. They
laughed at him but accepted most of his arguments.
The priest did not mind, and seemed rather to like
Grady' s hot opinions on all things that are and ought
to be.

Both Grady and Sullivan weie steady attendants at
old Winthrop's bedside. The story of his baptism was
now common and disturbed no prejudices, as in his
life he had never professsed belief in any sect and had
railed at most of them. The more intense believers
of the town were willing an old broken down skeptic
should take to idols on his deathbed, while the gen-
erous ones rejoiced at his acceptance of faith at the
last moment. Until his weakness had increased to
such a degree that speaking became sometimes an
effort he did not allude to the delirium of his baptism
mornirg, but he asked Hugh regularly if he had
received word of John. Then at the end he spoke

"It's six days now since he died, and surely there
will be news. Of course it took sometime to find the
body, and strangers might not know right away where
to send word."

Seeing Hugh look at him curiously he added :

" Didn't I tell you John was dead ?"

" You did."

" Of course you didn't believe it. Ah, God is good,
to us fools in particular that denied Him all our lives.
John is dead, drowned by accident, for he would never


break his word to me - and what's more I believe
God was merciful to him at the last as to me. I'll
tell it to you, Sullivan, for you were the one friend
that stuck to him. You know how the dread of his
death hung over me these months back. If ever a
man prayed to avert it, I did. You never thought of
praying for him, I'll bet."

" No, I didn't," said Hugh frankly.

" It takes a father to remember it. I didn't know
how to pray of course, but I did my best. I made
the offer of my own miserable life for his. I asked
only that he might die of a fever, or in any way but
by suicide. When I began to think of a life after
this, and began to believe in the Church I added a
prayer for his soul that at least it might not be lost.
I made the sacrifice here - if such a thing was sen-
sible and right of his companionship in the next
world, could he only be saved. Was that correct ?"

" I'm sure I don't know," said Hugh dubiously.

" You don't know enough about religion, Hugh,"
said old David sharply. " You've never given me a
direct answer to a question yet."

'Outside of the mere catechism I'm lost," said
Hugh humbly, but with humor he added, " You can't
expect a Lake Champlain pilot to know all about the
Hudson can you?"

" No, of course not. Well, I made the sacrifice
anyway. What a church for sacrifices ours is. I
was willing to stay in purgatory a thousand years to
save that boy. The night I was baptized something
happened. After I received the sacraments I fell
into a sleep. It was Like a sleep, but I was wide
awake as I am now. I could swear to that. I just


passed from this room to a place out West some-
where, the worst looking country I ever saw, all sand
or mud or rock. A big river lan through it like mad,
boiling and foaming, and not a house in sight. I said
to myself,

"' Winthrop, what in excuse me, Hugh I said
what are you doing here ?'

"And then I saw hanging to a log in the mid-
dle of that terrible river my boy, John Wimthrop,
hanging to it for dear life, the life he never cared
much for. He was played out, and I saw he couldn't
hold on very long. I couldn't help him, but I got on
the log somehow and cried out :

"'John, I'm heie.'

" He opened his eyes, saw me and smiled, and he
said :

" Dad, it's all up with us. It was an accident. I
had nothing to do with it. Won't you beheve that ?"

" I believe it," said I. " I thank God it's not sui-
cide. I'm going too, and I've keen baptized a Catho-
lic like Hugh SulLvan. John, since we're going to-
gether let me baptize you. Let us both go before
God like decent men, not like tramps. Baptism will
make the way clear for you. I'll join you soon. What
do you say ? "

" I'm willing, dad," he said opening his eyes again.
" I've been thinking things all night, and if it's not too
late "

" Do you believe ? " I shouted.

" I believe whatever Hugh believed," he said.

" Are you sorry for all your sins."

" I'm sorry, dad."

