The Swallow by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews
The Chateau Frontenac at Quebec is a turreted pile of masonry wandering down a cliff over the very cellars of the ancient Castle of St. Louis. A twentieth-century hotel, it simulates well a mediaeval fortress and lifts against the cold blue northern sky an atmosphere of history. Old voices whisper about its towers and above the clanging hoofs in its paved court; deathless names are in the wind which blows from the "fleuve," the great St. Lawrence River far below. Jacques Cartier's voice was heard hereabouts away back in 1539, and after him others, Champlain and Frontenac, and Father Jogues and Mother Marie of the Conception and Montcalm--upstanding fighting men and heroic women and hardy discoverers of New France walked about here once, on the "Rock" of Quebec; there is romance here if anywhere on earth. Today a new knighthood hails that past. Uniforms are thick in steep streets; men are wearing them with empty sleeves, on crutches, or maybe whole of body yet with racked faces which register a hell lived through. Canada guards heroism of many vintages, from four hundred years back through the years to Wolfe's time, and now a new harvest. Centuries from now children will be told, with the story of Cartier, the tale of Vimy Ridge, and while the Rock stands the records of Frenchmen in Canada, of Canadians in France will not die.
Always when I go to the Chateau I get a table, if I can, in the smaller dining-room. There the illusion of antiquity holds through modern luxury; there they have hung about the walls portraits of the worthies of old Quebec; there Samuel Champlain himself, made into bronze and heroic of size, aloft on his pedestal on the terrace outside, lifts his plumed hat and stares in at the narrow windows, turning his back on river and lower city. One disregards waiters in evening clothes and up-to-date table appointments, and one looks at Champlain and the "fleuve," and the Isle d'Orleans lying long and low, and one thinks of little ships, storm-beaten, creeping up to this grim bigness ignorant of continental events trailing in their wake.
I was on my way to camp in a club a hundred miles north of the gray-walled town when I drifted into the little dining-room for dinner one night in early September in 1918. The head-waiter was an old friend; he came to meet me and piloted me past a tableful of military color, four men in service uniforms.
"Some high officers, sir," spoke the head waiter. "In conference here, I believe. There's a French officer, and an English, and our Canadian General Sampson, and one of your generals, sir."
I gave my order and sat back to study the group. The waiter had it straight; there was the horizon blue of France; there was the Englishman tall and lean and ruddy and expressionless and handsome; there was the Canadian, more of our own cut, with a mobile, alert face. The American had his back to me and all I could see was an erect carriage, a brown head going to gray, and the one star of a brigadier-general on his shoulders. The beginnings of my dinner went fast, but after soup there was a lull before greater food, and I paid attention again to my neighbors. They were talking in English.
"A Huron of Lorette--does that mean a full-blooded Indian of the Huron tribe, such as one reads of in Parkman?" It was the Englishman who asked, responding to something I had not heard.
"There's no such animal as a full-blooded Huron," stated the Canadian. "They're all French-Indian half-breeds now. Lorette's an interesting scrap of history, just the same. You know your Parkman? You remember how the Iroquois followed the defeated Hurons as far as the Isle d'Orleans, out there?" He nodded toward where the big island lay in the darkness of the St. Lawrence. "Well, what was left after that chase took refuge fifteen miles north of Quebec, and founded what became and has stayed the village of Indian Lorette. There are now about five or six hundred people, and it's a nation. Under its own laws, dealing by treaty with Canada, not subject to draft, for instance. Queer, isn't it? They guard their identity vigilantly. Every one, man or woman, who marries into the tribe, as they religiously call it, is from then on a Huron. And only those who have Huron blood may own land in Lorette. The Hurons were, as Parkman put it, 'the gentlemen of the savages,' and the tradition lasts. The half-breed of today is a good sort, self-respecting and brave, not progressive, but intelligent, with pride in his inheritance, his courage, and his woodscraft."
The Canadian, facing me, spoke distinctly and much as Americans speak; I caught every word. But I missed what the French general threw back rapidly. I wondered why the Frenchman should be excited. I myself was interested because my guides, due to meet me at the club station tomorrow, were all half-breed Hurons. But why the French officer? What should a Frenchman of France know about backwaters of Canadian history? And with that he suddenly spoke slowly, and I caught several sentences of incisive if halting English.
"Zey are to astonish, ze Indian Hurong. For ze sort of work special-ment, as like scouting on a stomach. Qu-vick, ver' qu-vick, and ver' quiet. By dark places of danger. One sees zat nozzing at all af-frightens zose Hurong. Also zey are alike snakes, one cannot catch zem--zey slide; zey are slippy. To me it is to admire zat courage most--personnel--selfeesh--because an Hurong safe my life dere is six mont', when ze Boches make ze drive of ze mont' of March."
At this moment food arrived in a flurry, and I lost what came after. But I had forgotten the Chateau Frontenac; I had forgotten the group of officers, serious and responsible, who sat on at the next table. I had forgotten even the war. A word had sent my mind roaming. "Huron!" Memory and hope at that repeated word rose and flew away with me. Hope first. Tomorrow I was due to drop civilization and its tethers.
"Allah does not count the days spent out of doors." In Walter Pater's story of "Marius the Epicurean" one reads of a Roman country-seat called "Ad Vigilias Albas," "White Nights." A sense of dreamless sleep distils from the name. One remembers such nights, and the fresh world of the awakening in the morning. There are such days. There are days which ripple past as a night of sleep and leave a worn brain at the end with the same satisfaction of renewal; white days. Crystal they are, like the water of streams, as musical and eventless; as elusive of description as the ripple over rocks or brown pools foaming.
