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 Tadousac.

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 family,  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 Pascal Deschamps.

"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 Deschamps." 

"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 were  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.