"Well, I've done what I thought would help you, and I can't say more than that," Virginie remarked with a sigh, and there was despondency in her eyes. Her face became flushed, her bosom showed agitation; she looked at him as she had done in Maitre Fille's office, and a wave of feeling passed over him now, as it did then, and he remembered, in response to her look, the thrill of his fingers in her palm. His face now flushed also, and he had an impulse to ask her to sit down beside him. He put it away from him, however, for the present, at any rate-who could tell what to-morrow might bring forth!—and then he held out his hand to her. His voice shook a little when he spoke; but it cleared, and began to ring, before he had said a dozen words.
"I'll never forget what you've said and done this morning, Virginie Poucette," he declared; "and if I break the back of the trouble that's in my way, and come out cock o' the walk again"—the gold Cock of Beaugard in the ruins near and the clarion of the bantam of his barnyard were in his mind and ears—"it'll be partly because of you. I hug that thought to me."
"I could do a good deal more than that," she ventured, with a tremulous voice, and then she took her warm hand from his nervous grasp, and turned sharply into the path which led back towards the Manor. She did not turn around, and she walked quickly away.
There was confusion in her eyes and in her mind. It would take some time to make the confusion into order, and she was now hot, now cold, in all her frame, when at last she climbed into her wagon.
This physical unrest imparted itself to all she did that day. First her horses were driven almost at a gallop; then they were held down to a slow walk; then they were stopped altogether, and she sat in the shade of the trees on the road to her home, pondering—whispering to herself and pondering.
As her horses were at a standstill she saw a wagon approaching. Instantly she touched her pair with the whip, and moved on. Before the approaching wagon came alongside, she knew from the grey and the darkbrown horses who was driving them, and she made a strong effort for composure. She succeeded indifferently, but her friend, Mere Langlois, did not notice this fact as her wagon drew near. There was excitement in Mere Langlois' face.
"There's been a shindy at the 'Red Eagle' tavern," she said. "That father-in-law of M'sieu' Jean Jacques and Rocque Valescure, the landlord, they got at each other's throats. Dolores hit Valescure on the head with a bottle."
"He didn't kill Valescure, did he?"
"Not that—no. But Valescure is hurt bad—as bad. It was six to one and half a dozen to the other—both no good at all. But of course they'll arrest the old man—your great friend! He'll not give you any more fur- robes, that's sure. He got away from the tavern, though, and he's hiding somewhere. M'sieu' Jean Jacques can't protect him now; he isn't what he once was in the parish. He's done for, and old Dolores will have to go to trial. They'll make it hot for him when they catch him. No more fur- robes from your Spanish friend, Virginie ! You'll have to look somewhere else for your beaux, though to be sure there are enough that'd be glad to get you with that farm of yours, and your thrifty ways, if you keep your character."
Virginie was quite quiet now. The asperity and suggestiveness of the other's speech produced a cooling effect upon her.
"Better hurry, Mere Langlois, or everybody won't hear your story before sundown. If your throat gets tired, there's Brown's Bronchial Troches—" She pointed to an advertisement on the fence near by. "M. Fille's cook says they cure a rasping throat."
With that shot, Virginie Poucette whipped up her horses and drove on. She did not hear what Mere Langlois called after her, for Mere Langlois had been slow to recover from the unexpected violence dealt by one whom she had always bullied.
"Poor Jean Jacques!" said Virginie Poucette to herself as her horses ate up the ground. "That's another bit of bad luck. He'll not sleep to- night. Ah, the poor Jean Jacques—and all alone—not a hand to hold; no one to rumple that shaggy head of his or pat him on the back! His wife and Ma'm'selle Zoe, they didn't know a good thing when they had it. No, he'll not sleep to-night-ah, my dear Jean Jacques!"
SEBASTIAN DOLORES DOES NOT SLEEP
But Jean Jacques did sleep well that night; though it would have been better for him if he had not done so. The contractor's workmen had arrived in the early afternoon, he had seen the first ton of debris removed from the ruins of the historic mill, and it was crowned by the gold Cock of Beaugard, all grimy with the fire, but jaunty as of yore. The cheerfulness of the workmen, who sang gaily an old chanson of mill- life as they tugged at the timbers and stones, gave a fillip to the spirits of Jean Jacques, to whom had come a red-letter day.
Like Mirza on the high hill of Bagdad he had had his philosophic meditations; his good talk with Virginie Poucette had followed; and the woman of her lingered in the feeling of his hand all day, as something kind and homelike and true. Also in the evening had come M. Fille, who brought him a message from Judge Carcasson, that he must make the world sing for himself again.
Contrary to what Mere Langlois had thought, he had not been perturbed by the parish noise about the savage incident at "The Red Eagle," and the desperate affair which would cause the arrest of his father-in-law. He was at last well inclined to be rid of Sebastian Dolores, who had ceased to be a comfort to him, and who brought him hateful and not kindly memories of his lost women, and the happy hours of the past they represented.
M. Fille had come to the Manor in much alarm, lest the news of the miserable episode at "The Red Eagle" should bring Jean Jacques down again to the depths. He was infinitely relieved, however, to find that the lord of the Manor Cartier seemed only to be grateful that Sebastian Dolores did not return, and nodded emphatically when M. Fille remarked that perhaps it would be just as well if he never did return.
As M. Fille sat with his host at the table in the sunset light, Jean Jacques seemed quieter and steadier of body and mind than he had been for a long, long time. He even drank three glasses of the cordial which Mere Langlois had left for him, with the idea that it might comfort him when he got the bad news about Sebastian Dolores; and parting with M. Fille at the door, he waved a hand and said: "Well, good-night, master of the laws. Safe journey! I'm off to bed, and I'll sleep without rocking, that's very sure and sweet."
He stood and waved his hand several times to M. Fille—till he was out of sight indeed; and the Clerk of the Court smiled to himself long afterwards, recalling Jean Jacques' cheerful face as he had seen it at their parting in the gathering dusk. As for Jean Jacques, when he locked up the house at ten o'clock, with Dolores still absent, he had the air of a man from whose shoulders great weights had fallen.
"Now I've shut the door on him, it'll stay shut," he said firmly. "Let him go back to work. He's no good here to me, to himself, or to anyone. And that business of the fur-robe and Virginie Poucette—ah, that!"
He shook his head angrily, then seeing the bottle of cordial still uncorked on the sideboard, he poured some out and drank it very slowly, till his eyes were on the ceiling above him and every drop had gone home. Presently, with the bedroom lamp in his hand, he went upstairs, humming to himself the chanson the workmen had sung that afternoon as they raised again the walls of the mill:
"Distaff of flax flowing behind her Margatton goes to the mill On the old grey ass she goes, The flour of love it will blind her Ah, the grist the devil will grind her, When Margatton goes to the mill! On the old grey ass she goes, And the old grey ass, he knows!"
He liked the sound of his own voice this night of his Reconstruction Period—or such it seemed to him; and he thought that no one heard his singing save himself. There, however, he was mistaken. Someone was hidden in the house—in the big kitchen-bunk which served as a bed or a seat, as needed. This someone had stolen in while Jean Jacques and M. Fille were at supper. His name was Dolores, and he had a horse just over the hill near by, to serve him when his work was done, and he could get away.
The constables of Vilray had twice visited the Manor to arrest him that day, but they had been led in another direction by a clue which he had provided; and afterwards in the dusk he had doubled back and hid himself under Jean Jacques' roof. He had very important business at the Manor Cartier.
Jean Jacques' voice ceased one song, and then, after a silence, it took up another, not so melodious. Sebastian Dolores had impatiently waited for this later "musicale" to begin—he had heard it often before; and when it was at last a regular succession of nasal explosions, he crawled out and began to do the business which had brought him to the Manor Cartier.
He did it all alone and with much skill; for when he was an anarchist in Spain, those long years ago, he had learned how to use tools with expert understanding. Of late, Spain had been much in his mind. He wanted to go back there. Nostalgia had possessed him ever since he had come again to the Manor Cartier after Zoe had left. He thought much of Spain, and but little of his daughter. Memory of her was only poignant, in so far as it was associated with the days preceding the wreck of the Antoine. He had had far more than enough of the respectable working life of the New World; but there never was sufficient money to take him back to Europe, even were it safe to go. Of late, however, he felt sure that he might venture, if he could only get cash for the journey. He wanted to drift back to the idleness and adventure and the "easy money" of the old anarchist days in Cadiz and Madrid. He was sick for the patio and the plaza, for the bull-fight, for the siesta in the sun, for the lazy glamour of the gardens and the red wine of Valladolid, for the redolent cigarette of the roadside tavern. This cold iron land had spoiled him, and he would strive to get himself home again before it was too late. In Spain there would always be some woman whom he could cajole; some comrade whom he could betray; some priest whom he could deceive, whose pocket he could empty by the recital of his troubles. But if, peradventure, he returned to Spain with money to spare in his pocket, how easy indeed it would all be, and how happy he would find himself amid old surroundings and old friends!