The days and months and years of a life race with accelerating pace and youth goes and age comes as the days race, but one is not older for the white days. The clock stops, the blood runs faster, furrows in gray matter smooth out, time forgets to put in tiny crow's-feet and the extra gray hair a week, or to withdraw by the hundredth of an ounce the oxygen from the veins; one grows no older for the days spent out of doors. Allah does not count them.
It was days like these which hope held ahead as I paid earnest attention to the good food set before me. And behold, beside the pleasant vision of hope rose a happy-minded sister called memory. She took the word "Huron," this kindly spirit, and played magic with it, and the walls of the Chateau rolled into rustling trees and running water.
I was sitting, in my vision, in flannel shirt and knickerbockers, on a log by a little river, putting together fishing tackle and casting an eye, off and on, where rapids broke cold over rocks and whirled into foam-flecked, shadowy pools. There should be trout in those shadows.
"Take the butt, Rafael, while I string the line."
Rafael slipped across--still in my vision of memory--and was holding my rod as a rod should be held, not too high or too low, or too far or too near--right. He was an old Huron, a chief of Indian Lorette, and woods craft was to him as breathing.
"A varry light rod," commented Rafael in his low voice which held no tones out of harmony with water in streams or wind in trees. "A varry light, good rod," paying meanwhile strict attention to his job. "M'sieu go haf a luck today. I t'ink M'sieu go catch a beeg fish on dat river. Water high enough--not too high. And cold." He shivered a little. "Cold last night--varry cold nights begin now. Good hun-ting wedder."
"Have you got a moose ready for me on the little lake, Rafael? It's the 1st of September next week and I expect you to give me a shot before the 3d."
Rafael nodded. "Oui, m'sieur. First day." The keen-eyed, aquiline old face was as of a prophet. "We go get moose first day. I show you." With that the laughter-loving Frenchman in him flooded over the Indian hunter; for a second the two inheritances played like colors in shot silk, producing an elusive fabric, Rafael's charm. "If nights get so colder, m'sieur go need moose skin kip him warm."
I was looking over my flies now, the book open before me, its fascinating pages of color more brilliant than an old missal, and maybe as filled with religion--the peace of God, charity which endureth, love to one's neighbor. I chose a Parmachene Belle for hand-fly, always good in Canadian waters. "A moose-skin hasn't much warmth, has it, Rafael?"
The hunter was back, hawk-eyed. "But yes, m'sieu. Moose skin one time safe me so I don' freeze to death. But it hol' me so tight so I nearly don' get loose in de morning."
"What do you mean?" I was only half listening, for a brown hackle and a Montreal were competing for the middle place on my cast, and it was a vital point. But Rafael liked to tell a story, and had come by now to a confidence in my liking to hear him. He flashed a glance to gather up my attention, and cleared his throat and began: "Dat was one time--I go on de woods--hunt wid my fader-in-law--mon beau-pere. It was mont' of March--and col'--but ver' col' and wet. So it happen we separate, my fador-in-law and me, to hunt on both side of large enough river. And I kill moose. What, m'sieur? What sort of gun? Yes. It was rifle--what one call flint-lock. Large round bore. I cast dat beeg ball myself, what I kill dat moose. Also it was col'. And so it happen my matches got wet, but yes, ev-very one. So I couldn' buil' fire. I was tired, yes, and much col'. I t'ink in my head to hurry and skin dat moose and wrap myself in dat skin and go sleep on de snow because if not I would die, I was so col' and so tired. I do dat. I skin heem--je le plumait--de beeg moose--beeg skin. Skin all warm off moose; I wrap all aroun' me and dig hole and lie down on deep snow and draw skin over head and over feet, and fol' arms, so"--Rafael illustrated--"and I hol' it aroun' wid my hands. And I get warm right away, warm, as bread toast. So I been slippy, and heavy wid tired, and I got comfortable in dat moose skin and I go aslip quick. I wake early on morning, and dat skin got froze tight, like box made on wood, and I hol' in dat wid my arms fol' so, and my head down so"--illustrations again--"and I can't move, not one inch. No. What, m'sieur? Yes, I was enough warm, me. But I lie lak dat and can't move, and I t'ink somet'ing. I t'ink I got die lak dat, in moose-skin. If no sun come, I did got die. But dat day sun come and be warm, and moose skin melt lil' bit, slow, and I push lil' bit wid shoulder, and after while I got ice broke, on moose skin, and I crawl out. Yes. I don' die yet."
Rafael's chuckle was an amen to his saga, and at once, with one of his lightning-changes, he was austere.
"M'sieur go need beeg trout tonight; not go need moose skin till nex' wik. Ze rod is ready take feesh, I see feesh jump by ole log. Not much room to cast, but m'sieur can do it. Shall I carry rod down to river for m'sieur?"
