"A little dust here and there perhaps, Madame," he said, with humble courtesy.
Madelinette was not so heroical as to undervalue the suggestion. Lives perhaps were in the balance, but she was a woman, and who could tell what slight influences might turn the scale!
The servant saw her hesitation. "If Madame will but remain here, I will bring what is necessary," he said, and was gone. In a moment he appeared again with a silver basin, a mirror, and a few necessaries of the toilet.
"I suppose, Madame," said the servant, with fluttered anxiety, to show that he knew who she was, "I suppose you have had sometimes to make rough shifts, even in palaces."
She gave him a gold piece. It cheered her in the moment to think that in this forbidding house, on a forbidding mission, to a forbidding man, she had one friend. She made a hasty toilet, and but for the great paleness of her cheeks, no traces remained of the three days' travel with their hardship and anxiety. Presently, as the servant ushered her into the presence of George Fournel, even the paleness was warmed a little by the excitement of the moment.
Fournel was standing with his back to the door, looking out into the moonlit night. As she entered he quickly drew the curtains of the windows and turned towards his visitor, a curious, hard, disdainful look in his face. In his hands he held a paper which she knew only too well.
"Madame," he said, and bowed. Then he motioned her to a chair. He took one himself and sat down beside the great oak writing-desk and waited for her to speak—waited with a look which sent the blood from her heart to colour her cheeks and forehead.
She did not speak, however, but looked at him fearlessly. It was impossible for her to humble herself before the latent insolence of his look. It seemed to degrade her out of all consideration. He felt the courage of her defiance, and it moved him. Yet he could but speak in cynical suggestion.
"You had a long, hard, and adventurous journey," he said. He rose suddenly and drew a tray towards him. "Will you not have some refreshment?" he added, in an even voice. "I fear you have not had time to seek it at an inn. Your messenger has but just gone."
It was impossible for him to do justice to himself, or to let his hospitality rest upon its basis of natural courtesy. It was clear that he was moved with accumulated malice, and he could not hide it.
"Your servant has been hospitable," she said, her voice trembling a little. She plunged at once into the business of her visit.
"Monsieur, that paper you hold—" she stopped for an instant, able to go no further.
"Ah, this—this document you have sent me," he said, opening it with an assumed carelessness. "Your servant had an accident—I suppose we may call it that privately—as he came. He was fired at—was wounded. You will share with me the hope that the highwayman who stopped him may be brought to justice, though, indeed, your man Tardif left him behind in the dust. Perhaps you came upon him, Madame—hein?"
She steeled herself. Too much was at stake; she could not resent his hateful implications now.
"Tardif was not my messenger, Monsieur, as you know. Tardif was the thief of that document in your hands."
"Yes, this—will!" he said musingly, an evil glitter in his eyes. "Its delivery has been long delayed. Posts and messengers are slow from Pontiac."
"Monsieur will hear what I have to say? You have the will, your rights are in your hands. Is not that enough?"
"It is not enough," he answered, in a grating voice. "Let us be plain then, Madame, and as simple as you please. You concealed this will. Not Tardif but yourself is open to the law."
She shrank under the brutality of his manner, but she ruled herself to outward composure. She was about to reply when he added, with a sneer: "Avarice is a debasing vice—Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house! Thou shalt not steal!"
"Monsieur," she said calmly, "it would have been easy to destroy the will. Have you not thought of that?"
For a moment he was taken aback, but he said harshly: "If crime were always intelligent, it would have fewer penalties."
She shrank again under the roughness of his words. But she was fighting for an end that was dear to her soul, and she answered:
"It was not lack of intelligence, but a sense of honour—yes, a sense of honour," she insisted, as he threw back his head and laughed. "What do you think might be my reason for concealing the will—if I did conceal it?"
"The answer seems obvious. Why does the wild ass forage with a strange herd, or the pig put his feet in the trough? Not for his neighbour's gain, Madame, not in a thousand years."
"Monsieur, I have never been spoken to so coarsely. I am a blacksmith's daughter, and I have heard rough men talk in my day, but I have never heard a man—of my own race at least—so rude to a woman. But I am here not for my own sake; I will not go till I have said and done all I have come to say and do. Will you listen to me, Monsieur?"
"I have made my charges—answer them. Disprove this theft"—he held up the will—"of concealment, and enjoyment of property not your own, and then ask of me that politeness which makes so beautiful stable and forge at Pontiac."
"Monsieur, you cannot think that the will was concealed for profit, for the value of the Seigneury of Pontiac. I can earn two such seigneuries in one year, Monsieur."
"Nevertheless you do not."
"For the same reason that I did not bring or send that will to you when I found it, Monsieur. And for that same reason I have come to ask you not to take advantage of that will."
He was about to interpose angrily, but she continued: "Whatever the rental may be that you in justice feel should be put upon the Seigneury, I will pay—from the hour my husband entered on the property, its heir as he believed. Put such rental on the property, do not disturb Monsieur Racine in his position as it is, and I will double that rental."
"Do not think, Madame, that I am as avaricious as you."
"Is it avaricious to offer double the worth of the rental?"
"There is the title and distinction. You married a mad nobody; you wish to retain an honour that belongs to me."
"I am asking it for my husband's sake, not my own, believe me, Monsieur."
"And what do you expect me to do for his sake, Madame?"
"What humanity would suggest. Ah, I know what you would say: he tried to kill you; he made you fight him. But, Monsieur, he has repented of that. He is ill, he is—crippled, he cherishes the Seigneury beyond its worth a thousand times."
"He cherishes it at my expense. So, you must not disturb the man who robs you of house and land, and tries to murder you, lest he should be disturbed and not sleep o' nights. Come, Madame, that is too thin."
"He might kill you, but he would not rob you, Monsieur. Do you think that if he knew that will existed, he would be now at the Seigneury, or I here? I know you hate Louis Racine."
"With ample reason."
"You hate him more because he defeated you than because he once tried to kill you. Oh, I do not know the rights or wrongs of that great case at law; I only know that Louis Racine was not the judge or jury, but the avocat only, whose duty it was to do as he did. That he did it the more gladly because he was a Frenchman and you an Englishman, is not his fault or yours either. Louis Racine's people came here two hundred years ago, yours not sixty years ago. You, the great business man, have had practical power which gave you riches. You have sacrificed all for power. Louis Racine has only genius, and no practical power."
"A dangerous fanatic and dreamer," he interjected. "A dreamer, if you will, with no practical power, for he never thought of himself, and 'practical power' is usually all self. He dreamed—he gave his heart and soul up for ideas. Englishmen do not understand that. Do you not know— you do know—that, had he chosen, he might have been rich too, for his brains would have been of great use to men of practical power like yourself."
She paused; Fournel did not answer, but sat as though reading the will intently.
"Was it strange that he should dream of a French sovereign state here, where his people came and first possessed the land? Can you wonder that this dreamer, when the Seigneury of Pontiac came to him, felt as if a new life were opened up to him, and saw a way to some of his ambitions. They were sad, mistaken ambitions, doomed to failure, but they were also his very heart, which he would empty out gladly for an idea. The Seigneury of Pontiac came to him, and I married him."
"Evidently bent upon wrecking the chances of a great career," interrupted Fournel over the paper.
"But no; I also cared more for ideas than for the sordid things of life. It is in our blood, you see" she was talking with less restraint now, for she saw he was listening, despite assumed indifference—"and Pontiac was dearer to me than all else in the world. Louis Racine belonged there. You—what sort of place would you, an Englishman, have occupied at the Seigneury of Pontiac! What kind—"
He got suddenly to his feet. He was a man of strange whims and vanities, and his resentment at his exclusion from the Seigneury of Pontiac had become a fixed idea. He had hugged the thought of its possession before M. de la Riviere died, as a man humbly born prides himself on the distinguished lineage of his wife. His great schemes were completed, he was a rich man, and he had pictured himself retiring to this Seigneury, a peaceful and practical figure, living out his days in a refined repose which his earlier life had never known. She had touched the raw nerves of his secret vanity.
"What kind of Seigneur would I make, eh? What sort of figure would I cut in Pontiac!" He laughed loudly. "By heaven, Madame, you shall see! I did not move against his outrage and assault, but I will move to purpose now. For you and he shall leave there in disgrace before another week goes round. I have you both in my 'practical power,' and I will squeeze satisfaction out of you. He is a ruffianly interloper, and you, Madame, the law would call by another name."
She got quickly to her feet and came a step nearer to him. Leaning a hand on the table, she bent towards him slightly. Something seemed to possess her that transfigured her face, and gave it a sense of power and confidence. Her eyes fixed themselves steadily on him.
"Monsieur," she said, "you may call me what you will, and I will bear it, for you have been sorely injured. You are angry because I seemed to think an Englishman was not fitted to be Seigneur of Pontiac. We French are a people of sentiments and ideas; we make idols of trifles, and we die for fancies. We dream, we have shrines for memories. These things you despise. You would give us justice and make us rich by what you call progress. Monsieur, that is not enough. We are not born to appreciate you. Our hearts are higher than our heads, and, under a flag that conquered us, they cling together. Was it strange that I should think Louis Racine better suited to be Seigneur at Pontiac?"
She paused as though expecting him to answer, but he only looked inquiringly at her, and she continued "My husband used you ill, but he is no interloper. He took what the law gave him, what has been in his family for over two hundred years. Monsieur, it has meant more to him than a hundred times greater honour could to you. When his trouble came, when—" she paused, as though it was difficult to speak—"when the other —legacy—of his family descended on him, that Seigneury became to him the one compensation of his life. By right of it only could he look the world in the face—or me."
She stopped suddenly, for her voice choked her. "Will you please continue?" said Fournel, opening and shutting the will in his hand, and looking at her with a curious new consideration.
"Fame came to me as his trouble came to him. It was hard for him to go among men, but, ah, can you think how he dreaded the day when I should return to Pontiac ! . . . I will tell you the whole truth, Monsieur." She drew herself up proudly. "I loved—Louis. He came into my heart with its first great dream, and before life—the business of life—really began. He was one with the best part of me, the girlhood in me which is dead."
