September 28, 2020

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“Hounds of Satan”

With a fiercely delivered and eloquent selection from the strong expressions current in the Paris of his youth, the little cook made his way through the snarling throng of yellow backs and legs, and emptied his pan of fragments on the snow outside. Forth rushed the dogs, and cast themselves in a solid mass upon the little heap.

“Hounds of Satan?” said Pierre.

“They are, indeed,” replied Antoine. “But leave them now, my friend, and close the door, since warmth is a blessed gift.”

But Pierre still stood on the threshold, every now and then darting out to administer a rap to the gluttons, or to pull forward the younger and weaker ones. He presided with exactest justice over the whole repast, and ended by bringing into the kitchen a forlorn and drearily ugly young animal that had not obtained his share on account of the preternaturally quick side snatchings of Lebeau.  To this dog he now presented an especial banquet in an earthen dish behind the door.

“If there is anything I abhor, it is the animal called dog,” he said, seating himself at last, and wiping his forehead.

“That is plainly evident,” replied old Antoine, gravely.

In the mean time, Anne, Tita, and the boys had thrown off their fur cloaks, and entered the sitting -room. Père Michaux took his seat in his large arm-chair near the hearth, Tita curled herself on a cushion at his feet, and the boys sat together on a wooden bench, fidgeting uneasily, and trying to recall a faint outline of their last lesson, while Anne talked to the priest, warming first one of her shapely feet, then the other, as she leaned against the mantel, inquiring after the health of the birds, the squirrels, the fox, and the tame eagle, Père Michaux’s companions in his hermitage. The appearance of the room was peculiar, yet picturesque and full of comfort. It was a long, low apartment, the walls made warm in the winter with skins instead of tapestry, and the floor carpeted with blankets; other skins lay before the table and fire as mats. The furniture was rude, but cushioned and decorated, as were likewise the curtains, in a fashion unique, by the hands of half-breed women, who had vied with each other in the work; their primitive embroidery, whose long stitches sprang to the centre of the curtain or cushion, like the rays of a rising sun, and then back again, was as unlike modern needle-work as the vase-pictured Egyptians, with eyes in the sides of their heads, are like a modern photograph; their patterns, too, had come down from the remote ages of the world called the New, which is, however,  as old as the continent across the seas. Guns and fishing- tackle hung over the mantel, a lamp swung from the centre of the ceiling, little singing- birds flew into and out of their open cages near the windows, and the tame eagle sat solemnly on his perch at the far end of the long room. The squirrels and the fox were visible in their quarters, peeping out at the newcomers; but their front doors were barred, for they had broken parole, and were at present in disgrace. The ceiling was planked with wood, which had turned to a dark cinnamon hue; the broad windows let in the sunshine on three sides during the day, and at night were covered with heavy curtains, all save one, which had but a single thickness of red cloth over the glass, with a candle behind which burned all night, so that the red gleam shone far across the ice, like a winter light-house for the frozen Straits. More than one despairing man, lost in the cold and darkness, had caught its ray, and sought refuge, with a thankful heart. The broad deep fire-place of this room was its glory: the hearts of giant logs glowed there: it was a fire to dream of on winter nights, a fire to paint on canvas for Christmas pictures to hang on the walls of barren furnace-heated houses, a fire to remember before that noisome thing, a close stove. Round this fire-place were set like tiles rude bits of pottery found in the vicinity, remains of an earlier race, which the half-breeds brought to Père Michaux whenever their ploughs upturned them—arrow-heads, shells from the wilder beaches, little green pebbles from Isle Royale, agates, and fragments of fossils, the whole forming a rough mosaic, strong in its story of the region. From two high shelves the fathers of the Church and the classics of the world looked down upon this scene. But Père Michaux was no bookworm; his books were men. The needs and faults of his flock absorbed all his days, and, when the moon was bright, his evenings also.

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