Maria Chapdelaine



SEPTEMBER arrived, and the dryness so welcome for the hay-making persisted till it became a disaster. According to the Chapdelaines, never had the country been visited with such a drought as this, and every day a fresh motive was suggested for the divine displeasure.

Oats and wheat took on a sickly colour ere attaining their growth; a merciless sun withered the grass and the clover aftermath, and all day long the famished cows stood lowing with their heads over the fences. They had to be watched continually, for even the meager standing crop was a sore temptation, and never a day went by but one of them broke through the rails in the attempt to appease her hunger among the grain.

Then, of a sudden one evening, as though weary of a constancy so unusual, the wind shifted and in the morning came the rain. It fell off and on for a week, and when it ceased and the wind hauled again to the north-west, autumn had come.

The autumn! And it seemed as though spring were here but yesterday. The grain was yet unripe, though yellowed by the drought; nothing save the hay was in barn; the other crops could draw nutriment from the soil only while the too brief summer warmed it, and already autumn was here, the forerunner of relentless winter, of the frosts, and soon the snows ...

Between the wet days there was still fine bright weather, hot toward noon, when one might fancy that all was as it had been: the harvest still unreaped, the changeless setting of spruces and firs, and ever the same sunsets of gray and opal, opal and gold, and skies of misty blue above the same dark woodland. But in the mornings the grass was sometimes white with rime, and swiftly followed the earliest dry frosts which killed and blackened the tops of the potatoes.

Then, for the first time, a film of ice appeared upon the drinking-trough; melted by the afternoon sun it was there a few days later, and yet a third time in the same week. Frequent changes of wind brought an alternation of mild rainy days and frosty mornings; but every time the wind came afresh from the north-west it was a little colder, a little more remindful of the icy winter blasts. Everywhere is autumn a melancholy season, charged with regrets for that which is departing, with shrinking from what is to come; but under the Canadian skies it is sadder and more moving than elsewhere, as though one were bewailing the death of a mortal summoned untimely by the gods before he has lived out his span.

Through the increasing cold, the early frosts, the threats of snow, they held back their hands and put off the reaping from day to day, encouraging the meager grain to steal a little nourishment from the earth's failing veins and the spiritless sun. At length, harvest they must, for October approached. About the time when the leaves of birches and aspens were turning, the oats and the wheat were cut and carried to the barn under a cloudless sky, but without rejoicing.

The yield of grain was poor enough, yet the hay-crop had been excellent, so that the year as a whole gave occasion neither for excess of joy nor sorrow. However, it was long before the Chapdelaines, in evening talk, ceased deploring the unheard-of August droughts, the unprecedented September frosts, which betrayed their hopes. Against the miserly shortness of the summer and the harshness of a climate that shows no mercy they did not rebel, were even without a touch of bitterness; but they did not give up contrasting the season with that other year of wonders which fond imagination made the standard of their comparisons; and thus was ever on their lips the countryman's perpetual lament, so reasonable to the ear, but which recurs unfailingly: "Had it only been an ordinary year!"

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