The Ball Crossing
©2013 J. E. Lindberg
“Now and then we are shocked and awed by the appearance in the flesh of demons from the bottomless pit. A strong expression this but most certainly true. Such hellish creatures make their advent from time to time upon this Earth and it is to be regretted that we cannot by some means discover them within a few minutes of their arrival and return them properly to where they belong.”
—The Trial of Joseph LaPage the French Monster…, Old Franklin Publishing House (Philadelphia PA), 1876
The tannin-stained water lapped at the jagged rim of the hole as the cedar pole, stripped of its boughs and sharpened at the tip, was thrust down through the sinking body and into the mud eight feet below the surface. The man leaned on the pole with his full weight, pressing it deeper until he could wedge the butt end under the edge of the ice on which he knelt. The hands that had hewn the pike from a living tree less than an hour before were hard and callused by toil and made red from the cold water as they were drawn back into the air. He rubbed them together then held them beneath his wool coat as he stared into the dark water before rising to his feet. As he bent to pick up the axe that lay nearby, he gripped the handle just below its blade and by instinct ran the thumb nail of his other hand across the keen edge, testing whether the bevel had held after the work of chipping out the ice. Then adjusting the coil of rope that hung over his shoulder, he turned his back toward the hole and began to retrace the track he’d made along the frozen channel that ran north along the center of the Great Swamp. At nearly one-quarter mile distance, the trail left the ice and turned toward a clearing in the cedars where a horse stood waiting. As he led the horse through the maze of dense growth the morning sun crested the highland to the east. The scattered beams of light that reached him through the trees shone brilliant on his haggard face in stark contrast to the lines on his skin that lay deep as the furrows in the trail he followed home; left in testament to the ordeal through which he had passed, they would fade in time though his memory would not.
The first snowflakes of the squall swirled around the corner of the schoolhouse as Marie Ball paused at the window, casting a wary glance at the gray March sky. In the solitude of the empty classroom she made her rounds; straightening up, covering the inkwells, and gathering the primers from the desktops. She had resigned her day’s ambition to read aloud from William Blake and instead dismissed her students early, as attendance was low. With the maple sugaring season on, those few children who had arrived for lessons were weary and would be missed on their home farms. The gathering of the clear sap that flowed best in the warmth of the midday sun brought some of the hardest labor in the cycle of the northern Vermont farm year, and by the twin burdens of yoke and bucket, all but the youngest were expected to share in the effort.
Adjusting her expectations to the necessities of the local community had been a topic of discussion during Marie Ball’s first meeting with the committee of the school district. True to her ideals, the young schoolmistress had not initially accepted the proposition that the value of the classroom education she offered, and the time required to obtain its benefits, should be secondary to the demands of sustaining the marginal existence that most of the small farmsteads tendered to the children born into that life. Though still determined to fulfill her calling to fan the briefest flame of enlightenment wherever it burned, her appreciation for the capacity of these stoic people to endure privation, to work endlessly without complaint, and to love their children unconditionally only deepened her respect for the choices they made as she grew to know the families of Franklin County, their way of being, and the hard land that often took more than it gave.
In a ritual she had practiced each day since the first frosts of autumn, Marie Ball stoked the woodstove then sat before its open door to watch the fire grow restlessly and with complete abandon for the limits of its time. For some while she listened, her eyes closed, to the snap and pop of the dry wood being consumed in light. Holding her hands close to the flames before finally closing the stove, she set the damper low so that the fire’s heat would keep the long night’s cold out of the single classroom.
With a long sigh she settled back in her chair then looked around the room a last time. At the base of the wall by the firewood tote, she watched a mouse come through a knot hole in the mopboard. It looked up at her and became perfectly still, then with a twitch of its whiskers it turned and disappeared. She smiled then spoke softly, “I’ll be on my way soon then you’ll have your run of the place.” Allowing herself a moment to see if the mouse would return, she let her eyes wander along the wall base to the doorway. As she did she noticed the spiraled curls of wood that lay scattered near the threshold. She puzzled at them briefly then the corners of her mouth formed a wry smile as she glanced off in thought. Why that rascal Willard Farley has been at his whittling during my lesson time.
Before stepping outside and locking the schoolhouse door, Marie Ball drew the front of her pleated overcoat in tight, fastened the buttons, and pulled on her quilted bonnet, tucking her long auburn hair in along the edges. A chill gust blew her dress against her legs as she headed out on the old road that ran north along the eastern face of the Bellevue-French Hill ridge. With the rising wind, the snow fell more heavily while leaden clouds rolled over the low hills from the broad valley to the west.
