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The Case Of Beauvais
Madness? Perhaps. And yet if it was madness. . . .
But strange things happen up there, gentlemen. I have found it sometimes hard to define
that word. There are so many kinds of madness, so many ways in which the human brain
may go wrong; and so often it happens that what we call madness is both reasonable and
just. It is so. Yes. A little reason is good for us, a little more makes wise men of some of
us--but when our reason over-grows us and we reach too far, something breaks and we go
But I will tell you the story. That is what you want to hear, and you expect that it will be
prejudiced--that I will either deliberately attempt to protect and prolong a human life, or
shorten and destroy it. I shall do neither, gentlemen of the Royal Mounted Police. I have
a faith in you that is in its way an unbounded as my faith in God. I have looked up to you
in all my life in the wilderness as the heart of chivalry and the soul of honor and fairness
to all men. Pathfinders, men of iron, guardians of people and spaces of which civilization
knows but little, I have taught my children of the forests to honor, obey and to trust you.
And so I shall tell you the story without prejudice, with the gratitude of a missioner who
has lived his life for forty years in the wilderness, gentlemen.
I am a Catholic. It is four hundred miles straight north by dog-sledge or snowshoe to my
cabin, and this is the first time in nineteen years that I have been down to the edge of the
big world which I remember now as little more than a dream. But up there I knew that
my duty lay, just at the edge of the Big Barren. See! My hands are knotted like the snarl
of a tree. The glare of your lights hurts my eyes. I traveled to-day in the middle of your
street because my moccasined feet stumbled on the smoothness of your walks. People
stared, and some of them laughed.
Forty years I have lived in another world. You--and especially you gentlemen who have
trailed in the Patrols of the north--know what that world is. As it shapes different hands,
as it trains different feet, as it gives to us different eyes, so also it has bred into my forest
children hearts and souls that may be a little different, and a code of right and wrong that
too frequently has had no court of law to guide it. So judge fairly, gentlemen of the Royal
Mounted Police! Understand, if you can.
It was a terrible winter--that winter of Le Mort Rouge. So far down as men and children
now living will remember, it will be called by my people the winter of Famine and Red
Death. Starvation, gentlemen--and the smallpox. People died like--what shall I say? It is
not easy to describe a thing like that. They died in tepees. They died in shacks. They died
on the trail. From late December until March I said my prayers over the dead. You are
wondering what all this has to do with my story; why it matters that the caribou had
migrated in vast herds to the westward, and there was no food; why it matters that there
were famine and plague in the great unknown land, and that people were dying and our
world going through a cataclysm. My backwoods eyes can see your thought. What has all