The Lane that had No Turning/The Tragic Comedy of Annette

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THE chest of drawers, the bed, the bedding, the pieces of linen, and the pile of yarn had been ready for many months. Annette had made inventory of them every day since the dot was complete—at first with a great deal of pride, after a time more shyly and wistfully: Bénoit did not come. He had said he would be down with the first drive of logs in the summer, and at the little church of St. Saviour’s they would settle everything and get the Curé’s blessing. Almost anybody would have believed in Bénoit. He had the brightest scarf, the merriest laugh, the quickest eyes, and the blackest head in Pontiac; and no one among the river drivers could sing like him. That was, he said gaily, because his earrings were gold, and not brass like those of his comrades. Thus Bénoit was a little vain, and something more; but old ladies such as the Little Chemist’s wife said he was galant. Probably only Medallion the auctioneer and the Curé did not lose themselves in the general admiration; they thought he was to Annette like a farthing dip to a holy candle.

Annette was the youngest of twelve, and one of a family of thirty—for some of her married brothers and sisters and their children lived in her father’s long white house’ by the river. When Bénoit failed to come in the spring, they showed their pity for her by abusing him; and when she pleaded for him they said things which had an edge. They ended by offering to marry her to Farette, the old miller, to whom they owed money for flour. They brought Farette to the house at last, and she was patient while he ogled her, and smoked his strong tabac, and tried to sing. She was kind to him, and said nothing until, one day, urged by her brother Solime, he mumbled the childish chanson Bénoit sang the day he left, as he passed their house going up the river:

"High in a nest of the tam’rac tree,
Swing under, so free, and swing over;
Swing under the sun and swing over the world,
My snow-bird, my gay little lover—
My gay little lover, don, don! … don, don!

"When the winter is done I will come back home,
To the nest swinging under and over,
Swinging under and over and waiting for me,
Your rover, my snow-bird, your rover—
Your lover and rover, don, don! … don, don!"

It was all very well in the mouth of the sprightly, sentimental Bénoit; it was hateful foolishness in Farette. Annette now came to her feet suddenly, her pale face showing defiance, and her big brown eyes flicking anger. She walked up to the miller and said: "You are old and ugly and a fool. But I do not hate you; I hate Solime, my brother, for bringing you here. There is the bill for the flour? Well, I will pay it myself—and you can go as soon as you like."

Then she put on her coat and capote and mittens, and went to the door. "Where are you going, Ma’m’selle?" cried Solime, in high rage.

"I am going to M’sieu’ Medallion," she said.

Hard profane words followed her, but she ran, and never stopped till she came to Medallion’s house. He was not there. She found him at the Little Chemist’s.

That night a pony and cart took away from the house of Annette’s father the chest of drawers, the bed, the bedding, the pieces of linen, and the pile of yarn which had been made ready so long against Bénoit’s coming. Medallion had said he could sell them at once, and he gave her the money that night; but this was after he had had a talk with the Curé, to whom Annette had told all. Medallion said he had been able to sell the things at once; but he did not tell her that they were stored in a loft of the Little Chemist’s house, and that the Little Chemist’s wife had wept over them and carried the case to the shrine of the Blessed Virgin.

It did not matter that the father and brothers stormed. Annette was firm; the dot was hers, and she would do as she wished. She carried the money to the miller. He took it grimly and gave her a receipt, grossly mis-spelled, and, as she was about to go, brought his fist heavily down on his leg and said: "Mon Dieu! it is brave—it is grand—it is an angel." Then he chuckled: "So, so! It was true. I am old, ugly, and a fool. Eh, well! I have my money!" Then he took to counting it over in his hand, forgetting her, and she left him growling gleefully over it.

She had not a happy life, but her people left her alone, for the Curé had said stern things to them. All during the winter she went out fishing every day at a great hole in the ice—bitter cold work, and fit only for a man; but she caught many fish, and little by little laid aside pennies to buy things to replace what she had sold. It had been a hard trial to her to sell them. But for the kind-hearted Curé she would have repined. The worst thing happened, however, when the ring Bénoit had given her dropped from her thin finger into the water where she was fishing. Then a shadow descended on her, and she grew almost unearthly in the anxious patience of her face. The Little Chemist’s wife declared that the look was death. Perhaps it would have been if Medallion had not sent a lad down to the bottom of the river and got the ring. He gave it to the Curé, who put it on her finger one day after confession. Then she brightened, and waited on and on patiently.

She waited for seven years. Then the deceitful Bénoit came pensively back to her, a cripple from a timber accident. She believed what he told her; and that was where her comedy ended and her tragedy began.