A village saved from plagues

 This Christmas Eve of 1884 promises to be uneventful. The blowing snow lifts in the silence of the evening its clouds of snow that skim the old stone walls. The gust of blowing snow is threading its way through the narrow, obstructed streets of the sleepy village to die on the river in the darkness and the biting whistles of the north.

   In the center of the peninsula, on Saint-Damase Street, Assumption College defies time. Since 1883its new dome has dominated the new mansards erected at the same time on the old masonry walls. That year, the College welcomed 227 boys from 11 to 21 years of age for higher studies given by about thirty adults, almost all of whom were priests or clerics.

   That evening, Father Trefflé Gaudet, director of the Collège, finished surveying the long silent corridors of the stone building over four floors. At 46 years of age, the good father was responsible for the life that took place within the walls of his institution. Everything seems quiet outside. Mr. Gaudet slowly descends to the first floor, looking with concern at the gloomy weather lamenting the window panes. He pushes the door of his room and raises the glow of his lamp. Finally savouring his solitude, he settles comfortably in his armchair to meditate on a few psalms from the Christmas Mass. Satisfied with his day, weighed down by fatigue, he drops his breviary on his knees and dozes off, overcome by the late hour. Outside, the disorder continues, not a living soul. The white desert invades everything.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

– Ahoy! Anybody there?

Bang! Bang! Bang!

– Charity please!

Bang! Bang! Bang!

   Surprised, Father Gaudet wakes up with a start. He devoutly picks up his psalter, shakes his tired cassock and walks towards the main door of the Collège by candlelight. Outside, a white silhouette rubs a mitten on the tiles of the door and knocks again.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Bang! Bang! Bang!

   Tapping his feet on the College’s porch and shaking his snow-covered hood, the late visitor retains his impatience at the sight of the flickering light coming at him. Mr. Gaudet points his lantern at the frozen window and sees a face bitten by the cold. The glow of the lamp shines in the eyes of the stranger.

– What do you want? Call the good father.

– Just a warm place to spend the night… for God’s sake!” mumbles the visitor, his voice muffled by the wind.

   The director puts down his lamp, pulls the latch on the door and opens it with a sturdy blow of his shoulder. The visitor slips inside, pushed by the gust, dragging with him his meagre snow-covered and cold hardened bundle. Then Father Gaudet closes the door with a sharp blow and takes back his lantern. The icy man gets rid of the espagnolette that half protects his round face. The hairs of his moustache are stiffened by the frost and the corners of his eyes are stuck together by the cold. The evening visitor watches silently for his benefactor.

   The director leads the wanderer to the kitchens where the servants serving the College have just stoked the stoves at both ends of the building. The man places his bag on a large table in the center of the room. The priest helps the unfortunate man to remove his hood, which he hangs on hooks lined up behind a stove. Toques, scarves, and mittens are also suspended from the other free hooks. Sitting at his table, the man slowly removes his boots with a grimace of pain. Meanwhile, Father Gaudet pulls a tin of milk from the stove’s stove and prepares a guignon of fresh bread. As soon as it is served, the poor man gobbles up his food and keeps turning his crust in the bottom of his milk bowl so as not to lose a single drop.

   Silent in front of this moving scene, Father Gaudet watches the hour go by and meditates in his heart these words from the Christmas Gospel: “Quia non erat eis locus in divertorio…”. (“For there was no room for them in the inn…”) At the end of the meal, the man passes the lapel of his sleeve over his lips. The manager pulls out some dark, worn-out “comforts” and a fresh straw mattress that he lays next to the stove. Monsieur Gaudet leaves his lantern on the table and leaves the visitor to his sleep. The priest, guided by habit, takes a heavy step towards his room. The visitor said almost nothing. Alone on his pallet, he blows out the candle in silence.

   In the early morning, Mr. Gaudet arrives in the kitchen to get news from the unexpected visitor. The man, already fully dressed, is seated at a small table on the edge of the room where the Collège’s servants were busy preparing Christmas meals for the entire small community. The director approaches his chair and greets the stranger soberly. The stranger is overflowing with gratitude and praise for the ladies who served him early this morning. There are no more traces of his stay, except for his clothes still hanging on the wall. Mr. Gaudet learns that the foreigner is an Irish Catholic arriving from the Northern Townships. The day before, he had gone around the village in the storm without finding anyone to welcome him. In his kindness, Father Dorval had fortunately referred him to the priests of the Collège. The stranger suddenly pushed his empty plate and, sure of himself, got up to put on his still warm boots. He adjusts his large green toque and carefully wraps himself in his brightly colored scarves. Then he puts on his old black hood that he ties with a good braided rope. Meanwhile, at the end of the large brown table, the old Coderre slips some provisions and some sweets into the traveller’s bag under the approving eye of the director. She then ties the bundle and silently hands it out to the stranger. Standing up, he grabs his bag and whispers to Father Gaudet: “My father! A thousand thanks for your charity and may God reward you abundantly. Before leaving you, I make a prediction: next spring, war will break out in the North-West. I also announce to you that picote (chicken pox) will rage at the same time throughout the country and especially at L’Assomption. But be reassured, your College will be preserved from the scourge.”

   The sudden call of the bells of the parish church puts an end to the unexpected predictions of the stranger and urges him to leave for the first Mass on Christmas morning. Quickly greeting his benefactor, the stranger leaves without turning around… We heard no more about him. His predictions, on the other hand, were fulfilled to the letter. There was a war in the North-West and even an Elder of the College, Father Fafard (Martyred by Eskimos) died there. There were also seventeen cases of picote in the village of L’Assomption, three of which were fatal. But the epidemic never went into the College.

Sources :

– Those facts were reported by Father Louis Casaubon in his memoires

– Extrait de L’Écrivain public, 17 décembre 1993, pp. : 10-13. Publié aussi dans La Lucarne, vol. XIV, no 9, hiver 1994-1995, pp. : 8-9.

– 6e directeur, 1862-1889.