The way had suddenly opened up to him when Jean Jacques had brought home in hard cash, and had locked away in the iron-doored cupboard in the officewall, his last, his cherished, eight thousand dollars. Six thousand of that eight were still left, and it was concern for this six thousand which had brought Dolores to the Manor this night when Jean Jacques snored so loudly. The events of the day at "The Red Eagle" had brought things to a crisis in the affairs of Carmen's father. It was a foolish business that at the tavern—so, at any rate, he thought, when it was all over, and he was awake to the fact that he must fly or go to jail. From the time he had, with a bottle of gin, laid Valescure low, Spain was the word which went ringing through his head, and the way to Spain was by the Six Thousand Dollar Route, the New World terminal of which was the cupboard in the wall at the Manor Cartier.
Little cared Sebastian Dolores that the theft of the money would mean the end of all things for Jean Jacques Barbille-for his own daughter's husband. He was thinking of himself, as he had always done.
He worked for two whole hours before he succeeded in quietly forcing open the iron door in the wall; but it was done at last. Curiously enough, Jean Jacques' snoring stopped on the instant that Sebastian Dolores' fingers clutched the money; but it began cheerfully again when the door in the wall closed once more.
Five minutes after Dolores had thrust the six thousand dollars into his pocket, his horse was galloping away over the hills towards the River St. Lawrence. If he had luck, he would reach it by the morning. As it happened, he had the luck. Behind him, in the Manor Cartier, the man who had had no luck and much philosophy, snored on till morning in unconscious content.
It was a whole day before Jean Jacques discovered his loss. When he had finished his lonely supper the next evening, he went to the cupboard in his office to cheer himself with the sight of the six thousand dollars. He felt that he must revive his spirits. They had been drooping all day, he knew not why.
When he saw the empty pigeon-hole in the cupboard, his sight swam. It was some time before it cleared, but, when it did, and he knew beyond peradventure the crushing, everlasting truth, not a sound escaped him. His heart stood still. His face filled with a panic confusion. He seemed like one bereft of understanding.
"AU 'VOIR, M'SIEU' JEAN JACQUES"
It is seldom that Justice travels as swiftly as Crime, and it is also seldom that the luck is more with the law than with the criminal. It took the parish of St. Saviour's so long to make up its mind who stole Jean Jacques' six thousand dollars, that when the hounds got the scent at last the quarry had reached the water—in other words, Sebastian Dolores had achieved the St. Lawrence. The criminal had had near a day's start before a telegram was sent to the police at Montreal, Quebec, and other places to look out for the picaroon who had left his mark on the parish of St. Saviour's. The telegram would not even then have been sent had it not been for M. Fille, who, suspecting Sebastian Dolores, still refrained from instant action. This he did because he thought Jean Jacques would not wish his beloved Zoe's grandfather sent to prison. But when other people at last declared that it must have been Dolores, M. Fille insisted on telegrams being sent by the magistrate at Vilray without Jean Jacques' consent. He had even urged the magistrate to "rush" the wire, because it came home to him with stunning force that, if the money was not recovered, Jean Jacques would be a beggar. It was better to jail the father-in-law, than for the little money-master to take to the road a pauper, or stay on at St. Saviour's as an underling where he had been overlord.
As for Jean Jacques, in his heart of hearts he knew who had robbed him. He realized that it was one of the radii of the comedy-tragedy which began on the Antoine, so many years before; and it had settled in his mind at last that Sebastian Dolores was but part of the dark machinery of fate, and that what was now had to be.
For one whole day after the robbery he was like a man paralysed— dispossessed of active being; but when his creditors began to swarm, when M. Mornay sent his man of business down to foreclose his mortgages before others could take action, Jean Jacques waked from his apathy. He began an imitation of his old restlessness, and made essay again to pull the strings of his affairs. They were, however, so confused that a pull at one string tangled them all.
When the constables and others came to him, and said that they were on the trail of the robber, and that the rogue would be caught, he nodded his head encouragingly; but he was sure in his own mind that the flight of Dolores would be as successful as that of Carmen and Zoe.
This is the way he put it: "That man—we will just miss finding him, as I missed Zoe at the railroad junction when she went away, as I missed catching Carmen at St. Chrisanthine. When you are at the shore, he will be on the river; when you are getting into the train, he will be getting out. It is the custom of the family. At Bordeaux, the Spanish detectives were on the shore gnashing their teeth, when he was a hundred yards away at sea on the Antoine. They missed him like that; and we'll miss him too. What is the good! It was not his fault—that was the way of his bringing up beyond there at Cadiz, where they think more of a toreador than of John the Baptist. It was my fault. I ought to have banked the money. I ought not to have kept it to look at like a gamin with his marbles. There it was in the wall; and there was Dolores a long way from home and wanting to get back. He found the way by a gift of the tools; and I wish I had the same gift now; for I've got no other gift that'll earn anything for me."
These were the last dark or pessimistic words spoken at St. Saviour's by Jean Jacques; and they were said to the Clerk of the Court, who could not deny the truth of them; but he wrung the hand of Jean Jacques nevertheless, and would not leave him night or day. M. Fille was like a little cruiser protecting a fort when gunboats swarm near, not daring to attack till their battleship heaves in sight. The battleship was the Big Financier, who saw that a wreck was now inevitable, and was only concerned that there should be a fair distribution of the assets. That meant, of course, that he should be served first, and then that those below the salt should get a share.
Revelation after revelation had been Jean Jacques' lot of late years, but the final revelation of his own impotence was overwhelming. When he began to stir about among his affairs, he was faced by the fact that the law stood in his way. He realized with inward horror his shattered egotism and natural vanity; he saw that he might just as well be in jail; that he had no freedom; that he could do nothing at all in regard to anything he owned; that he was, in effect, a prisoner of war where he had been the general commanding an army.
Yet the old pride intervened, and it was associated with some innate nobility; for from the hour in which it was known that Sebastian Dolores had escaped in a steamer bound for France, and could not be overhauled, and the chances were that he would never have to yield up the six thousand dollars, Jean Jacques bustled about cheerfully, and as though he had still great affairs of business to order and regulate. It was a make-believe which few treated with scorn. Even the workmen at the mill humoured him, as he came several times every day to inspect the work of rebuilding; and they took his orders, though they did not carry them out. No one really carried out any of his orders except Seraphe Corniche, who, weeping from morning till night, protested that there never was so good a man as M'sieu' Jean Jacques; and she cooked his favourite dishes, giving him no peace until he had eaten them.
The days, the weeks went on, with Jean Jacques growing thinner and thinner, but going about with his head up like the gold Cock of Beaugard, and even crowing now and then, as he had done of yore. He faced the inevitable with something of his old smiling volubility; treating nothing of his disaster as though it really existed; signing off this asset and that; disposing of this thing and that; stripping himself bare of all the properties on his life's stage, in such a manner as might have been his had he been receiving gifts and not yielding up all he owned. He chatted as his belongings were, figuratively speaking, being carried away—as though they were mechanical, formal things to be done as he had done them every day of a fairly long life; as a clerk would check off the boxes or parcels carried past him by the porters. M. Fille could hardly bear to see him in this mood, and the New Cure hovered round him with a mournful and harmlessly deceptive kindness. But the end had to come, and practically all the parish was present when it came. That was on the day when the contents of the Manor were sold at auction by order of the Court. One thing Jean Jacques refused absolutely and irrevocably to do from the first—refused it at last in anger and even with an oath: he would not go through the Bankruptcy Court. No persuasion had any effect. The very suggestion seemed to smirch his honour. His lawyer pleaded with him, said he would be able to save something out of the wreck, and that his creditors would be willing that he should take advantage of the privileges of that court; but he only said in reply:
"Thank you, thank you altogether, monsieur, but it is impossible—'non possumus, non possumus, my son,' as the Pope said to Bonaparte. I owe and I will pay what I can; and what I can't pay now I will try to pay in the future, by the cent, by the dollar, till all is paid to the last copper. It is the way with the Barbilles. They have paid their way and their debts in honour, and it is in the bond with all the Barbilles of the past that I do as they do. If I can't do it, then that I have tried to do it will be endorsed on the foot of the bill."
No one could move him, not even Judge Carcasson, who from his armchair in Montreal wrote a feeble-handed letter begging him to believe that it was "well within his rights as a gentleman"—this he put in at the request of M. Mornay—to take advantage of the privileges of the Bankruptcy Court. Even then Jean Jacques had only a few moments' hesitation. What the Judge said made a deep impression; but he had determined to drink the cup of his misfortune to the dregs. He was set upon complete renunciation; on going forth like a pilgrim from the place of his troubles and sorrows, taking no gifts, no mercies save those which heaven accorded him.