In not so many words as I have written, but in clear pictures which comprehended the words, Memory, that temperamental goddess of moods, had, at the prick of the word "Huron," shaken out this soft-colored tapestry of the forest, and held it before my eyes. And as she withdrew this one, others took its place and at length I was musing profoundly, as I put more of something on my plate and tucked it away into my anatomy. I mused about Rafael, the guide of sixty, who had begun a life of continued labor at eight years; I considered the undying Indian in him; how with the father who was "French of Picardy"--the white blood being a pride to Rafael--he himself, yes, and the father also, for he had married a "sauvagess," a Huron woman--had belonged to the tribe and were accounted Hurons; I considered Rafael's proud carriage, his classic head and carved features, his Indian austerity and his French mirth weaving in and out of each other; I considered the fineness and the fearlessness of his spirit, which long hardship had not blunted; I reflected on the tales he had told me of a youth forced to fight the world. "On a vu de le misere," Rafael had said: "One has seen trouble"--shaking his head, with lines of old suffering emerging from the reserve of his face like writing in sympathetic ink under heat. And I marvelled that through such fire, out of such neglect, out of lack of opportunity and bitter pressure, the steel of a character should have been tempered to gentleness and bravery and honor.
For it was a very splendid old boy who was cooking for me and greasing my boots and going off with me after moose; putting his keen ancestral instincts of three thousand years at my service for three dollars a day. With my chances would not Rafael have been a bigger man than I? At least never could I achieve that grand air, that austere repose of manner which he had got with no trouble at all from a line of unwashed but courageous old bucks, thinking highly of themselves for untold generations, and killing everything which thought otherwise. I laughed all but aloud at this spot in my meditations, as a special vision of Rafael rose suddenly, when he had stated, on a day, his views of the great war. He talked plain language about the Germans. He specified why he considered the nation a disgrace to humanity--most people, not German, agree on the thesis and its specifications. Then the fire of his ancient fighting blood blazed through restraint of manner. He drew up his tall figure, slim-waisted, deep-shouldered, every inch sliding muscle. "I am too old to go on first call to army," said Rafael. "Zey will not take me. Yes, and on second call. Maybe zird time. But if time come when army take me--I go. If I may kill four Germans I will be content," stated Rafael concisely. And his warrior forebears would have been proud of him as he stated it.
My reflections were disturbed here by the American general at the next table. He was spoken to by his waiter and shot up and left the room, carrying, however, his napkin in his hand, so that I knew he was due to come back. A half sentence suggested a telephone. I watched the soldierly back with plenty of patriotic pride; this was the sort of warrior my country turned out now by tens of thousands. With that he returned, and as I looked up into his face, behold it was Fitzhugh.
My chair went banging as I sprang toward him. "Jim!"
And the general's calm dignity suddenly was the radiant grin of the boy who had played and gone to school and stolen apples with me for a long bright childhood--the boy lost sight of these last years of his in the army. "Dave!" he cried out. "Old Davy Cram!" And his arm went around my shoulder regardless of the public. "My word, but I'm glad!" he sputtered. And then: "Come and have dinner--finish having it. Come to our table." He slewed me about and presented me to the three others.
In a minute I was installed, to the pride of my friend the head waiter, at military headquarters, next to Fitzhugh and the Frenchman. A campact resume of personal history between Fitzhugh and myself over, I turned to the blue figure on my left hand, Colonel Raffre, of the French, army. On his broad chest hung thrilling bits of color, not only the bronze war cross, with its green watered ribbon striped with red, but the blood-red ribbon of the "Great Cross" itself--the cross of the Legion of Honor. I spoke to him in French, which happens to be my second mother tongue, and he met the sound with a beaming welcome.
"I don't do English as one should," he explained in beautiful Parisian. "No gift of tongues in my kit, I fear; also I'm a bit embarrassed at practising on my friends. It's a relief to meet some one who speaks perfectly French, as m'sieur."
M'sieur was gratified not to have lost his facility. "But my ear is getting slower," I said. "For instance, I eavesdropped a while ago when you were talking about your Huron soldiers, and I got most of what you said because you spoke English. I doubt if I could if you'd been speaking French."
The colonel shrugged massive shoulders. "My English is defective but distinct," he explained. "One is forced to speak slowly when one speaks badly. Also the Colonel Chichely"--the Britisher--"it is he at whom I talk carefully. The English ear, it is not imaginative. One must make things clear. You know the Hurons, then?"
I specified how.
"Ah!" he breathed out. "The men in my command had been, some of them, what you call guides. They got across to France in charge of troop horses on the ships; then they stayed and enlisted. Fine soldier stuff. Hardy, and of resource and of finesse. Quick and fearless as wildcats. They fit into one niche of the war better than any other material. You heard the story of my rescue?"
I had not. At that point food had interfered, and I asked if it was too much that the colonel should repeat.
"By no means," agreed the polite colonel, ready, moreover, I guessed, for any amount of talk in his native tongue. He launched an epic episode. "I was hit leading, in a charge, two battalions. I need not have done that," another shrug--"but what will you? It was snowing; it was going to be bad work; one could perhaps put courage into the men by being at their head. It is often the duty of an officer to do more than, his duty--n'est-ce-pas? So that I was hit in the right knee and the left shoulder par exemple, and fell about six yards from the German trenches. A place unhealthy, and one sees I could not run away, being shot on the bias. I shammed dead. An alive French officer would have been too interesting in that scenery. I assure m'sieur that the entr'actes are far too long in No Man's Land. I became more and more displeased with the management of that play as I lay, very badly amused with my wounds, and afraid to blink an eye, being a corpse. The Huns demand a high state of immobility in corpses. But I fell happily sidewise, and out of the extreme corner of the left eye I caught a glimpse of our sand-bags. One blessed that twist, though it became enough ennuyant, and one would have given a year of good life to turn over. Merely to turn over. Am I fatiguing m'sieur?" the colonel broke in.
