La Chasse Galerie
Very long ago, in the North Woods, a small crew of French Canadian lumberjacks
were finishing their day’s work and settling down around a campfire to relax and cheer up. It was New Year’s Eve, and it had been snowing hard all day.
They passed around a bottle of applejack, told stories, and even sang holiday songs, but all their levity was forced: the truth was that they were very lonely, and thinking about New Year’s Eve
only made them feel worse. As the last notes of the last song echoed away, they all fell silent. “Ah,” sighed Yves, “what I’d really like tonight is to see my sweetheart,
back in the village!” “I feel the same way” said his brother Jean-Paul.
“And this is the night of the New Year’s Eve dance – it’s always so wonderful. But what can we do? With the roads a meter deep in snow, and
the village 100 kilometers off, there’s no way in Hell for us to reach the village!” “Funny you should put it like that,” said their friend Gaston, stroking his beard. “I
do know a way for us to get to that dance – by flying canoe!” “What?! You can’t make a canoe fly!”
scoffed the brothers. “True, I can’t – but (and he began to
whisper) the Devil can! I’ve made a pact with the Devil – and he can
fly us all to the village within the hour; we can spend the whole evening at the dance, and be back here before anyone misses
us. What do you say – are you with me?” The brothers looked from side to side, and then at each other and then at Gaston. “Of course, we’d love to go … but … The Devil!
Wouldn’t that be dangerous? Wouldn’t we lose our souls?” “Oh,
no!” said Gaston. “So long as we return with the canoe before dawn,
our souls are our own.” “Well . . .if that’s the only catch,
then, I’m game!” said Yves. “Ah, it’s not quite the only catch. We’ll have to avoid flying over a church,
because that would make the canoe crash. And for the same reason, we must avoid
saying the name of . . . of . . the old one, up in the sky, with the long beard,
you know Who I mean!” The brothers thought for a minute, and finally agreed
to take the chance.
All three climbed into Gaston’s canoe.
Gaston took his position in the bow, and said the magic words: “Alabris,
Alabras, Alabram!” and immediately the canoe jumped into the air. Straightway, the men began to paddle, and the canoe took off for their village, like
the wind, only faster. They reached their village in less than an hour, hid their
canoe, and sauntered into the hall where the dance was in swing. Everyone was
astonished to see them – and their sweethearts were delighted! (Well, not that
delighted, because they were already having a pretty good time with the other men of the village, but that issue was soon
forgotten.) The men drank some more applejack, and danced, and drank some rum,
and danced some more, and drank some brandy. Needless to say, the night passed
very quickly. When Jean-Paul noticed, suddenly, that the sky was growing light,
he remembered that they were to be back before dawn. He dragged his drunken friends,
bottles and all, to the door and pushed them out into the snow.
|The Crew of the Bewitched Canoe
|As soon as the name of the Lord escaped Jean-Paul's lips, the canoe began to pitch violently
|A Disorienting Flight
|The voyageurs had left their village behind, but could not yet see their camp
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The three of them stumbled back to the
canoe and pushed it into the open. Climbing in, Gaston struggled to remember
the magic words: “Aleman? Alkazam? – Ah! Alabris, Alabras, ALABRAM!” And again, they were airborne,
and paddling like madmen. But by this point, even the canoe was a little tipsy,
and the men were growing disoriented. Which way was their camp? Where were the stars they had steered by? Then Yves
gave a shout: “There – on the horizon! That steeple, that’s the one near our camp! Steer for
it!” And so they were soon back on track, shooting toward the little church
on the horizon like – well, like a canoe bearing down on a waterfall. As
they paddled, Yves called out through the wind: “Wasn’t there something
we needed to avoid? Wasn’t it something to do with . . . churches?!” Gaston sat bolt upright – Yes! Flying over the church would mean damnation,
and they were headed straight for it. At the last moment, with a broad sweeping
stroke of his paddle, Gaston managed to turn the canoe aside, narrowly missing the steeple.
“Mon Dieu,” cried Jean-Paul, “That was a close shave!”
No sooner did the name of the Lord escape Jean-Paul’s lips, when the canoe began to pitch. The terrified men heard demonic laughter, and realized that the devil was trying to knock their canoe out
of the sky. “There’s the camp – just ahead – we must
reach it!” cried Gaston, as he paddled even harder. Though the canoe was
bucking and rolling violently, the men somehow managed to keep the craft upright and flying.
Now Gaston was steering them toward a tall fir tree standing, he hoped, within their camp. The top of the tree, he saw, was sparkling in the morning sunlight – dawn, and doom! Losing all hope, he let the paddle slip from his hands, and the canoe dove straight into the middle of
the tree. Down they fell, bow over stern, through the snow-covered branches and
into the deep snow beneath the tree. There they came to rest in the dark –
yes, the dark! The day had come only to the treetops, and not yet to camp below,
and so their souls were safe. They exhaled a quiet prayer of thanksgiving,
and fell fast asleep.
And that’s how their fellow lumberjacks found them later that morning: drunk as lords, lying flat out in a cushion of snow, snoring hard. “Where have you been all night?” asked the search party, shaking them. “What have you
been doing?” Yves, Jean-Paul, and Gaston slowly sat up and exchanged nervous
looks. They couldn’t admit that they’d been consorting with the devil,
could they? Not one of them said a word.
Then, their friends noticed the bottles of applejack, rum, and brandy that
had tumbled out of the canoe with them – all practically empty! “Aha!”
they said. “No point making up any stories on our account -- we can see
exactly what you’ve been up to!” And so our three Voyageurs never
had to explain the adventure they’d had that New Year’s Eve.