When the day of the auction came everything went. Even his best suit of clothes was sold to a blacksmith, while his fur-coat was bought by a horse-doctor for fifteen dollars. Things that had been part of his life for a generation found their way into hands where he would least have wished them to go—of those who had been envious of him, who had cheated or deceived him, of people with whom he had had nothing in common. The red wagon and the pair of little longtailed stallions, which he had driven for six years, were bought by the owner of a rival flour-mill in the parish of Vilray; but his best sleigh, with its coon-skin robes, was bought by the widow of Palass Poucette, who bought also the famous bearskin which Dolores had given her at Jean Jacques' expense, and had been returned by her to its proper owner. The silver fruitdish, once (it was said) the property of the Baron of Beaugard, which each generation of Barbilles had displayed with as much ceremony as though it was a chalice given by the Pope, went to Virginie Poucette. Virginie also bought the furniture from Zoe's bedroom as it stood, together with the little upright piano on which she used to play. The Cure bought Jean Jacques' writing-desk, and M. Fille purchased his armchair, in which had sat at least six Barbilles as owners of the Manor. The beaver-hat which Jean Jacques wore on state occasions, as his grandfather had done, together with the bonnet rouge of the habitant, donned by him in his younger days —they fell to the nod of Mere Langlois, who declared that, as she was a cousin, she would keep the things in the family. Mere Langlois would have bought the fruit-dish also if she could have afforded to bid against Virginie Poucette; but the latter would have had the dish if it had cost her two hundred dollars. The only time she had broken bread in Jean Jacques' house, she had eaten cake from this fruit-dish; and to her, as to the parish generally, the dish so beautifully shaped, with its graceful depth and its fine-chased handles, was symbol of the social caste of the Barbilles, as the gold Cock of Beaugard was sign of their civic and commercial glory.
Jean Jacques, who had moved about all day with an almost voluble affability, seeming not to realize the tragedy going on, or, if he realized it, rising superior to it, was noticed to stand still suddenly when the auctioneer put up the fruit-dish for sale. Then the smile left his face, and the reddish glow in his eyes, which had been there since the burning of the mill, fled, and a touch of amazement and confusion took its place. All in a moment he was like a fluttered dweller of the wilds to whom comes some tremor of danger.
His mouth opened as though he would forbid the selling of the heirloom; but it closed again, because he knew he had no right to withhold it from the hammer; and he took on a look like that which comes to the eyes of a child when it faces humiliating denial. Quickly as it came, however, it vanished, for he remembered that he could buy the dish himself. He could buy it himself and keep it. . . . Yet what could he do with it? Even so, he could keep it. It could still be his till better days came.
The auctioneer's voice told off the value of the fruitdish—"As an heirloom, as an antique; as a piece of workmanship impossible of duplication in these days of no handicraft; as good pure silver, bearing the head of Louis Quinze—beautiful, marvellous, historic, honourable," and Jean Jacques made ready to bid. Then he remembered he had no money— he who all his life had been able to take a roll of bills from his pocket as another man took a packet of letters. His glance fell in shame, and the words died on his lips, even as M. Manotel, the auctioneer, was about to add another five-dollar bid to the price, which already was standing at forty dollars.
It was at this moment Jean Jacques heard a woman's voice bidding, then two women's voices. Looking up he saw that one of the women was Mere Langlois and the other was Virginie Poucette, who had made the first bid. For a moment they contended, and then Mere Langlois fell out of the contest, and Virginie continued it with an ambitious farmer from the next county, who was about to become a Member of Parliament. Presently the owner of a river pleasure-steamer entered into the costly emulation also, but he soon fell away; and Virginie Poucette stubbornly raised the bidding by five dollars each time, till the silver symbol of the Barbilles' pride had reached one hundred dollars. Then she raised the price by ten dollars, and her rival, seeing that he was face to face with a woman who would now bid till her last dollar was at stake, withdrew; and Virginie was left triumphant with the heirloom.
At the moment when Virginie turned away with the handsome dish from M. Manotel, and the crowd cheered her gaily, she caught Jean-Jacques' eye, and she came straight towards him. She wanted to give the dish to him then and there; but she knew that this would provide annoying gossip for many a day, and besides, she thought he would refuse. More than that, she had in her mind another alternative which might in the end secure the heirloom to him, in spite of all. As she passed him, she said:
"At least we keep it in the parish. If you don't have it, well, then..."
She paused, for she did not quite know what to say unless she spoke what was really in her mind, and she dared not do that.
"But you ought to have an heirloom," she added, leaving unsaid what was her real thought and hope. With sudden inspiration, for he saw she was trying to make it easy for him, he drew the great silver-watch from his pocket, which the head of the Barbilles had worn for generations, and said:
"I have the only heirloom I could carry about with me. It will keep time for me as long as I'll last. The Manor clock strikes the time for the world, and this watch is set by the Manor clock."
"Well said—well and truly said, M'sieu' Jean Jacques," remarked the lean watchmaker and so-called jeweller of Vilray, who stood near. "It is a watch which couldn't miss the stroke of Judgment Day."
It was at that moment, in the sunset hour, when the sale had drawn to a close, and the people had begun to disperse, that the avocat of Vilray who represented the Big Financier came to Jean Jacques and said:
"M'sieu', I have to say that there is due to you three hundred and fifty dollars from the settlement, excluding this sale, which will just do what was expected of it. I am instructed to give it to you from the creditors. Here it is."
He took out a roll of bills and offered it to Jean Jacques.
"What creditors?" asked Jean Jacques.
"All the creditors," responded the other, and he produced a receipt for Jean Jacques to sign. "A formal statement will be sent you, and if there is any more due to you, it will be added then. But now—well, there it is, the creditors think there is no reason for you to wait."
Jean Jacques did not yet take the roll of bills. "They come from M. Mornay?" he asked with an air of resistance, for he did not wish to be under further obligations to the man who would lose most by him.
The lawyer was prepared. M. Mornay had foreseen the timidity and sensitiveness of Jean Jacques, had anticipated his mistaken chivalry—for how could a man decline to take advantage of the Bankruptcy Court unless he was another Don Quixote! He had therefore arranged with all the creditors for them to take responsibility with 'himself, though he provided the cash which manipulated this settlement.
"No, M'sieu' Jean Jacques," the lawyer replied, this comes from all the creditors, as the sum due to you from all the transactions, so far as can be seen as yet. Further adjustment may be necessary, but this is the interim settlement."
Jean Jacques was far from being ignorant of business, but so bemused was his judgment and his intelligence now, that he did not see there was no balance which could possibly be his, since his liabilities vastly exceeded his assets. Yet with a wave of the hand he accepted the roll of bills, and signed the receipt with an air which said, "These forms must be observed, I suppose."
What he would have done if the three hundred and fifty dollars had not been given him, it would be hard to say, for with gentle asperity he had declined a loan from his friend M. Fille, and he had but one silver dollar in his pocket, or in the world. Indeed, Jean Jacques was living in a dream in these dark days—a dream of renunciation and sacrifice, and in the spirit of one who gives up all to some great cause. He was not yet even face to face with the fulness of his disaster. Only at moments had the real significance of it all come to him, and then he had shivered as before some terror menacing his path. Also, as M. Mornay had said, his philosophy was now in his bones and marrow rather than in his words. It had, after all, tinctured his blood and impregnated his mind. He had babbled and been the egotist, and played cock o' the walk; and now at last his philosophy was giving some foundation for his feet. Yet at this auction-sale he looked a distracted, if smiling, whimsical, rather bustling figure of misfortune, with a tragic air of exile, of isolation from all by which he was surrounded. A profound and wayworn loneliness showed in his figure, in his face, in his eyes.
The crowd thinned in time, and yet very many lingered to see the last of this drama of lost fortunes. A few of the riff-raff, who invariably attend these public scenes, were now rather the worse for drink, from the indifferent liquor provided by the auctioneer, and they were inclined to horseplay and coarse chaff. More than one ribald reference to Jean Jacques had been checked by his chivalrous fellow-citizens; indeed, M. Fille had almost laid himself open to a charge of assault in his own court by raising his stick at a loafer, who made insulting references to Jean Jacques. But as the sale drew to a close, an air of rollicking humour among the younger men would not be suppressed, and it looked as though Jean Jacques' exit would be attended by the elements of farce and satire.
In this world, however, things do not happen logically, and Jean Jacques made his exit in a wholly unexpected manner. He was going away by the train which left a new railway junction a few miles off, having gently yet firmly declined M. Fille's invitation, and also the invitations of others—including the Cure and Mere Langlois—to spend the night with them and start off the next day. He elected to go on to Montreal that very night, and before the sale was quite finished he prepared to start. His carpet-bag containing a few clothes and necessaries had been sent on to the junction, and he meant to walk to the station in the cool of the evening.
M. Manotel, the auctioneer, hoarse with his heavy day's work, was announcing that there were only a few more things to sell, and no doubt they could be had at a bargain, when Jean Jacques began a tour of the Manor. There was something inexpressibly mournful in this lonely pilgrimage of the dismantled mansion. Yet there was no show of cheap emotion by Jean Jacques; and a wave of the hand prevented any one from following him in his dry-eyed progress to say farewell to these haunts of childhood, manhood, family, and home. There was a strange numbness in his mind and body, and he had a feeling that he moved immense and reflective among material things. Only tragedy can produce that feeling. Happiness makes the universe infinite and stupendous, despair makes it small and even trivial.