I prodded him back eagerly into his tale.
"M'sieur is amiable. The long and short of it is that when it became dark my good lads began to try to rescue my body. Four or five times that one-twentieth of eye saw a wriggling form work through sand-bags and start slowly, flat to the earth, toward me. But the ground was snow-covered and the Germans saw too the dark uniform. Each time a fusillade of shots broke out, and the moving figure dropped hastily behind the sand-bags. And each time--" the colonel stopped to light a cigarette, his face ruddy in the glare of the match. "Each time I was--disappointed. I became disgusted with the management of that theatre, till at last the affair seemed beyond hope, and I had about determined to turn over and draw up my bad leg with my good hand for a bit of easement and be shot comfortably, when I was aware that the surface of the ground near by was heaving--the white, snowy ground heaving. I was close enough to madness between cold and pain, and I regarded the phenomenon as a dream. But with that hands came out of the heaving ground, eyes gleamed. A rope was lashed about my middle and I was drawn toward our trenches." The cigarette puffed vigorously at this point. "M'sieur sees?"
I did not.
The colonel laughed. "One of my Hurons had the inspiration to run to a farmhouse not far away and requisition a sheet. He wrapped himself in it, head and all, and, being Indian, it was a bagatelle to him to crawl out on his stomach. They were pleased enough, my good fellows, when they found they had got not only my body but also me in it."
"I can imagine, knowing Hurons, how that Huron enjoyed his success," I said. "It's in their blood to be swift and silent and adventurous. But they're superstitious; they're afraid of anything supernatural." I hesitated, with a laugh in my mind at a memory. "It's not fitting that I should swap stories with a hero of the Great War, yet--I believe you might be amused with an adventure of one of my guides." The Frenchman, all civil interest, disclaimed his heroism with hands and shoulders, but smiling too--for he had small chance at disclaiming with those two crosses on his breast.
"I shall be enchanted to hear m'sieur's tale of his guide. For the rest I am myself quite mad over the 'sport.' I love to insanity the out of doors and shooting and fishing. It is a regret that the service has given me no opportunity these four years for a breathing spell in the woods. M'sieur will tell me the tale of his guide's superstition?"
A scheme began to form in my brain at that instant too delightful, it seemed, to come true. I put it aside and went on with my story. "I have one guide, a Huron half-breed," I said, "whom I particularly like. He's an old fellow--sixty--but light and quick and powerful as a boy. More interesting than a boy, because he's full of experiences. Two years ago a bear swam across the lake where my camp is, and I went out in a canoe with this Rafael and got him."
Colonel Raffre made of this fact an event larger than--I am sure--he would have made of his winning of the war cross.
"You shame me, colonel," I said, and went on hurriedly. "Rafael, the guide, was pleased about the bear. 'When gentlemens kill t'ings, guides is more happy,' he explained to me, and he proceeded to tell an anecdote. He prefaced it by informing me that one time he hunt bear and he see devil. He had been hunting, it seemed, two or three winters before with his brother-in-law at the headwaters of the St. Maurice River, up north there," I elucidated, pointing through the window toward the "long white street of Beauport," across the St. Lawrence. "It's very lonely country, entirely wild, Indian hunting-ground yet. These two Hurons, Rafael and his brother-in-law, were on a two months' trip to hunt and trap, having their meagre belongings and provisions on sleds which they dragged across the snow. They depended for food mostly on what they could trap or shoot--moose, caribou, beaver, and small animals. But they had bad luck. They set many traps but caught nothing, and they saw no game to shoot. So that in a month they were hard pressed. One cold day they went two miles to visit a beaver trap, where they had seen signs. They hoped to find an animal caught and to feast on beaver tail, which is good eating."
Here I had to stop and explain much about beaver tails, and the rest of beavers, to the Frenchman, who was interested like a boy in this new, almost unheard-of beast. At length:
"Rafael and his brother-in-law were disappointed. A beaver had been close and eaten the bark off a birch stick which the men had left, but nothing was in the trap. They turned and began a weary walk through the desolate country back to their little tent. Small comfort waited for them there, as their provisions were low, only flour and bacon left. And they dared not expend much of that. They were down-hearted, and to add to it a snow-storm came on and they lost their way. Almost a hopeless situation--an uninhabited country, winter, snow, hunger. And they were lost. 'Egare. Perdu,' Rafael said. But the Huron was far from giving up. He peered through the falling snow, not thick yet, and spied a mountain across a valley. He knew that mountain. He had worked near it for two years, logging--the 'chantier,' they call it. He knew there was a good camp on a river near the mountain, and he knew there would be a stove in the camp and, as Rafael said, 'Mebbe we haf a luck and somebody done gone and lef' somet'ing to eat,' Rafael prefers to talk English to me. He told me all this in broken English.
"It was three miles to the hypothetical camp, but the two tired, hungry men in their rather wretched clothes started hopefully. And after a hard tramp through unbroken forest they came in sight of a log shanty and their spirits rose. 'Pretty tired work,' Rafael said it was. When they got close to the shanty they hoard a noise inside. They halted and looked at each other. Rafael knew there were no loggers in these parts now, and you'll remember it was absolutely wild country. Then something came to the window and looked out."
"Something?" repeated the Frenchman in italics. His eyes were wide and he was as intent on Rafael's story as heart could desire.
