The Legend of Deschamps
by Francis Clement Kelley
FROM Tadousac to the far-off Lake of Saint John the rock-bound
Saguenay rolls through a mystic country, sublime in natural beauty,
and alive with traditions, legends and folk-lore tales. Ghosts of the
past people its shores, phantom canoes float down the river of
mystery; and disembodied spirits troop back to earth at the dreamer's
call; traders, trappers, soldiers, women strong in love and valor,
heroes in the long ago, and saintly missionaries offering up mortal
life that savages may know the Christian's God.
Beauty, mysticism and music—music in all things, from the silver flow
of the river to the soft notes of the native's tongue, and dominating
all, simple faith and deep-rooted, God-implanted patriotism.
Such was French Canada, the adopted country of Deschamps the trapper,
a native of old France, who made his home in Tadousac while Quebec was
yet a growing city; and, caring nothing for toil or hardship,
gradually grew to be a grand monsieur in the estimation of the
people about him. He loved his country well and, when war came, sent
forth three sturdy sons to help repel the British foe. Many were the
tears the patriot shed, because age
forbade the privilege of
shouldering musket and marching himself.
Weary months dragged by before tidings came. Quebec had fallen. The
gallant Montcalm had passed through the Gate of Saint John to a hero's
rest, and two of the trapper's sons lay dead on the Plains of Abraham.
They had died bravely, as Deschamps hoped they would, with their faces
to the foe, and with a whispered message of love to the old father at
And Pascal, the best beloved?
Pascal was—a traitor!
The blood of Deschamps in the veins of a traitor! Wife, daughter and
gallant sons had been riven from him by death and the Christian's hope
lightened the; mourner's desolation. But disgrace! Neither earth nor
heaven held consolation for such wrong as his. Deschamps brooded on
his woe; alone he endured his agony, giving utterance to his despair
in the words: "France! Pascal! Traitor!"
Years passed and the trapper lived on, a senile wreck, ever brooding
on defeat, then breaking into fierce invective. Misery had isolated
him from his kind; the grand monsieur was the recluse of Tadousac.
One day he disappeared from his lonely cabin and no one knew whither
he had gone.
Treason had purchased prosperity for the recreant son. Wealth and
honors were his and an English wife, a haughty woman of half-noble
who completed the work of alienation. Traitorous deed,
kindred and race were all forgotten, and when the joy-bells rang for
the birth of an heir there was revel in the magnificent mansion of
"Summon our friends," said the happy father. "A son to the house of
Deschamps! Let his baptism be celebrated as becomes the heir of
wealth, power and position."
So heralds went forth from town to town, making known the tidings, but
bore no message to the lonely grandsire in Tadousac.
"The curse is lifted!" said the pious peasants, mindful of Pascal's
treason. "A child at last! The good God has forgiven him."
From Quebec to Malbaie came so-called friends, English who despised
his treachery, French who hated his name, but courtiers all; and with
them came an unbidden guest, an aged trapper, unshorn and roughly
clad, who lurked in the shadows of the great hall, and whispered ever:
"France! Pascal! Traitor!"
Beautiful as an angel was the baby heir, fair with the patrician
beauty of his English mother, strong of limb as befitted the trapper's
descendant. Unconscious of the homage paid him, he slept in his
nurse's arms, his baptismal robes sweeping the floor.
"A sturdy fellow, my friends," said his laughing sponsor. "An English
"An English Deschamps!" cried the English guests, pleased with the
conceit. "Long may his line endure."
"A traitor Deschamps!" said a voice instinct with wrath. "Unhappy man,
your taint is in him!"
The revelers shrank back appalled, as from the shadows came the
unbidden guest and stood among them, his mien majestic with the
dignity of sorrow. Pascal alone recognized him and forced his ashen
lips to speak the word: "Father."
"Yes, your father, unhappy boy; unlettered, old and broken with the
burden of your disgrace, but loyal still to God and country. I have
guarded those great virtues well, for God gave them to me, and I would
have transmitted them to my posterity, and linked the name of
Deschamps forever with patriotism and Faith. But your treachery has
destroyed my hope and smirched the memory of your brothers, whose
names are written on the roll of martyrs to their Faith and country.
Ah, Pascal, how I loved you! And your son? An English Deschamps you
say! A son born to perpetuate his father's degradation! No, Pascal, I
shall save my honor! Your traitor blood shall never taint posterity.
You may live your life of misery, but you shall live it alone."
And snatching the child from its nurse's arms the old trapper passed
from the house and had reached his canoe before the stupefied revelers
roused into pursuit. But they had no boats. The old trapper had
driven holes through the sides of every one but his own.
With swift strokes Deschamps paddled down the St. Lawrence, through
the rocky entrance to the Saguenay, and over its dark waters till a
harbor was reached in a cleft of the coast. Here the madman landed,
climbed to the summit of the rock, and laying down the boy, kindled a
fire of driftwood. "I may see his face," he muttered. "The last of my
line! The English cross shows! The strain shows! I must wash it out!
Hush, my little one, thy grandfather guards thee; soon shalt thou
sleep in my arms—arms that cradled thy father, and shall hold thee
forever. I, who was ever gentle, who spared the birds and beasts, and
sorrowed with the trapped beaver, will spare thee, too, my baby—will
save thee from thy father. Here where the wind speaks of freedom; here
where the river even in its anger, as to-night, whispers peace; here
where Deschamps worked and hoped; here where Deschamps sorrowed and
mourned; here, little one, shall we rest together. Child, for you and
me life means disgrace; the better part is death and freedom."
A leap from the rock! The baptismal robes, fluttering white like
angels' wings, dipped to the surface and disappeared. The race of
Deschamps was ended. The black water of Saguenay was its pall, the
storm its requiem.