It was when he had reached the little office where he had done the business of his life—a kind of neutral place where he had ever isolated himself from the domestic scene—that the final sensation, save one, of his existence at the Manor came to him. Virginie Poucette had divined his purpose when he began the tour of the house, and going by a roundabout way, she had placed herself where she could speak with him alone before he left the place for ever—if that was to be. She was not sure that his exit was really inevitable—not yet.
When Jean Jacques saw Virginie standing beside the table in his office where he lead worked over so many years, now marked Sold, and waiting to be taken away by its new owner, he started and drew back, but she held out her hand and said:
"But one word, M'sieu' Jean Jacques; only one word from a friend—indeed a friend."
"A friend of friends," he answered, still in abstraction, his eyes having that burnished light which belonged to the night of the fire; but yet realizing that she was a sympathetic soul who had offered to lend him money without security.
"Oh, indeed yes, as good a friend as you can ever have!" she added.
Something had waked the bigger part of her, which had never been awake in the days of Palass Poucette. Jean Jacques was much older than she, but what she felt had nothing to do with age, or place or station. It had only to do with understanding, with the call of nature and of a motherhood crying for expression. Her heart ached for him.
"Well, good-bye, my friend," he said, and held out his hand. "I must be going now."
"Wait," she said, and there was something insistent and yet pleading in her voice. "I've got something to say. You must hear it. . . . Why should you go? There is my farm—it needs to be worked right. It has got good chances. It has water-power and wood and the best flax in the province—they want to start a flax-mill on it—I've had letters from big men in Montreal. Well, why shouldn't you do it instead? There it is, the farm, and there am I a woman alone. I need help. I've got no head. I have to work at a sum of figures all night to get it straight. . . . Ah, m'sieu', it is a need both sides! You want someone to look after you; you want a chance again to do things; but you want someone to look after you, and it is all waiting there on the farm. Palass Poucette left behind him seven sound horses, and cows and sheep, and a threshing- machine and a fanning-mill, and no debts, and two thousand dollars in the bank. You will never do anything away from here. You must stay here, where—where I can look after you, Jean Jacques."
The light in his eyes flamed up, died down, flamed up again, and presently it covered all his face, as he grasped what she meant.
"Wonder of God, do you forget?" he asked. "I am married—married still, Virginie Poucette. There is no divorce in the Catholic Church—no, none at all. It is for ever and ever."
"I said nothing about marriage," she said bravely, though her face suffused.
"Hand of Heaven, what do you mean? You mean to say you would do that for me in spite of the Cure and—and everybody and everything?"
"You ought to be taken care of," she protested. "You ought to have your chance again. No one here is free to do it all but me. You are alone. Your wife that was—maybe she is dead. I am alone, and I'm not afraid of what the good God will say. I will settle with Him myself. Well, then, do you think I'd care what—what Mere Langlois or the rest of the world would say? . . . I can't bear to think of you going away with nothing, with nobody, when here is something and somebody—somebody who would be good to you. Everybody knows that you've been badly used— everybody. I'm young enough to make things bright and warm in your life, and the place is big enough for two, even if it isn't the Manor Cartier."
"Figure de Christ, do you think I'd let you do it—me?" declared Jean Jacques, with lips trembling now and his shoulders heaving. Misfortune and pain and penalty he could stand, but sacrifice like this and—and whatever else it was, were too much for him. They brought him back to the dusty road and everyday life again; they subtracted him from his big dream, in which he had been detached from the details of his catastrophe.
"No, no, no," he added. "You go look another way, Virginie. Turn your face to the young spring, not to the dead winter. To-morrow I'll be gone to find what I've got to find. I've finished here, but there's many a good man waiting for you—men who'll bring you something worth while besides themselves. Make no mistake, I've finished. I've done my term of life. I'm only out on ticket-of-leave now—but there, enough, I shall always want to think of you. I wish I had something to give you—but yes, here is something." He drew from his pocket a silver napkin-ring. "I've had that since I was five years old. My uncle Stefan gave it to me. I've always used it. I don't know why I put it in my pocket this morning, but I did. Take it. It's more than money. It's got something of Jean Jacques about it. You've got the Barbille fruit-dish-that is a thing I'll remember. I'm glad you've got it, and—"
"I meant we should both eat from it," she said helplessly.
"It would cost too much to eat from it with you, Virginie—"
He stopped short, choked, then his face cleared, and his eyes became steady.
"Well then, good-bye, Virginie," he said, holding out his hand.
"You don't think I'd say to any other living man what I've said to you?" she asked.
He nodded understandingly. "That's the best part of it. It was for me of all the world," he answered. "When I look back, I'll see the light in your window—the light you lit for the lost one—for Jean Jacques Barbille."
Suddenly, with eyes that did not see and hands held out before him, he turned, felt for the door and left the room.
She leaned helplessly against the table. "The poor Jean Jacques—the poor Jean Jacques!" she murmured. "Cure or no Cure, I'd have done it," she declared, with a ring to her voice. "Ah, but Jean Jacques, come with me!" she added with a hungry and compassionate gesture, speaking into space. "I could make life worth while for us both."
A moment later Virginie was outside, watching the last act in the career of Jean Jacques in the parish of St. Saviour's.
This was what she saw.
The auctioneer was holding up a bird-cage containing a canary-Carmen's bird-cage, and Zoe's canary which had remained to be a vocal memory of her in her old home.
"Here," said the rhetorical, inflammable auctioneer, "here is the choicest lot left to the last. I put it away in the bakery, meaning to sell it at noon, when everybody was eating-food for the soul and food for the body. I forgot it. But here it is, worth anything you like to anybody that loves the beautiful, the good, and the harmonious. What do I hear for this lovely saffron singer from the Elysian fields? What did the immortal poet of France say of the bird in his garret, in 'L'Oiseau de Mon Crenier'? What did he say:
'Sing me a song of the bygone hour, A song of the stream and the sun; Sing of my love in her bosky bower, When my heart it was twenty-one.'
"Come now, who will renew his age or regale her youth with the divine notes of nature's minstrel? Who will make me an offer for this vestal virgin of song—the joy of the morning and the benediction of the evening? What do I hear? The best of the wine to the last of the feast! What do I hear?—five dollars—seven dollars—nine dollars—going at nine dollars—ten dollars—Well, ladies and gentlemen, the bird can sing—ah, voila !"
He stopped short for a moment, for as the evening sun swept its veil of rainbow radiance over the scene, the bird began to sing. Its little throat swelled, it chirruped, it trilled, it called, it soared, it lost itself in a flood of ecstasy. In the applausive silence, the emotional recess of the sale, as it were, the man to whom the bird and the song meant most, pushed his way up to the stand where M. Manotel stood. When the people saw who it was, they fell back, for there was that in his face which needed no interpretation. It filled them with a kind of awe.
He reached up a brown, eager, affectionate hand—it had always been that —fat and small, but rather fine and certainly emotional, though not material or sensual.
"Go on with your bidding," he said.
He was going to buy the thing which had belonged to his daughter, was beloved by her—the living oracle of the morning, the muezzin of his mosque of home. It had been to the girl who had gone as another such a bird had been to the mother of the girl, the voice that sang, "Praise God," in the short summer of that bygone happiness of his. Even this cage and its homebird were not his; they belonged to the creditors.
"Go on. I buy—I bid," Jean Jacques said in a voice that rang. It had no blur of emotion. It had resonance. The hammer that struck the bell of his voice was the hammer of memory, and if it was plaintive it also was clear, and it was also vibrant with the silver of lost hopes.
M. Manotel humoured him, while the bird still sang. "Four dollars—five dollars: do I hear no more than five dollars?—going once, going twice, going three times—gone!" he cried, for no one had made a further bid; and indeed M. Manotel would not have heard another voice than Jean Jacques' if it had been as loud as the falls of the Saguenay. He was a kind of poet in his way, was M. Manotel. He had been married four times, and he would be married again if he had the chance; also he wrote verses for tombstones in the churchyard at St. Saviour's, and couplets for fetes and weddings.
He handed the cage to Jean Jacques, who put it down on the ground at his feet, and in an instant had handed up five dollars for one of the idols of his own altar. Anyone else than M. Manotel, or perhaps M. Fille or the New Cure, would have hesitated to take the five dollars, or, if they had done so, would have handed it back; but they had souls to understand this Jean Jacques, and they would not deny him his insistent independence. And so, in a moment, he was making his way out of the crowd with the cage in his hand, the bird silent now.
As he went, some one touched his arm and slipped a book into his hand. It was M. Fille, and the book was his little compendium of philosophy which his friend had retrieved from his bedroom in the early morning.
"You weren't going to forget it, Jean Jacques?" M. Fille said reproachfully. "It is an old friend. It would not be happy with any one else."
Jean Jacques looked M. Fille in the eyes. "Moi—je suis philosophe," he said without any of the old insistence and pride and egotism, but as one would make an affirmation or repeat a creed.
"Yes, yes, to be sure, always, as of old," answered M. Fille firmly; for, from that formula might come strength, when it was most needed, in a sense other and deeper far than it had been or was now. "You will remember that you will always know where to find us—eh?" added the little Clerk of the Court.
