The Lane that had No Turning/Mathurin
THE tale was told to me in the little valley beneath Dalgrothe Mountain one September morning. Far and near one could see the swinging of the flail, and the laughter of a ripe summer was upon the land. There was a little Calvary down by the riverside, where the flax-beaters used to say their prayers in the intervals of their work; and it was just at the foot of this that Angèle Rouvier, having finished her prayer, put her rosary in her pocket, wiped her eyes with the hem of her petticoat, and said to me:
"Ah, dat poor Mathurin, I wipe my tears for him!"
"Tell me all about him, won’t you, Madame Angèle? I want to hear you tell it," I added hastily, for I saw that she would despise me if I showed ignorance of Mathurin’s story. Her sympathy with Mathurin’s memory was real, but her pleasure at the compliment I paid her was also real.
"Ah! It was ver’ longtime ago—yes. My gran’mudder she remember dat Mathurin ver’ well. He is not ver’ big man. He has a face—oh, not ver’ handsome, not so more handsome as yours—non! His clothes, dey hang on him all loose; his hair, it is all some grey, and it blow about him head. He is clean to de face, no beard—no, nosing like dat. But his eye; là, M’sieu’, his eye! It is like a coal which you blow in your hand, whew!—all bright. My gran’mudder, she say, ‘Voilà, you can light your pipe with de eyes of dat Mathurin!’ She know. She say dat M’sieu’ Mathurin’s eyes dey shine in de dark. My gran’fadder he say he not need any lights on his cariole when Mathurin ride with him in de night.
"Ah, sure! it is ver’ true what I tell you all de time. If you cut off Mathurin at de chin, all de way up, you will say de top of him it is a priest. All de way down from his neck, oh, he is just no better as yoursel’ or my Jean—non! He is a ver’ good man. Only one bad ting he do. Dat is why I pray for him; dat is why everybody pray for him—only one bad ting. Sapristi!—if I have only one ting to say God-have-mercy for, I tink dat ver’ good; I do my penance happy. Well, dat Mathurin him use to teach de school. De Curé he ver’ fond of him. All de leetla children, boys and girls, dey all say: ‘C’est bon Mathurin!’ He is not ver’ cross—non! He have no wife, no child; jes live by himself all alone. But he is ver’ good friends with everybody in Pontiac. When he go ’long de street, everybody say, ‘Ah, dere go de good Mathurin!’ He laugh, he tell story, he smoke leetla tabac, he take leetla white wine behin’ de door; dat is nosing—non!
"He have in de parish five, ten, twenty children all call Mathurin; he is godfadder with dem—yes. So he go about with plenty of sugar and sticks of candy in his pocket. He never forget once de age of every leetla child dat call him godfadder. He have a brain dat work like a clock. My gran’fadder he say dat Mathurin have a machine in his head. It make de words, make de thoughts, make de fine speech like de Curé, make de gran’ poetry—oh, yes!
"When de King of Englan’ go to sit on de throne, Mathurin write ver’ nice verse to him. And by-and-by dere come to Mathurin a letter—voilà, dat is a letter! It have one, two, three, twenty seals; and de King he say to Mathurin: ‘Merci mille fois, m’sieu’. You are ver’ polite. I tank you. I will keep your verses to tell me dat my French subjects are all loyal like M. Mathurin.’ Dat is ver’ nice, but Mathurin is not proud—non! He write six verses for my granmudder—hein! Dat is something. He write two verses for de King of Englan’ and he write six verses for my gran'mudder—you see! He go on so, dis week, dat week, dis year, dat year, all de time.
"Well, by-and-by dere is trouble on Pontiac. It is ver’ great trouble. You see dere is a fight ’gainst de King of Englan’, and dat is too bad. It is not his fault; he is ver’ nice man; it is de bad men who make de laws for de King in Quebec. Well, one day all over de country everybody take him gun, and de leetla bullets, and say, I will fight de soldier of de King of Englan’—like dat! Ver’ well, dere was twenty men in Pontiac, ver’ nice men—you will find de names cut in a stone on de church; and den, three times as big, you will find Mathurin’s name. Ah, dat is de ting! You see, dat rebellion you English call it, we call it de War of de Patriot—de first War of de Patriot, not de second—well, call it what you like, quelle différence? The King of Englan’ smash him Patriot War all to pieces. Den dere is ten men of de twenty come back to Pontiac ver’ sorry. Dey are not happy, nobody are happy. All de wives, dey cry; all de children, dey are afraid. Some people say, What fools you are; others say, You are no good; but everybody in him heart is ver’ sorry all de time.
"Ver’ well, by-and-by dere come to Pontiac what you call a colonel with a dozen men—what for, you tink? To try de patriots. He will stan’ dem against de wall and shoot dem to death—kill dem dead. When dey come, de Curé he is not in Pontiac—non, not dat day; he is gone to anudder village. The English soldier he has de ten men drew up before de church. All de children and all de wives dey cry and cry, and dey feel so bad. Certainlee, it is a pity. But de English soldier he say he will march dem off to Quebec, and everybody know dat is de end of de patriots.
"All at once de colonel’s horse it grow ver’ wild, it rise up high, and dance on him hind feet, and—voilà! he topple him over backwards, and de horse fall on de colonel and smaish him—smaish him till he go to die. Ver’ well; de colonel, what does he do? Dey lay him on de steps of de church. Den he say: ‘Bring me a priest, quick, for I go to die.’ Nobody answer. De colonel he say: ‘I have a hundred sins all on my mind; dey are on my heart like a hill. Bring to me de priest,’—he groan like dat. Nobody speak at first; den somebody say de priest is not here. ‘Find me a priest,’ say de colonel; ‘find me a priest.’ For he tink de priest will not come, becos’ he go to kill de patriots. ‘Bring me a priest,’ he say again, ‘and all de ten shall go free.’ He say it over and over. He is smaish to pieces, but his head is all right. All at once de doors of de church open behin’ him—what you tink! Everybody’s heart it stan’ still, for dere is Mathurin dress as de priest, with a leetla boy to swing de censer. Everybody say to himself, What is dis? Mathurin is dress as de priest—ah! dat is a sin. It is what you call blaspheme.
