And now, suddenly, all grew still again. The sky took on a lighter, livid tone, one of pure venom. There came a whisper, a murmur, a rush as of mighty waters, a sighing as of an army of the condemned, a shrieking as of legions of the lost, a roaring as of all the soul-felt tortures of a world. From the forest rose a continuous rending crash. The whiplash of the tempest cracked the tree trunks as a child beheads a row of daisies. Piled up, falling, riven asunder, torn out by the wind, the giant trees joined the toys which the cynic storm gathered in its hands and bore along until such time as it should please to crush and drop them.
There passed out over the black sea of Michiganon a vast black wraith; a thing horrible, tremendous, titanic in organic power. It howled, execrated, menaced; missed its aim, and passed. The little swaying house still stood! Under the sheltered log some tiny sparks of fire still burned, omen of the unquenchable hearthstones which the land was yet to know!
“Holy God! what was it? What was that which passed?” cried Jean Breboeuf, crawling out from beneath his shelter. “Saint Mary defend us all this night! ’Twas the great Canoe of the Damned, running au large across the sky! Mary, Mother of God, hear my vow! Prom this time Jean Breboeuf shall lead a better life!”
The storm, baffled, passed on. The rain, unsatisfied, sullenly ceased in its attack. The waves, hopeless but still vindictive, began to call back their legions from the narrow shore. The lightnings, unsated in their wrath, flared and flickered on and out across the eastward sea. With wild laughter and shrieks and imprecations, the spirit of the tempest wailed on its furious way. The red West had raised its hand to smite, but it had not smitten sure.
In the silence of the night, in the hush following the uproar of the storm, there came a little wailing cry; so faint, so feeble, yet so mighty, so conquering, this sign of the coming generation, the voice of the new-born babe. At this little human voice, born of sorrow and sin, born to suffering and to knowledge, born to life in all its wonders and to death in all its mystery—the elements perchance relented and averted their fury. Not yet was there to be punished sin, or wrong, or doubt, or weakness. Not at once would justice punish the parents of this babe and blot out at once the record of their fault. Storm and lightning, darkness and the night yielded to the voice of the infant and allowed the old story of humanity and sin, and hope and mercy to run on.
The babe wailed faintly in the silence of the night. Under the hearth-log there still endured the fire. And then the red West, seeing itself conquered, smiled and flung wide its arms, and greeted them with the burgeoning dawn, and the voices of birds, with a sky blue and repentant, a sun smiling and not unkind.