"They couldn't tell what it was," I went on. "A formless apparition, not exactly white or black, and huge and unknown of likeness. The Indians were frightened by a manner of unearthliness about the thing, and the brother-in-law fell on his knees and began to pray. 'It is the devil,' he murmured to Rafael. 'He will eat us, or carry us to hell.' And he prayed more.
"But old Rafael, scared to death, too, because the thing seemed not to be of this world, yet had his courage with him. 'Mebbe it devil,' he said--such was his report to me--'anyhow I'm cold and hungry, me. I want dat camp. I go shoot dat devil.'
"He crept up to the camp alone, the brother still praying in the bush. Rafael was rather convinced, mind you, that he was going to face the powers of darkness, but he had his rifle loaded and was ready for business. The door was open and he stepped inside. Something--'great beeg somet'ing' he put it--rose up and came at him, and he fired. And down fell the devil."
"In the name of a sacred pig, what was it?" demanded my Frenchman.
"That was what I asked. It was a bear. The men who had been logging in the camp two months back had left a keg of maple-syrup and a half barrel of flour, and the bear broke into both--successively--and alternately. He probably thought he was in bear-heaven for a while, but it must have gotten irksome. For his head was eighteen inches wide when they found him, white, with black touches. They soaked him in the river two days, and sold his skin for twenty dollars. 'Pretty good for devil skin,' Rafael said."
The Frenchman stared at me a moment and then leaned back in his chair and shouted laughter. The greedy bear's finish had hit his funny-bone. And the three others stopped talking and demanded the story told over, which I did, condensing.
"I like zat Hurong for my soldier," Colonel Raffre stated heartily. "Ze man what are not afraid of man or of devil--zat is ze man to fight ze Boches." He was talking English now because Colonel Chichely was listening. He went on. "Zere is human devils--oh, but plentee--what we fight in France. I haf not heard of ozzers. But I believe well ze man who pull me out in sheet would be as your guide Rafael--he also would crip up wiz his rifle on real devil out of hell. But yes. I haf not told you how my Indian soldier bring in prisoners--no?"
We all agreed no, and put in a request.
"He brings zem in not one by one always--not always." The colonel grinned. He went on to tell this tale, which I shift into the vernacular from his laborious English.
It appears that he had discerned the aptitude of his Hurons for reconnaissance work. If he needed information out of the dangerous country lying in front, if he needed a prisoner to question, these men were eager to go and get either, get anything. The more hazardous the job the better, and for a long time they came out of it untouched. In the group one man--nicknamed by the poilus, his comrades--Hirondelle--the Swallow--supposedly because of his lightness and swiftness, was easily chief. He had a fault, however, his dislike to bring in prisoners alive. Four times he had haled a German corpse before the colonel, seeming not rightly to understand that a dead enemy was useless for information.
"The Boches are good killing," he had elucidated to his officer. And finally: "It is well, m'sieur, the colonel. One failed to understand that the colonel prefers a live Boche to a dead one. Me, I am otherwise. It appears a pity to let live such vermin. Has the colonel, by chance, heard the things these savages did in Belgium? Yes? But then--Yet I will bring to m'sieur, the colonel, all there is to be desired of German prisoners alive--en vie; fat ones; en masse."
That night Hirondelle was sent out with four of his fellow Hurons to get, if possible, a prisoner. Pretty soon he was separated from the others; all but himself returning empty-handed in a couple of hours. No Germans seemed to be abroad. But Hirondelle did not return.
"He risks too far," grumbled his captain. "He has been captured at last. I always knew they would get him, one night."
But that was not the night. At one o'clock there was suddenly a sound of lamentation in the front trench of the French on that sector. The soldiers who were sleeping crawled out of their holes in the sides of the trench walls, and crowded around the zigzag, narrow way and rubbed their eyes and listened to the laughter of officers and soldiers on duty. There was Hirondelle, solemn as a church, yet with a dancing light in his eyes. There, around him, crowded as sheep to a shepherd, twenty figures in German uniform stood with hands up and wet tears running down pasty cheeks. And they were fat, it was noticeable that all of them were bulging of figure beyond even the German average. They wailed "Kamerad! Gut Kamerad!" in a chorus that was sickening to the plucky poilu make-up. Hirondelle, interrogated of many, kept his lips shut till the first excitement quieted. Then: "I report to my colonel," he stated, and finally he and his twenty were led back to the winding trench and the colonel was waked to receive them. This was what had happened: Hirondelle had wandered about, mostly on his stomach, through the darkness and peril of No Man's Land, enjoying himself heartily; when suddenly he missed his companions and realized that he had had no sign of them for some time. That did not trouble him. He explained to the colonel that he felt "more free." Also that if he pulled off a success he would have "more glory." After two hours of this midnight amusement, in deadly danger every second, Hirondelle heard steps. He froze to the earth, as he had learned from wild things in North American forests. The steps came nearer. A star-shell away down the line lighted the scene so that Hirondelle, motionless on the ground, all keen eyes, saw two Germans coming toward him. Instantly he had a scheme. In a subdued growl, yet distinctly, he threw over his shoulder an order that eight men should go to the right and eight to the left. Then, on his feet, he sent into the darkness a stern "Halt!" Instantly there was a sputter, arms thrown up, the inevitable "Kamerad!" and Hirondelle ordered the first German to pass him, then a second. Out of the darkness emerged a third. Hirondelle waved him on, and with that there was a fourth. And a fifth. Behold a sixth. About then Hirondelle judged it wise to give more orders to his imaginary squad of sixteen. But such a panic had seized this German mob; that little acting was necessary. Dark figure followed dark figure out of the darker night--arms up. They whimpered as they came, and on and on they came out of shadows. Hirondelle stated that he began to think the Crown Prince's army was surrendering to him. At last, when the procession stopped, he--and his mythical sixteen--marched the entire covey, without any objection from them, only abject obedience, to the French trenches.
