Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, February 9, 2021


 "The Black Thing of Hatchet Lake (A French-Canadian Legend)" by Lawrence Mott (first published in The Pall Mall Magazine, June 1906; reprinted in Mott's collection The White Darkness, and Other Stories of the Great Northwest, 1907)

Mon dieu!  This short tale uses a lot of vernacular and attempts to present a French-Canadian accent accurately.  Just how accurately, I'll let others decide.

We open at a logging camp by Hatchet Lake, a twenty-mile wide expanse.  There is a major storm brewing that has caused a log jam that cannot be cleared until the storm blows over, so logger Jack Arnold joins his mates around a fire for breakfast of  "salt horse" and potatoes.  The wind continues to pick up and a dory has worked its way off the beach and is drifting away rapidly.   One man tries to catch but he's too late.  Despite warnings from his mates. Jack shucks off his "corks" and dives in after the boat, saying, "I'll get that har dory or breakfust in hell!"  He swims strongly toward the boat, then puts up his arms and sinks below the rough waves.  They never found his body.

Several months later, the trapper Batiste Clement agrees (ofr twenty-five dollars) to deliver a letter to a man named Nixon, camped on Beaver Pond, telling him that his wife was very sick.  It' a trek of over fifty miles, "eet fef'ten mile to Lac a Portageten mile down the riviere, t'ree mile to portger roun' de bad water, twent' mile h'across Hatch't Lak, den four mile by the trail."  Batiste figures he can make the round trip in two and a half days, maybe three if there's a storm.  One of the men jokes that Btite had better not strike at Hatchet Lake in the dark, or Jack Arnold will get him.  Before he died, Jack Arnold disliked Batiste because the trapper had beaten the logger in a fight.  Batiste replies to the wisecrack that Jack Arnold wasn't much alive and will be no problem now he's dead.

Batiste sets off on his mission as the weather is beginning to turn.  Along the way he spots a number of areas where wildlife is plentiful and notes those areas for future trapping.  By the time he arrives at Hatchet Lake, the storm is raging, and Batiste paddles to shore to wait out the tempest.  At last, sunset came and with it, a calming.  Batiste sets off once agin his canoe.  Soon he spots a large black figure swaying near shore.  The wind is calm and the trees on the shore are still.  Batiste figures it is a tree in the water moving with the waves.  He gets closer and sees that the black thing is really Jack Arnold.  Hirriedly, he paddles away, but the thing follows him rapidly, getting closer and closer...

The next morning it is clear and warm.  Two trappers are on the lake, making their way to fur country, when they spot an abandoned canoe.  Getting closer they find the body of Batiste lying in it, "his face drawn into a half-snarl, his eyes open and glaring, and little flecks of dried foam on his lips."  The trappers begin to take the body ashore but then see a body with all but the face submerged floating nearby.  It's Jack Arnold's body, the that had never been found.  They push Batiste's canoe toward shore but it lands on Jack Arnold's body and the two trappers paddled away hurriedly.

Not much happens in this brief tale that relies on the characterization of Batiste Clement and on vivid description of the Northwest.  Like any folk legend, it could have been told in a few sentences but Mott manages to successfully expand the story to become an effective, if predicable, piece of terror.

From Wikipedia:  "Jordan Lawrence Mott IV (1881-1931), often referred to as Joseph Lawrence Mott III and better known as Lawrence Mott, was an American novelist and writer on the outdoor life.  He was the great granson of Jordan L. Mott (born 1799), who founded the J. L. Mott Iron Works in New York City.His grandfather was Jordan Lawrence Mott II (10 November, 1829-26 July, 1915), and his father was Jordan Lawrence Mott III (born 13 May 1857).

"After graduating from Harvard, Mott worked as a journalist and married Carolyn Pitkin (1881-1967).  In 1912 he sailed to China on a freighter, the Indrade, with a light opera singer, Mrs. Francis Hewitt Bowne:  he was listed as purser and she was disguised as a cabin boy.  The couplke married in 1928 after their respective spouses divorced them.  His published works include Jules of the Great Heart:  "free" trapper and outlaw in the Hudson Bay region in the early days (1905), To the Credit of the Sea (1907), The White Darkness, and other stories of the Great North-West [sic, the book itself does not hyphenate Northwest] (1907), and Prairie, Snow and Sea (1910).  He pioneered fishing for steelhead on the North Umpqua River, Oregon, and a rbidge and section of the North Umpqua Trail bear the name Mott in his memory.  He established a fishing camp near Steamboat Creek, where he died, of leukemia, in 1931."

The FictionMags Index credits him with 46 short stories and two articles.


  1. Most stories I read do not have much plot. As long as the writing is good, plot isn't necessary for me to enjoy a story.

  2. I'm enjoying this unknown writers you feature each Wednesday!

  3. Next week there will be a writer you may have heard of, George.