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by [?]

That the day was beautiful, that the harvest of the West had been a great one, that the salmon-fishing had been larger than ever before, that gold had been found in the Yukon, made no difference to Jacques Grassette, for he was in the condemned cell of Bindon Jail, living out those days which pass so swiftly between the verdict of the jury and the last slow walk with the Sheriff.

He sat with his back to the stone wall, his hands on his knees, looking straight before him. All that met his physical gaze was another stone wall, but with his mind’s eye he was looking beyond it into spaces far away. His mind was seeing a little house with dormer-windows, and a steep roof on which the snow could not lodge in winter-time; with a narrow stoop in front where one could rest of an evening, the day’s work done; the stone-and-earth oven near by in the open, where the bread for a family of twenty was baked; the wooden plough tipped against the fence, to wait the “fall” cultivation; the big iron cooler in which the sap from the maple-trees was boiled, in the days when the snow thawed and spring opened the heart of the wood; the flash of the sickle and the scythe hard by; the fields of the little, narrow farm running back from the St. Lawrence like a riband; and, out on the wide stream, the great rafts with their riverine population floating down to Michelin’s mill-yards.

For hours he had sat like this, unmoving, his gnarled red hands clamping each leg as though to hold him steady while he gazed; and he saw himself as a little lad, barefooted, doing chores, running after the shaggy, troublesome pony which would let him catch it when no one else could, and, with only a halter on, galloping wildly back to the farm-yard, to be hitched up in the cariole which had once belonged to the old Seigneur. He saw himself as a young man back from “the States,” where he had been working in the mills, regarded austerely by little Father Roche, who had given him his first Communion–for, down in Massachusetts he had learned to wear his curly hair plastered down on his forehead, smoke bad cigars, and drink “old Bourbon,” to bet and to gamble, and be a figure at horse-races.

Then he saw himself, his money all gone, but the luck still with him, at Mass on the Sunday before going to the backwoods lumber-camp for the winter, as boss of a hundred men. He had a way with him, and he had brains, had Jacques Grassette, and he could manage men, as Michelin the lumber-king himself had found in a great river-row and strike, when bloodshed seemed certain. Even now the ghost of a smile played at his lips as he recalled the surprise of the old habitants and of Father Roche when he was chosen for this responsible post; for to run a great lumber-camp well, hundreds of miles from civilisation, where there is no visible law, no restraints of ordinary organized life, and where men, for seven months together, never saw a woman or a child, and ate pork and beans, and drank white whiskey, was a task of administration as difficult as managing a small republic new-created out of violent elements of society. But Michelin was right, and the old Seigneur, Sir Henri Robitaille, who was a judge of men, knew he was right, as did also Hennepin the school-master, whose despair Jacques had been, for he never worked at his lessons as a boy, and yet he absorbed Latin and mathematics by some sure but unexplainable process. “Ah, if you would but work, Jacques, you vaurien, I would make a great man of you,” Hennepin had said to him more than once; but this had made no impression on Jacques. It was more to the point that the ground-hogs and black squirrels and pigeons were plentiful in Casanac Woods.