Back to God's Country and Other Stories
She stood in the doorway of a log cabin that was overgrown with woodvine and mellow
with the dull red glow of the climbing bakneesh, with the warmth of the late summer sun
falling upon her bare head. Cummins' shout had brought her to the door when we were
still half a rifle shot down the river; a second shout, close to shore, brought her running
down toward me. In that first view that I had of her, I called her beautiful. It was chiefly,
I believe, because of her splendid hair. John Cummins' shout of homecoming had caught
her with it undone, and she greeted us with the dark and lustrous masses of it sweeping
about her shoulders and down to her hips. That is, she greeted Cummins, for he had been
gone for nearly a month. I busied myself with the canoe for that first half minute or so.
Then it was that I received my introduction and for the first time touched the hand of
Melisse Cummins, the Florence Nightingale of several thousand square miles of northern
wilderness. I saw, then, that what I had at first taken for our own hothouse variety of
beauty was a different thing entirely, a type that would have disappointed many because
of its strength and firmness. Her hair was a glory, brown and soft. No woman could have
criticized its loveliness. But the flush that I had seen in her face, flower-like at a short
distance, was a tan that was almost a man's tan. Her eyes were of a deep blue and as clear
as the sky; but in them, too, there was a strength that was not altogether feminine. There
was strength in her face, strength in the poise of her firm neck, strength in every
movement of her limbs and body. When she spoke, it was in a voice which, like her hair,
was adorable. I had never heard a sweeter voice, and her firm mouth was all at once not
only gentle and womanly, but almost girlishly pretty.
I could understand, now, why Melisse Cummins was the heroine of a hundred true tales
of the wilderness, and I could understand as well why there was scarcely a cabin or an
Indian hut in that ten thousand square miles of wilderness in which she had not, at one
time or another, been spoken of as "L'ange Meleese." And yet, unlike that other "angel"
of flesh and blood, Florence Nightingale, the story of Melisse Cummins and her work
will live and die with her in that little cabin two hundred miles straight north of
civilization. No, that is wrong. For the wilderness will remember. It will remember, as it
has remembered Father Duchene and the Missioner of Lac Bain and the heroic days of
the early voyageurs. A hundred "Meleeses" will bear her memory in name--for all who
speak her name call her "Meleese," and not Melisse.
The wilderness itself may never forget, as it has never forgotten beautiful Jeanne
D'Arcambal, who lived and died on the shore of the great bay more than one hundred and
sixty years ago. It will never forget the great heart this woman has given to her "people"
from the days of girlhood; it will not forget the thousand perils she faced to seek out the
sick, the plague-stricken and the starving; in old age there will still be those who will
remember the first prayers to the real God that she taught them in childhood; and children
still to come, in cabin, tepee and hut, will live to bless the memory of L'ange Meleese,
who made possible for them a new birthright and who in the wild places lived to the full
measure and glory of the Golden Rule.