"The English soldier he look up at Mathurin and say: ‘Ah, a priest at last! ah, m’sieu’ le Curé, comfort me!’
Mathurin look down on him and say: ‘M’sieu’, it is for you to confess your sins, and to have de office of de Church. But first, as you have promise just now, you must give up dese poor men, who have fight for what dey tink is right. You will let dem go free dis momen’!’
"‘Yes, yes,’ say de English colonel; ‘dey shall go free. Only give me de help of de Church at my last.’
"Mathurin turn to de other soldiers and say: ‘Unloose de men.’
"De colonel nod his head and say: ‘Unloose de men.’ Den de men are unloose, and dey all go away, for Mathurin tell dem to go quick.
"Everybody is ver’ ’fraid becos’ of what Mathurin do. Mathurin he say to de soldiers: ‘Lift him up and bring him in de church.’ Dey bring him up to de steps of de altar. Mathurin look at de man for a while, and it seem as if he cannot speak to him; but de colonel say: ‘I have give you my word. Give me comfort of de Church before I die.’ He is in ver’ great pain, so Mathurin he turn roun’ to everybody dat stan’ by, and tell dem to say de prayers for de sick. Everybody get him down on his knees and say de prayer. Everybody say: ‘Lord have mercy. Spare him, O Lord; deliver him, O Lord, from Thy wrath!’ And Mathurin he pray all de same as a priest, ver’ soft and gentle. He pray on and on, and de face of de English soldier it get ver' quiet and still, and de tear drop down his cheek. And just as Mathurin say at de last his sins dey are forgive, he die. Den Mathurin, as he go away to take off his robes, he say to himself: ‘Miserere meî Deus! miserere meî Deus!’
"So dat is de ting dat Mathurin do to save de patriots from de bullets. Ver’ well, de men dey go free, and when de Governor at Quebec he hear de truth, he say it is all right. Also de English soldier die in peace and happy, becos’ he tink his sins are forgive. But den—dere is Mathurin and his sin to pretend he is a priest! The Curé he come back, and dere is a great trouble.
"Mathurin he is ver’ quiet and still. Nobody come near him in him house; nobody go near to de school. But he sit alone all day in de school, and he work on de blackboar’ and he write on de slate; but dere is no child come, becos’ de Curé has forbid any one to speak to Mathurin. Not till de next Sunday, den de Curé send for Mathurin to come to de church. Mathurin come to de steps of de altar; den de Curé say to him:
"‘Mathurin, you have sin a great sin. If it was two hunderd years ago you would be put to death for dat.’
"Mathurin he say ver’ soft: ‘Dat is no matter. I am ready to die now. I did it to save de fadders of de children and de husbands of de wives. I do it to make a poor sinner happy as he go from de world. De sin is mine.’
"Den de Curé he say: ‘De men are free, dat is good; de wives have dere husbands and de children dere fadders. Also de man who confess his sins—de English soldier—to whom you say de words of a priest of God, he is forgive. De Spirit of God it was upon him when he die, becos’ you speak in de name of de Church. But for you, blasphemer, who take upon you de holy ting, you shall suffer! For penance, all your life you shall teach a chile no more.’
"Ah, m’sieu’ le Curé he know dat is de greatest penance for de poor Mathurin! Den he set him other tings to do; and every month for a whole year Mathurin come on his knees all de way to de church, but de Curé say: ‘Not yet are you forgive.’ At de end of de year Mathurin he look so thin, so white, you can blow through him. Every day he go to him school and write on de blackboar’, and mark on de slate, and call de roll of de school. But dere is no answer, for dere is no children. But all de time de wives of de men dat he have save, and de chil'ren, dey pray for him. And by-and-by all de village pray for him, so sorry.
"It is so for two years; and den dey say dat Mathurin he go to die. He cannot come on his knees to de church; and de men whose life he save, dey come to de Curé and ask him to take de penance from Mathurin. De Curé say: ‘Wait till nex’ Sunday.’ So nex’ Sunday Mathurin is carry to de church—he is too weak to walk on his knees. De Curé he stan’ at de altar, and he read a letter from de Pope, which say dat Mathurin his penance is over, and he is forgive; dat de Pope himself pray for Mathurin, to save his soul! So.
"Mathurin, all at once he stan’ up, and his face it smile and smile, and he stretch out his arms as if dey are on a cross, and he say, ‘Lord, I am ready to go,’ and he fall down. But de Curé catch him as he fall, and Mathurin say: ‘De children—let dem come to me dat I teach dem before I die.’ An' all de children in de church dey come close to him, and he sit up and smile at dem, and he say:
"‘It is de class in ’rithmetic. How much is three times four?’ And dem all answer: ‘Three times four is twelve.’ And he say: ‘May de Twelve Apostles pray for me!’ Den he ask: ‘Class in geography—how far is it roun’ de world?’ And dey answer: ‘Twenty-four thousand miles.’ He say: 'Good; it is not so far to God! De school is over all de time,’ he say. And dat is only everything of poor Mathurin. He is dead.
"When de Curé lay him down, after he make de Sign upon him, he kiss his face and say: ‘Mathurin, now you are a priest unto God.’"
That was Angèle Rouvier’s story of Mathurin, the Master of the School, for whom the women and the children pray in the parish of Pontiac, though the school has been dismissed these hundred years and more.