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A Year of Nobility
by [?]



The Marquis sat by the camp-fire peeling potatoes.

To look at him, you never would have taken him for a marquis. His costume was a pair of corduroy trousers; a blue flannel shirt, patched at elbows with gray; lumberman’s boots, flat-footed, shapeless, with loose leather legs strapped just below the knee, and wrinkled like the hide of an ancient rhinoceros; and a soft brown hat with several holes in the crown, as if it had done duty, at some time in its history, as an impromptu target in a shooting-match. A red woollen scarf twisted about his loins gave a touch of colour and picturesqueness.

It was not exactly a court dress, but it sat well on the powerful sinewy figure of the man. He never gave a thought to his looks, but peeled his potatoes with a dexterity which betrayed a past-master of the humble art, and threw the skins into the fire.

“Look you, m’sieu’,” he said to young Winthrop Alden, who sat on a fallen tree near him, mending the fly-rod which he had broken in the morning’s fishing, “look you, it is an affair of the most strange, yet of the most certain. We have known always that ours was a good family. The name tells it. The Lamottes are of la haute classe in France. But here, in Canada, we are poor. Yet the good blood dies not with the poverty. It is buried, hidden, but it remains the same. It is like these pataques. You plant good ones for seed: you get a good crop. You plant bad ones: you get a bad crop. But we did not know about the title in our family. No. We thought ours was a side-branch, an off-shoot. It was a great surprise to us. But it is certain,–beyond a doubt.”

Jean Lamotte’s deep voice was quiet and steady. It had the tone of assured conviction. His bright blue eyes above his ruddy mustache and bronzed cheeks, were clear and tranquil as those of a child.

Alden was immensely interested and amused. He was a member of the Boston branch of the Society for Ancestral Culture, and he recognized the favourite tenet of his sect,–the doctrine that “blood will tell.” He was also a Harvard man, knowing almost everything and believing hardly anything. Heredity was one of the few unquestioned articles of his creed. But the form in which this familiar confession of faith came to him, on the banks of the Grande Decharge, from the lips of a somewhat ragged and distinctly illiterate Canadian guide, was grotesque enough to satisfy the most modern taste for new sensations. He listened with an air of gravity, and a delighted sense of the humour of the situation.

“How did you find it out?” he asked.

“Well, then,” continued Jean, “I will tell you how the news came to me. It was at St. Gedeon, one Sunday last March. The snow was good and hard, and I drove in, ten miles on the lake, from our house opposite Grosse Ile. After mass, a man, evidently of the city, comes to me in the stable while I feed the horse, and salutes me.

“‘Is this Jean Lamotte?’

“‘At your service, m’sieu’.’

“‘Son of Francois Louis Lamotte?’

“‘Of no other. But he is dead, God give him repose.’

“‘I been looking for you all through Charlevoix and Chicoutimi.’

“‘Here you find me then, and good-day to you,’ says I, a little short, for I was beginning to be shy of him.

“‘Chut, chut,’ says he, very friendly. ‘I suppose you have time to talk a bit. How would you like to be a marquis and have a castle in France with a hundred thousand dollars?’

“For a moment I think I will lick him; then I laugh. ‘Very well indeed,’ says I, ‘and also a handful of stars for buckshot, and the new moon for a canoe.’

“‘But no,’ answers the man. ‘I am earnest, Monsieur Lamotte. I want to talk a long talk with you. Do you permit that I accompany you to your residence?’