The colonel, with this whining crowd weeping about him, with Hirondelle's erect figure confronting him, his black eyes regarding the cowards with scorn as he made his report--the colonel simply could not understand the situation. All these men! "What are you--soldiers?" he flung at the wretched group. And one answered, "No, my officer. We are not soldiers, we are the cooks." At that there was a wail. "Ach! Who, then, will the breakfast cook for my general? He will schrecklich angry be for his sausage and his sauerkraut."
By degrees the colonel got the story. A number of cooks had combined to protest against new regulations, and the general, to punish this astounding insubordination, had sent them out unarmed, petrified with, terror, into No Man's Land for an hour. They had there encountered Hirondelle. Hirondelle drew the attention of the colonel to the fact that he had promised prisoners, fat ones. "Will my colonel regard the shape of these pigs," suggested Hirondelle. "And also that they are twenty in number. Enough en masse for one man to take, is it not, my colonel?"
The little dinner-party at the Frontenac discussed this episode. "Almost too good to be true, colonel," I objected. "You're sure it is true? Bring out your Hirondelle. He ought to be home wounded, with a war cross on his breast, by now."
The colonel smiled and shook his head. "It is that which I cannot do--show you my Hirondelle. Not here, and not in France, by malheur. For he ventured once too often and too far, as the captain prophesied, and he is dead. God rest the brave! Also a Croix de Guerre is indeed his, but no Hirondelle is there to claim it."
The silence of a moment was a salute to the soul of a warrior passed to the happy hunting-grounds. And then I began on another story of my Rafael's adventures which something in the colonel's tale suggested.
The colonel, his winning face all a smile, interrupted. "Does one believe, then, in this Rafael of m'sieur who caps me each time my tales of my Huron Hirondelle? It appears to me that m'sieur has the brain, of a story-teller and hangs good stories on a figure which he has built and named so--Rafael. Me, I cannot believe there exists this Rafael. I believe there is only one such gallant d'Artagnan of the Hurons, and it is--it was--my Hirondelle. Show me your Rafael, then!" demanded the colonel.
At that challenge the scheme which had flashed into my mind an hour ago gathered shape and power. "I will show him to you, colonel," I took up the challenge, "if you will allow me." I turned to include the others. "Isn't it possible for you all to call a truce and come up tomorrow to my club to be my guests for as long or as short a time as you will? I can't say how much pleasure it would give me, and I believe I could give you something also--great fishing, shooting, a moose, likely, or at least a caribou--and Rafael. I promise Rafael. It's not unlikely, colonel, that he may have known the Hirondelle. The Hurons are few. Do come," I threw at them.
They took it after their kind. The Englishman stared and murmured: "Awfully kind, I'm sure, but quite impossible." The Canadian, our next of kin, smiled, shaking his head like a brother. Fitzhugh put his arm of brawn about me again till that glorious star gleamed almost on my own shoulder, and patted me lovingly as he said: "Old son, I'd give my eyes to go, if I wasn't up to my ears in job."
But the Frenchman's face shone, and he lifted a finger that was a sentence. It embodied reflection and eagerness and suspense. The rest of us gazed at that finger as if it were about to address us. And the colonel spoke. "I t'ink," brought out the colonel emphatically, "I t'ink I damn go."
And I snatched the finger and the hand of steel to which it grew, and wrung both. This was a delightful Frenchman. "Good!" I cried out. "Glorious! I want you all, but I'm mightily pleased to get one. Colonel, you're a sport."
"But, yes," agreed the colonel happily, "I am sport. Why not? I haf four days to wait till my sheep sail. Why not kip--how you say?--kip in my hand for shooting--go kill moose? I may talk immensely of zat moose in France--hein? Much more chic as to kill Germans, n'est ce pas? Everybody kill Germans."
At one o'clock next day the out-of-breath little train which had gasped up mountains for five hours from Quebec uttered a relieved shriek and stopped at a doll-house club station sitting by itself in the wilderness. Four or five men in worn but clean clothes--they always start clean--waited on the platform, and there was a rapid fire of "Bon jour, m'sieur," as we alighted. Then ten quick eyes took in my colonel in his horizon-blue uniform. I was aware of a throb of interest. At once there was a scurry for luggage because the train must be held till it was off, and the guides ran forward to the baggage-car to help. I bundled the colonel down a sharp, short hill to the river, while smiling, observant Hurons, missing not a line of braid or a glitter of button, passed with bags and pacquetons as we descended. The blue and black and gold was loaded into a canoe with an Indian at bow and stern for the three-mile paddle to the club-house. He was already a schoolboy on a holiday with unashamed enthusiasm.
"But it is fun--fun, zis," he shouted to me from his canoe. "And lequel, m'sieur, which is Rafael?"
Rafael, in the bow of my boat, missed a beat of his paddle. It seemed to me he looked older than two years back, when I last saw him. His shoulders were bent, and his merry and stately personality was less in evidence. He appeared subdued. He did not turn with a smile or a grave glance of inquiry at the question, as I had expected. I nodded toward him.