Fournel rose and in a low voice said: "Will you not sit down?" He motioned to a chair.
She shook her head. "Ah no, please! Let me say all quickly and while I have the courage. I loved him, and he loved and loves me. I love that love in which I married him, and I love his love for me. It is indestructible, because it is in the fibre of my life. It has nothing to do with ugliness or beauty, or fortune or misfortune, or shame or happiness, or sin or holiness. When it becomes part of us, it must go on in one form or another, but it cannot die. It lives in breath and song and thought and work and words. That is the wonder of it, the pity of it, and the joy of it. Because it is so, because love would shield the beloved from itself if need be, and from all the terrors of the world at any cost, I have done what I have done. I did it at cost of my honour, but it was for his sake; at the price of my peace, but to spare him. Ah, Monsieur, the days of life are not many for him: his shame and his futile aims are killing him. The clouds will soon close over, and his vexed brain and body will be still. To spare him the last turn of the wheel of torture, to give him the one bare honour left him yet a little while, I have given up my work of life to comfort him. I concealed, I stole, if you will, the document you hold. And, God help me! I would do it again and yet again, if I lost my soul for ever, Monsieur. Monsieur, I know that in his madness he would have killed you, but it was his suffering, not a bad heart, that made him do it. Do a sorrowful woman a great kindness and spare him, Monsieur."
She had held the man motionless and staring. When she ended, he got to his feet and came near to her. There was a curious look in his face, half struggle, half mysterious purpose. "The way is easy to a hundred times as much," he said, in a low meaning voice, and his eyes boldly held hers. "You are doing a chivalrous sort of thing that only a woman would do—for duty; do something for another reason: for what a woman would do —for the blood of youth that is in her." He reached out a hand to lay it on her arm. "Ask of me what you will, if you but put your hand in mine and—"
"Monsieur," she said, pale and gasping, "do you think so ill of me then? Do I seem to you like—!" She turned away, her eyes dry and burning, her body trembling with shame.
"You are here alone with me at night," he persisted. "It would not be easy to—"
"Death would be easy, Monsieur," she said calmly and coldly. "My husband tried to kill you. You would do—ah, but let me pass!" she said, with a sudden fury. "You—if you were a million times richer, if you could ruin me for ever, do you think—"
"Hush, Madame," he said, with a sudden change of voice and a manner all reverence. "I do not think. I spoke only to hear you speak in reply: only to know to the uttermost what you were. Madame," he added, in a shaking voice, "I did not know that such a woman lived. Madame, I could have sworn there was none in the world." Then in a quicker, huskier note he added: "Eighteen years ago a woman nearly spoiled my life. She was as beautiful as you, but her heart was tainted. Since then I have never believed in any woman—never till now. I have said that all were purchasable—at a price. I unsay that now. I have not believed in any one—"
"Oh, Monsieur!" she said, with a quick impulsive gesture towards him, and her face lighting with sympathy.
"I was struck too hard—"
She touched his arm and said gently: "Some are hurt in one way and some in another; all are hurt some time, but—"
"You shall have your way," he interrupted, and moved apart.
"Ah, Monsieur, Monsieur, it is a noble act!—" she hurriedly rejoined, then with a sudden cry rushed towards him, for he was lighting the will at the flame of a candle near him.
"But no, no, no, you shall not do it," she cried. "I only asked it for while he lives—ah!"
She collapsed with a cry of despair, for he had held the flaming paper above her reach, and its ashes were now scattering on the floor.
"You will let me give you some wine?" he said quietly, and poured out a glassful.
THE BITER BITTEN
Madelinette was faint, and, sitting down, she drank the wine feebly, then leaned her head against the back of the chair, her face turned from Fournel.
"Forgive me, if you can," he said. "You have this to comfort you, that if friendship is a boon in this world you have an honest friend in George Fournel."
She made a gesture of assent with her hand, but she did not speak. Tears were stealing quietly down her cold face. For a moment so, in silence, and then she rose to her feet, and pulled down over her face the veil she wore. She was about to hold out her hand to him to say good-bye, when there was a noise without, a knocking at the door, then it was flung open, and Tardif, intoxicated, entered followed by two constables, with Fournel's servant vainly protesting.
"Here she is," Tardif said to the officers of the law, pointing to Madelinette. "It was her set the fellow on to shoot me. I had the will she stole from him," he added, pointing to Fournel.
Distressed as Madelinette was, she was composed and ready.
"The man was dismissed my employ—" she began, but Fournel interposed.
"What is this I hear about shooting and a will?" he said sternly.
"What will!" cried Tardif. "The will I brought you from Pontiac, and Madame there followed, and her servant shot me. The will I brought you, M'sieu'. The will leaving the Manor of Pontiac to you!"
Fournel turned as though with sudden anger to the officers. "You come here—you enter my house to interfere with a guest of mine, on the charge of a drunken scoundrel like this! What is this talk of wills! The vapourings of his drunken brain. The Seigneury of Pontiac belongs to Monsieur Racine, and but three days since Madame here dismissed this fellow for pilfering and other misdemeanours. As for shooting—the man is a liar, and—"
"Ah, do you deny that I came to you?—" began Tardif.
"Constables," said Fournel, "I give this fellow in charge. Take him to gaol, and I will appear at court against him when called upon."
Tardif's rage choked him. He tried to speak once or twice, then began to shriek an imprecation at Fournel; but the constables clapped hands on his mouth, and dragged him out of the room and out of the house.
Fournel saw him safely out, then returned to Madelinette. "Do not fear for the fellow. A little gaol will do him good. I will see to it that he gives no trouble, Madame," he said. "You may trust me."
"I do trust you, Monsieur," Madelinette answered quietly. "I pray that you may be right, and that—" "It will all come out right," he firmly insisted. "Will you ask for Madame Marie?" she said. Then with a smile: "We will go happier than we came."
As she and Madame Marie passed from the house, Fournel shook Madelinette's hand warmly, and said: "'All's well that ends well.'"
"That ends well," answered Madelinette, with a sorrowful questioning in her voice.
"We will make it so," he rejoined, and then they parted.
THE DOOR THAT WOULD NOT OPEN
The old Manor House of Pontiac was alive with light and merriment. It was the early autumn; not cool enough for the doors and windows to be shut, but cool enough to make dancing a pleasure, and to give spirit to the gaiety that filled the old house. The occasion was a notable one for Pontiac. An address of congratulation and appreciation and a splendid gift of silver had been brought to the Manor from the capital by certain high officials of the Government and the Army, representing the people of the Province. At first Madelinette had shrunk from the honour to be done her, and had so written to certain quarters whence the movement had proceeded; but a letter had come to her which had changed her mind. This letter was signed George Fournel. Fournel had a right to ask a favour of her; and one that was to do her honour seemed the least that she might grant. He had suffered much at Louis' hands; he had forborne much; and by an act of noble forgiveness and generosity, had left Louis undisturbed in an honour which was not his, and the enjoyment of an estate to which he had no claim. He had given much, suffered much, and had had nothing in return save her measureless and voiceless gratitude. Friendship she could give him; but it was a silent friendship, an incompanionable friendship, founded upon a secret and chivalrous act. He was in Quebec and she in Pontiac; and since that day when he had burned the will before her eyes she had not seen him. She had heard from him but twice; once to tell her that she need have no fear of Tardif, and again, when he urged her to accept the testimonial and the gift to be offered by her grateful fellow-citizens.
The deputation, distinguished and important, had been received by the people of Pontiac with the flaunting of flags, playing of bands, and every demonstration of delight. The honour done to Madelinette was an honour done to Pontiac, and Pontiac had never felt itself so important. It realised that this kind of demonstration was less expensive, and less dangerous, than sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion. The vanity of the habitants could be better exercised in applauding Madelinette and in show of welcome to the great men of the land, than in cultivating a dangerous patriotism under the leadership of Louis Racine. Temptations to conspiracy had been few since the day George Fournel, wounded and morose, left the Manor House secretly one night, and carried back to Quebec his resentment and his injuries. Treasonable gossip filtered no longer from doorway to doorway; carbines were not to be had for a song; no more nightly drills and weekly meetings gave a spice of great expectations to their life. Their Seigneur, silent, and pale, and stooped, lived a life apart. If he walked through the town, it was with bitter, abstracted eyes that took little heed of their presence. If he drove, his horses travelled like the wind. At Mass, he looked at no one, saw no one, and, as it would seem, heard no one.
But Madelinette—she was the Madelinette of old, simple, gracious, kind, with a smile here and a kind word there: a little child to be caressed or an old woman to be comforted; the sick to be fed and doctored; the poor to be helped; the idle to be rebuked with a persuasive smile; the angry to be coaxed by a humorous word; the evil to be reproved by a fearless friendliness; the spiteful to be hushed by a still, commanding presence. She never seemed to remember that she was the daughter of old Joe Lajeunesse the blacksmith, yet she never seemed to forget it. She was the wife of the Seigneur, and she was the daughter of the smithy-man too. She sat in the smithy-man's doorway with her hand in his; and she sat at the Manor table with its silver glitter, and its antique garnishings, with as real an unconsciousness.
Her influence seemed to pierce far and wide. The Cure and the Avocat adored her; and the proudest, happiest moment of their lives was when they sat at the Manor table, or, in the sombre drawing-room, watched her give it light and grace and charm, and fill their hearts with the piercing delight of her song. So her life had gone on; to the outward world serene and happy, full of simplicity, charity, and good works. What it was in reality no one could know, not even herself. Since the day when Louis had tried to kill George Fournel, life had been a different thing for them both. On her part she had been deeply hurt; wounded beyond repair. He had failed her from every vital stand-point, he had not fulfilled one hope she had ever had of him. But she laid the blame not at his door; she rather shrank with inner bitterness from the cynical cruelty of nature, which, in deforming the body, with a merciless cruelty had deformed a noble mind. These things were between her and her inmost soul.
