A soul in purgatory has to make reparation
Seventy years ago today (1783). I was twenty years old then. At my father’s behest, I had left for Montreal early in the morning to buy various items for the family, including a beautiful lady from Jamaica, who was absolutely necessary for us to treat our friends with dignity on New Year’s Day. By three o’clock in the afternoon, I had finished shopping and was getting ready to head back to Lanoraie. My “berlot” was quite full, and as I wanted to be home before nine o’clock, I whipped my horse, which trotted off at a great trot. At half past five, I was at the crossing at the end of the island, and I had made good progress so far. But the sky had gradually become overcast, and everything pointed to a heavy snow bank. I went to the crossing, and by the time I reached Repentigny it was snowing full time. I have seen heavy snowstorms in my lifetime, but I can’t remember any that were as terrible as this one. I could see neither heaven nor earth, and could hardly follow the “King’s path” before me; the “beacons” had not yet been set, as winter was not yet advanced. I passed the church of Saint Sulpice at dusk; but soon, a deep darkness and a “blowing snow” that whipped my face, completely prevented me from advancing. I was not quite sure where I was, but I thought I was in the vicinity of Father Robillard’s farm. I thought I could do no better than to tie my horse to a stake in the fence of the road, and to set out on an adventure in search of a house to ask for hospitality while waiting for the storm to abate. I wandered for a few minutes and despaired of succeeding, when I saw, on the left side of the main road, a hovel half buried in the snow, which I did not remember seeing yet. I made my way through the snowbanks to the house, which I thought at first abandoned, and struggled to find my way through the snow banks. 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 footsteps of a person coming forward to open the door. To the traditional “Who’s there?” I answered shivering that I had lost my way, and I had the immediate pleasure of hearing my interlocutor lift the latch. He only half opened the door, to prevent as much cold as possible from entering, and I entered shaking my clothes, which were covered with a thick layer of snow. – Welcome,” said the guest of the hovel, reaching out a hand which seemed to be burning, and helping me to get rid of my arrow belt and hood of country cloth. I explained to him in a few words the reason for my visit, and after thanking him for his kindly welcome, and after accepting a glass of brandy which comforted me, I sat down on a lame chair which he pointed out to me with his hand at the corner of the fireplace. He went out, telling me that he was going on the road to fetch my horse and carriage, to put them in a shed, sheltered from the storm. I couldn’t help but take a curious look at the original furnishings in the room where I was. In a corner, a miserable bench bed with a buffalo hide on it was to be used as a bed for the great old man with arched shoulders who had opened the door for me. An old rifle, probably dating from French rule, was hanging from the rough wooden joists that supported the thatched roof of the house. Several deer, bear and moose heads were hung as hunting trophies from the whitewashed walls. Near the fireplace, a solitary oak log seemed to be the only vacant seat that the master of the house had to offer to the traveller who, by chance, knocked on his door to ask for hospitality.
I wondered who could be the individual who was living in the wild in the parish of Saint Sulpice, without my ever having heard of him? I tortured my head in vain, I who knew everyone from Lanoraie to Montreal, but I could not see a thing. In the meantime, my host returned and came, without saying a word, to take his place opposite me, in the other corner of the hearth. – Thank you very much for your good care,” I said, “but would you please teach me to whom I owe such frank hospitality. I, who know the parish of Saint-Sulpice as my “father”, did not know until today that there was a house in the place where yours is located, and your face is unknown to me. While saying these words, I looked him in the face, and I observed for the first time the strange rays produced by the eyes of my host; they looked like the eyes of a wild cat. The silence became tiresome, and my host would always stare at me with his eyes shining like the firebrands in the fireplace. I was beginning to get scared.
Gathering all my courage, I asked his name again. This time my question caused him to leave his seat. He approached me in slow steps, and putting his bony hand on my trembling shoulder, he said in a voice as sad as the wind moaning 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, once the rich man of the village. I am going to tell you, for your visit this evening saves me from the flames of purgatory where I have been burning for fifty years, without ever having been able until today to fill the penance that God had imposed on me. I am the one who once, in times like these, refused to open his door to a traveller exhausted by cold, hunger and fatigue. My hair stood up, my knees banged together, and I trembled like a poplar leaf during the strong northern breezes. But the old man, without paying attention to my fright, kept on going in a slow voice: – Fifty years ago. That was long before the Englishman had ever set foot on the soil of your native parish. I was rich, very rich, and I was living in the house where I am receiving you here tonight. It was New Year’s Eve, as it is today, and alone by my hearth I enjoyed the comfort of a shelter from the storm and a good fire that would protect me from the cold that cracked the stones of the walls of my house. There was a knock on my door, but I hesitated to open it. I feared that it might be some thief, knowing of my riches, who came to plunder me, and who knows, perhaps murder me. “I turned a deaf ear, and after a few moments the beating stopped. I soon fell asleep, only to wake up the next day in broad daylight, to the infernal noise made by two young men from the neighbourhood who were shaking my door with great kicks. I got up in a hurry to go and punish them in their impudence, when I saw, as I opened the door, the lifeless body of a young man who had died of cold and misery on the threshold of my house. I had, for the love of my gold, let a man who was knocking at my door die, and I was almost a murderer. I became mad with pain and repentance. “After singing a solemn service for the repose of the soul of the unfortunate man, I divided my fortune among the poor of the neighborhood, praying to God to accept this sacrifice in atonement for the crime I had committed. Two years later, I was burned alive in my house and had to go to account to my Creator for my conduct on this earth which I had so tragically left. I was not worthy of the happiness of the chosen ones and I was condemned to return on the eve of each New Year’s Day, to wait here until a traveller came knocking at my door, so that I could give him the hospitality that I had refused to one of my fellow human beings during my lifetime. For fifty winters I have come, by the command of God, to spend the night of the last day of every year here, without ever a traveller in distress coming knocking at my door. At last you came tonight, and God has forgiven me. Blessed be you for ever for being the cause of my deliverance from the flames of purgatory, and believe that no matter what happens to you down here, I will pray to God for you up there.”
The returnee, for he was one, was still speaking when, succumbing to the terrible emotions of fear and astonishment that agitated me, I lost consciousness… I woke up in my berlot, on the King’s road, opposite the church of Lavaltrie. The storm had subsided and I had no doubt, under the direction of my host from the other world, resumed the road to Lanoraie. I was still trembling with fear when I arrived here at one o’clock in the morning, and told the assembled guests the terrible adventure that had happened to me. My late father – may God have mercy on his soul – made us kneel, and we recited the rosary, in recognition of the special protection I had been found worthy of, to bring out of the sufferings of purgatory a soul in pain who had been waiting so long for its deliverance. Since that time, my children, we 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 travellers who are exposed to cold and stormy weather.
A few days later, while visiting Saint-Sulpice, I had the opportunity to tell my story to the parish priest of that parish. I learned from him 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 Sansregret now lives. Some strong spirits claimed that I had dreamt on the road. But where had I learned the facts and the names that were related to the fire at the farm of the deceased Beaudry, which I had never heard of until then. The parish priest of Lanoraie, to whom I entrusted the case, would say nothing about it, except that the finger of God was in all things and that we should bless his holy name.
Le fantôme de l’avare, by Honoré Beaugrand.