Then I tooV my hands full of water and dashed it


on his face and baptized him, and the next minute he
let go of the log and never came up again, and I was
back in the room here, crying like a woman as I had
a right to I couldn't epeak of it right away, lor my
heart was broken to think my clever boy should come
to such an end. But I know now it was all for the
best. I am as certain of his baptism as of my own.
What do you think of it, Hugh Sullivan ?"

" D.d you tell the priest of it," said Hugh.

'' No. But 1 will if you say so."

' I believe with you, :) said Sullivan warmly, " that
John died happily. It's a wonderful story."

" What did we ever do,' cried the old man, " to
have such favors showered upon us ? "

" That's God's way," the Captain answered. "I sup
pose you did the best you could, your hearts were
right, and so He saved you in His own way. You
must tell the story to Grady. It will please him more
than anything."

But Winthrop was never more able to speak even
his wants to those about him. Once he asked feebly,

'Is everything settled about that DeLaunay girl?'
and when John gravely answered that their marriage
date was fixed a spasm of anguish pinched his face; but
it gave way at once to a smile of profound peace. His
boy was happier at that moment than any bridegroom.
He never failed to ask for news of John's death, but
none came and Hugh felt ashamed for a moment of the
credence he had given to the old man's vision. Yet
when on the last night of the fair a telegram was
handed to him with the brief statement ot John Win-
throp's death by accidental drowinng on tnat veiy
midnight old David had received the sacraments, the


Captain was deeply moved. He telegraphed instruc-
tions for the forwarding of the body, and deserted the
fair to bring the news to the dying father. The old
man was no more than able to hear the telegram read
and to learn that his son's body would repose by his
side in Saranac graveyard. Tim Grady left his con-
test to take care of itself when a note warned him of
Winthrop's agony. With the two faithful friends at
his side the old man passed away near midnight just
as the crunching of the snow and the laughing voices
in the street announced the closing of the fair. Tim
went out to get the news of the contest and the re-

" Won with a hundred dollars to spare," was the
story cf Tim's victory.

" Receipts almost two thousand," was the result of
Mrs. DeLaunay's management.

" It was a great fair an' no mishtake," said Tim, as
he went back to the room of death.


Once in a while striking incidents will cluster thick
in the history of a soul, or a group, or a town, and
make life exciting for months or years ; then sudden-
ly ending in a climax of mingled tears and joy, the
old happy routine resumes its place, and life seems
to pause ; as if a brave troop on the march through a
rugged wilderness came suddenly on a balmy clearing
by a river ; and then off with arms and knapsacks, and
out with banjo and harmonica around the steaming
mess-kettle, as if war had never been and peace must


be forever. Saranac found itself in the clearing that
summer, when the dead were buried and the lovers
had married, and ail the excitement stirred un by the
pilot's son had died away. Sweet peace wandered
through the ripening fields, and her fragrant breath
scented the sunshine. The quiet of Saranac was like
the quiet of the siesta hours in Italy, glowing and
warm, full of breathings, human beings absent from
the ways and porches ; they were all in the fields reap-
ing, or afloat in the Champlain steamers and canal-
boats making money for the long and cruel winter.

It was Sunday aiternoon and Vespers was over in
the church. The people had returned home save the
few that lingered to pray in the churchyard. Mrs.
Sullivan knelt at the foot of the Sullivan plot and
tried to remember the souls whose bodies lay in it,
but with Tim Grady entangling himself and Captain
LaRoche in a tape measure, under her eyes, and
talking as only Tim could talk anywhere, she was
forced to defer her prayers.

*' Musha, thin, Tim," said she, " but yer tongue is
longer than yer measure. There's no end to it. An
it's wondherin' I am if there's anny single place in the
whole world where ye're not heard."

" There is ma'am," said Mr. Grady promptly, an i
he pointed to the nearest grave. Mrs. Sullivan

" There's wan blessin' thin," she said, "for thim
that die in Saranac. What's throublin' ye I dunno ? '

" I tould LaRoche here, an' I tould the priest whin
they dug Amedee's grave that it was six inches over
the line. They wouldn't belave me thin, an' now I've
just proved it to 'im."