To Louis she was ever the same, affectionate, gentle, and unselfish; but her stronger soul ruled him without his knowledge, commanded his perturbed spirit into the abstracted quiet and bitter silence wherein he lived, and which she sought to cheer by a thousand happy devices. She did not let him think that she was giving up anything for him; no word or act of hers could have suggested to him the sacrifices she had made. He knew them, still he did not know them in their fulness; he was grateful, but his gratitude did not compass the splendid self-effacing devotion with which she denied herself the glorious career that had lain before her. Morbid and self-centred, he could not understand. Since her return from Quebec she had sought to give a little touch of gaiety to their life, and she had not the heart to interfere with his constant insistence on the little dignities of the position of Seigneur, ironical as they all were in her eyes. She had sacrificed everything; and since another also had sacrificed himself to give her husband the honours and estate he possessed, the game should be delicately played to the unseen end.
So it had gone on until the coming of the deputation with the testimonial and the gift. She had proposed the gaieties of the occasion to Louis with so simple a cheerfulness, that he had no idea of the torture it meant to her; no realisation of how she would be brought face to face with the life that she had given up for his sake. But neither he nor she was aware of one thing, that the beautiful embossed address contained an appeal to her to return to the world of song which she had renounced, to go forth once more and contribute to the happiness of humanity.
When, therefore, in the drawing-room of the Manor, the address was read to her, and this appeal rang upon her ears, she felt herself turn dizzy and faint: her whole life seemed to reel backwards to all she had lost, and the tyranny of the present bore down upon her with a cruel weight. It needed all her courage and all her innate strength to rule herself to composure. For an instant the people in the room were a confused mass, floating away into a blind distance. She heard, however, the quick breathing of the Seigneur beside her, and it called her back to an active and necessary confidence.
With a smile she received the address, and, turning, handed it to Louis, smiling at him too with a winning duplicity, for which she might never have to ask forgiveness in this world or the next. Then she turned and spoke. Eloquently, simply, she gave out her thanks for the gift of silver and the greater gift of kind words; and said that in her quiet life, apart from that active world of the stage, where sorrow and sordid experience went hand in hand with song, where the delights of home were sacrificed to the applause of the world, she would cherish their gift as a reward that she might have earned, had she chosen the public instead of the private way of life. They had told her of the paths of glory, but she was walking the homeward way.
Thus deftly, and without strain, and with an air of happiness even, did she set aside the words and the appeal which had created a storm in her soul. A few moments afterwards, as the old house rang to the laughter of old and young, with dancing well begun, no one would have thought that the Manor of Pontiac was not the home of peace and joy. Even Louis himself, who had had his moments of torture and suspicion when the appeal was read, was now in a kind of happy reaction. He moved about among the guests with less abstraction and more cheerfulness than he had shown for months. He carried in his hand the address which Madelinette had handed him. Again and again he showed it to eager guests.
Suddenly, as he was about to fold it up for the last time and carry it to the library, he saw the name of George Fournel among the signatures. Stunned, dumfounded, he left the room. George Fournel, whom he had tried to kill, had signed this address of congratulation to his wife! Was it Fournel's intention thus to show that he had forgiven and forgotten? It was not like the man to either forgive or forget. What did it mean? He left the house buried in morbid speculation, and involuntarily made his way to a little hut of two rooms which he had built in the Seigneury grounds. Here it was he read and wrote, here he had spent moody hours alone, day after day, for months past. He was not aware that some one left the crowd about the house and followed him. Arrived at the hut, he entered and shut the door; lighted candles, and spread the embossed parchment out before him upon the table. As he stood looking at it, he heard the door open behind him. Tardif stood before him.
The face of Tardif had an evil hunted look. Before the astonished and suspicious Seigneur had chance to challenge him, he said in a low insolent tone:
"Good evening, M'sieu'! Fine doings at the Manor—eh?
"What are you doing at the Manor, and what are you doing here?" asked the Seigneur, scanning the face of the man closely; for there was a look in it he did not understand.
"I have as much right to be here as you, M'sieu'."
"You have no right at all to be here. You were dismissed your place by the mistress of this Manor."
"There is no mistress of this Manor."
"Madame Racine dismissed you."
"And I dismissed Madame Racine," answered the man with a sneer.
"You are training for the horsewhip. You forget that, as Seigneur, I have power to give you summary punishment."
"You haven't power to do anything at all, M'sieu'!" The Seigneur started. He thought the remark had reference to his physical disability. His fingers itched to take the creature by the throat, and choke the tongue from his mouth. Before he could speak, the man continued with a half-drunken grimace:
"You, with your tributes, and your courts, and your body-guards! Bah! You'd have a gibbet if you could, wouldn't you? You with your rebellion and your tinpot honours! A puling baby could conspire as well as you. And all the world laughing at you—v'la!"
"Get out of this room and take your feet from my Manor, Tardif," said the Seigneur with a deadly quietness, "or it will be the worse for you."
"Your Manor—pish!" The man laughed a hateful laugh. "Your Manor? You haven't any Manor. You haven't anything but what you carry on your back."
A flush passed swiftly over the Seigneur's face, then left it cold and white, and the eyes shone fiery in his head. He felt some shameful meaning in the man's words, beyond this gross reference to his deformity.
"I am Seigneur of this Manor, and you have taken wages from me, and eaten my bread, slept under my roof, and—"
"I've no more eaten your bread and slept under your roof than you have. Pish! You were living then on another man's fortune, now you're living on what your wife earns."
The Seigneur did not understand yet. But there was a strange light of suspicion in his eyes, a nervous rage knotting his forehead.
"My land and my earnings are my own, and I have never lived on another man's fortune. If you mean that the late Seigneur made a will—that canard—"
"It was no canard." Tardif laughed hatefully. "There was a will right enough."
"Where is it? I've heard that fool's gossip before."
"Where is it? Ask your wife; she knows. Ask your loving Tardif, he knows."
"Where is the will, Tardif?" asked the Seigneur in a voice that, in his own ears, seemed to come from an infinite distance; to Tardif's ears it was merely tuneless and harsh.
"In M'sieu' Fournel's pocket, or Madame's. What's the difference? The price is the same, and you keep your eyes shut and play the Seigneur, and eat and drink what they give you just the same."
Now the Seigneur understood. His eyes went blind for a moment, and his hands twitched convulsively on the embossed address he had been rolling and unrolling. A terror, a shame, a dreadful cruelty entered into him, but he was still and numb, and his tongue was thick. He spoke heavily.
"Tell me all," he said. "You shall be well paid."
"I don't want your money. I want to see you squirm. I want to see her put where she deserves. Bah! Do you think Fournel forgave you for putting his feet in his shoes, and for that case at law, for nothing? Why should he? He hated you, and you hated him. His name's on that paper in your hand among all the rest. Do you think he eats humble pie and crawls to Madame and lets you stay here for nothing?"
The Seigneur was painfully quiet and intent, yet his brain was like some great lens, refracting and magnifying things to monstrous proportions.
"A will was found?" he asked.
"By Madame in the library. She left it where she found it—behind the picture over the Louis Seize table. The day you dismissed me, I saw her at the cupboard. I found the will and started with it to M'sieu' Fournel. She followed. You remember when she went—eh? On business— and such business! she and Havel and the old slut Marie. You remember, eh; Louis?" he added with unnamable insolence. The Seigneur inclined his head. "V'la! they followed me, overtook me, and Havel shot me in the wrist. See there!"—he held out his wrist. The Seigneur nodded. "But I got to Fournel's first. I put the will into his hands.
"I told him Madame Madelinette was following. Then I went to bring the constables to his house to arrest her when he had finished with her." He laughed a brutal laugh, which deepened the strange glittering look in Louis' eyes. "When I came an hour later, she was there. But—now you shall see what stuff they are both made of! He laughed at me, said I had lied; that there was no will; that I was a thief; and had me locked up in gaol. For a month I was in gaol without trial. Then one day I was let out without trial. His servant met me and brought me to his house. He gave me money and told me to leave the country. If I didn't, I would be arrested again for trying to shoot Havel, and for blackmail. They could all swear me off my feet and into prison—what was I to do! I took the money and went. But I came back to have my revenge. I could cut their hearts out and eat them."
"You are drunk," said the Seigneur quietly. "You don't know what you're saying."
"I'm not drunk. I'm always trying to get drunk now. I couldn't have come here if I hadn't been drinking. I couldn't have told you the truth, if I hadn't been drinking. But I'm sober enough to know that I've done for him and for her! And I'm even with you too—bah! Did you think she cared a fig for you? She's only waiting till you die. Then she'll go to her lover. He's a man of life and limb. Youpish! a hunchback, that all the world laughs at, a worm—" he turned towards the door laughing hideously, his evil face gloating. "You've not got a stick or stone. She"—jerking a finger towards the house—"she earns what you eat, she—"
It was the last word he ever spoke, for, with a low terrible cry, the Seigneur snatched up a knife from the table and sprang upon him, catching him by the throat. Once, twice, thrice, the knife went home, and the ruffian collapsed under it with one loud cry. Not letting go his grasp of the dying man's collar, the Seigneur dragged him across the floor, and, opening the door of the small inner room, pulled him inside. For a moment he stood beside the body, panting, then he went to the other room and, bringing a candle, looked at the dead thing in silence. Presently he stooped, held the candle to the wide-staring eyes, then felt the heart. "He is gone," he said in an even voice. Stooping for the knife he had dropped on the floor, he laid it on the body. He looked at his hands. There was one spot of blood on his fingers. He wiped it off with his handkerchief, then blowing out the light, he calmly opened the door of the hut, locked it, went out, and moved on slowly towards the house.
As he left the hut he was conscious that some one was moving under the trees by the window, but his mind was not concerned with things outside himself and the one other thing left for him to do.
He entered the house and went in search of Madelinette. When he reached the drawing-room, surrounded by eager listeners, she was beginning to sing. Her bearing was eager and almost tremulous, for, with this crowd round her and in the flush of this gaiety and excitement, there was something of that exhilarating air that greets the singer upon the stage. Her eyes were shining with a look, half-sorrowful, half-triumphant. Within the past half-hour she had overcome herself; she had fought down the blind, wild rebellion that, for one moment as it were, had surged up in her heart. She was proud and glad, and piteous and triumphant and deeply womanly all at once.