The going of Jean Jacques was inevitable; all persuasion had failed to induce him to stay—even that of Virginie; and M. Fille now treated it as though it was the beginning of a new career for Jean Jacques, whatever that career might be. It might be he would come back some day, but not to things as they were, not ever again, nor as the same man.
"You will move on with the world outside there," continued M. Fille, "but we shall be turning on the same swivel here always; and whenever you come—there, you understand. With us it is semper fidelis, always the same."
Jean Jacques looked at M. Fille again as though to ask him a question, but presently he shook his head in negation to his thought.
"Well, good-bye," he said cheerfully—"A la bonne heure!"
By that M. Fille knew that Jean Jacques did not wish for company as he went—not even the company of his old friend who had loved the bright whimsical emotional Zoe; who had hovered around his life like a protecting spirit.
"A bi'tot," responded M. Fille, declining upon the homely patois.
But as Jean Jacques walked away with his little book of philosophy in his pocket, and the bird-cage in his hand, someone sobbed. M. Fille turned and saw. It was Virginie Poucette. Fortunately for Virginie other women did the same, not for the same reason, but out of a sympathy which was part of the scene.
It had been the intention of some friends of Jean Jacques to give him a cheer when he left, and even his sullen local creditors, now that the worst had come, were disposed to give him a good send-off; but the incident of the canary in its cage gave a turn to the feeling of the crowd which could not be resisted. They were not a people who could cut and dry their sentiments; they were all impulse and simplicity, with an obvious cocksure shrewdness too, like that of Jean Jacques—of the old Jean Jacques. He had been the epitome of all their faults and all their virtues.
No one cheered. Only one person called, "Au 'voir, M'sieu' Jean Jacques!" and no one followed him—a curious, assertive, feebly-brisk, shock-headed figure in the brown velveteen jacket, which he had bought in Paris on his Grand Tour.
"What a ridiculous little man!" said a woman from Chalfonte over the water, who had been buying freely all day for her new "Manor," her husband being a member of the provincial legislature.
The words were no sooner out of her mouth than two women faced her threateningly.
"For two pins I'd slap your face," said old Mere Langlois, her great breast heaving. "Popinjay—you, that ought to be in a cage like his canary."
But Virginie Poucette also was there in front of the offender, and she also had come from Chalfonte—was born in that parish; and she knew what she was facing.
"Better carry a bird-cage and a book than carry swill to swine," she said; and madame from Chalfonte turned white, for it had been said that her father was once a swine-herd, and that she had tried her best to forget it when, with her coarse beauty, she married the well-to-do farmer who was now in the legislature.
"Hold your tongues, all of you, and look at that," said M. Manotel, who had joined the agitated group. He was pointing towards the departing Jean Jacques, who was now away upon his road.
Jean Jacques had raised the cage on a level with his face, and was evidently speaking to the bird in the way birds love—that soft kissing sound to which they reply with song.
Presently there came a chirp or two, and then the bird thrust up its head, and out came the full blessedness of its song, exultant, home-like, intimate.
Jean Jacques walked on, the bird singing by his side; and he did not look back.
IF SHE HAD KNOWN IN TIME
Nothing stops when we stop for a time, or for all time, except ourselves. Everything else goes on—not in the same way; but it does go on. Life did not stop at St. Saviour's after Jean Jacques made his exit. Slowly the ruined mill rose up again, and very slowly indeed the widow of Palass Poucette recovered her spirits, though she remained a widow in spite of all appeals; but M. Fille and his sister never were the same after they lost their friend. They had great comfort in the dog which Jean Jacques had given to them, and they roused themselves to a malicious pleasure when Bobon, as he had been called by Zoe, rushed out at the heels of an importunate local creditor who had greatly worried Jean Jacques at the last. They waited in vain for a letter from Jean Jacques, but none came; nor did they hear anything from him, or of him, for a long, long time.
Jean Jacques did not mean that they should. When he went away with his book of philosophy and his canary he had but one thing in his mind, and that was to find Zoe and make her understand that he knew he had been in the wrong. He had illusions about starting life again, in which he probably did not believe; but the make-believe was good for him. Long before the crash came, in Zoe's name—not his own—he had bought from the Government three hundred and twenty acres of land out near the Rockies and had spent five hundred dollars in improvements on it.
There it was in the West, one remaining asset still his own—or rather Zoe's—but worth little if he or she did not develop it. As he left St. Saviour's, however, he kept fixing his mind on that "last domain," as he called it to himself. If this was done intentionally, that he might be saved from distraction and despair, it was well done; if it was a real illusion—the old self-deception which had been his bane so often in the past—it still could only do him good at the present. It prevented him from noticing the attention he attracted on the railway journey from St. Saviour's to Montreal, cherishing his canary and his book as he went.
He was not so self-conscious now as in the days when he was surprised that Paris did not stop to say, "Bless us, here is that fine fellow, Jean Jacques Barbille of St. Saviour's!" He could concentrate himself more now on things that did not concern the impression he was making on the world. At present he could only think of Zoe and of her future.
When a patronizing and aggressive commercial traveller in the little hotel on a side-street where he had taken a room in Montreal said to him, "Bien, mon vieux" (which is to say, "Well, old cock"), "aren't you a long way from home?" something of a new dignity came into Jean Jacques' bearing, very different from the assurance of the old days, and in reply he said:
"Not so far that I need be careless about my company." This made the landlady of the little hotel laugh quite hard, for she did not like the braggart "drummer" who had treated her with great condescension for a number of years. Also Madame Glozel liked Jean Jacques because of his canary. She thought there must be some sentimental reason for a man of fifty or more carrying a bird about with him; and she did not rest until she had drawn from Jean Jacques that he was taking the bird to his daughter in the West. There, however, madame was stayed in her search for information. Jean Jacques closed up, and did but smile when she adroitly set traps for him, and at last asked him outright where his daughter was.
Why he waited in Montreal it would be hard to say, save that it was a kind of middle place between the old life and the new, and also because he must decide what was to be his plan of search. First the West—first Winnipeg, but where after that? He had at last secured information of where Zoe and Gerard Fynes had stayed while in Montreal; and now he followed clues which would bring him in touch with folk who knew them. He came to know one or two people who were with Zoe and Gerard in the last days they spent in the metropolis, and he turned over and over in his mind every word said about his girl, as a child turns a sweetmeat in its mouth. This made him eager to be off; but on the very day he decided to start at once for the West, something strange happened.
It was towards the late afternoon of a Saturday, when the streets were full of people going to and from the shops in a marketing quarter, that Madame Glozel came to him and said:
"M'sieu', I have an idea, and you will not think it strange, for you have a kind heart. There is a woman—look you, it is a sad, sad story hers. She is ill and dying in a room a little way down the street. But yes, I am sure she is dying—of heart disease it is. She came here first when the illness took her, but she could not afford to stay. She went to those cheaper lodgings down the street. She used to be on the stage over in the States, and then she came back here, and there was a man— married to him or not I do not know, and I will not think. Well, the man—the brute—he left her when she got ill—but yes, forsook her absolutely! He was a land-agent or something like that, and all very fine to your face, to promise and to pretend—just make-believe. When her sickness got worse, off he went with 'Au revoir, my dear—I will be back to supper.' Supper! If she'd waited for her supper till he came back, she'd have waited as long as I've done for the fortune the gipsy promised me forty years ago. Away he went, the rogue, without a thought of her, and with another woman. That's what hurt her most of all. Straight from her that could hardly drag herself about—ah, yes, and has been as handsome a woman as ever was!—straight from her he went to a slut. She was a slut, m'sieu'—did I not know her? Did Ma'm'selle Slut not wait at table in this house and lead the men a dance here night and day-day and night till I found it out! Well, off he went with the slut, and left the lady behind. . . . You men, you treat women so."
Jean Jacques put out a hand as though to argue with her. "Sometimes it is the other way," he retorted. "Most of us have seen it like that."
"Well, for sure, you're right enough there, m'sieu'," was the response. "I've got nothing to say to that, except that it's a man that runs away with a woman, or that gets her to leave her husband when she does go. There's always a man that says, 'Come along, I'm the better chap for you.'"
Jean Jacques wearily turned his head away towards the cage where his canary was beginning to pipe its evening lay.
"It all comes to the same thing in the end," he said pensively; and then he who had been so quiet since he came to the little hotel—Glozel's, it was called—began to move about the room excitedly, running his fingers through his still bushy hair, which, to his credit, was always as clean as could be, burnished and shiny even at his mid-century period. He began murmuring to himself, and a frown settled on his fore head. Mme. Glozel saw that she had perturbed him, and that no doubt she had roused some memories which made sombre the sunny little room where the canary sang; where, to ravish the eyes of the pessimist, was a picture of Louis XVI. going to heaven in the arms of St. Peter.
When started, however, the good woman could no more "slow down" than her French pony would stop when its head was turned homewards from market. So she kept on with the history of the woman down the street.