"Mais oui," cried out the colonel. "One has heard of you, mon ami. One will talk to you later of shooting."
Rafael, not lifting his head, answered quietly, "C'est bien, m'sieur."
Just then the canoes slipped past a sandy bar decorated with a fresh moose track; the excitement of the colonel set us laughing. This man was certainly a joy! And with that, after a long paddle down the winding river and across two breezy lakes, we were at the club-house. We lunched, and in short order--for we wanted to make camp that night--I dug into my pacquetons and transformed my officer into a sportsman, his huge delight in Abernethy & Flitch's creations being a part of the game. Then we were off.
One has small chance for associating with guides while travelling in the woods. One sits in a canoe between two, but if there is a wind and the boat is charge their hands are full with the small craft and its heavy load; when the landing is made and the "messieurs" are debarques, instantly the men are busy lifting canoes on their heads and packs on their backs in bizarre, piled-up masses to be carried from a leather tump-line, a strap of two inches wide going around the forehead. The whole length of the spine helps in the carrying. My colonel watched Delphise, a husky specimen, load. With a grunt he swung up a canvas U.S. mailbag stuffed with butin, which includes clothes and books and shoes and tobacco and cartridges and more. With a half-syllable Delphise indicated to Laurent a bag of potatoes weighing eighty pounds, a box of tinned biscuit, a wooden package of cans of condensed milk, a rod case, and a raincoat. These Laurent added to the spine of Delphise.
"How many pounds?" I asked, as the dark head bent forward to equalize the strain.
Delphise shifted weight with another grunt to gauge the pull. "About a hundred and eighty pounds, m'sieur--quite heavy--assez pesant." Off he trotted uphill, head bent forward.
The colonel was entranced. "Hardy fellows--the making of fine soldiers," he commented, tossing his cigarette away to stare.
That night after dinner--but it was called supper--the colonel and I went into the big, airy log kitchen with the lake looking in at three windows and the forest at two doors. We gunned over with the men plans for the next day, for the most must be made of every minute of this precious military holiday. I explained how precious it was, and then I spoke a few words about the honor of having as our guest a soldier who had come from the front, and who was going back to the front. For the life of me I could not resist a sentence more about the two crosses they had seen on his uniform that day. The Cross of War, the Legion of Honor! I could not let my men miss that! Rafael had been quiet and colorless, and I was disappointed in the show qualities of my show guide. But the colonel beamed with satisfaction, in everything and everybody, and received my small introduction with a bow and a flourish worthy of Carnegie Hall.
"I am happy to be in this so charming camp, in this forest magnificent, on these ancient mountains," orated the colonel floridly. "I am most pleased of all to have Huron Indians as my guides, because between Hurons and me there are memories." The men were listening spell-bound. "But yes. I had Huron soldiers serving in my regiment, just now at the western front, of whom I thought highly. They were all that there is, those Hurons of mine, of most fearless, most skilful. One among them was pre-eminent. Some of you may have known him. I regret to say that I never knew his real name, but among his comrades he went by the name of l'Hirondelle. From that name one guesses his qualities--swift as a swallow, untamable, gay, brave to foolishness, moving in dashes not to be followed--such was my Hirondelle. And yet this swift bird was in the end shot down."
At this point in the colonel's speech. I happened to look at Rafael, back in the shadows of the half-lighted big room. His eyes glittered out of the dimness like disks of fire, his face was strained, and his figure bent forward. "He must have known this chap, the Swallow," I thought to myself. "Just possibly a son or brother or nephew of his." The colonel was going on, telling in fluent, beautiful French the story of how Hirondelle, wrapped in a sheet, had rescued him. The men drank it in. "When those guides are old, old fellows, they'll talk about this night and the colonel's speech to their great-grandchildren," I considered, and again the colonel went on.
"Have I m'sieur's permission to raconter a short story of the most amusing which was the last escapade of my Hirondelle before he was killed?"
M'sieur gave permission eagerly, and the low murmur of the voices of the hypnotized guides, standing in a group before the colonel, added to its force and set him smiling.
"It was like this," he stated. "My Hirondelle was out in No Man's Land of a night, strictly charged to behave in a manner comme il faut, for he was of a rashness, and we did not wish to lose him. He was valuable to us, and beyond that the regiment had an affection for him. For such reasons his captain tried--but, yes--to keep him within bounds. As I say, on this night he had received particular orders to be sage. So that the first thing the fellow does is to lose his comrades, for which he had a penchant, one knows. After that he crawls over that accursed country, in and out of shellholes, rifle in his teeth likely--the good God knows where else, for one need be all hands and feet for such crawling. He crawled in that fashion till at last he lost himself. And then he was concerned to find out where might be our lines till in time he heard a sound of snoring and was well content. Home at last. He tumbled into a dark trench, remarking only that it was filled with men since he left, and so tired he was with his adventure that he pushed away the man next, who was at the end, to gain space, and he rolled over to sleep. But that troublesome man next took too much room. Our Hirondelle planted him a kick in the middle of the back. At which the man half waked and swore at him--in German. And dropped off to sleep again with his leg of a pig slung across Hirondelle's chest. At that second a star-shell lighted up the affair, and Hirondelle, staring with much interest, believe me, saw a trench filled with sleeping Boches. To get out of that as quietly as might be was the game--n'est-ce-pas, mes amis? But not for Hirondelle.