Going to the piano she had looked round for Louis, but he was not visible. She smiled to herself, however, for she knew that her singing would bring him—he worshipped it. Her heart was warm towards him, because of that moment when she rebelled and was hard at soul. She played her own accompaniment, and he was hidden from her by the piano as she sang—sang more touchingly and more humanly, if not more artistically, than she had ever done in her life. The old art was not so perfect, perhaps, but there was in the voice all that she had learned and loved and suffered and hoped. When she rose from the piano to a storm of applause, and saw the shining faces and tearful eyes round her, her own eyes filled with tears. These people—most of them—had known and loved her since she was a child, and loved her still without envy or any taint. Her father was standing near, and with smiling face she caught from his hand the handkerchief with which he was mopping his eyes, and kissed him, saying:
"I learned that from the tunes you played on your anvil, dear smithy- man."
Then she turned again to look for Louis. Near the door she saw him, and with so strange a face, so wild a look, that, unheeding eager requests to sing again, she responded to the gesture he made, made her way through the crowd to the hall-way, and followed him up the stairs, and to the little boudoir beside her bedroom. As she entered and shut the door, a low sound like a moan broke from him. She went quickly to lay a hand upon his arm, but he waved her back. "What is it, Louis?" she asked, in a bewildered voice. "Where is the will?" he said.
"Where is the will, Louis," she repeated after him mechanically, staring at his face, ghostly in the moonlight.
"The will you found behind the picture in the library."
"O Louis!" she cried, and made a gesture of despair. "O Louis!"
"You found it, and Tardif stole it and took it to Quebec."
"Yes, Louis, but Louis—ah, what is the matter, dear! I cannot bear that look in your face. What is the matter, Louis?"
"Tardif took it to Fournel, and you followed. And I have been living in another man's house, on another's bread—"
"O Louis, no—no—no! Our money has paid for all."
"Your money, Madelinette!" His voice rose.
"Ah, don't speak like that! See, Louis. It can make no difference. How you have found out I do not know, but it can make no difference. I did not want you to know—you loved the Seigneury so. I concealed the will; Tardif found it, as you say. But, Louis, dear, it is all right. Monsieur Fournel would not take the place, and—and I have bought it."
She told her falsehood fearlessly. This man's trouble, this man's peace, if she might but win it, was the purpose of her life.
"Tardif said that—he said that you—that you and Fournel—"
She read his meaning in his tone, and shrank back in terror, then with a flush, straightened herself, and took a step towards him.
"It was natural that you should not care for a hunchback like me," he continued, "but—"
"Louis!" she cried, in a voice of anguish and reproach.
"But I did not doubt you. I believed in you when he said it, as I believe in you now when you stand there like that. I know what you have done for me—"
"I pleaded with Monsieur Fournel, knowing how you loved the Seigneury— pleaded and offered to pay three times the price—"
"Yourself would have been a hundred million times the price. Ah, I know you, Madelinette—I know you now! I have been selfish, but I see all now. Now when all is over—" he seemed listening to noises with out— "I see what you have done for me. I know how you have sacrificed all for me—all but honour—all but honour," he added, a wild fire in his eyes, a trembling seizing him. "Your honour is yours forever. I say so. I say so, and I have proved it. Kiss me, Madelinette—kiss me once," he added, in a quick whisper.
"My poor, poor Louis!" she said, laid a soothing hand upon his arm, and leaned towards him. He snatched her to his breast, and kissed her twice in a very agony of joy, then let her go. He listened for an instant to the growing noise without, then said in a hoarse voice:
"Now, I will tell you, Madelinette. They are coming for me—don't you hear them? They are coming to take me; but they shall not have me. They shall not have me—" he glanced to a little door that led into a bath- room at his right.
"Louis-Louis!" she said in a sudden fright, for though his words seemed mad, a strange quiet sanity was in all he did. "What have you done? Who are coming?" she asked in agony, and caught him by the arm.
"I killed Tardif. He is there in the hut in the garden—dead! I was seen, and they are coming to take me."
With a cry she ran to the door that led into the hall, and locked it. She listened, then turned her face to Louis.
"You killed him!" she gasped. "Louis! Louis!" Her face was like ashes.
"I stabbed him to death. It was all I could do, and I did it. He slandered you. I went mad, and did it. Now—"
There was a knocking at the door, and a voice calling—a peremptory voice.
"There is only one way," he said. "They shall not take me. I will not be dragged to gaol for crowds to jeer at. I will not be sent to the scaffold, to your shame."
He ran to the door of the bath-room and flung it open. "If my life is to pay the price, then—!"
She came blindly towards him, stretching out her hands.
"Louis! Louis!" was all that she could say.
He caught her hands and kissed them, then stepped swiftly back into the little bath-room, and locked the door, as the door of the room she was in was burst open, and two constables and a half-dozen men crowded into the room.
She stood with her back to the bath-room door, panting, and white, and anguished, and her ears strained to the terrible thing inside the place behind her.
The men understood, and came towards her. "Stand back," she said. "You shall not have him. You shall not have him. Ah, don't you hear? He is dying—O God, O God!" she cried, with tearless eyes and upturned face— "Ah, let it be soon! Ah, let him die soon!"
The men stood abashed before her agony. Behind the little door where she stood there was a muffled groaning. She trembled, but her arms were spread out before the door as though on a cross, and her lips kept murmuring: "O God, let him die! Let him die! Oh spare him agony!"
Suddenly she stood still and listened-listened, with staring eyes that saw nothing. In the room men shrank back, for they knew that death was behind the little door, and that they were in the presence of a sorrow greater than death.
Suddenly she turned upon them with a gesture of piteous triumph and said:
"You cannot have him now."
Then she swayed and fell forward to the floor as the Cure and George Fournel entered the room. The Cure hastened to her side and lifted up her head.
George Fournel pushed the men back who would have entered the bath-room, and himself, bursting the door open, entered. Louis lay dead upon the floor. He turned to the constables.
"As she said, you cannot have him now. You have no right here. Go. I had a warning from the man he killed. I knew there would be trouble. But I have come too late," he added bitterly.
An hour later the house was as still as the grave. Madame Marie sat with the doctor beside the bed of her dear mistress, and in another room, George Fournel, with the Avocat, kept watch beside the body of the Seigneur of Pontiac. The face of the dead man was as peaceful as that of a little child.
At ninety years of age, the present Seigneur of Pontiac, one Baron Fournel, lives in the Manor House left him by Madelinette Lajeunesse the great singer, when she died a quarter of a century ago. For thirty years he followed her from capital to capital of Europe and America to hear her sing; and to this day he talks of her in language more French than English in its ardour. Perhaps that is because his heart beats in sympathy with the Frenchmen he once disdained.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Ah, let it be soon! Ah, let him die soon! All are hurt some time Did not let him think that she was giving up anything for him Duplicity, for which she might never have to ask forgiveness Frenchman, slave of ideas, the victim of sentiment Frenchman, volatile, moody, chivalrous, unreasonable Her stronger soul ruled him without his knowledge I love that love in which I married him Let others ride to glory, I'll shoe their horses for the gallop Lighted candles in hollowed pumpkins Love has nothing to do with ugliness or beauty, or fortune Nature twists in back, or anywhere, gets a twist in's brain too Rewarded for its mistakes Some are hurt in one way and some in another Struggle of conscience and expediency
THE LANE THAT HAD NO TURNING
By Gilbert Parker
THE ABSURD ROMANCE OF P'TITE LOUISON THE LITTLE BELL OF HONOUR A SON OF THE WILDERNESS A WORKER IN STONE
THE ABSURD ROMANCE OF P'TITE LOUISON
The five brothers lived with Louison, three miles from Pontiac, and Medallion came to know them first through having sold them, at an auction, a slice of an adjoining farm. He had been invited to their home, intimacy had grown, and afterwards, stricken with a severe illness, he had been taken into the household and kept there till he was well again. The night of his arrival, Louison, the sister, stood with a brother on either hand—Octave and Florian—and received him with a courtesy more stately than usual, an expression of the reserve and modesty of her single state. This maidenly dignity was at all times shielded by the five brothers, who treated her with a constant and reverential courtesy. There was something signally suggestive in their homage, and Medallion concluded at last that it was paid not only to the sister, but to something that gave her great importance in their eyes.
He puzzled long, and finally decided that Louison had a romance. There was something which suggested it in the way they said "P'tite Louison"; in the manner they avoided all gossip regarding marriages and marriage- feasting; in the way they deferred to her on questions of etiquette (as, for instance, Should the eldest child be given the family name of the wife or a Christian name from her husband's family?). And P'tite Louison's opinion was accepted instantly as final, with satisfied nods on the part of all the brothers, and whispers of "How clever! how adorable!"
P'tite Louison affected never to hear these remarks, but looked complacently straight before her, stirring the spoon in her cup, or benignly passing the bread and butter. She was quite aware of the homage paid to her, and she gracefully accepted the fact that she was an object of interest.
Medallion had not the heart to laugh at the adoration of the brothers, or at the outlandish sister, for, though she was angular, and sallow, and thin, and her hands were large and red, there was a something deep in her eyes, a curious quality in her carriage commanding respect. She had ruled these brothers, had been worshipped by them, for near half a century, and the romance they had kept alive had produced a grotesque sort of truth and beauty in the admiring "P'tite Louison"—an affectionate name for her greatness, like "The Little Corporal" for Napoleon. She was not little, either, but above the middle height, and her hair was well streaked with grey.
Her manner towards Medallion was not marked by any affectation. She was friendly in a kind, impersonal way, much as a nurse cares for a patient, and she never relaxed a sort of old-fashioned courtesy, which might have been trying in such close quarters, were it not for the real simplicity of the life and the spirit and lightness of their race. One night Florian—there were Florian and Octave and Felix and Isidore and Emile —the eldest, drew Medallion aside from the others, and they walked together by the river. Florian's air suggested confidence and mystery, and soon, with a voice of hushed suggestion, he told Medallion the romance of P'tite Louison. And each of the brothers at different times during the next fortnight did the same, differing scarcely at all in details, or choice of phrase or meaning, and not at all in general facts and essentials. But each, as he ended, made a different exclamation.