"Heart disease," she said, nodding with assurance and finality; "and we know what that is—a start, a shock, a fall, a strain, and pht! off the poor thing goes. Yes, heart disease, and sometimes with such awful pain. But so; and yesterday she told me she had only a hundred dollars left. 'Enough to last me through,' she said to me. Poor thing, she lifted up her eyes with a way she has, as if looking for something she couldn't find, and she says, as simple as though she was asking about the price of a bed-tick, 'It won't cost more than fifty dollars to bury me, I s'pose?' Well, that made me squeamish, for the poor dear's plight came home to me so clear, and she young enough yet to get plenty out of life, if she had the chance. So I asked her again about her people—whether I couldn't send for someone belonging to her. 'There's none that belongs to me,' she says, 'and there's no one I belong to.'
"I thought very likely she didn't want to tell me about herself; perhaps because she had done wrong, and her family had not been good to her. Yet it was right I should try and get her folks to come, if she had any folks. So I said to her, 'Where was your home?' And now, what do you think she answered, m'sieu'?' 'Look there,' she said to me, with her big eyes standing out of her head almost—for that's what comes to her sometimes when she is in pain, and she looks more handsome then than at any other time—'Look there,' she said to me, 'it was in heaven, that's where—my home was; but I didn't know it. I hadn't been taught to know the place when I saw it.'
"Well, I felt my skin go goosey, for I saw what was going on in her mind, and how she was remembering what had happened to her some time, somewhere; but there wasn't a tear in her eyes, and I never saw her cry- never once, m'sieu'—well, but as brave as brave. Her eyes are always dry—burning. They're like two furnaces scorching up her face. So I never found out her history, and she won't have the priest. I believe that's because she wants to die unknown, and doesn't want to confess. I never saw a woman I was sorrier for, though I think she wasn't married to the man that left her. But whatever she was, there's good in her—I haven't known hundreds of women and had seven sisters for nothing. Well, there she is—not a friend near her at the last; for it's coming soon, the end—no one to speak to her, except the woman she pays to come in and look after her and nurse her a bit. Of course there's the landlady too, Madame Popincourt, a kind enough little cricket of a woman, but with no sense and no head for business. And so the poor sick thing has not a single pleasure in the world. She can't read, because it makes her head ache, she says; and she never writes to any one. One day she tried to sing a little, but it seemed to hurt her, and she stopped before she had begun almost. Yes, m'sieu', there she is without a single pleasure in the long hours when she doesn't sleep."
"There's my canary—that would cheer her up," eagerly said Jean Jacques, who, as the story of the chirruping landlady continued, became master of his agitation, and listened as though to the tale of some life for which he had concern. "Yes, take my canary to her, madame. It picked me up when I was down. It'll help her—such a bird it is! It's the best singer in the world. It's got in its throat the music of Malibran and Jenny Lind and Grisi, and all the stars in heaven that sang together. Also, to be sure, it doesn't charge anything, but just as long as there's daylight it sings and sings, as you know."
"M'sieu'—oh, m'sieu', it was what I wanted to ask you, and I didn't dare!" gushingly declared madame. "I never heard a bird sing like that —just as if it knew how much good it was doing, and with all the airs of a grand seigneur. It's a prince of birds, that. If you mean it, m'sieu', you'll do as good a thing as you have ever done."
"It would have to be much better, or it wouldn't be any use," remarked Jean Jacques.
The woman made a motion of friendliness with both hands. "I don't believe that. You may be queer, but you've got a kind eye. It won't be for long she'll need the canary, and it will cheer her. There certainly was never a bird so little tied to one note. Now this note, now that, and so amusing. At times it's as though he was laughing at you."
"That's because, with me for his master, he has had good reason to laugh," remarked Jean Jacques, who had come at last to take a despondent view of himself.
"That's bosh," rejoined Mme. Glozel; "I've seen several people odder than you."
She went over to the cage eagerly, and was about to take it away. "Excuse me," interposed Jean Jacques, "I will carry the cage to the house. Then you will go in with the bird, and I'll wait outside and see if the little rascal sings."
"This minute?" asked madame.
"For sure, this very minute. Why should the poor lady wait? It's a lonely time of day, this, the evening, when the long night's ahead."
A moment later the two were walking along the street to the door of Mme. Popincourt's lodgings, and people turned to look at the pair, one carrying something covered with a white cloth, evidently a savoury dish of some kind—the other with a cage in which a handsome canary hopped about, well pleased with the world.
At Mme. Popincourt's door Mme. Glozel took the cage and went upstairs. Jean Jacques, left behind, paced backwards and forwards in front of the house waiting and looking up, for Mme. Glozel had said that behind the front window on the third floor was where the sick woman lived. He had not long to wait. The setting sun shining full on the window had roused the bird, and he began to pour out a flood of delicious melody which flowed on and on, causing the people in the street to stay their steps and look up. Jean Jacques' face, as he listened, had something very like a smile. There was that in the smile belonging to the old pride, which in days gone by had made him say when he looked at his domains at the Manor Cartier—his houses, his mills, his store, his buildings and his lands—"It is all mine. It all belongs to Jean Jacques Barbille."
Suddenly, however, there came a sharp pause in the singing, and after that a cry—a faint, startled cry. Then Mme. Glozel's head was thrust out of the window three floors up, and she called to Jean Jacques to come quickly. As she bade him come, some strange premonition flashed to Jean Jacques, and with thumping heart he hastened up the staircase. Outside a bedroom door, Mme. Glozel met him. She was so excited she could only whisper.
"Be very quiet," she said. "There is something strange. When the bird sang as it did—you heard it—she sat like one in a trance. Then her face took on a look glad and frightened too, and she stared hard at the cage. 'Bring that cage to me,' she said. I brought it. She looked sharp at it, then she gave a cry and fell back. As I took the cage away I saw what she had been looking at—a writing at the bottom of the cage. It was the name Carmen."
With a stifled cry Jean Jacques pushed her aside and entered the room. As he did so, the sick woman in the big armchair, so pale yet so splendid in her death-beauty, raised herself up. With eyes that Francesca might have turned to the vision of her fate, she looked at the opening door, as though to learn if he who came was one she had wished to see through long, relentless days.
"Jean Jacques—ah, my beautiful Jean Jacques!" she cried out presently in a voice like a wisp of sound, for she had little breath; and then with a smile she sank back, too late to hear, but not too late to know, what Jean Jacques said to her.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Being generous with other people's money I had to listen to him, and he had to pay me for listening Law. It is expensive whether you win or lose Protest that it is right when it knows that it is wrong
THE MONEY MASTER
By Gilbert Parker
EPOCH THE FIFTH
XXII. BELLS OF MEMORY XXIII. JEAN JACQUES HAS WORK TO DO XXIV. JEAN JACQUES ENCAMPED. XXV. WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE
BELLS OF MEMORY
However far Jean Jacques went, however long the day since leaving the Manor Cartier, he could not escape the signals from his past. He heard more than once the bells of memory ringing at the touch of the invisible hand of Destiny which accepts no philosophy save its own. At Montreal, for one hallowed instant, he had regained his lost Carmen, but he had turned from her grave—the only mourners being himself, Mme. Glozel and Mme. Popincourt, together with a barber who had coiffed her wonderful hair once a week—with a strange burning at his heart. That iceberg which most mourners carry in their breasts was not his, as he walked down the mountainside from Carmen's grave. Behind him trotted Mme. Glozel and Mme. Popincourt, like little magpies, attendants on this eagle of sorrow whose life-love had been laid to rest, her heart-troubles over. Passion or ennui would no more vex her.
She had had a soul, had Carmen Dolores, though she had never known it till her days closed in on her, and from the dusk she looked out of the casements of life to such a glowing as Jean Jacques had seen when his burning mill beatified the evening sky. She had known passion and vivid life in the days when she went hand-in-hand with Carvillho Gonzales through the gardens of Granada; she had known the smothering home- sickness which does not alone mean being sick for a distant home, but a sickness of the home that is; and she had known what George Masson gave her for one thrilling hour, and then—then the man who left her in her death-year, taking not only the last thread of hope which held her to life. This vulture had taken also little things dear to her daily life, such as the ring Carvillho Gonzales had given her long ago in Cadiz, also another ring, a gift of Jean Jacques, and things less valuable to her, such as money, for which she knew surely she would have no long use.
As she lay waiting for the day when she must go from the garish scene, she unconsciously took stock of life in her own way. There intruded on her sight the stages of the theatres where she had played and danced, and she heard again the music of the paloma and those other Spanish airs which had made the world dance under her girl's feet long ago. At first she kept seeing the faces of thousands looking up at her from the stalls, down at her from the gallery, over at her from the boxes; and the hot breath of that excitement smote her face with a drunken odour that sent her mad. Then, alas! somehow, as disease took hold of her, there were the colder lights, the colder breath from the few who applauded so little. And always the man who had left her in her day of direst need; who had had the last warm fires of her life, the last brief outrush of her soul, eager as it was for a joy which would prove she had not lost all when she fled from the Manor Cartier—a joy which would make her forget!