" Ye re a great ouM man for provin' to be sure.
An' a nice business it is to be measurin' graves whin
waitin' for a christenin'. But ye have no more respect
for the baby jist bora than ye had for her father.
Sure there's lots o' time for the grave wtdout havin' it
wid yer roeals."

" I'll not dispute wid ye, ma'am.'" sai \ Tim loftily.
" I'll have words wid none on the day Amedee's daugh-
ter is to be chrishened. I shtud for her father, an'
I'm goin' to be prisint at her baptism wid peace an'
good will to all min, an' all ould wimmin'. I'm
happy. So is LaRocbe. He's downed ould Mc-
Carthy, another oald woman. The child gets one
half the property of her father."

The pilot chuckled, for the loss of that property to
the McCarthys had angered him In her curiosity
to know more about the will Mrs. Su'livan forgot the
vexatious remarks of Mr. Grady.

" So the baby gets one-half," she said, " an' that
manes all, for the mother '11 lave her everything, o'
coorse ; an' was that the way Amedee left it in his

'A'l to the wife if no child was born. Half to the
child if it came, an' Captain Sullivan, yer own son, to
be executor wid the mother. An' ould McCarthy's
heart's broke, an' this man can't keep from laughin'.
There's no raison in aither of 'em, for in any case
there was no money in it for the two ould fools. Bat
that's the way o' the world to fight like murther over
what doesn't belong to 'em, an' thin see a bit of a
baby walk in an' take away the property. Isn't that
the Captain comin' now I wondher."

Two children breathless rushed up to tell grandma


that the procession was coming, and dashed back
again to secure the best places in the vestry.

*' T hat b'y, Remi, is growin'," said Mr. Grady.

"What else has he to do?" sad Mrs. Sullivan.

" Thim that has less don't do it, ma'am," said Tim.

" 'T would do ye good," Mrs. Sullivan said, " to
hear Mrs. McCarthy and Madame La Roche at it last
Sunday about the baptism. Nothin 1 ud do Madame
but the child ud be taken to the church on the spot,
an' it only a day ould wid the breath hardly fixed in
it. That was Frinch style, o' coo se, an' ould Me
Carthy backed her up in it, for the poor man was
brought up that way, an' can't help it. But Mrs.
M Carthy shtud her ground in the face o' thim all,
an' named to day for the christenin', an' it's to be
named Regina after the godmother, an' a mighty
purty, sollum kind of a name it is.''

"There's only wan lady in the to<va ever made to
wear such a name," said Mr. Grady. '-It manes a
queen, an' it's little I thought sheM be so foolish as
to put such an ordinary commonplace name as Sulli-
van behind it."

" That's roe own thought," said the old lady.
' But whin I did it mese f that was born in a sinsible
country, what can you expe:t from a Saranac girl/'

Two carriages now drove up in state to the vestry-
door. Out of the first stepped Monsieur McCarthy,
and the two grandmothers, Mrs. McCarthy carrying
the little candidate for baptism with all the dignity
and haughtiness suited to a lady of her rank, at.d
rather ignoring Madame whose eyes never left the

