A French boy is nothing if not imaginative. The time seemed to me a momentous epoch big with the question: “What path shall I follow?”
I admired the prize boys who were so clever and famous. I took a prize myself, and felt heaven in the clapping.
I admired those equally who were skilled at athletics. I saw a tournament of sports and envied the sparkling cups and medals.
These,—to be a brilliant man of learning and an athlete—seemed to me the two great careers of existence!
The first step, out of a number that were to come, towards a great discovery, was thus unconsciously by me taken. What is greater than Life? what discovery is more momentous than of its profound meaning? Anything I am or may do is the outcome of this one discovery I later made, which seems to me the very Secret of the World.
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But hold:—there is a memory in my earlier recollection, more fixed than the trees—they were poplars—of the Friars’ School playground. I leaped into a seat beside my father in the carriage one day, and we drove back far into the country. Green and pleasant all the landscape we passed. Or did it pass us, I was thinking in my weird little mind? We arrived at length at wide gates and drove up an avenue, lined by stately trees and running between broad grain fields, which led to a court shaded with leafy giants of elms and cobbled in an antique fashion; and under the woof of boughs and leaves overhead ran a very long old country-house, cottage-built. Surpassingly peaceful, and secluded was its air. It had oblique-angle-faced, shingled gables, and many windows with thin-ribbed blinds; and a high bit of gallery. On one hand near it, under the hugest of the trees was a cool, white, well-house of stone, like a little tower. I remember vividly the red-stained door of that. On the other hand, a short distance off, commenced the capacious pile of the barns. Close at the back of the house ran a long wooded hill.
It was the ancient Manoir of Esneval—the Maison Blanche.—one of the relics of a feudal time. As we drove in and our wheels stopped, a little exquisite girl stood on the gallery, looking. Her child’s face eyed us with wonder but courage for a few moments; then she ran within and, to the pang and regret of my heart, she appeared no more.
The little, brave face of the Manoir d’Esneval haunted me, child as I was, for years.
McGill University sits among her grounds upon the beginning of the slope of Mount Royal which lifts its foliage-foaming crest above it like an immense surge just about to break and bury the grey halls, the verdant Campus and the lovely secluded corner of brookside park. It owes its foundation to a public-spirited gentleman merchant of other days, the Honorable James McGill, whose portrait, in queue and ruffles, is brought forth in state at Founder’s Festival, and who in the days of the Honorable Hudson’s Bay Co.’s prime, stored his merchandize in the stout old blue warehouses[D] by the Place Jacques-Cartier, and thought out his far-sighted gifts to the country in the retirement of this pretty manor by the Mountain.