HomeQuebecLa Fantome de L’Avare (The Miser’s Ghost; English Translation)

La Fantome de L’Avare (The Miser’s Ghost; English Translation)

La Fantome de L’Avare

or

The Miser’s Ghost

From Honore Beaugrand’s La Chasse Galerie: Legendes Canadiennes (1900; English Translation); With Annotations by Hammerson Peters

Back to Honore Beaugrand’s Classic French-Canadian Folktales.

 

YOU ALL KNOW, old men and young folks, this story that I will tell you. The moral of this story cannot be repeated too often; remember that behind the legend is the terrible lesson of a retributive God who commands the rich to be charitable.

It was New Years’ Eve, 1857. There was a dry, biting cold.

The main road which runs along the northern shore of the St. Lawrence from Montreal to Berthier was covered with a thick layer of snow which had fallen before Christmas.

The roads were as smooth as a Venetian mirror, and the sons of the local farmers took pleasure in driving their dashing horses, which flew like the wind to the joyful sound of silver bells from their harnesses.

I was in vigil [1] with Father Joseph Hervieux, whom you all know. You also know that his house, which is built of stone, is located halfway between the churches of Lavaltrie and Lanoraie. There was a party that night at Father Hervieux’s. After supper, all the family members gathered in the large reception hall.

It is customary for each Canadian family to host a feast on the last day of each year, so that we might, at midnight, with all pomp and ceremony, greet the arrival of the unknown, which brings us all a share of joy and pain.

It was ten o’clock in the evening.

The toddlers, driven by sleepiness, allowed themselves, one after the other, to roll onto the buffalo robes which had been spread around the huge stove in the kitchen.

The parents and young people alone wanted to stay up to a late hour and wish each other a happy new year before retiring for the night.

One lively and alert little girl, who saw the conversation languishing, suddenly stood up and placed a respectful kiss on the forehead of the family patriarch, an old man of nearly one hundred years, and said to him in a voice that she knew was irresistible:

“Grandfather, please tell us the story of your meeting with the spirit of poor Jean-Pierre Beaudry- may God have mercy on his soul- which you told us about last year; it will help us pass the time until midnight.”

“Oh! Yes, grandfather, the story of New Year’s Day!” repeated the guests in chorus, almost all of whom were descendants of the old man.

“My children,” replied the white-haired patriarch in a trembling voice, “I have repeated this story of my youth every New Year’s Eve for a very long time. I am very old, and perhaps this evening will be the last time I will repeat it to you. Take care and observe the terrible punishment that God reserves for those who refuse hospitality to the traveler in distress.”

The old man brought his chair to the stove, and his children having made a circle around him, he began his story:

“It was seventy years ago to this day. I was twenty years old then.

“On my father’s orders, I left early in the morning for Montreal, where I was to buy various items for the family; among others, a magnificent demijohn of Jamaica [2], which was absolutely necessary for us to treat friends with dignity on the occasion of New Year’s Eve. At three o’clock in the afternoon, I had finished shopping, and was preparing to take the road to Lanoraie. My carriage was fairly full, and as I wanted to return home before nine o’clock, I whipped my horse to excess. At half past five, I reached the end of the island, and I had made good time up to that point. But the sky gradually darkened, and there was every indication of an imminent heavy snowfall. I hit the road, and before I reached Repentigny, it was snowing full time.

“I have seen heavy snowstorms in my life, but I don’t remember any that were as terrible as that one. I saw neither heaven nor earth, and I could hardly follow the highway in front of me, the markers of which having not yet been laid.

“I passed the church of Saint-Sulpice at dusk; but soon, a deep darkness and a blowing snow which whipped my face completely prevented me from continuing. I was not quite sure of my location, but I suspected that I was in the vicinity of Father Robillard’s farm. I thought that the best thing I could do was to tie my horse to a stake at the end of the road and head out in search of a house in which I might take refuge while waiting for the storm to abate.

