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Pere Champagne
by [?]

“Is it that we stand at the top of the hill and the end of the travel has come, Pierre? Why don’t you spake?”

“We stand at the top of the hill, and it is the end.”

“And Lonely Valley is at our feet and Whiteface Mountain beyond?”

“One at our feet, and the other beyond, Shon McGann.”

“It’s the sight of my eyes I wish I had in the light of the sun this mornin’. Tell me, what is’t you see?”

“I see the trees on the foot-hills, and all the branches shine with frost. There is a path–so wide!–between two groves of pines. On Whiteface Mountain lies a glacier-field… and all is still.”…

“The voice of you is far-away-like, Pierre–it shivers as a hawk cries. It’s the wind, the wind, maybe.”

“There’s not a breath of life from hill or valley.”

“But I feel it in my face.”

“It is not the breath of life you feel.”

“Did you not hear voices coming athwart the wind?… Can you see the people at the mines?”

“I have told you what I see.”

“You told me of the pine-trees, and the glacier, and the snow–“

“And that is all.”

“But in the Valley, in the Valley, where all the miners are?”

“I cannot see them.”

“For love of heaven, don’t tell me that the dark is fallin’ on your eyes too.”

“No, Shon, I am not growing blind.”

“Will you not tell me what gives the ache to your words?”

“I see in the Valley–snow… snow.”

“It’s a laugh you have at me in your cheek, whin I’d give years of my ill-spent life to watch the chimney smoke come curlin’ up slow through the sharp air in the Valley there below.”

“There is no chimney and there is no smoke in all the Valley.”

“Before God, if you’re a man, you’ll put your hand on my arm and tell me what trouble quakes your speech.”

“Shon McGann, it is for you to make the sign of the Cross… there, while I put my hand on your shoulder–so!”

“Your hand is heavy, Pierre.”

“This is the sight of the eyes that see. In the Valley there is snow; in the snow of all that was, there is one poppet-head of the mine that was called St. Gabriel… upon the poppet-head there is the figure of a woman.”

“Ah!”

“She does not move–“

“She will never move?”

“She will never move.”

“The breath o’ my body hurts me…. There is death in the Valley, Pierre?”

“There is death.”

“It was an avalanche–that path between the pines?”

“And a great storm after.”

“Blessed be God that I cannot behold that thing this day!… And the woman, Pierre, the woman aloft?”

“She went to watch for someone coming, and as she watched, the avalanche came–and she moves not.”

“Do we know that woman?”

“Who can tell?”

“What was it you whispered soft to yourself, then, Pierre?”

“I whispered no word.”

“There, don’t you hear it, soft and sighin’?… Nathalie!”

“‘Mon Dieu!’ It is not of the world.”

“It’s facin’ the poppet-head where she stands I’d be.”

“Your face is turned towards her.”

“Where is the sun?”

“The sun stands still above her head.”

“With the bitter over, and the avil past, come rest for her and all that lie there.”

“Eh, ‘bien,’ the game is done!”

“If we stay here we shall die also.”

“If we go we die, perhaps.”…

“Don’t spake it. We will go, and we will return when the breath of summer comes from the South.”

“It shall be so.”

“Hush! Did you not hear–?”

“I did not hear. I only see an eagle, and it flies towards Whiteface Mountain.”

And Shon McGann and Pretty Pierre turned back from the end of their quest–from a mighty grave behind to a lonely waste before; and though one was snow-blind, and the other knew that on him fell the chiefer weight of a great misfortune, for he must provide food and fire and be as a mother to his comrade–they had courage; without which, men are as the standing straw in an unreaped field in winter; but having become like the hooded pine, that keepeth green in frost, and hath the bounding blood in all its icy branches.