Early that morning as Ephraim Perley had brought her to the schoolhouse by wagon on his way into St. Albans, Marie Ball had politely declined his offer of the return trip.
“I thank you, Mr. Perley,” she said with the trace of a gentle Irish lilt, “but today I will celebrate the first day of spring in a long overdue communion with the Vernal Muse.” To the east the glow of the dawn sky promised more than the early spring sun could deliver.
“I do not understand the learned reference, Miss Ball, but I do ’preciate the sentiment. You take care not to stay too late, as the sun drops west over the hill early yet and you’ll be catchin’ a chill. Get along, there, Buck—you too, Duke,” Perley shouted as he twitched the reins. The big draft horses leaned hard into the team harness then surged forward with a creak and jerk.
The walk back to the Perley place where Marie Ball boarded would be welcome after the winter months of scarce light. The snowpack had gone early and now the ground was mostly bare in the fields but still frozen. The road surface was uneven, a recent thaw of the kind that comes at the tail end of winter having caused the soil to give way under the wagon wheels and horses’ hooves before the frost set in again. Marie Ball walked cautiously and winced as her ankle twisted when her boot heel slipped into a rut. No harm, she thought, recalling the mill-traffic-worn streets of Haverhill, Massachusetts, where she had been raised and her family still lived. You’ve mucked through worse than this.
She had received the elegant yet practical boots she wore as a gift from her brother, Alden, who was a foreman with the Harrison-Lockwood Shoe Company. He had presented them to her in a box trussed with a blue ribbon and white silk flowers. The occasion was a gathering at the family home to celebrate both Marie’s graduation from the teacher training program at the Normal School of Framingham, Massachusetts, and her acceptance of the position in northwestern Vermont. She had proclaimed the boots to be the finest gift of the day and thrown her arms around her brother in a warm and lasting embrace. The event was the last time Alden Ball saw his sister before she boarded the northbound train in the late summer of 1873.
The months since arriving in Franklin County to start her teaching career had been a difficult period of adjustment for Marie. The train had carried her farther than she had ever been from home; and this new land, though rich in natural beauty, still left her with a feeling of isolation where it lay along the waters of the broad lake, bounded to the east and west by the great ranges of the Green and the Adirondack mountains. The first snowstorm in late October had been a stark end to the vibrant Indian summer, and the steady descent into winter that followed inexorably was more pronounced than Marie Ball’s experience in the Merrimack Valley, some two hundred miles and two mountain ranges to the southeast, had prepared her for. The schoolhouse in her charge was at the edge of the district, with the great arched back of the long ridge comprising Bellevue and French hills separating her world entirely from the growing rail town in the Champlain Valley below.
Ephraim Perley and his sister, Ellen, were kind hosts and did their best to make Marie Ball feel at home, but they spoke little to each other and making conversation with their guest was clearly a strain. The three would spend evenings in the parlor enjoying the warmth of the wood-burning stove; Ephraim working his way through a stack of newspapers, while Ellen kept busy knitting, mending, or reading from the family Bible.
Marie Ball occupied her time preparing lessons, writing letters, and immersing herself in a collection of books she had brought from home, which included a recent compendium of Walt Whitman’s work. Reading aloud to her hosts, she would occasionally provoke conversation between them, as in the time Ephraim commented on the effect “Song of Myself” appeared to have on his sister’s complexion, to which Ellen had uttered, “Shush now, you!” then blushed a deeper shade and hurled a bolster at him.
More often than not, though, the taciturn siblings found it best to keep their thoughts to themselves and their guest was obliged to do the same. She traveled into St. Albans with the Perleys on occasion to shop and attend church services but found little opportunity to make acquaintances beyond polite conversation with merchants and some parishioners. Meetings with other teachers were also infrequent, as each, like Marie Ball, had limited means of transport and was accountable to the families in their district who built the schoolhouses, paid their wages, and in some cases boarded the young women. Were it not for the days spent with the children who filled her life with such purpose, she might have given in to the homesickness that was most acute in the long winter darkness. In the children’s bright faces, Marie Ball found a warmth that sustained her. By late March she looked forward to spending the summer with her family and considering her options for the coming year.