“I wandered for a few minutes and began to lose heart when I saw, on the left side of the highway, a hut half-buried in the snow which I did not recall seeing before. I struggled through the snowbanks towards this house, which I thought at first abandoned. I was wrong, however; the door was closed, but I could see through the window the reddish glow of a good hardwood fire burning in the hearth. I knocked, and immediately heard the steps of the person who came forward to greet me.

“‘Who’s ‘there?’

“Conservatively, I replied, shivering, that I had lost my way, and I had the immediate pleasure of hearing my interrogator raise the latch. He only half-opened the door, to keep the cold out as much as possible, and I entered, shaking my clothes, which were covered with a thick layer of snow.

“‘Welcome,’ said the host of the hovel, holding out a warm hand and helping me remove my sash and my hood of local fabric.

“I explained to him in a few words the cause of my visit, and after thanking him for his kind welcome, and after accepting a comforting glass of brandy, I took a seat on a rickety chair at the corner of the hearth which he pointed out to me with his hand. He went outside, telling me that he was going to the road to fetch my horse and carriage and put them under a shed, where they would be sheltered from the storm.

“I couldn’t help but take a curious look at the quaint furnishings of the room in which I sat. In a corner, a miserable cot on which was stretched a buffalo robe served as a bed for the tall old man with hunched shoulders who had opened the door for me. An old musket, probably dating from the French regime, was adhered to the raw wooden joists that supported the thatched roof of the house. Several heads of deer, bear, and moose were hung as hunting trophies on whitewashed walls. Close to the hearth, a lonely oak log seemed to be the only vacant seat that the master of this house had to offer to the traveler who, by chance, knocked on his door asking for hospitality.

“I wondered who this individual could be, who thus lived in the wild in the middle of the parish of Saint-Sulpice, without my ever having heard of it. I wracked my head in vain. I thought I knew everyone from Lamoraie to Montreal, but I could come up with nothing. Meanwhile, my host returned and, without saying a word, took a seat opposite me, at the other corner of the hearth.

“‘Thank you very much for your good care,’ I said, ‘but would you please inform me to whom I owe such honest hospitality. I, who know the parish of Saint-Sulpice like my Pater [3] – I did not know until today that there was a house in this place, and your countenance is unknown to me.’

“As I said these words, I looked him in the face, and I observed for the first time the strange rays produced by my host’s eyes; they looked like the eyes of a wildcat. I instinctively pulled my seat back, under the penetrating gaze of the old man, who looked me in the face, but who did not answer me.

“The silence was wearying, and my host continued to stare at me, his eyes bright like the embers of the hearth.

“I began to be afraid.

“Gathering all my courage, I asked for his name again. This time, my question prompted him to leave his seat. He approached me slowly, and placing his bony hand on my trembling shoulder, he said to me in a sad voice like the wind that moaned in the fireplace:

“‘Young man, you are not yet twenty years old, and you ask how it is that you do not know Jean-Pierre Beaudry, formerly the village richard [4]. I’ll tell you, because your visit this evening saves me from the flams of purgatory where I have been burning for fifty years, without ever having been able to fulfill the penance that God has imposed on me unto today. I am the one who once, in a circumstance just like this, had refused to open his door to a traveler exhausted by cold, hunger, and fatigue.’

“My hair stood up on end, my knees clashed, and I trembled like the poplar leaf in a strong northern wind. But the old man, without paying attention to my fright, continued in a slow voice:

“‘Fifty years ago. It was long before the Englishman had ever walked the soil of your native parish. I was rich, very rich, and at that time I lived in the house here, in which I have received you this evening. It was New Years’ Eve, like today, and alone in my home, I enjoyed the comfort of a shelter from the storm and a good fire which protected me from the cold that cracked the stones on the walls of my house. There was a knock on my door, but I was hesitant to open it. I feared that it was some thief who, knowing my wealth, had come to loot me, and who knows, perhaps murder me.

