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Sketches of Quebec
by [?]

If you love a certain country, for its natural beauty, or for the friends you have made there, or for the happy days you have passed within its borders, you are troubled and distressed when that country comes under criticism, suspicion, and reproach.

It is just as it would be if a woman who had been very kind to you and had done you a great deal of good were accused of some unworthiness. You would refuse to believe it. You would insist on understanding before you pronounced judgment. Memories would ask to be heard.

That is what I feel in regard to French Canada, the province of Quebec, where I have had so many joyful times, and found so many true comrades among the voyageurs, the habitants, and the coureurs de bois.

People are saying now that Quebec is not loyal, not brave, not patriotic in this war for freedom and humanity.

Even if the accusation were true, of course it would not spoil the big woods, the rushing rivers, the sparkling lakes, the friendly mountains of French Canada. But all the same, it hurts me to hear such a charge against my friends of the forest.

Do you mean to tell me that Francois and Ferdinand and Louis and Jean and Eugene and Iside are not true men? Do you mean to tell me that these lumbermen who steer big logs down steep places, these trappers who brave the death-cold grip of Winter, these canoe-men who shout for joy as they run the foaming rapids,–do you mean to tell me that they have no courage?

I am not ready to credit that. I want to hear what they have to say for themselves. And in listening for that testimony certain little remembrances come to me–not an argument–only a few sketches on the wall. Here they are. Take them for what they are worth.

I

LA GRANDE DECHARGE

September, 1894

In one of the long stillwaters of the mighty stream that rushes from Lac Saint Jean to make the Saguenay–below the Ile Maligne and above the cataract of Chicoutimi–two birch-bark canoes are floating quietly, descending with rhythmic strokes of the paddle, through the luminous northern twilight.

The chief guide, Jean Morel, is a coureur de bois of the old type–broad-shouldered, red-bearded, a fearless canoeman, a good hunter and fisherman–simple of speech and deep of heart: a good man to trust in the rapids.

“Tell me, Jean,” I ask in the comfortable leisure of our voyage which conduces to pipe-smoking and conversation, “tell me, are you a Frenchman or an Englishman?”

“Not the one, nor the other,” answers Jean in his old-fashioned patois. “M’sieu’ knows I am French-Canadian.”

A remarkable answer, when you come to think of it; for it claims a nationality which has never existed, and is not likely to exist, except in a dream.

“Well, then,” I say, following my impulse of psychological curiosity, of which Jean is sublimely ignorant, “suppose a war should come between France and England. On which side would you fight?”

Jean knocks the dottle out of his pipe, refills and relights. Then, between the even strokes of his paddle, he makes this extraordinary reply:

“M’sieu, I suppose my body would march under the flag of England. But my heart would march under the flag of France.”

Good old Jean Morel! You had no premonition of this glorious war in which the Tricolor and the Union Jack would advance together against the ravening black eagle of Germany, and the Stars and Stripes would join them.

How should you know anything about it? Your log cabin was your capitol. Your little family was your council of state. Even the rest of us, proud of our university culture, were too blind, in those late Victorian days, to see the looming menace of Prussian paganism and the conquer-lust of the Hohenzollerns, which has plunged the whole world in war.

II

OXFORD

February, 1917

The “Schools” building, though modern, is one of the stateliest on the Main Street. Here, in old peaceful times, the university examinations used to be held. Now it is transformed into a hospital for the wounded men from the fighting front of freedom.

Sir William Osier, Canadian, and world-renowned physician, is my guide, an old friend in Baltimore, now Regius Professor of Medicine in Oxford.