The old wagon road between the schoolhouse and the Perley place on French Hill was scarcely more than a trace, not having the use that the main road running between Fairfield and St. Albans did nor the benefit of upkeep. It followed a contour line of the hill from the crossroad where the schoolhouse stood and then, as the bordering stone walls ended, sank into dense hemlock saplings growing among the weathered stumps of trees felled some decades earlier.
Marie Ball enjoyed passing through the thick evergreens when riding on Ephraim Perley’s wagon with the horses brushing back the boughs and the redolence of the hemlock filling her senses. But alone and on foot she was uneasy, the light of the late afternoon now only directly overhead, the cold, dark warren of growth to her right and left and the fading path ahead obscured by snowfall. Her pace hastened in anticipation of the road’s rise to the open hardwoods beyond the point where the brook, flowing from the hillside, crossed at the nadir of the lane’s descent.
The sudden flush of a grouse startled her so that she gasped. The bird came from uphill and flew low above the hemlocks, crossing the road and twisting behind the tallest tree as if evading something unseen in pursuit. The old snow was deeper in the shade of the trees, and with each step among the horse prints and the wagon ruts, the frozen crust gave way to a depth at midcalf, scraping the young woman’s legs above her laced boots.
As she bent low beneath a snag brought down by the wind, a skeletal branch caught her bonnet and pulled it partially back, causing a stinging abrasion on her cheek as one of its bony fingers caressed her face and twisted in a strand of her hair. Barely slowing, she pulled one hand from the warmth of a woolen mitten to adjust her hair and rub away the assault to her tingling skin. Her heartbeat now full in her ears, Marie Ball breathed heavily and did not pause as she slipped her hand back into the mitten. With each of her forceful exhalations now visible in the cold air, fear rose from deep within her as the daylight faded. The fear came so surely and with such presence that she could not comprehend why or what, but knew only the taste it brought to her mouth; dry and bitter as tansy.
She taunted herself to inspire courage. “What a silly thing you are! Such a city girl . . .” Her voice was tremulous while her eyes, now wide and stilling pools, reflected back the opening that marked the end of the hemlocks and the familiar climb through the hardwoods to the small farmhouse that had been home since August past.
Whether it was the bonnet drawn tightly about her ears or the gust of wind through the treetops carrying it away, she had not heard the sound of the breaking branch that sent the grouse to flight. Or perhaps it may have gone entirely unnoticed by anyone but a hunter.
From a windswept ledge in the hardwoods above the road, he watched her leave the schoolhouse that day as he had done before. With atavistic grace he turned his face to the moving air as all wind-stalkers must before committing to the chase. Then he drew a breath, deep and fulminous through nostrils wide and piqued with hunger. And with all the deliberation of one who knew the trees, the brooks, the beaver ponds and lesser ridges that intertwined eastward to the Great Swamp and the cold mountains that lay beyond, he began his descent with steps as quiet as the settling flakes of snow. While the young teacher moved north along the road below, he followed her like a wolf, his path on the ridgeline above paralleling hers. Draped in the great dark hide of a winter bison, he flowed like a specter.
At the brook he turned and moved downhill on a course of interception, his strides building in pace as his breath quickened while the falling water masked the sound of his footfalls in the old snow along the line of the hardwoods and evergreens. Just before reaching the lane, he gripped an overhanging limb, settled in a feral crouch, and peered through the lowest level of the hemlocks where the needles, no longer useful for harvesting light beneath the dense overgrowth, were absent. The distant shriek of a steam whistle from the milk train westbound through Sheldon Springs sent a shudder through his coiled body. Regaining perfect stillness, he disappeared in the shadows and waited. From somewhere deep within the chest that held his pounding heart, the faintest resonance of a melody emerged though none but he could hear it; adrift on the welter of his consciousness, it rose on his breath, a child’s song, to meet the rumble that rolled down from the heavens.
As she reached the open canopy of the maples and beeches, Marie Ball, startled by the lone thunderclap, paused to catch her breath on the stone culvert over the brook. The gurgle of the flowing water beneath the ice, the crimson-stained twilight breaking through moving clouds, and the last spiraling flakes of the passing squall combined like a tide flow to fill her with calm as the dread of isolation in darkness ebbed. The better part of a mile behind her and half that again to reach the house, she became aware of the thirst that had come from her exertions. Looking to her right she observed the brook below the road turning south, leveling in grade and offering a large rock from which to drink.
Stepping off the road into the deeper snow and reaching the rock, she removed her mittens before bending to scoop the cold water into her cupped hands where the current broke to midstream. The water numbed her fingers, but she dipped her hands in a second time after draining the first draft. Her head low as she bent again to drink, the sound of the rushing water filled her ears.