Out of the other stepped Regina and her husband,

looking as happy and ordinary as a newly married
pair can look in the presence of their friends. No
shadows from John Winthrop's grave lay on Regina's
pathway. Captain Sullivan had take a pains to pre-
vent that disaster. She never learned that the young
man had resolved to die rather than live without her;
so that her only regret about him was that he had
died an untimely death. The Captain was in his
uniform, which Regina knew always softened the ab-
ruptness of his manner and changed the inflections of
his speech for the better. She insisted on his wear-
ing it whenever etiquette permitted, declaring that
her most elegant to lets still looked subdued in its
brightness. She was educating him unawares out of
his fondness for kitchen epithets and his bluntness.
He had never been taught the dependence of every-
thing in this world upon a hundred other things, and
so spoke of hemp rope in the hearing of those whose
ancestors had been hanged. He accepted her guid-
ance and training with the docility of a sailor ashore,
and the good-natured taunt that she could never
teach him how to run a ship. Three months of mar-
ried life had not lessened her esteem for him. Even
Mr. Gndy could read theTrespect for Hugh that be-
trayed itself in her manner. He would always be
her superior in simplicity and candor, in fidelity and
faith. He kne*v nothing of casuistry. In the su-
preme moments of life he would be as unconsciously
a hero as on that night when the steamer went ashore
on the west rocks of Lake Champlain ; an;l Regina
said to herself regularly that she would always love
him as she did ihen.

They all stood before the priest in the vestry, the


little crowd gazing with delight at the beautiful god
mother whose presence shed a glory there. Madame
held the baby, and the oiher relatives and friends
stood in the background. Little Regina accepted
touch and blessing, salt, spittle, sacred oil
and baptismal water with perfect indifftr
ence ; squeezed the fingers of her sponsors,
tugged at the wiping cloths and went into rapt-
ures over the burning candle. Madame looked
anxiously at the matrons, who shook their heads
gravely. Then the last prayer was said, the candle
extinguished, and the children, who had crowded
about to see the ceremony, banished. Still the baby
remained indifferent ar.d smiling, and Madame grew
more grave ; but at the very last, as if her guardian
angel had pinched her slyly, little Regina puckered her
face and burst into a storm of tears and screamings
pleasant to hear. Then the matrons smiled and
laughed and Mrs. Sullivan in her stateliest language
congratulated the baby's relatives. The baby that
cried at its own baptism was safe from sickness and
death for at least a year, while the baby that did not
would never see its first birthday The priest wrote
down the proper things in the register, and said with
a sigh,

" Poor Amedee ! "

Then he called over the sponsors to show them a
circumstance. Baptisms, marriages, and deaths were
rare in Saranac. On one page c f the register were seven
entries in this order : the burial of Amedee, the baptism
of David Winthrop, the burial of the two Winthrops,
the baptism of Regina, her marriage with Captain
Sullivan, and the baptism ot Amedee's daughter.

They found it wonderful. It was an official telling of
the whole story told at length in this book, and so it
would go down to Saranac posterity. But who would
be able to tell a century hen~e how curiously and tragi-
cally these different entries blended, and what a ro-
mance lay behind them ! Amid the chattering and
congratulations and the shrieks of little Regina the
party broke up. The carriages rolled away to the
ringing of a joy bell in the church tower, as was proper
at a baptsm. The children satisfied with one novel-
ty rushed off to find others. The old women hastened
home for Sunday tea, and the old men remained a
little longer to chat with the priest. They in turn
drifted off, followed by the pious souls who haunted
the church until the sexton's patience was exhausted.
Then the Ange!us rang out for a few minutes, the
church doors w^re locked, and the impatient sexton
slipped away down the road fearful lest the priest
should cl'p another minute from bis night off.

The priest was lift alone saying his office as he
walked up and down the pathway beside the church.
The low sun was casting long shadows over the plain,
and the gray night began to rise in the East. Now he
could see the figures of his people fading down the
road that led to the village ; so would they all vanish
one by one from the ways of the town and all the
ways of earth. When he turned the graveyard lay
before him, and as he prayed he remembered many a
poor creature lying there once as lull of life as these
who had just left him. And so he walked and prayed,
now facing the living, now facing the dead, mindful
of both, feeling more keenly than usual the little
distance between them, and sad that death must be


the end of everything. Then the sun disappeared,
and the darkness came on, and the priest went away
to his tea and his books. Saranac, its living and
dead, were left in silence and night I


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Online LibraryJohn Talbot SmithSaranac : a story of Lake Champlain → online text (page 18 of 18)