"Voila, so sad, so wonderful! She keeps the ring—dear P'tite Louison!" said Florian, the eldest.
"Alors, she gives him a legacy in her will! Sweet P'tite Louison," said Octave.
"Mais, the governor and the archbishop admire her—P'tite Louison:" said Felix, nodding confidently at Medallion.
"Bien, you should see the linen and the petticoats!" said Isidore, the humorous one of the family. "He was great—she was an angel, P'tite Louison!"
"Attends! what love—what history—what passion!—the perfect P'tite Louison!" cried Emile, the youngest, the most sentimental. "Ah, Moliere!" he added, as if calling on the master to rise and sing the glories of this daughter of romance.
Isidore's tale was after this fashion:
"I ver' well remember the first of it; and the last of it—who can tell? He was an actor—oh, so droll, that! Tall, ver' smart, and he play in theatre at Montreal. It is in the winter. P'tite Louison visit Montreal. She walk past the theatre and, as she go by, she slip on the snow and fall. Out from a door with a jomp come M'sieu' Hadrian, and pick her up. And when he see the purty face of P'tite Louison, his eyes go all fire, and he clasp her hand to his breast.
"'Ma'm'selle, Ma'm'selle,' he say, 'we must meet again!'
"She thank him and hurry away queeck. Next day we are on the river, and P'tite Louison try to do the Dance of the Blue Fox on the ice. While she do it, some one come up swift, and catch her hand and say: 'Ma'm'selle, let's do it together'—like that! It take her breath away. It is M'sieu' Hadrian. He not seem like the other men she know; but he have a sharp look, he is smooth in the face, and he smile kind like a woman. P'tite Louison, she give him her hand, and they run away, and every one stop to look. It is a gran' sight. M'sieu' Hadrian laugh, and his teeth shine, and the ladies say things of him, and he tell P'tite Louison that she look ver' fine, and walk like a queen. I am there that day, and I see all, and I think it dam good. I say: 'That P'tite Louison, she beat them all'—I am only twelve year old then. When M'sieu' Hadrian leave, he give her two seats for the theatre, and we go. Bagosh! that is grand thing that play, and M'sieu' Hadrian, he is a prince; and when he say to his minister, 'But no, my lord, I will marry out of my star, and where my heart go, not as the State wills,' he look down at P'tite Louison, and she go all red, and some of the women look at her, and there is a whisper all roun'.
"Nex' day he come to the house where we stay, but the Cure come also pretty soon and tell her she must go home—he say an actor is not good company. Never mind. And so we come out home. Well, what you think? Nex' day M'sieu' Hadrian come, too, and we have dam good time—Florian, Octave, Felix, Emile, they all sit and say bully-good to him all the time. Holy, what fine stories he tell! And he talk about P'tite Louison, and his eyes get wet, and Emile he say his prayers to him— bagosh! yes, I think. Well, at last, what you guess? M'sieu' he come and come, and at last one day, he say that he leave Montreal and go to New York, where he get a good place in a big theatre—his time in Montreal is finish. So he speak to Florian and say he want marry P'tite Louison, and he say, of course, that he is not marry and he have money. But he is a Protestan', and the Cure at first ver' mad, bagosh!
"But at las' when he give a hunder' dollars to the Church, the Cure say yes. All happy that way for while. P'tite Louison, she get ready quick- sapre, what fine things had she—and it is all to be done in a week, while the theatre in New York wait for M'sieu'. He sit there with us, and play on the fiddle, and sing songs, and act plays, and help Florian in the barn, and Octave to mend the fence, and the Cure to fix the grape- vines on his wall. He show me and Emile how to play sword-sticks; and he pick flowers and fetch them to P'tite Louison, and teach her how to make an omelette and a salad like the chef of the Louis Quinze Hotel, so he say. Bagosh, what a good time we have! But first one, then another, he get a choke-throat when he think that P'tite Louison go to leave us, and the more we try, the more we are bagosh fools. And that P'tite Louison, she kiss us hevery one, and say to M'sieu' Hadrian, 'Charles, I love you, but I cannot go.' He laugh at her, and say, 'Voila! we will take them all with us:' and P'tite Louison she laugh. That night a thing happen. The Cure come, and he look ver' mad, and he frown and he say to M'sieu' Hadrian before us all, 'M'sieu', you are married.'
"Sapre! that P'tite Louison get pale like snow, and we all stan' roun' her close and say to her quick, 'Courage, P'tite Louison!' M'sieu' Hadrian then look at the priest and say: 'No, M'sieu', I was married ten years ago; my wife drink and go wrong, and I get divorce. I am free like the wind.'
"'You are not free,' the Cure say quick. 'Once married, married till death. The Church cannot marry you again, and I command Louison to give you up.'
"P'tite Louison stan' like stone. M'sieu' turn to her. 'What shall it be, Louison?' he say. 'You will come with me?'
"'Kiss me, Charles,' she say, 'and tell me good-bye till—till you are free.'
"He look like a madman. 'Kiss me once, Charles,' she say, 'and let me go.'
"And he come to her and kiss her on the lips once, and he say, 'Louison, come with me. I will never give you up.'
"She draw back to Florian. 'Good-bye, Charles,' she say. 'I will wait as long as you will. Mother of God, how hard it is to do right!' she say, and then she turn and leave the room.
"M'sieu' Hadrian, he give a long sigh. 'It was my one chance,' he say. 'Now the devil take it all!' Then he nod and say to the Cure: 'We'll thrash this out at Judgment Day, M'sieu'. I'll meet you there—you and the woman that spoiled me.'
"He turn to Florian and the rest of us, and shake hands, and say: 'Take care of Louison. Thank you. Good-bye.' Then he start towards the door, but stumble, for he look sick. 'Give me a drink,' he say, and begin to cough a little—a queer sort of rattle. Florian give him big drink, and he toss it off-whiff! 'Thank you,' he say, and start again, and we see him walk away over the hill ver' slow—an' he never come back. But every year there come from New York a box of flowers, and every year P'tite Louison send him a 'Merci, Charles, mille fois. Dieu to garde.' It is so every year for twenty-five year."
"Where is he now?" asked Medallion.
Isidore shook his head, then lifted his eyes religiously. "Waiting for Judgment Day and P'tite Louison," he answered.
"Dead!" said Medallion.
"But the flowers—the flowers?"
"He left word for them to be sent just the same, and the money for it."
Medallion turned and took off his hat reverently, as if a soul were passing from the world; but it was only P'tite Louison going out into the garden.
"She thinks him living?" he asked gently as he watched Louison.
"Yes; we have no heart to tell her. And then he wish it so. And the flowers kep' coming."
"Why did he wish it so?" Isidore mused a while.
"Who can tell? Perhaps a whim. He was a great actor—ah, yes, sublime!" he said.
Medallion did not reply, but walked slowly down to where P'tite Louison was picking berries. His hat was still off.
"Let me help you, Mademoiselle," he said softly. And henceforth he was as foolish as her brothers.
THE LITTLE BELL OF HONOUR
"What did he say?" asked the Little Chemist, stepping from his doorway.
"He cursed his baptism," answered tall Medallion, the English auctioneer, pushing his way farther into the crowd.
"Ah, the pitiful vaurien!" said the Little Chemist's wife, shudderingly; for that was an oath not to be endured by any one who called the Church mother.
The crowd that had gathered at the Four Corners were greatly disturbed, for they also felt the repulsion that possessed the Little Chemist's wife. They babbled, shook their heads, and waved their hands excitedly, and swayed and craned their necks to see the offender.
All at once his voice, mad with rage, was heard above the rest, shouting frenziedly a curse which was a horribly grotesque blasphemy upon the name of God. Men who had used that oath in their insane anger had been known to commit suicide out of remorse afterwards.
For a moment there was a painful hush. The crowd drew back involuntarily and left a clear space, in which stood the blasphemer—a middle-sized, athletic fellow, with black beard, thick, waving hair, and flashing brown eyes. His white teeth were showing now in a snarl like a dog's, his cap was on the ground, his hair was tumbled, his hands were twitching with passion, his foot was stamping with fury, and every time it struck the ground a little silver bell rang at his knee—a pretty sylvan sound, in no keeping with the scene. It heightened the distress of the fellow's blasphemy and ungovernable anger. For a man to curse his baptism was a wicked thing; but the other oath was not fit for human ears, and horror held the crowd moveless for a moment.
Then, as suddenly as the stillness came, a low, threatening mumble of voices rose, and a movement to close in on the man was made; but a figure pushed through the crowd, and, standing in front of the man, waved the people back. It was the Cure, the beloved M. Fabre, whose life had been spent among them, whom they obeyed as well as they could, for they were but frail humanity, after all—crude, simple folk, touched with imagination.
"Luc Pomfrette, why have you done this? What provocation had you?"
The Cure's voice was stern and cold, his usually gentle face had become severe, his soft eyes were piercing and determined.
The foot of the man still beat the ground angrily, and the little bell kept tinkling. He was gasping with passion, and he did not answer yet.
"Luc Pomfrette, what have you to say?" asked the Cure again. He motioned back Lacasse, the constable of the parish, who had suddenly appeared with a rusty gun and a more rusty pair of handcuffs.
Still the voyageur did not answer.
The Cure glanced at Lajeunesse the blacksmith, who stood near.
"There was no cause—no," sagely shaking his head said Lajeunesse, "Here stand we at the door of the Louis Quinze in very good humour. Up come the voyageurs, all laughing, and ahead of them is Luc Pomfrette, with the little bell at his knee. Luc, he laugh the same as the rest, and they stand in the door, and the garcon bring out the brandy—just a little, but just enough too. I am talking to Henri Beauvin. I am telling him Junie Gauloir have run away with Dicey the Protestant, when all very quick Luc push between me and Henri, jump into the street, and speak like that!"
Lajeunesse looked around, as if for corroboration; Henri and others nodded, and some one said:
"That's true; that's true. There was no cause."
"Maybe it was the drink," said a little hunchbacked man, pushing his way in beside the Cure. "It must have been the drink; there was nothing else—no."