Across the brook a red squirrel darted into the hemlocks and alders that grew in lowland to the east, its tail erect and twitching with each scolding bark. “My, I wouldn’t have thought I’d given you such a fright, little red one,” she whispered to herself. At that instant she cocked her head slightly to left, instinctively aware that a rhythmical impulse of sound approached; a muffled thumping below the murmur of trickling water and sweeping wind.
Bursting from his lair in a shower of ice crystals and hemlock needles, he crossed the lane and the small clearing beyond it in powerful, bounding strides and pounced heavily upon her from the blind space at her back, his knee driving her down beneath his cloaked form into the icy water. Enveloped in darkness and stunned by the impact, she could no more resist than might a songbird. His rough hands and nails clasped tightly about her face while her gasping cries for mercy were muffled in the paroxysm of suffocation. With brutal force he jerked her up from the water then dragged her, writhing in the desperate throes of agony, toward the undergrowth beyond the brook, her pale eyes never again to see the light of dawn as the long shadow of the ridge reached out to herald the fall of darkness in the mute but witnessing forest.
The thin, rasping sound of the file moving across each tooth of the bucksaw was purposeful. Repeated four hundred times by the steady hand of Francis Hakey, it brought the edge of the kerfing teeth to the precise angle that would slice and remove an inch of hardwood with each stroke of the long blade. Although the saw’s work was done for now, Hakey was not a man to leave a tool unready for the next time it was needed. This habit of order, as much by the nature of the man as the experience of his years, was engrained deeply. His father had taught him to value the utility of all things essential to planning for the next season of work on their hardscrabble hill farm in Fairfield. Nearing a decade earlier when he rode with the 1st Vermont Cavalry through the Shenandoah Valley, the Army of the Potomac, also by example, saw fit to educate him in its deliberate way that the tools of a brutal trade were equal to the task only in the measure of care taken to assure their purpose.
After oiling the saw blade to his satisfaction, Hakey hung it across the wooden pegs on the shed wall. As he stepped outside into the morning light, the clatter of hooves on the frozen road drew his attention. The team raced wildly as their master lashed the reins, with the wagon sliding and bouncing in tow. Approaching the farmyard the driver hauled back on the horses and set the brake before the wheels had stopped.
“Eph, I ain’t seen you drive a team that hard since Cedar Creek!” Hakey shouted.
Jumping from the wagon, Ephraim Perley managed to dribble out, “It’s bad, Frank, real bad,” looking as wild-eyed as Buck and Duke. “It’s M-m-Miss Ball, Frank,” he stammered. “She didn’t get back before dark, so I went out lookin’ for her. I couldn’t find her at the schoolhouse and didn’t have no idea where she might be. I looked for her tracks last night along the road but they warn’t plain ’til I come back out at first light. I found her, Frank, and she’s dead by murder. It scairt me so I come right here for you.”
Perley was badly shaken and began to sob. “I told her not to be out late, Frank. I told her!”
Hakey stepped to the wagon and grabbed Perley’s arm to steady his old friend. “I’ll get my coat and tell Sarah where I’m going. You help me get Titan saddled and water your team.”
Perley nodded, assured by the authority of Hakey’s clear direction, and headed to the well to draw water for the foaming draft horses that stood in the wagon’s team harness, their great chests heaving beneath thick winter coats.
Hakey glanced back across the farmyard at Perley once more before opening the door to the house. Sarah Hakey was in the kitchen, feeding kindling into the big Glenwood range stove.
“Ephraim is some worked up,” she said without looking away from the stove door; her dark hair, salting in with silver strands, was tied back behind her shoulders. “What’s happened, Frank?”
Hakey drew a breath to speak but hesitated, searching to find the words. Sensing the delay, Sarah turned and stood facing him, her clear eyes meeting his in a gaze that revealed concern and a depth of understanding hard won in their years together.
“I have to leave with Ephraim now. He’s worried about Miss Ball. She didn’t get back to the Perley place after school yesterday and he needs my help to look for her.”
Hakey averted his eyes as he misrepresented the facts to conceal what he had already concluded. Sarah stepped toward him and looked up into his face.
“It’s probably nothing, Sarah,” he said, sensing her doubt. “She may have gone to the Lussier place to tutor young Isabeau, who missed so much school with the fever earlier this winter and then decided to stay overnight. You know how Eph gets worried and doesn’t sleep.”