What she really did feel in this last adventure of passion only made her remember the more when she was alone now, her life at the Manor Cartier. She was wont to wake up suddenly in the morning—the very early morning —with the imagined sound of the gold Cock of Beaugard crowing in her ears. Memory, memory, memory—yet never a word, and never a hearsay of what had happened at the Manor Cartier since she had left it! Then there came a time when she longed intensely to see Jean Jacques before she died, though she could not bring herself to send word to him. She dreaded what the answer might be-not Jean Jacques' answer, but the answer of Life. Jean Jacques and her child, her Zoe—more his than hers in years gone by—one or both might be dead! She dared not write, but she cherished a desire long denied. Then one day she saw everything in her life more clearly than she had ever done. She found an old book of French verse, once belonging to Mme. Popincourt's husband, who had been a professor. Some lines therein opened up a chamber of her being never before unlocked. At first only the feeling of the thing came, then slowly the spiritual meaning possessed her. She learnt it by heart and let it sing to her as she lay half-sleeping and half-waking, half-living and half-dying:
"There is a World; men compass it through tears, Dare doom for joy of it; it called me o'er the foam; I found it down the track of sundering years, Beyond the long island where the sea steals home.
"A land that triumphs over shame and pain, Penitence and passion and the parting breath, Over the former and the latter rain, The birth-morn fire and the frost of death.
"From its safe shores the white boats ride away, Salving the wreckage of the portless ships The light desires of the amorous day, The wayward, wanton wastage of the lips.
"Star-mist and music and the pensive moon These when I harboured at that perfumed shore; And then, how soon! the radiance of noon, And faces of dear children at the door.
"Land of the Greater Love—men call it this; No light-o'-love sets here an ambuscade; No tender torture of the secret kiss Makes sick the spirit and the soul afraid.
"Bright bowers and the anthems of the free, The lovers absolute—ah, hear the call! Beyond the long island and the sheltering sea, That World I found which holds my world in thrall.
"There is a World; men compass it through tears, Dare doom for joy of it; it called me o'er the foam; I found it down the track of sundering years, Beyond the long island where the sea steals home."
At last the inner thought of it got into her heart, and then it was in reply to Mme. Glozel, who asked her where her home was, she said: "In Heaven, but I did not know it!" And thus it was, too, that at the very last, when Jean Jacques followed the singing bird into her death-chamber, she cried out, "Ah, my beautiful Jean Jacques!"
And because Jean Jacques knew that, at the last, she had been his, soul and body, he went down from the mountain-side, the two black magpies fluttering mournfully and yet hopefully behind him, with more warmth at his heart than he had known for years. It never occurred to him that the two elderly magpies would jointly or severally have given the rest of their lives and their scant fortunes to have him with them either as husband, or as one who honourably hires a home at so much a day.
Though Jean Jacques did not know this last fact, when he fared forth again he left behind his canary with Mme. Glozel; also all Carmen's clothes, except the dress she died in, he gave to Mme. Popincourt, on condition that she did not wear them till he had gone. The dress in which Carmen died he wrapped up carefully, with her few jewels and her wedding-ring, and gave the parcel to Mme. Glozel to care for till he should send for it or come again.
"The bird—take him on my birthday to sing at her grave," he said to Mme. Glozel just before he went West. "It is in summer, my birthday, and you shall hear how he will sing there," he added in a low voice at the very door. Then he took out a ten-dollar bill, and would have given it to her to do this thing for him; but she would have none of his money. She only wiped her eyes and deplored his going, and said that if ever he wanted a home, and she was alive, he would know where to find it. It sounded and looked sentimental, yet Jean Jacques was never less sentimental in a very sentimental life. This particular morning he was very quiet and grave, and not in the least agitated; he spoke like one from a friendly, sun- bright distance to Mme. Glozel, and also to Mme. Popincourt as he passed her at the door of her house.
Jean Jacques had no elation as he took the Western trail; there was not much hope in his voice; but there was purpose and there was a little stream of peace flowing through his being—and also, mark, a stream of anger tumbling over rough places. He had read two letters addressed to Carmen by the man—Hugo Stolphe—who had left her to her fate; and there was a grim devouring thing in him which would break loose, if ever the man crossed his path. He would not go hunting him, but if he passed him or met him on the way—! Still he would go hunting—to find his Carmencita, his little Carmen, his Zoe whom he had unwittingly, God knew! driven forth into the far world of the millions of acres—a wide, wide hunting-ground in good sooth.
So he left his beloved province where he no longer had a home, and though no letters came to him from St. Saviour's, from Vilray or the Manor Cartier, yet he heard the bells of memory when the Hand Invisible arrested his footsteps. One day these bells rang so loud that he would have heard them were he sunk in the world's deepest well of shame; but, as it was, he now marched on hills far higher than the passes through the mountains which his patchwork philosophy had ever provided.
It was in the town of Shilah on the Watloon River that the bells boomed out—not because he had encountered one he had ever known far down by the Beau Cheval, or in his glorious province, not because he had found his Zoe, but because a man, the man—not George Masson, but the other—met him in the way.
Shilah was a place to which, almost unconsciously, he had deviated his course, because once Virginie Poucette had read him a letter from there. That was in the office of the little Clerk of the Court at Vilray. The letter was from Virginie's sister at Shilah, and told him that Zoe and her husband had gone away into farther fields of homelessness. Thus it was that Shilah ever seemed to him, as he worked West, a goal in his quest—not the last goal perhaps, but a goal.
He had been far past it by another route, up, up and out into the more scattered settlements, and now at last he had come to it again, having completed a kind of circle. As he entered it, the past crowded on to him with a hundred pictures. Shilah—it was where Virginie Poucette's sister lived; and Virginie had been a part of the great revelation of his life at St. Saviour's.
As he was walking by the riverside at Shilah, a woman spoke to him, touching his arm as she did so. He was in a deep dream as she spoke, but there certainly was a look in her face that reminded him of someone belonging to the old life. For an instant he could not remember. For a moment he did not even realize that he was at Shilah. His meditation had almost been a trance, and it took him time to adjust himself to the knowledge of the conscious mind. His subconsciousness was very powerfully alive in these days. There was not the same ceaselessly active eye, nor the vibration of the impatient body which belonged to the money-master and miller of the Manor Cartier. Yet the eye had more depth and force, and the body was more powerful and vigorous than it had ever been. The long tramping, the everlasting trail on false scents, the mental battling with troubles past and present, had given a fortitude and vigour to the body beyond what it had ever known. In spite of his homelessness and pilgrim equipment he looked as though he had a home— far off. The eyes did not smile; but the lips showed the goodness of his heart—and its hardness too. Hardness had never been there in the old days. It was, however, the hardness of resentment, and not of cruelty. It was not his wife's or his daughter's flight that he resented, nor yet the loss of all he had, nor the injury done him by Sebastian Dolores. No, his resentment was against one he had never seen, but was now soon to see. As his mind came back from the far places where it had been, and his eyes returned to the concrete world, he saw what the woman recalled to him. It was—yes, it was Virginie Poucette—the kind and beautiful Virginie—for her goodness had made him remember her as beautiful, though indeed she was but comely, like this woman who stayed him as he walked by the river.
"You are M'sieu' Jean Jacques Barbille?" she said questioningly.
"How did you know?" he asked. . . . "Is Virginie Poucette here?"
"Ah, you knew me from her?" she asked.
"There was something about her—and you have it also—and the look in the eyes, and then the lips!" he replied.
Certainly they were quite wonderful, luxurious lips, and so shapely too —like those of Virginie.
"But how did you know I was Jean Jacques Barbille?" he repeated.
"Well, then it is quite easy," she replied with a laugh almost like a giggle, for she was quite as simple and primitive as her sister. "There is a photographer at Vilray, and Virginie got one of your pictures there, and sent, it to me. 'He may come your way,' said Virginie to me, 'and if he does, do not forget that he is my friend.'"
"That she is my friend," corrected Jean Jacques. "And what a friend— merci, what a friend!" Suddenly he caught the woman's arm. "You once wrote to your sister about my Zoe, my daughter, that married and ran away—"
"That ran away and got married," she interrupted.
"Is there any more news—tell me, do you know-?"
But Virginie's sister shook her head. "Only once since I wrote Virginie have I heard, and then the two poor children—but how helpless they were, clinging to each other so! Well, then, once I heard from Faragay, but that was much more than a year ago. Nothing since, and they were going on—on to Fort Providence to spend the winter—for his health—his lungs."
"What to do—on what to live?" moaned Jean Jacques.
"His grandmother sent him a thousand dollars, so your Madame Zoe wrote me."
Jean Jacques raised a hand with a gesture of emotion. "Ah, the blessed woman! May there be no purgatory for her, but Heaven at once and always!"
"Come home with me—where are your things?" she asked.
"I have only a knapsack," he replied. "It is not far from here. But I cannot stay with you. I have no claim. No, I will not, for—"
"As to that, we keep a tavern," she returned. "You can come the same as the rest of the world. The company is mixed, but there it is. You needn't eat off the same plate, as they say in Quebec."