The speaker was Parpon the dwarf, the oddest, in some ways the most foolish, in others the wisest man in Pontiac.
"That is no excuse," said the Cure.
"It is the only one he has, eh?" answered Parpon. His eyes were fixed meaningly on those of Pomfrette.
"It is no excuse," repeated the Cure sternly. "The blasphemy is horrible, a shame and stigma upon Pontiac for ever." He looked Pomfrette in the face. "Foul-mouthed and wicked man, it is two years since you took the Blessed Sacrament. Last Easter day you were in a drunken sleep while Mass was being said; after the funeral of your own father you were drunk again. When you went away to the woods you never left a penny for candles, nor for Masses to be said for your father's soul; yet you sold his horse and his little house, and spent the money in drink. Not a cent for a candle, but—"
"It's a lie," cried Pomfrette, shaking with rage from head to foot.
A long horror-stricken "Ah!" broke from the crowd. The Cure's face became graver and colder.
"You have a bad heart," he answered, "and you give Pontiac an evil name. I command you to come to Mass next Sunday, to repent and to hear your penance given from the altar. For until—"
"I'll go to no Mass till I'm carried to it," was the sullen, malevolent interruption.
The Cure turned upon the people.
"This is a blasphemer, an evil-hearted, shameless man," he said. "Until he repents humbly, and bows his vicious spirit to holy Church, and his heart to the mercy of God, I command you to avoid him as you would a plague. I command that no door be opened to him; that no one offer him comfort or friendship; that not even a bon jour or a bon soir pass between you. He has blasphemed against our Father in heaven; to the Church he is a leper." He turned to Pomfrette. "I pray God that you have no peace in mind or body till your evil life is changed, and your black heart is broken by sorrow and repentance."
Then to the people he said again: "I have commanded you for your souls' sake; see that you obey. Go to your homes. Let us leave the leper— alone." He waved the awed crowd back.
"Shall we take off the little bell?" asked Lajeunesse of the Cure.
Pomfrette heard, and he drew himself together, his jaws shutting with ferocity, and his hand flying to the belt where his voyageur's case-knife hung. The Cure did not see this. Without turning his head towards Pomfrette, he said:
"I have commanded you, my children. Leave the leper alone."
Again he waved the crowd to be gone, and they scattered, whispering to each other; for nothing like this had ever occurred in Pontiac before, nor had they ever seen the Cure with this granite look in his face, or heard his voice so bitterly hard.
He did not move until he had seen them all started homewards from the Four Corners. One person remained beside him—Parpon the dwarf.
"I will not obey you, M'sieu' le Cure," said he. "I'll forgive him before he repents."
"You will share his sin," answered the Cure sternly. "No; his punishment, M'sieu'," said the dwarf; and turning on his heel, he trotted to where Pomfrette stood alone in the middle of the road, a dark, morose figure, hatred and a wild trouble in his face.
Already banishment, isolation, seemed to possess Pomfrette, to surround him with loneliness. The very effort he made to be defiant of his fate appeared to make him still more solitary. All at once he thrust a hand inside his red shirt, and, giving a jerk which broke a string tied round his neck, he drew forth a little pad—a flat bag of silk, called an Agnus Dei, worn as a protection and a blessing by the pious, and threw it on the ground. Another little parcel he drew from his belt, and ground it into the dirt with his heel. It contained a woman's hair. Then, muttering, his hands still twitching with savage feeling, he picked up his cap, covered with dirt, put it on, and passed away down the road towards the river, the little bell tinkling as he went. Those who heard it had a strange feeling, for already to them the man was as if he had some baleful disease, and this little bell told of the passing of a leper.
Yet some one man had worn just such a bell every year in Pontiac. It was the mark of honour conferred upon a voyageur by his fellows, the token of his prowess and his skill. This year Luc Pomfrette had won it, and that very day it had been buckled round his leg with songs and toasts.
For hours Pomfrette walked incessantly up and down the river-bank, muttering and gesticulating, but at last came quietly to the cottage which he shared with Henri Beauvin. Henri had removed himself and his belongings: already the ostracising had begun. He went to the bedroom of old Mme. Burgoyne, his cousin; she also was gone. He went to a little outhouse and called.
For reply there was a scratching at the door. He opened it, and a dog leaped out and upon him. With a fierce fondness he snatched at the dog's collar, and drew the shaggy head to his knee; then as suddenly shoved him away with a smothered oath, and going into the house, shut the door. He sat down in a chair in the middle of the room, and scarcely stirred for half an-hour. At last, with a passionate jerk of the head, he got to his feet, looking about the room in a half-distracted way. Outside, the dog kept running round and round the house, silent, watchful, waiting for the door to open.
As time went by, Luc became quieter, but the look of his face was more desolate. At last he almost ran to the door, threw it open, and called. The dog sprang into the room, went straight to the fireplace, lay down, and with tongue lolling and body panting looked at Pomfrette with blinking, uncomprehending eyes.
Pomfrette went to a cupboard, brought back a bone well covered with meat, and gave it to the dog, which snatched it and began gnawing it, now and again stopping to look up at his master, as one might look at a mountain moving, be aware of something singular, yet not grasp the significance of the phenomenon. At last, worn out, Pomfrette threw himself on his bed, and fell into a sound sleep. When he awoke, it was far into the morning. He lighted a fire in the kitchen, got a "spider," fried himself a piece of pork, and made some tea. There was no milk in the cupboard; so he took a pitcher and walked down the road a few rods to the next house, where lived the village milkman. He knocked, and the door was opened by the milkman's wife. A frightened look came upon her when she saw who it was.
"Non, non!" she said, and shut the door in his face. He stared blankly at the door for a moment, then turned round and stood looking down into the road, with the pitcher in his hand. The milkman's little boy, Maxime, came running round the corner of the house. "Maxime," he said involuntarily and half-eagerly, for he and the lad had been great friends.
Maxime's face brightened, then became clouded; he stood still an instant, and presently, turning round and looking at Pomfrette askance, ran away behind the house, saying: "Non, non!"
Pomfrette drew his rough knuckles across his forehead in a dazed way; then, as the significance of the thing came home to him, he broke out with a fierce oath, and strode away down the yard and into the road. On the way to his house he met Duclosse the mealman and Garotte the lime- burner. He wondered what they would do. He could see the fat, wheezy Duclosse hesitate, but the arid, alert Garotte had determination in every motion and look. They came nearer; they were about to pass; there was no sign.
Pomfrette stopped short. "Good-day, lime-burner; good-day, Duclosse," he said, looking straight at them.
Garotte made no reply, but walked straight on. Pomfrette stepped swiftly in front of the mealman. There was fury in his face-fury and danger; his hair was disordered, his eyes afire.
"Good-day, mealman," he said, and waited. "Duclosse," called Garotte warningly, "remember!" Duclosse's knees shook, and his face became mottled like a piece of soap; he pushed his fingers into his shirt and touched the Agnus Dei that he carried there. That and Garotte's words gave him courage. He scarcely knew what he said, but it had meaning. "Good-bye-leper," he answered.
Pomfrette's arm flew out to throw the pitcher at the mealman's head, but Duclosse, with a grunt of terror, flung up in front of his face the small bag of meal that he carried, the contents pouring over his waistcoat from a loose corner. The picture was so ludicrous that Pomfrette laughed with a devilish humour, and flinging the pitcher at the bag, he walked away towards his own house. Duclosse, pale and frightened, stepped from among the fragments of crockery, and with backward glances towards Pomfrette joined his comrade.
"Lime-burner," he said, sitting down on the bag of meal, and mechanically twisting tight the loose, leaking corner, "the devil's in that leper."
"He was a good enough fellow once," answered Garotte, watching Pomfrette.
"I drank with him at five o'clock yesterday," said Duclosse philosophically. "He was fit for any company then; now he's fit for none."
Garotte looked wise. "Mealman," said he, "it takes years to make folks love you; you can make them hate you in an hour. La! La! it's easier to hate than to love. Come along, m'sieu' dusty-belly."
Pomfrette's life in Pontiac went on as it began that day. Not once a day, and sometimes not once in twenty days, did any human being speak to him. The village baker would not sell him bread; his groceries he had to buy from the neighbouring parishes, for the grocer's flighty wife called for the constable when he entered the bake-shop of Pontiac. He had to bake his own bread, and do his own cooking, washing, cleaning, and gardening. His hair grew long and his clothes became shabbier. At last, when he needed a new suit—so torn had his others become at woodchopping and many kinds of work—he went to the village tailor, and was promptly told that nothing but Luc Pomfrette's grave-clothes would be cut and made in that house.
When he walked down to the Four Corners the street emptied at once, and the lonely man with the tinkling bell of honour at his knee felt the whole world falling away from sight and touch and sound of him. Once when he went into the Louis Quinze every man present stole away in silence, and the landlord himself, without a word, turned and left the bar. At that, with a hoarse laugh, Pomfrette poured out a glass of brandy, drank it off, and left a shilling on the counter. The next morning he found the shilling, wrapped in a piece of paper, just inside his door; it had been pushed underneath. On the paper was written: "It is cursed." Presently his dog died, and the day afterwards he suddenly disappeared from Pontiac, and wandered on to Ste. Gabrielle, Ribeaux, and Ville Bambord. But his shame had gone before him, and people shunned him everywhere, even the roughest. No one who knew him would shelter him. He slept in barns and in the woods until the winter came and snow lay thick upon the ground. Thin and haggard, and with nothing left of his old self but his deep brown eyes and curling hair, and his unhappy name and fame, he turned back again to Pontiac. His spirit was sullen and hard, his heart closed against repentance. Had not the Church and Pontiac and the world punished him beyond his deserts for a moment's madness brought on by a great shock!
One bright, sunshiny day of early winter, he trudged through the snow- banked street of Pontiac back to his home. Men he once knew well, and had worked with, passed him in a sled on their way to the great shanty in the backwoods. They halted in their singing for a moment when they saw him; then, turning their heads from him, dashed off, carolling lustily:
"Ah, ah, Babette, We go away; But we will come Again, Babette, Again back home, On Easter Day, Back home to play On Easter Day, Babette! Babette!"