After a moment’s silence she put her arms around him and pressed her head against his chest.
“If you say so, Frank. Just be careful, and when you do find Miss Ball, please bring her back for dinner if she’s agreeable. She’s such a nice young lady and working so hard in her first year to get all the children back to regular schooling. Our Jacob has made such progress with his mathematics, and little Constance is learning to write all her letters.”
There was a stirring in the bedroom above the kitchen. Hakey said softly, “I should be going now before we wake the children. I’ll be home as soon as I can, but don’t look for me tonight as I need to go into town to attend to some matters. I’ll let the Ryans know that I’m away for the night. I expect that Tom will ride over before dark to check in on you and the children.”
Sarah looked up into her husband’s eyes then turned to the table where she placed a half loaf of bread in a cloth and brought it to him. She put her hand on his shoulder, pulled his face toward hers, and kissed him. “God be with you, Francis Hakey,” she whispered.
Francis Hakey and Ephraim Perley rode back up the long grade from the Great Swamp after leaving Hakey’s farm at the West Street crossing of the Fairfield Road. It was midmorning when they turned north at the schoolhouse and descended through the hemlocks. Hakey took the point, his Morgan stepping lightly in the icy snow crust. It was a discomforting place with the dense cover so close, like riding straight into an ambuscade. Scent hung in the cold air, and Titan balked just before the brook, the old stallion’s nostrils flaring. In one fluid motion Hakey reached forward and pulled his Henry repeating rifle from its scabbard, swung the weapon across his chest, and levered a round into the chamber.
From the height of the saddle, he had a commanding view of the hollow where the small stream descended from the hillside.
“Easy boy,” Hakey said softly as he stroked the horse’s neck. For an instant he had the sensation of being observed, the hair on the back of his neck standing, breath held; his whole being captive in the moment. A dark shape rose suddenly to his right and downhill, partially obscured by the edge of the thicket from which the riders were emerging. Hakey twisted his body in the saddle and brought the rifle to his shoulder; eye and iron sights locking on the moving form, index finger applying steady pressure to the trigger.
The croaking of the two ravens and the rush of their flapping wings broke the stillness as they climbed through the air. Exhaling, Hakey lowered his rifle and brought the hammer forward from full cock. He then turned and looked back at his companion, who had his hands full of dancing reins with the wagon team at impending bolt.
“It’s all right, Eph, just ravens drawn by the scent,” Hakey said, returning the rifle to its scabbard and climbing down from the saddle.
At the stone culvert the two men followed the tracks to where the young woman’s body lay. During the cold night she had frozen in the form where death met her. On her back, her arms spread wide and legs apart as if she had been taken in the act of making a snow angel. But no angel had been at work here; her coat and dress, now stained a dark reddish brown, had been rent, revealing her legs and wounds to her lower torso. One hand was twisted back unnaturally and her neck deeply bruised. Her head turned to left and her face was partially covered by her tangled hair. Through her parted lips shards of broken teeth were visible, and from her nose an icicle of blood reached the snow.
“Is this how you found her?” Hakey asked. Perley stared into the woods, unable to look again at the dreadful sight. When he finally spoke, he continued to look away, his brow furrowed and eyes narrowed as if the will to recall the memory caused him pain.
“When I first saw her I thought she was a dead deer, but as I got closer the deer changed into her. I thought it was a dream, then I ran back to the wagon and went to get you. It is her, isn’t it, Frank?”
“Yes Eph, it’s Miss Ball,” Hakey replied as he looked at Perley with concern. “There’s nothing more you could have done for her, old friend. You did right by coming for me. Now go back to your house and bring some horse blankets.”
“I will.” Perley turned and walked stiffly through the heavy snow crust. Watching until Perley reached the wagon and pulled himself weakly aboard, Hakey turned back and carefully studied the scene.
The snow was pocked with tracks. Beyond the brook, they were of one size and depth, suggesting a single assailant. A furrow had formed in the snow from the large rock at the near side of the brook to where the body lay on the other side. Hakey backed away, carefully stepping in his boot prints. From the brook to the road he traced the pair of tracks to where they became indistinct among the horse prints and wagon ruts. The point of ambush was obvious, the long strides and heavy boot prints coming from uphill of the road just beyond sight at the edge of the dense hemlock thicket. Returning to the body, Hakey scanned the perimeter in the direction of the mixed alders and low hemlocks to the east. There was a boundary of clear snow in all directions other than where the tracks led downhill from the road.