“‘I turned a deaf ear and after a few moments the blows stopped. I soon fell asleep, only to wake up the next day in broad daylight, to the hellish noise made by two young men from the neighbourhood who were shaking my door with great kicks. I hastily got up to go chastise them for their impudence, when I saw, opening the door, the lifeless body of a young man who had died of cold and misery on the threshold of my house. I had, out of love for my gold, left a man knocking on my door to die; I was almost a murderer. I went mad with pain and repentance.

“‘After having sung a solemn service for the repose of the soul of the unfortunate, I divided my fortune among the poor of the neighborhood, praying to God to accept this sacrifice in expiation for the crime that I had committed. Two years later, I was burned alive in my house and I had to report to my Creator on my conduct on this earth that I had left in such a tragic way. I was not found worthy of the happiness of the elect and I was condemned to return here every New Year’s Eve to wait for a traveler to come knocking at my door, so that I might give him the hospitality that I had refused one of my fellow men during my lifetime. For fifty winters, I came, on God’s orders, to spend the night of the last day of each year here, without a traveler in distress ever knocking on my door. You finally came tonight, and God forgave me. Forever be blessed to have been the cause of my deliverance from the flames of purgatory, and believe that whatever happens to you here below, I will pray to God for you up there.’

“The ghost, which it most certainly was, was still speaking when, succumbing to the terrible emotions of fear and astonishment which agitated me, I lost consciousness…

“I woke up in my carriage, on the highway, opposite the Lavaltrie church.

“The storm had subsided, and I resumed the road to Lanoraie, doubtless thanks to the assistance of my hose from the other world.

“I was still trembling with fear when I arrived here at one o’clock in the morning, and told the assembled guests of my terrible adventure.

“My late father- may God have mercy on his soul- brought us to our knees, and we recited the rosary in recognition of the special protection of which I had been found worthy, to bring a soul in purgatory its deliverance, for which it had waited so long.

“Since that time, my children have never failed to recite, on each anniversary of my memorable adventure, a rosary in honour of the Virgin Mary, for the repose of the souls of poor travelers exposed to the cold and storm.

“A few days later, while visiting Saint-Sulpice, I had the opportunity to tell my story to the parish priest. He told me that the registers of his church did indeed mention the tragic death of a man named Jean-Pierre Beaudry, whose properties were then located where little Pierre Sansregret now lives. A few hard-headed characters have claimed that I dreamed on the road. But where did I learn the name of the late Beaudry and the facts pertaining to his farm fire, of which I had never heard before? The parish priest of Lanoraie, to whom I told my story, said nothing about it except that the finger of God was in all things and that we were to bless His holy name.”

The schoolmaster stopped talking for a few moments, and no one dared to break the sacred silence which they had maintained while listening to his strange tale. The shaken and fearful young girls looked timidly without daring to make a movement, and the men remained thoughtful while reflecting on all that was extraordinary and marvelous in the supernatural appearance of the old miser, fifty years after his death.

Father Montepel finally put a stop to this awkward situation by offering his guests a last swig of good Jamaican brandy, in honor of the happy return of the travelers.

However, they drank this last toast with less enthusiasm than the others, because the schoolmaster’s tale had struck a chord with them, as it would in the hearts of all French-Canadian peasants, who have a natural tendency towards belief in ghosts and all things supernatural.

After cordially greeting the master and mistress of the house, and after saying goodbye to each other, the boys and girls returned to their homes. And while traversing the highway which skirts the bank of the river, the young girls embraced their companions, trembling in the arms of their riders, watching the swaying canopies of old poplars in the dark; and hearing the rustling of the leaves, they still thought, despite the sweet words of their lovers, about the legend of the miser’s ghost.

 

Footnotes

[1] Attending a nocturnal prayer service.

 

[2] Rum.

 

[3] Latin for “Father”; my home parish.

 

[4] Moneybag; a wealthy person.

Written by

I'm a Western Canadian writer, carver, and fiddler who has a special place in his heart for history and the unexplained.

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