"Babette! Babette!" The words followed him, ringing in his ears long after the men had become a mere fading point in the white horizon behind him.
This was not the same world that he had known, not the same Pontiac. Suddenly he stopped short in the road.
"Curse them! Curse them! Curse them all!" he cried in a cracked, strange voice. A woman hurrying across the street heard him, and went the faster, shutting her ears. A little boy stood still and looked at him in wonder. Everything he saw maddened him. He turned sharp round and hurried to the Louis Quinze. Throwing open the door, he stepped inside. Half-a-dozen men were there with the landlord. When they saw him, they started, confused and dismayed. He stood still for a moment, looking at them with glowering brows.
"Good-day," he said. "How goes it?"
No one answered. A little apart from the others sat Medallion the auctioneer. He was a Protestant, and the curse on his baptism uttered by Pomfrette was not so heinous in his sight. For the other oath, it was another matter. Still, he was sorry for the man. In any case, it was not his cue to interfere; and Luc was being punished according to his bringing up and to the standards familiar to him. Medallion had never refused to speak to him, but he had done nothing more. There was no reason why he should provoke the enmity of the parish unnecessarily; and up to this-point Pomfrette had shifted for himself after a fashion, if a hard fashion.
With a bitter laugh, Pomfrette turned to the little bar.
"Brandy," he said; "brandy, my Bourienne."
The landlord shrugged his shoulder, and looked the other way.
"Brandy," he repeated. Still there was no sign.
There was a wicked look in his face, from which the landlord shrank back- shrank so far that he carried himself among the others, and stood there, half frightened, half dumfounded.
Pomfrette pulled out a greasy dollar-bill from his pocket—the last he owned in the world—and threw it on the counter. Then he reached over, caught up a brandy-bottle from the shelf, knocked off the neck with a knife, and, pouring a tumblerful, drank it off at a gasp.
His head came up, his shoulders straightened out, his eyes snapped fire. He laughed aloud, a sardonic, wild, coarse laugh, and he shivered once or twice violently, in spite of the brandy he had drunk.
"You won't speak to me, eh? Won't you? Curse you! Pass me on the other side—so! Look at me. I am the worst man in the world, eh? Judas is nothing—no! Ack, what are you, to turn your back on me? Listen to me! You, there, Muroc, with your charcoal face, who was it walk thirty miles in the dead of winter to bring a doctor to your wife, eh? She die, but that is no matter—who was it? It was Luc Pomfrette. You, Alphonse Durien, who was it drag you out of the bog at the Cote Chaudiere? It was Luc Pomfrette. You, Jacques Baby, who was it that lied for you to the Protestant girl at Faribeau? Just Luc Pomfrette. You two, Jean and Nicolas Mariban, who was it lent you a hunderd dollars when you lose all your money at cards? Ha, ha, ha! Only that beast Luc Pomfrette! Mother of Heaven, such a beast is he—eh, Limon Rouge?—such a beast that used to give your Victorine little silver things, and feed her with bread and sugar and buttermilk pop. Ah, my dear Limon Rouge, how is it all different now!"
He raised the bottle and drank long from the ragged neck. When he took it away from his mouth not much more than half remained in the quart bottle. Blood was dripping upon his beard from a cut on his lip, and from there to the ground.
"And you, M'sieu' Bourienne," he cried hoarsely, "do I not remember that dear M'sieu' Bourienne, when he beg me to leave Pontiac for a little while that I not give evidence in court against him? Eh bien! you all walk by me now, as if I was the father of smallpox, and not Luc Pomfrette—only Luc Pomfrette, who spits at every one of you for a pack of cowards and hypocrites."
He thrust the bottle inside his coat, went to the door, flung it open with a bang, and strode out into the street, muttering as he went. As the landlord came to close the door Medallion said:
"The leper has a memory, my friends." Then he also walked out, and went to his office depressed, for the face of the man haunted him.
Pomfrette reached his deserted, cheerless house. There was not a stick of fire-wood in the shed, not a thing to eat or drink in cellar or cupboard. The door of the shed at the back was open, and the dog-chains lay covered with frost and half embedded in mud. With a shiver of misery Pomfrette raised the brandy to his mouth, drank every drop, and threw the bottle on the floor. Then he went to the front door, opened it, and stepped outside. His foot slipped, and he tumbled head forward into the snow. Once or twice he half raised himself, but fell back again, and presently lay still. The frost caught his ears and iced them; it began to creep over his cheeks; it made his fingers white, like a leper's.
He would soon have stiffened for ever had not Parpon the dwarf, passing along the road, seen the open door and the sprawling body, and come and drawn Pomfrette inside the house. He rubbed the face and hands and ears of the unconscious man with snow till the whiteness disappeared, and, taking off the boots, did the same with the toes; after which he drew the body to a piece of rag carpet beside the stove, threw some blankets over it, and, hurrying out, cut up some fence rails, and soon had a fire going in the stove.
Then he trotted out of the house and away to the Little Chemist, who came passively with him. All that day, and for many days, they fought to save Pomfrette's life. The Cure came also; but Pomfrette was in fever and delirium. Yet the good M. Fabre's presence, as it ever did, gave an air of calm and comfort to the place. Parpon's hands alone cared for the house; he did all that was to be done; no woman had entered the place since Pomfrette's cousin, old Mme. Burgoyne, left it on the day of his shame.
When at last Pomfrette opened his eyes, and saw the Cure standing beside him, he turned his face to the wall, and to the exhortation addressed to him he answered nothing. At last the Cure left him, and came no more; and he bade Parpon do the same as soon as Pomfrette was able to leave his bed.
But Parpon did as he willed. He had been in Pontiac only a few days since the painful business in front of the Louis Quinze. Where he had been and what doing no one asked, for he was mysterious in his movements, and always uncommunicative, and people did not care to tempt his inhospitable tongue. When Pomfrette was so far recovered that he might be left alone, Parpon said to him one evening:
"Pomfrette, you must go to Mass next Sunday."
"I said I wouldn't go till I was carried there, and I mean it—that's so," was the morose reply.
"What made you curse like that—so damnable?" asked Parpon furtively.
"That's my own business. It doesn't matter to anybody but me."
"And you said the Cure lied—the good M'sieu' Fabre—him like a saint."
"I said he lied, and I'd say it again, and tell the truth."
"But if you went to Mass, and took your penance, and—"
"Yes, I know; they'd forgive me, and I'd get absolution, and they'd all speak to me again, and it would be, 'Good-day, Luc,' and 'Very good, Luc,' and 'What a gay heart has Luc, the good fellow!' Ah, I know. They curse in the heart when the whole world go wrong for them; no one hears. I curse out loud. I'm not a hypocrite, and no one thinks me fit to live. Ack, what is the good!"
Parpon did not respond at once. At last, dropping his chin in his hand and his elbow on his knee, as he squatted on the table, he said:
"But if the girl got sorry—"
For a time there was no sound save the whirring of the fire in the stove and the hard breathing of the sick man. His eyes were staring hard at Parpon. At last he said, slowly and fiercely:
"What do you know?"
"What others might know if they had eyes and sense; but they haven't. What would you do if that Junie come back?"
"I would kill her." His look was murderous.
"Bah, you would kiss her first, just the same!"
"What of that? I would kiss her because—because there is no face like hers in the world; and I'd kill her for her bad heart."
"What did she do?" Pomfrette's hands clinched.
"What's in my own noddle, and not for any one else," he answered sulkily.
"Tiens, tiens, what a close mouth! What did she do? Who knows? What you think she do, it's this. You think she pretends to love you, and you leave all your money with her. She is to buy masses for your father's soul; she is to pay money to the Cure for the good of the Church; she is to buy a little here, a little there, for the house you and she are going to live in, the wedding and the dancing over. Very well. Ah, my Pomfrette, what is the end you think? She run away with Dicey the Protestant, and take your money with her. Eh, is that so?"
For answer there came a sob, and then a terrible burst of weeping and anger and passionate denunciations—against Junie Gauloir, against Pontiac, against the world.
Parpon held his peace.
The days, weeks, and months went by; and the months stretched to three years.
In all that time Pomfrette came and went through Pontiac, shunned and unrepentant. His silent, gloomy endurance was almost an affront to Pontiac; and if the wiser ones, the Cure, the Avocat, the Little Chemist, and Medallion, were more sorry than offended, they stood aloof till the man should in some manner redeem himself, and repent of his horrid blasphemy. But one person persistently defied Church and people, Cure and voyageur. Parpon openly and boldly walked with Pomfrette, talked with him, and occasionally visited his house.
Luc made hard shifts to live. He grew everything that he ate, vegetables and grains. Parpon showed him how to make his own flour in primitive fashion, for no miller in any parish near would sell him flour, and he had no money to buy it, nor would any one who knew him give him work. And after his return to Pontiac he never asked for it. His mood was defiant, morbid, stern. His wood he chopped from the common known as No-Man's Land. His clothes he made himself out of the skins of deer that he shot; when his powder and shot gave out, he killed the deer with bow and arrow.
The end came at last. Luc was taken ill. For four days, all alone, he lay burning with fever and inflammation, and when Parpon found him he was almost dead. Then began a fight for life again, in which Parpon was the only physician; for Pomfrette would not allow the Little Chemist or a doctor near him. Parpon at last gave up hope; but one night, when he came back from the village, he saw, to his joy, old Mme. Degardy ("Crazy Joan" she was called) sitting by Pomfrette's bedside. He did not disturb her, for she had no love for him, and he waited till she had gone. When he came into the room again he found Pomfrette in a sweet sleep, and a jug of tincture, with a little tin cup, placed by the bed. Time and again he had sent for Mme. Degardy, but she would not come. She had answered that the dear Luc could go to the devil for all of her; he'd find better company down below than in Pontiac.
But for a whim, perhaps, she had come at last without asking, and as a consequence Luc returned to the world, a mere bundle of bones.
It was still while he was only a bundle of bones that one Sunday morning, Parpon, without a word, lifted him up in his arms and carried him out of the house. Pomfrette did not speak at first: it seemed scarcely worth while; he was so weak he did not care.
