The Yankee Tramp by Francis Clement Kelley
THEY were old cronies, M. le Cure de St. Eustace and M. le Cure de
Ste. Agatha, though the priestly calling seemed all they had in
common. The first was small of stature, thin of face, looking like a
mediæval, though he was a modern, saint; the other tall, well filled
out like an epicure, yet not even Bonhomme Careau, the nearest
approach to a scoffer in the two parishes, ever went so far as to call
the Cure of Ste. Agatha by such an undeserved name, since the good,
fat priest had the glaring fault of stinginess which all the country
knew but never mentioned. They loved him too much to mention his
faults. He was good to the sick and faithful to their interests,
though—"Il etait fort tendu, lui, mais bien gentil, tout de meme."
Besides, the Cure of St. Eustace was too generous. Every beggar got
a meal from him and some of them money, till he spoiled the whole
tribe of them and they became so bold—well there was serious talk of
protesting to the Cure of St. Eustace about his charities.
The garden of St. Eustace was the pleasantest place on earth for both
the cronies after Vespers had been sung in their parishes on Sunday
and the three miles covered from the Presbytery of Ste.
Agatha to the Presbytery of St. Eustace. On a fine day it was
delightful to sit under the great trees and see the flowers and chat
and smoke, with just the faint smell of the evening meal stealing out
of Margot's kingdom. It was a standing rule that this meal was to be
taken together on Sunday and the visit prolonged far into the
night—until old Pierre came with the worn-looking buggy and carried
his master off about half-past ten. "Grand Dieu. Quelle
dissipation!" Only on this night did either one stay up after nine.
What experiences were told these Sunday nights! Big and authoritative
were the words of M. le Cure de Ste. Agatha. Stern and unbending were
his comments and the accounts of his week's doings. And his friend's?
Bien, they were not much, but "they made him a little pleasure to
narrate"—what he would tell of them.
This night they were talking of beggars, a new phase of the old
question. They had only beggars in Quebec, mild old fellows mostly. A
few pennies would suffice for them, and when they got old there were
always the good Sisters of the Poor to care for them. There were no
"This fellow was different, mon ami," the Cure de St. Eustace was
saying, "he would almost bother you yourself with all your experience.
from over the line—from the States, and he had a remarkable
"Bien oui, they all have," broke in his friend, "but I send them to
Marie and she feeds them—nothing more. They can not trap me with any
of their foolish tales. It is not charity to give to them. I am hard
of heart about such things, and very sensible."
"Well, I will tell you about him. It will pass the time till dinner. I
found the man seated on the gallery in front. He spoke only English.
When I came up he arose and took off his cap, very politely for a
Yankee too. But, God forgive me, I had no right to say that, for the
Yankees are as the bon Dieu made them and they are too busy to be
"'You are the priest?' he asked me.
"'Yes, Monsieur, I am.'
"'You speak English?'
"'Enough to understand. What is it?'
"'I am not a tramp, Father,'—he looked very weary and sad—'and it is
not money; though I am very hungry. You will give me something?
Thanks, but I want you to hear my story first. Yes, you can help—very
"I gave him a seat and he dropped into it.
"'Father, do not be shocked if I tell you that I am just out of
prison. I was discharged yesterday in New York and I lost no time in
coming here. This is not my first visit. I was here ten years ago with
my chum. We were burglars and we were running away after a big
operation in New York. We had stolen $8,000 in money and valuables,
and we had it all with us. We wanted to rest here in this quiet
village till the storm would blow over. Among the valuables was a
strange ring. I had never seen anything like it and my chum wanted it
for himself, but we were afraid and took it to one of your
jewelers—right down the street to the left—Nadeau was his name—to
have it altered a little and made safe to wear. That little jeweler
suspected us. I saw it at once and we were alarmed. He informed the
constable of the ring matter. We were watched and then we saw that it
would be better to go. We feared that the New York police would learn
of us, so we took the stuff out three miles in the country one dark
night and buried it. I know the spot, for it is near the old school
where the road turns for Sherbrooke. Then we went West, to Michigan.
We broke into a store there and we were arrested, but New York heard
of the capture and the Michigan authorities gave us up. We were tried
and a lawyer defended us by the Judge's order. He got us off with ten
years in Sing Sing. I have been there till yesterday, as I told you.
