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Two Cat’s-Paws
by [?]

Jean Marquette had nothing French about him but his name. Indeed “ne’er a word of French” could the old man remember, for he had lived for many years on the bleak, northeast side of Labrador; and few folk knew why, for all his forbears from sunny France had studiously avoided the Atlantic seaboard.

Over his evening pipe, when the sparkling forks of fire bursting from the crackling logs seemed to materialize before his eyes again the scenes of his venturous life in the wild, as if they had been imperishably imprinted in the old trunks which had witnessed them, the old coureur de bois spirit, and even accent, flashed out as he carried his listeners back into the gallant days of the men who founded the great seigneuries which still stretch along the thousand miles of coast from the barren Atlantic seaboard to the bold heights of Quebec.

In this country, only separated from the land of Evangeline by a few miles of salt water, one might reasonably suppose that the good folk would look to the soil and the peaceful pursuits of Arcady for at least some part of their daily bread. But, with the exception of a few watery potatoes, Uncle Johnnie had never “growed e’er a thing in his life.” His rifle and axe, his traps and his lines, had exacted sufficient tribute from wild nature around him, not only to keep the wolf from the door, but to lay up in the stocking in his ancient French trunk dollars enough to give his only child, Marie-Joseph, quite a little dowry for that coast.

It had often been a puzzle to us why this lonely old man, with no one belonging to him but one unusually pretty daughter, should have migrated to the lonely North. He had been asked more than once what the reason was, but he had always put the curious off by saying, “Hunting must be a lonesome trade. You wants a lot of room to catch foxes.”

But one night, when he was in a more communicative mood than usual, we got the whole story out of him.

Late one fall, when the southern fishing craft had gone south, and the ground was crisp with the first frost of winter, the lovely calm and sunny October morning had induced him to suggest to his wife that she should go over to the neighbouring island with their two elder children, a girl and a boy, and have a picnic, while they gathered some of the beautiful red cranberries to “stow away” for the winter. The baby girl, Marie, was left at home with the little servant maid. The children had jumped for joy at the idea, and early after breakfast he had rowed them across to the island, returning himself to finish loading his small schooner with the household goods and chattels which they must take up the bay to their winter home in the woods. So busy had he been with work that only as it came time to go off for the family did he notice how suddenly the weather had chopped around. A sinister northerly flaw was already rippling the surface of the hitherto placid sea; and Uncle Johnnie, accustomed to read the sky like a book, hurried as he seldom did to get the small boat under way. No one could have driven her faster than he drove her, and the pace satisfied even his uneasy mind. The “cat’s-paw” had stiffened to a bitter blast behind him, and long before the boat reached the beach, it was difficult enough to look to windward. Hauling up the boat, he gave the familiar call which his wife knew so well; but no answer came to greet him. Following along the shore, and still finding no traces, he suddenly remembered that there was an old deserted house nearly a mile farther along, and incontinently he started to run as fast as he could in its direction. As he drew near, to his infinite joy he caught sight of smoke issuing from holes in the leaky roof. Calling as he went, he soon reached the cabin, to find the little party trying to dry themselves before a wood fire in the crazy stove, which had no funnelling, and was filling the hut with eye-torturing smoke.