Standing beside Marie Ball’s body, he at last brought himself to look closely at her. Perhaps as a form of self-protection, Hakey classified the aftermath of violent death according to the degree to which the victims owned causality in the events leading to their fate. The drunk who fell beneath the wheels of the train car or the belligerent who was not equal to his opponent with a knife were assigned the lowest place, close to contempt for their complicity in demise. The youth pulled from the icy lake or the rider thrown hard to the ground was pitiable in the suddenness of loss. But those who were taken by the brutal act of murder, and most of all those who in the innocence of their lives were devoid of blame, were owed the most compassionate regard.
As Hakey bent low and then knelt by her side, he closed his eyes and brought his hands together in prayer. He asked for the Lord’s blessing in receiving Marie Ball’s gentle soul and for His merciful forgiveness of the wicked, despite the unending sins of men in the world. Then, raising his face to the heavens, he spread his hands, turned his palms upward, and whispered, “Guide me with Your hand, for I am Your sword.”
Opening his eyes, Hakey focused on Marie Ball’s face and spoke softly to her. “My dear young lady, you have suffered at the hands of a demon, but now you may rest and be assured of my resolve to avenge this terrible offense. In that pursuit I ask you to forgive my necessary intrusions upon the mortal remains of your person and into the affairs of your life.”
Taking a deep breath, he removed his coat, spread it upon the snow, and placed a small satchel on it. Dark clouds gathered over Gilson Mountain as the wind swung around to the south.
I am a beast and I am a man; je suis une bête et je suis un homme. I was raised to fear my God by the mother who gave me life. By the shore of Lac Memphremagog, with the Sisters of Ste. Anne, I learned the catechism in a hall of stone. By the hand of my uncle I came to know suffering; and by the blood of Christ that flowed warm and fertile from his wounds, I came to know my purpose.
I am called Joseph, named for the eleventh son of Jacob in the book of Genesis. In all but name alone we part, for he was touched by grace, while I was touched by darkness. His, a splendid coat; and mine, of hag-gnawed hide and brindled hair. He to bring justice upon the good, and I to bring judgment upon the wicked; les mechantes.
I am so fierce in appearance: my black hair and eyes from my mother’s people, my strength from my father’s line, les coureurs de bois. I alone in the forest, with thoughts clear, guided by voices that speak to me in the tongue of my ancestors. When first I heard them, I cannot say but it was in the dark of time when the beatings made my ears ring and my eyes blind. They spoke to me through the hunger and the fear; they whispered sweet songs of hope; and they wrote in lines of pain and blood on my skin.
I still hear the drunken roar of my uncle, “mon oncle” as ma mère told me to call him after the death of my father. His boot and fist they brought me time and again to the place where cold death-hands reached out and pulled me into their world; a world of faceless demons, of boiling water and firebrands thrust into the eyes of the howling Jesuit Fathers.
And so in that anguish I lived for years without end, an eternity in a child’s lifetime; yet all things must change, as rocks are worn smooth by flowing water. My tormentor who called me a half-dog, and laughed at me as I cringed when he spoke, that son of Hell, he was the first to know my wrath. And as God in Heaven cursed Cain for the death of Abel, I too joined his misbegotten spawn the day I ran away and left mon oncle’s steaming blood and brains on the cold stone of the barn floor.
Now I live in this land in between; a land of border towns, of les Français and les Anglais, of the halfway between night and day; in this ether between sky and earth.
When I drink water, its taste is so bitter.
When I eat, all food is rank and foul to me.
When I speak, I hear the echo of my knife on a grindstone.
When I rise on the wind and drift over the sleeping land, I am silent as the night mist.
Among these people of the settled lands, I walk in life as a man of no regard. I hear them speak and I feel their eyes upon me; he who takes work in an abattoir is cast down as something vile. Yet this is my God’s gift to me; this art of blades and hammers. No clumsy thrust to cut a throat or second blow to break a neck. I am the Angel of Mercy for the calves, the lambs, and the swine. To one and all it is a swift death I grant. God has given me the grace to straddle the passage between this world and the other.
In the calm before this storm of life began, I learned songs from the Sisters of Ste. Anne; among them, one alone haunts me. It speaks to me of a beautiful bird, l’Alouette, and of its gentle nature; of the huntsman who takes its life, and how he plucked its feathers like a harvest of jewels.
“Alouette, gentille alouette,”
“Alouette, je te plumerai.”
Maintenant je suis le chasseur.
Now I am the huntsman.