My chum? Well, that brings me to it. Pardon me. I did not intend to
break down. He is dead. He died well. A priest converted him, and my
chum repented of his life and begged me to change mine when I got out.
going to do it, Father. I am, so help me God. I'll never forget
his death. He called me and said: 'Bunky, that loot is worrying me.
The priest says that it must be returned if the owner or his heirs can
be found. If they can not it must be spent in works of charity.
Promise me that you will go to St. Eustace and get it, Bunky, and give
it back. Promise!'
"Then he broke down, mon ami, and I fear that I cried just a little
too. It was sad, for he was a great strong man.
"When he could, he looked up and continued: 'Well, Father, I am here
to do it. I want your help. May I have it?'
"I told him I would do what I could. He wanted me to take the money
and give it to the owner. He would tell me his name. I was glad to aid
the poor man who was so repentant.
"'All I want is a pick and shovel and a reliable man to go with me
to-night. I can find the place,' he said.
"I offered to send the sexton with him and let him have the pick and
shovel from the cemetery. I gave him food and thanked God as I watched
him eat, that grace was working in his heart again.
"'I will wait for the man at seven to-night, Father,' he said when he
was leaving. 'Let him meet me with the horse and buggy just outside of
the town. If there is danger I will not see him, and
he can return. I
will take the pick and shovel now, and bring the stuff to you in a
valise by 10 o'clock. Wait up for me.'
"He left and the sexton went to the road at seven, but did not see
him. At 10 o'clock I heard him coming. It was very dark and he knocked
sharply and quickly, as if afraid. I opened the door and he thrust a
valise into my hand. It was heavy.
"'Here it is, Father. Keep it till morning when I will bring the key.
The valise is locked. Give me something that I may buy a night's
lodging and I will come back at seven.'
"I gave him the first note in my purse and he hurried away.
"Now I fear, mon ami, that I never quite overcame my childish
curiosity, for I felt a burning desire to see all that treasure,
especially the strange ring. I must root out that fault before I die
or my purgatory will be long. I went to the kitchen where I had a good
chisel, and I am sorry to confess that I opened the valise just a very
little to see the heap of precious things. There was an old cigar-box
and something heavy rolled in cotton. I thrust the chisel down till I
opened the box. There was no treasure in it at all, but just a lot of
iron-shavings. I felt that I had been fooled and I broke the valise
open. The heavy stuff rolled in the cotton was only a lot of old
coupling-pins from the railroad. I was disgusted with this sinner,
this thief. But it was droll—it
was droll—and I could scarcely
sleep with laughing at the whole farce. I know that was sinful. I
should have cried. But he was clever, that Yankee tramp."
"Mon Dieu! It was mine."
"And the valise? What did you do with it?" asked the hard-hearted Cure
of Ste. Agatha, who must have felt sorry that the friend could be so
easily duped. "What did you do with the valise?"
"I let it go. I knew that he had left it with me and I couldn't
understand why. It was so good—almost new. I felt that the sight of
it would make me hard to the poor who really were deserving. I wanted
to forget how foolish I was, so I gave it to the good Sisters at the
Hospital, to use when they must travel to Sherbrooke."
The Cure of Ste. Agatha was agitated. He plainly wanted to speak but
choked back twice. Then he rose and looked at his friend with a face
as red as fire, and started toward the gate. He took two steps, came
back, and spoke rapidly. "Do you think the Sisters will bring it back,
the valise? Mon Dieu! It was mine."
Ten miles from St. Eustace and thirteen miles from Ste. Agatha a
Yankee tramp was hurrying toward the parish of Ste. Catherine. He had
the money for one pick and one shovel in his pocket keeping company
with one note from the purse of the generous Cure of St. Eustace and
one of a much
larger denomination, from the wise but hard-hearted
Cure of Ste. Agatha, who never gave to tramps.
And this is the lesson of the story as the Cure of St. Eustace saw it:
that some gloomy and worried millionaires are lost to the States, to
make a few irresponsible but happy rascals who live by their wits, and
whose sins even are amusing. One must not blame them overmuch.
As to the Cure of Ste. Agatha. He has no opinions on the matter at
all, for the Sisters gave him back his new valise.