l’enfant perdu et retrouvè ou pierre cholet
Pierre Cholet, the Lost and Found Child
by Jean-Baptiste Proulx
The following is the preface of the story of Pierre Cholet, the Lost and Found Child (in French: “l’enfant perdu et retrouvè ou pierre cholet”) by Jean-Baptiste Proulx, as translated by Janet Koenig, April 25, 1986 and sent to me last year. Janet is the wife of Greg Sholette, my second cousin, once removed. This book is still in print in Quebec, now as a children’s story. It tells of the kidnapping of Pierre as a young boy, and his adventures over the next several decades in trying to find his family in Quebec. Pierre was the half-brother of my great-grandfather Mathias Cholette. My Aunt Bea told of meeting Pierre when she was a young girl.
This was the beginning of February 1886. I was then chaplain of the Sisters of Bon-Pasteur in Montreal, 182 Fullum Street.
A stranger introduced himself to me. "They tell me, sir, that you make books?" --Sometimes.-- "I am a lost child, my parish of birth is St-Polycarpe, my father's name is Hyacinthe Cholet I was kidnapped at the age of five, I spent my youth at sea, I deserted ship, and I began a search for my parents, after ten long years I found them. I have written the story of my life, I brought it to a bookseller who after a minute's examination told me clearly and frankly that my writing couldn't sustain a reader. He sent me to you. Could you brush up and polish my
writing?" My friend, leave me your manuscript and come back in three days; we'll see.
I saw that there was material for a little volume, completely original, of adventures and stirring episodes--something in the genre of Genevieve de Brabant, but with this difference: the tale
of Canon Schmid was only fiction, while the story of Mr. Cholet was the pure and simple truth.
In the meantime, February 17th, I was appointed parish priest of Bizard's Isle. The trouble and confusion of moving, the diverse preoccupations of the pastoral ministry, in addition to the obligations involved in a jubilee year, and other literary work to which I must put the final touches--all this made the notebook of the lost child lie dormant at the bottom of my bookshelf . Finally, in the month of November1 I was able to study it a little. Now without interruption, I discovered the narrative sequence was full of gaps, also a good number of events hadn't any structure--skeletons without flesh, bones without marrow-poorly narrated such as write those who have no writing experience. In effect, troubled about how to explain a circumstance, they leap over it; however, it's in the carefully organized and developed particulars or details that one finds all the charm and interest.
I had Mr. Cholet come; he spent eight days in my office. I interrogated him at great length, I plagued him with questions. He told me in great detail all the phases of his troubled life. The holes were filled in, the narrative completed, obscure points clarified; his adventures became much more lively told from his lips than from his pen. Then I could put myself to editing at my own speed, with complete knowledge of the facts, without being stopped at every turn by insoluble problems or incomplete accounts.
When the work was finished, in March of this year 1887, before delivering the copy to the printer, I asked Mr. Cholet to come see me again in one session I read him the whole work, pen in hand, correcting the few errors in details which had slipped in without my knowledge. Thus I can say that apart from the footnotes, this book doesn’t contain a single projection from my head.
Everything regarding the hero of this story negates the idea of a hoax: his candid and frank air, his manners full of naïve simplicity, a certain natural shyness, the constant agreement between different parts of his story. I Visited St. Malo where he said he spent his childhood; I passed by the coast of Labrador and Baie de Chaleur where he wandered several months after his escape. Without giving anything away, I asked him several times detailed questions about the geographical and topological description of these regions; always he got through it honorably.
In the course of the summer, having gone to visit the parish priest of St. Polycarpe, I went to see Mr. and Mrs. H. Cholet who are still living. The father wasn't in. I was struck by the resemblance between mother and son in a number of features: in the color of the complexion, and especially in the timber of the voice. The good mother is convinced that God, in his compassion, brought back her child. “No one,” she says, “in the whole family doubts it.” Her words and her explanation as much about the kidnapping of little Pierre as about his return agrees perfectly with those set down in my notebook.
I got out the baptismal record of the child, Pierre Cholet and his age was found to be exactly that which Mr. Cholet gives himself. Here is the document in its entirety: "This 4th of October, 1840, we the undersigned priests have baptized Pierre, born the 28th of last month, from the lawful marriage of Hyacinthe Cholet, local farmer, and Angélique André dit St.Amand. Godfather, Pierre André dit St.-Amand, godmother, Justine Cholet, who as well as the father weren’t able to make their signatures.--T. Brassard, Priest."
I wrote a circulating letter to 15 or so reliable people, completely trustworthy, who lived in Mr. Hyacinthe Cholet's vicinity at the time of the kidnapping. Their responses arrived confirming the statements of our hero. I give these letters in their charming simplicity.
MR. HYACINTHE CHOLET: I, the undersigned, Hyacinthe Cholet, father of Pierre Cholet, child lost and found again, certify that the 7th of July 1845, Friday afternoon, my two sons, Pierre and Toussaint, with Pierre Doucet, my cousin's little boy disappeared from the house, without my knowledge, after the visit of a peddler, who, I believe, cast a spell over them. Right away we began to search for them with neighbors' help. We searched everywhere without success. The following Sunday, Mr. Robert, then the parish priest of St. Polycarpe only said low mass and he called upon his parishioners to go looking for the lost children. More than 500 people were combing the woods for them. From time to time we heard the sad sound of the church bell which served us as a compass in the forest to prevent us from getting lost ourselves. Searches went as far as Baaucharnois and Chateauguay during the next fifteen days. We finished by despairing of success. That's when a sea of bitterness crashed down on us. Thirty-five years later, Pierre was found again in September 1880. On that faith, I put my signature.
MRS. ANTOINE DOUCET , mother of Pierre Doucet, taken at the age of six at the same time as Pierre Cholet, his second cousin: I certify that my son, Pierre, was lost in the same circumstances and was searched for with the same care which were recounted in the letter of Mr. Hyacinthe Cholet, which was just read to me. Useless to try to describe my suffering when this tragedy :happened; I remained inconsolable, for 35 years. It comforted me to learn from Mr. Pierre Cholet's lips how my poor child died…..