June 9, 2023

Anne Part 30 “Old Pierre detested dogs, yet always fed them”

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson / Anne Part 30     “Old Pierre detested dogs, yet always fed them”

The good priest was surprised and touched to see the tears of the little man, stained, weazened, and worn with travel and grief; he took him over to the hermitage in his sharp-pointed boat, which skimmed the crests of the waves, the two sails wing-and- wing, and Pierre sat in the bottom, and held on with a death-grasp. As soon as his foot touched the shore, he declared, with regained fluency, that he would never again enter a boat, large or small, as long as he lived. He never did. In vain Père Michaux represented to him that he could earn more money in a city, in vain he offered to send him Eastward and place him with kind persons speaking his own tongue, who would procure a good situation for him; Pierre was obstinate. He listened, assented to all, but when the time came refused to go.

“Are you or are you not going to send us that cook of yours?” wrote Father George at the end of two years. “This is the fifth time I have made ready for him.”

“He will not go,” replied Père Michaux at last; “it seems that I must resign myself.”

“If your Père Michaux is handsomer than I am,” said Dr. Gaston one day to Anne, “it is because he has had something palatable to eat all this time. In a long course of years saleratus tells.”

Père Michaux was indeed a man of noble bearing; his face, although benign, wore an expression of authority, which came from the submissive obedience of his flock, which loved him as a father and revered him as a pope. His parish, a diocese in size, extended over the long point of the southern mainland; over the many islands of the Straits, large and small, some of them unnoted on the map, yet inhabited perhaps by a few half- breeds, others dotted with Indian farms; over the village itself, where stood the small weather-beaten old Church of St. Jean; and over the dim blue line of northern coast, as far as eye could reach or priest could go. His roadways were over the water, his carriage a boat; in the winter, a sledge. He was priest, bishop, governor, judge, and physician; his word was absolute. His party-colored flock referred all their disputes to him, and abided by his decisions—questions of fishing-nets as well as questions of conscience, cases of jealousy together with cases of fever. He stood alone. He was not propped. He had the rare leader’s mind.  Thrown away on that wild Northern border?  Not any more than Bishop Chase in Ohio, Captain John Smith in Virginia, or other versatile and autocratic pioneers. Many a man can lead in cities and in camps, among precedents and rules, but only a born leader can lead in a wilderness where he must make his own rules and be his own precedent every hour.

The dogs trotted cheerfully, with all their bells ringing, round to the back door. Old Pierre detested dogs, yet always fed them with a strange sort of conscientiousness, partly from compassion, partly from fear. He could never accustom himself to the trains. To draw, he said, was an undo like thing.  To see the creatures rush by the island on a moonlight night over the white ice, like dogs of a dream, was enough to make the hair elevate itself.

“Whose hair?” Rast had demanded. “Yours, or the dogs’?” For young Pronando was a frequent visitor at the hermitage, not as pupil or member of the flock, but as a candid young friend, admiring impartially both the priest and his cook?

“Hast thou brought me again all those wide-mouthed dogs, brigands of unheard-of and never-to-be-satisfied emptiness, robbers of all things?” demanded Pierre, appearing at the kitchen door, ladle in hand.  Antoine’s leathery cheeks wrinkled themselves into a grin as he unharnessed his team, all the dogs pawing and howling, and striving to be first at the entrance of this domain of plenty.

“Hold thyself quiet, René.  Wilt thou take the very sledge in, Lebeau?” he said, apostrophizing the leaders. But no sooner was the last strap loosened than all the dogs by common consent rushed at and over the little cook and into the kitchen in a manner, which would have insured them severe chastisement in any other kitchen in the diocese. Pierre darted about among their gaunt yellow bodies, railing at them for knocking down his pans, and calling upon all the saints to witness their rapacity; but in the mean time he was gathering together quickly fragments of whose choice and savory qualities René and Lebeau had distinct remembrance, and the other dogs anticipation.  They leaped and danced round him on their awkward legs and shambling feet, bit and barked at each other, and rolled on the floor in a heap. Anywhere else the long whip would have curled round their lank ribs, but in old Pierre’s kitchen they knew they were safe.

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