THE SHROVE TUESDAY VISITOR
N olden times in Canada, Shrove Tuesday, the day before
the beginning of Lent, was more strictly observed than
it is to-day. The night was always one of great
merriment and feasting. Boys and girls of the villages
and country places gathered there for the last time
before the long period of quiet. They danced until
midnight, but the youth or maiden who dared to dance
after the hour of twelve was henceforth followed with
little luck. This rule was not often broken, for when
it was broken the Spirits of Evil always walked the
earth and brought disaster to the youthful dancers.
THE NIGHT WAS ALWAYS ONE OF GREAT MERRIMENT AND FEASTING.
In a remote village on the banks of a great river there
dwelt in the seventeenth century a French peasant, a
kind and devout old man. He had but one child, a
daughter. She was a handsome girl, and naturally enough
she had many suitors among the young men of the place.
One of these she prized above all the others, and she
had promised to become his wife. On the evening of the
Shrove Tuesday before the date set for the wedding, as
was the custom, the young people of the village
gathered at her home. It was a simple but joyous
gathering, the last which the girl could attend before
her marriage. Right merrily the dance went
 on, and all
the guests were in high spirits. Soon after eleven
o'clock a sleigh drawn by a great coal-black horse
stopped at the door. It contained but one man. Without
knocking at the door, the new-comer entered. The rooms
were crowded, but the rumour soon spread whisperingly
around that a new presence had appeared, and the simple
villagers strove to get a look at the tall figure in
fine clothes. The old man of the house received the
stranger kindly and offered him the best he had in his
home, for such was the custom in the old days. One
thing the gathering particularly noted—the stranger
kept his fur cap on his head, and he did not remove his
gloves; but as the night was cold this caused but
the silence caused by the stranger's entrance the
music swelled, and again the dance went on. The
new-comer chose the old man's daughter as his partner.
He came to her and said, "My pretty lass, I hope you
will dance with me to-night, and more than once, too."
"Certainly," replied the girl, well pleased with the
honour, and knowing that her friends would envy her.
During the remainder of the evening the stranger never
left her side, and dance after dance they had together.
From a corner of the room the girl's lover watched the
pair in silence and anger.
a small room opening from that in which the dancers
were gathered was an old and pious woman seated on a
chest at the foot of a bed, praying fervently. She was
 aunt. In one hand she held her beads, with
the other she beckoned to her niece to come to her.
is very wrong of you," she said, "to forsake your lover
for this stranger; his manner is not pleasing to me.
Each time I utter the name of the Saviour or the Virgin
Mary as he passes the door, he turns from me with a
look of anger." But the girl paid no heed to her aunt's
last it was midnight, and Lent had come. The old man
gave the signal for the dance to cease. "Let us have
one more dance," said the stranger. "Just one more,"
pleaded the girl; "my last dance before my marriage."
And the old man, wishing to please his only child,—for
he loved her well,—consented, and although it was
already Ash Wednesday the dance went on. The stranger
again danced with the girl. "You have been mine all the
evening," he whispered; "why should you not be mine for
ever?" But the girl laughed at his question. "I am a
strange fellow," said the stranger, "and when I will to
do a thing it must be done. Only say yes, and nothing
can ever separate us." The girl cast a glance towards
her dejected lover in the corner of the room. "I
understand," said the stranger. "I am too late; you
answered the girl, "I love him, or rather I did love
him once," for the girl's head had been turned by the
attentions of the stranger.
is well," said the stranger; "I will arrange all, and
overcome all difficulties. Give me your hand to seal
placed her hand in his, but at once she withdrew it
with a low cry of pain. She had felt in her flesh the
point of some sharp instrument as if the stranger held
a knife in his hand. In great terror she fainted and
was carried to a couch. At once the dance was stopped
and the dancers gathered around her, wondering at the
sudden happenings. At the same time two villagers came
in and called the old man to the door to see a strange
sight without. The deep snow for many yards around the
stranger's horse and sleigh had melted in the hour
since his arrival, and a large patch of bare ground was
now showing. Terror soon spread among the guests; they
spoke in whispers of fear, and shrank from the centre
of the room to the walls as if eager to escape; but the
old man begged them not to leave him. The stranger
looked with a cold smile upon the dread of the company.
He kept close to the couch where the girl was slowly
coming back to life. He took from his pocket a
beautiful necklace, and said to her, "Take off the
glass beads you wear, and for my sake take this
beautiful necklace." But to her glass beads was
attached a little cross which she did not want to part
with, and she refused to take his gift.
in the home of the priest, some distance away, there
was a strange happening. While he prayed for his flock
the old priest had fallen asleep. He saw in his slumber
a vision of the old man's home and what was happening
there. He started quickly from his sleep and called his
 servant and told him to harness his horse at once, for
not far away a soul was in danger of eternal death. He
hurried to the old man's home. When he reached there,
the stranger had already unfastened the beads from the
girl's neck and was about to place his own necklace
upon her and to seize her in his arms. But the old
priest was too quick for him. He passed his sacred
stole around the girl's neck and drew her towards him,
and turning to the stranger he said, "What art thou,
Evil One, doing among Christians?" At this remark
terror was renewed among the guests; some fell to their
knees in prayer; all were weeping, for they knew now
that the stranger with the stately presence and the
velvet clothes was the Spirit of Evil and Death. And
the stranger answered, "I do not know as Christians
those who forget their faith by dancing on holy days.
This fair girl has chosen to be mine. With the blood
that flowed from her hand she sealed the compact which
binds her to me for ever."
answer, the old curé struck the stranger hard across
the face with his stole, and repeated some Latin words
which none of the guests understood. There was a great
crash, as if it thundered, and in a moment amid the
noise the stranger disappeared; with his horse and
sleigh he had vanished as mysteriously and quickly as
he had come.
guests were long in recovering from their fear, and all
night they prayed with the curé that their evil deeds
 might be forgiven. That she might be cleansed from her
sins and that her promise to the stranger might be
rightly broken, the girl entered a convent to pass the
remainder of her life. A few years later she died. And
since that day in her little village on the banks of
the great river, the Shrove Tuesday dancers have always
stopped their dance at midnight; for youths and maidens
still keep in mind the strange dancer in the fine
clothes who wooed the peasant's only daughter and
almost carried her off.
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