"Where are you going?" he said at last, as they came well into the village. The bell in St. Saviour's had stopped ringing for Mass, and the streets were almost empty.
"I'm taking you to Mass," said Parpon, puffing under his load, for Pomfrette made an ungainly burden. "Hand of a little devil, no!" cried Pomfrette, startled. "I said I'd never go to Mass again, and I never will.
"You said you'd never go to Mass till you were carried; so it's all right."
Once or twice Pomfrette struggled, but Parpon held him tight, saying:
"It's no use; you must come; we've had enough. Besides—"
"Besides what?" asked Pomfrette faintly. "Never mind," answered Parpon.
At a word from Parpon the shrivelled old sexton cleared a way through the aisle, making a stir, through which the silver bell at Pomfrette's knee tinkled, in answer, as it were, to the tinkling of the acolyte's bell in the sanctuary. People turned at the sound, women stopped telling their beads, some of the choir forgot their chanting. A strange feeling passed through the church, and reached and startled the Cure as he recited the Mass. He turned round and saw Parpon laying Pomfrette down at the chancel steps. His voice shook a little as he intoned the ritual, and as he raised the sacred elements tears rolled down his cheeks.
From a distant corner of the gallery a deeply veiled woman also looked down at Pomfrette, and her hand trembled on the desk before her.
At last the Cure came forward to the chancel steps. "What is it, Parpon?" he asked gravely.
"It is Luc Pomfrette, M'sieu' le Cure." Pomfrette's eyes were closed.
"He swore that he would never come to Mass again," answered the good priest.
"Till he was carried, M'sieu' le Cure—and I've carried him."
"Did you come of your own free will, and with a repentant heart, Luc Pomfrette?" asked the Cure.
"I did not know I was coming—no." Pomfrette's brown eyes met the priest's unflinchingly.
"You have defied God, and yet He has spared your life."
"I'd rather have died," answered the sick man simply.
"Died, and been cast to perdition!"
"I'm used to that; I've had a bad time here in Pontiac."
His thin hands moved restlessly. His leg moved, and the little bell tinkled—the bell that had been like the bell of a leper these years past.
"But you live, and you have years yet before you, in the providence of God. Luc Pomfrette, you blasphemed against your baptism, and horribly against God himself. Luc"—his voice got softer—"I knew your mother, and she was almost too weak to hold you when you were baptised, for you made a great to-do about coming into the world. She had a face like a saint—so sweet, so patient. You were her only child, and your baptism was more to her than her marriage even, or any other thing in this world. The day after your baptism she died. What do you think were her last words?"
There was a hectic flush on Pomfrette's face, and his eyes were intense and burning as they looked up fixedly at the Cure.
"I can't think any more," answered Pomfrette slowly. "I've no head."
"What she said is for your heart, not for your head, Luc," rejoined the Cure gently. "She wandered in her mind, and at the last she raised herself up in her bed, and lifting her finger like this"—he made the gesture of benediction—" she said, 'Luc Michele, I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.' Then she whispered softly: 'God bless my dear Luc Michee! Holy Mother pray for him!' These were her last words, and I took you from her arms. What have you to say, Luc Michee?"
The woman in the gallery was weeping silently behind her thick veil, and her worn hand clutched the desk in front of her convulsively. Presently she arose and made her way down the stair, almost unnoticed. Two or three times Luc tried to speak, but could not. "Lift me up," he said brokenly, at last.
Parpon and the Little Chemist raised him to his feet, and held him, his shaking hands resting on their shoulders, his lank body tottering above and between them.
Looking at the congregation, he said slowly: "I'll suffer till I die for cursing my baptism, and God will twist my neck in purgatory for—"
"Luc," the Cure interrupted, "say that you repent."
"I'm sorry, and I ask you all to forgive me, and I'll confess to the Cure, and take my penance, and—" he paused, for breathing hurt him.
At that moment the woman in black who had been in the gallery came quickly forward. Parpon saw her, frowned, and waved her back; but she came on. At the chancel steps she raised her veil, and a murmur of recognition and wonder ran through the church. Pomfrette's face was pitiful to see—drawn, staring.
"Junie!" he said hoarsely.
Her eyes were red with weeping, her face was very pale. "M'sieu' le Cure" she said, "you must listen to me"—the Cure's face had become forbidding—"sinner though I am. You want to be just, don't you? Ah, listen! I was to be married to Luc Pomfrette, but I did not love him— then. He had loved me for years, and his father and my father wished it —as you know, M'sieu' le Cure. So after a while I said I would; but I begged him that he wouldn't say anything about it till he come back from his next journey on the river. I did not love him enough—then. He left all his money with me: some to pay for Masses for his father's soul, some to buy things for—for our home; and the rest to keep till he came back."
"Yes, yes," said Pomfrette, his eyes fixed painfully on her face—"yes, yes."
"The day after Luc went away John Dicey the Protestant come to me. I'd always liked him; he could talk as Luc couldn't, and it sounded nice. I listened and listened. He knew about Luc and about the money and all. Then he talked to me. I was all wild in the head, and things went round and round, and oh, how I hated to marry Luc—then! So after he had talked a long while I said yes, I would go with him and marry him— a Protestant—for I loved him. I don't know why or how."
Pomfrette trembled so that Parpon and the Little Chemist made him sit down, and he leaned against their shoulders, while Junie went on:
"I gave him Luc's money to go and give to Parpon here, for I was too ashamed to go myself. And I wrote a little note to Luc, and sent it with the money. I believed in John Dicey, of course. He came back, and said that he had seen Parpon and had done it all right; then we went away to Montreal and got married. The very first day at Montreal, I found out that he had Luc's money. It was awful. I went mad, and he got angry and left me alone, and didn't come back. A week afterwards he was killed, and I didn't know it for a long time. But I began to work, for I wanted to pay back Luc's money. It was very slow, and I worked hard. Will it never be finished, I say. At last Parpon find me, and I tell him all— all except that John Dicey was dead; and I did not know that. I made him promise to tell nobody; but he knows all about my life since then. Then I find out one day that John Dicey is dead, and I get from the gover'ment a hundred dollars of the money he stole. It was found on him when he was killed. I work for six months longer, and now I come back—with Luc's money."
She drew from her pocket a packet of notes, and put it in Luc's hands. He took it dazedly, then dropped it, and the Little Chemist picked it up; he had no prescription like that in his pharmacopoeia.
"That's how I've lived," she said, and she handed a letter to the Cure.
It was from a priest in Montreal, setting forth the history of her career in that city, her repentance for her elopement and the sin of marrying a Protestant, and her good life. She had wished to do her penance in Pontiac, and it remained to M'sieu' le Cure; to set it.
The Cure's face relaxed, and a rare gentleness came into it.
He read the letter aloud. Luc once more struggled to his feet, eagerly listening.
"You did not love Luc?" the Cure asked Junie, meaningly.
"I did not love Luc—then," she answered, a flush going over her face.
"You loved Junie?" the Cure said to Pomfrette. "I could have killed her, but I've always loved her," answered Luc. Then he raised his voice excitedly: "I love her, love her, love her—but what's the good! She'd never 've been happy with me. Look what my love drove her to! What's the good, at all!"
"She said she did not love you then, Luc Michee," said Parpon, interrupting. "Luc Michee, you're a fool as well as a sinner. Speak up, Junie."
"I used to tell him that I didn't love him; I only liked him. I was honest. Well, I am honest still. I love him now."
A sound of joy broke from Luc's lips, and he stretched out his arms to her, but the Cure; stopped that. "Not here," he said. "Your sins must first be considered. For penance—" He paused, looking at the two sad yet happy beings before him. The deep knowledge of life that was in him impelled him to continue gently:
"For penance you shall bear the remembrance of each other's sins. And now to God the Father—" He turned towards the altar, and raised his hands in the ascription.
As he knelt to pray before he entered the pulpit, he heard the tinkling of the little bell of honour at the knee of Luc, as Junie and Parpon helped him from the church.
A SON OF THE WILDERNESS
Rachette told the story to Medallion and the Little Chemist's wife on Sunday after Mass, and because he was vain of his English he forsook his own tongue and paid tribute to the Anglo-Saxon.
"Ah, she was so purty, that Norinne, when she drive through the parishes all twelve days, after the wedding, a dance every night, and her eyes and cheeks on fire all the time. And Bargon, bagosh! that Bargon, he have a pair of shoulders like a wall, and five hunder' dollars and a horse and wagon. Bagosh, I say that time: 'Bargon he have put a belt round the world and buckle it tight to him—all right, ver' good.' I say to him: 'Bargon, what you do when you get ver' rich out on the Souris River in the prairie west?' He laugh and throw up his hands, for he have not many words any kind. And the dam little dwarf Parpon, he say: 'He will have flowers on the table and ice on the butter, and a wheel in his head.'
"And Bargon laugh and say: 'I will have plenty for my friends to eat and drink and a ver' fine time.' "'Good,' we all say-'Bagosh!' So they make the trip through twelve parish, and the fiddles go all the time, and I am what you say 'best man' with Bargon. I go all the time, and Lucette Dargois, she go with me and her brother—holy, what an eye had she in her head, that Lucette! As we go we sing a song all right, and there is no one sing so better as Norinne:
"'C'est la belle Francoise, Allons gai! C'est la belle Francoise, Qui veut se marier, Ma luron lurette! Qui veut se marier, Ma luron lure!'
"Ver' good, bagosh! Norinne and Bargon they go out to the Souris, and Bargon have a hunder' acre, and he put up a house and a shed not ver' big, and he carry his head high and his shoulders like a wall; yes, yes. First year it is pretty good time, and Norinne's cheeks—ah, like an apple they. Bimeby a baby laugh up at Bargon from Norinne's lap. I am on the Souris at a saw-mill then, and on Sunday sometime I go up to see Bargon and Norinne. I t'ink that baby is so dam funny; I laugh and pinch his nose. His name is Marie, and I say I marry him pretty quick some day. We have plenty hot cake, and beans and pork, and a little how-you- are from a jar behin' the door.