"'My colonel has a liking for prisoners,' he reported later. 'My captain's orders were to conduct oneself tres comme il faut. It is always comme il faut to please the colonel. Therefore it seemed en regle to take a prisoner. I took him. Le v'la.'
"What the fellow did was to wait till the Boche next door was well asleep, then slowly remove his rifle, then fasten on his throat with a grip which Hirondelle understood, and finally to overpower the Boche till he was ready enough to crawl out at the muzzle of Hirondelle's rifle."
There was a stir in the little group of guides, and from the shadows Rafael's voice spoke.
The colonel turned sharply. "Who is that?"
"There were two Germans," spoke the voice out of the shadows.
The colonel, too astonished to answer, stared. The voice, trembling, old, went on. "The second man waked and one was obliged to strangle him also. One brought the brace to the captain at the end of the carabine--rifle."
"In heaven's name who are you?" demanded the colonel.
From where old Rafael had been, bowed and limp in his humble, worn clothes, stepped at a stride a soldier, head up, shoulders squared, glittering eyes forward, and stood at attention. It was like magic. One hand snapped up in a smart salute.
"Who are you?" whispered the colonel.
"If the colonel pleases--l'Hirondelle."
I heard the colonel's breath come and go as he peered, leaning forward to the soldierly figure. "Nom de Ciel," he murmured, "I believe it is." Then in sharp sentences: "You were reported killed. Are you a deserter?"
The steady image of a soldier dropped back a step.
Rafael--l'Hirondelle--explained. He had not been killed, but captured and sent to a German prison-camp.
"You escaped?" the colonel threw in.
"But yes, my colonel."
The colonel laughed. "One would know it. The clumsy Boches could not hold the Swallow."
"But no, my colonel."
"One went to work before light, my colonel, in that accursed prison-camp. One was out of sight from the guard for a moment, turning a corner, so that on a morning I slipped into some bushes and hid in a dugout--for it was an old camp--all day. That night I walked. I walked for seven nights and lay hid for seven days, eating, my colonel, very little. Then, v'la, I was in front of the French lines."
"You ran across to our lines?"
"But not exactly. One sees that I was yet in dirty German prison clothes, and looked like an infantryman of the Boches, so that a poilu rushed at me with a bayonet. I believed, then, that I had come upon a German patrol. Each thought the other a Hun. I managed to wrest from the poilu his rifle with the bayonet, but as we fought another shot me--in the side."
"You were wounded?"
"Yes, my colonel."
"Yes, my colonel."
"Three months, my colonel."
"Why are you not again in the army?"
The face of the erect soldier, Hirondelle, the dare-devil, was suddenly the face of a man grown old, ill, and broken-hearted. He stared at the stalwart French officer, gathering himself with an effort. "I--was discharged, my colonel, as--unfit." His head in its old felt hat dropped into his hands suddenly, and he broke beyond control into sobs that shook not only him but every man there.
The colonel stepped forward and put an arm around the bent shoulders. "Mon heros!" said the colonel.
With that Rafael found words, never a hard task for him. Yet they came with gasps between. "To be cast out as an old horse--at the moment of glory! I had dreamed all my life--of fighting. And I had it--oh, my colonel--I had it! The glory came when I was old and knew how to be happy in it. Not as a boy who laughs and takes all as his right. I was old, yes, but I was good to kill the vermin. I avenged the children and the women whom those savages--My people, the savages of the wood, knew no better, yet they have not done things as bad as these vile ones who were educated, who knew. Therefore I killed them. I was old, but I was strong, my colonel knows. Not for nothing have I lived a hard life. On a vu de la misere. I have hunted moose and bear and kept my muscles of steel and my eyes of a hawk. It is in my blood to be a fighting man. I fought with pleasure, and I was troubled with no fear. I was old, but I could have killed many devils more. And so I was shot down by my own friend after seven days of hard life. And the young soldier doctor discharged me as unfit to fight. And so I am come home very fast to hide myself, for I am ashamed. I am finished. The fighting and the glory are for me no more."
The colonel stepped back a bit and his face flamed. "Glory!" he whispered. "Glory no more for the Hirondelle? What of the Croix de Guerre?"
Rafael shook his head. "I haf heard my colonel who said they would have given me--me, the Hirondelle--the war cross. That now is lost too."
"Lost!" The colonel's deep tone was full of the vibration which only a French voice carries. With a quick movement he unfastened the catch that held the green ribbon, red-striped, of his own cross of war. He turned and pinned the thing which men die for on the shabby coat of the guide. Then he kissed him on either cheek. "My comrade," he said, "your glory will never be old."
There was deep silence in the camp kitchen. The crackling of wood that fell apart, the splashing of the waves of the lake on the pebbles by the shore were the only sounds on earth. For a long minute the men stood as if rooted; the colonel, poised and dramatic, and, I stirred to the depths of my soul by this great ceremony which had come out of the skies to its humble setting in the forest--the men and the colonel and I, we all watched Rafael.
And Rafael slowly, yet with the iron tenacity of his race, got back his control. "My colonel," he began, and then failed. The Swallow did not dare trust his broken wings. It could not be done--to speak his thanks. He looked up with black eyes shining through tears which spoke everything.
"Tomorrow," he stated brokenly, "if we haf a luck, my colonel and I go kill a moose."
They had a luck.