Quebec! He looked at her with the face of one who saw a vision. How like Virginie Poucette—the brave, generous Virginie—how like she was!
In silence now he went with her, and seeing his mood she did not talk to him. People stared as they walked along, for his dress was curious and his head was bare, and his hair like the coat of a young lion. Besides, this woman was, in her way, as brave and as generous as Virginie Poucette. In the very doorway of the tavern by the river a man jostled them. He did not apologize. He only leered. It made his foreign- looking, coarsely handsome face detestable.
"Pig!" exclaimed Virginie Poucette's sister. "That's a man—well, look out! There's trouble brewing for him. If he only knew! If suspicion comes out right and it's proved—well, there, he'll jostle the door-jamb of a jail."
Jean Jacques stared after the man, and somehow every nerve in his body became angry. He had all at once a sense of hatred. He shook the shoulder against which the man had collided. He remembered the leer on the insolent, handsome face.
"I'd like to see him thrown into the river," said Virginie Poucette's sister. "We have a nice girl here—come from Ireland—as good as can be. Well, last night—but there, she oughtn't to have let him speak to her. 'A kiss is nothing,' he said. Well, if he kissed me I would kill him—if I didn't vomit myself to death first. He's a mongrel—a South American mongrel with nigger blood."
Jean Jacques kept looking after the man. "Why don't you turn him out?" he asked sharply.
"He's going away to-morrow anyhow," she replied. "Besides, the girl, she's so ashamed—and she doesn't want anyone to know. 'Who'd want to kiss me after him' she said, and so he stays till to-morrow. He's not in the tavern itself, but in the little annex next door-there, where he's going now. He's only had his meals here, though the annex belongs to us as well. He's alone there on his dung-hill."
She brought Jean Jacques into a room that overlooked the river—which, indeed, hung on its very brink. From the steps at its river-door, a little ferry-boat took people to the other side of the Watloon, and very near—just a few hand-breadths away—was the annex where was the man who had jostled Jean Jacques.
JEAN JACQUES HAS WORK TO DO
A single lighted lamp, turned low, was suspended from the ceiling of the raftered room, and through the open doorway which gave on to a little wooden piazza with a slight railing and small, shaky gate came the swish of the Watloon River. No moon was visible, but the stars were radiant and alive—trembling with life. There was something soothing, something endlessly soothing in the sound of the river. It suggested the ceaseless movement of life to the final fulness thereof.
So still was the room that it might have seemed to be without life, were it not for a faint sound of breathing. The bed, however, was empty, and no chair was occupied; but on a settle in a corner beside an unused fireplace sat a man, now with hands clasped between his knees, again with arms folded across his breast; but with his head always in a listening attitude. The whole figure suggested suspense, vigilance and preparedness. The man had taken off his boots and stockings, and his bare feet seemed to grip the floor; also the sleeves of his jacket were rolled up a little. It was not a figure you would wish to see in your room at midnight unasked. Once or twice he sighed heavily, as he listened to the river slishing past and looked out to the sparkle of the skies. It was as though the infinite had drawn near to the man, or else that the man had drawn near to the infinite. Now and again he brought his fists down on his knees with a savage, though noiseless, force. The peace of the river and the night could not contend successfully against a dark spirit working in him. When, during his vigil, he shook his shaggy head and his lips opened on his set teeth, he seemed like one who would take toll at a gateway of forbidden things.
He started to his feet at last, hearing footsteps outside upon the stairs. Then he settled back again, drawing near to the chimney-wall, so that he should not be easily seen by anyone entering. Presently there was the click of a latch, then the door opened and shut, and cigar-smoke invaded the room. An instant later a hand went up to the suspended oil- lamp and twisted the wick into brighter flame. As it did so, there was a slight noise, then the click of a lock. Turning sharply, the man under the lamp saw at the door the man who had been sitting in the corner. The man had a key in his hand. Exit now could only be had through the door opening on to the river.
"Who are you? What the hell do you want here?" asked the fellow under the lamp, his swarthy face drawn with fear and yet frowning with anger.
"Me—I am Jean Jacques Barbille," said the other in French, putting the key of the door in his pocket. The other replied in French, with a Spanish-English accent. "Barbille—Carmen's husband! Well, who would have thought—!"
He ended with a laugh not pleasant to hear, for it was coarse with sardonic mirth; yet it had also an unreasonable apprehension; for why should he fear the husband of the woman who had done that husband such an injury!
"She treated you pretty bad, didn't she—not much heart, had Carmen!" he added.
"Sit down. I want to talk to you," said Jean Jacques, motioning to two chairs by a table at the side of the room. This table was in the middle of the room when the man under the lamp-Hugo Stolphe was his name—had left it last. Why had the table been moved?
"Why should I sit down, and what are you doing here?—I want to know that," Stolphe demanded. Jean Jacques' hands were opening and shutting. "Because I want to talk to you. If you don't sit down, I'll give you no chance at all. . . . Sit down!" Jean Jacques was smaller than Stolphe, but he was all whipcord and leather; the other was sleek and soft, but powerful too; and he had one of those savage natures which go blind with hatred, and which fight like beasts. He glanced swiftly round the room.
"There is no weapon here," said Jean Jacques, nodding. "I have put everything away—so you could not hurt me if you wanted. . . . Sit down!"
To gain time Stolphe sat down, for he had a fear that Jean Jacques was armed, and might be a madman armed—there were his feet bare on the brown painted boards. They looked so strange, so uncanny. He surely must be a madman if he wanted to do harm to Hugo Stolphe; for Hugo Stolphe had only "kept" the woman who had left her husband, not because of himself, but because of another man altogether—one George Masson. Had not Carmen herself told him that before she and he lived together? What grudge could Carmen's husband have against Hugo Stolphe?
Jean Jacques sat down also, and, leaning on the table said: "Once I was a fool and let the other man escape-George Masson it was. Because of what he did, my wife left me."
His voice became husky, but he shook his throat, as it were, cleared it, and went on. "I won't let you go. I was going to kill George Masson—I had him like that!" He opened and shut his hand with a gesture of fierce possession. "But I did not kill him. I let him go. He was so clever— cleverer than you will know how to be. She said to me—my wife said to me, when she thought I had killed him, 'Why did you not fight him? Any man would have fought him.' That was her view. She was right—not to kill without fighting. That is why I did not kill you at once when I knew."
"When you knew what?" Stolphe was staring at the madman.
"When I knew you were you. First I saw that ring—that ring on your hand. It was my wife's. I gave it to her the first New Year after we married. I saw it on your hand when you were drinking at the bar next door. Then I asked them your name. I knew it. I had read your letters to my wife—"
"Your wife once on a time!"
Jean Jacques' eyes swam red. "My wife always and always—and at the last there in my arms." Stolphe temporized. "I never knew you. She did not leave you because of me. She came to me because—because I was there for her to come to, and you weren't there. Why do you want to do me any harm?" He still must be careful, for undoubtedly the man was mad—his eyes were too bright.
"You were the death of her," answered Jean Jacques, leaning forward. "She was most ill-ah, who would not have been sorry for her! She was poor. She had been to you—but to live with a woman day by day, but to be by her side when the days are done, and then one morning to say, 'Au revoir till supper' and then go and never come back, and to take money and rings that belonged to her! . . . That was her death—that was the end of Carmen Barbille; and it was your fault."
"You would do me harm and not hurt her! Look how she treated you—and others."
Jean Jacques half rose from his seat in sudden rage, but he restrained himself, and sat down again. "She had one husband—only one. It was Jean Jacques Barbille. She could only treat one as she treated me—me, her husband. But you, what had you to do with that! You used her—so!" He made a motion as though to stamp out an insect with his foot. "Beautiful, a genius, sick and alone—no husband, no child, and you used her so! That is why I shall kill you to-night. We will fight for it."
Yes, but surely the man was mad, and the thing to do was to humour him, to gain time. To humour a madman—that is what one always advised, therefore Stolphe would make the pourparler, as the French say.
"Well, that's all right," he rejoined, "but how is it going to be done? Have you got a pistol?" He thought he was very clever, and that he would now see whether Jean Jacques Barbille was armed. If he was not armed, well, then, there would be the chances in his favour; it wasn't easy to kill with hands alone.
Jean Jacques ignored the question, however. He waved a hand impatiently, as though to dismiss it. "She was beautiful and splendid; she had been a queen down there in Quebec. You lied to her, and she was blind at first —I can see it all. She believed so easily—but yes, always! There she was what she was, and you were what you are, not a Frenchman, not Catholic, and an American—no, not an American—a South American. But no, not quite a South American, for there was the Portuguese nigger in you—Sit down!"
Jean Jacques was on his feet bending over the enraged mongrel. He had spoken the truth, and Carmen's last lover had been stung as though a serpent's tooth was in his flesh. Of all things that could be said about him, that which Jean Jacques said was the worst—that he was not all white, that he had nigger blood! Yet it was true; and he realized that Jean Jacques must have got his information in Shilah itself where he had been charged with it. Yet, raging as he was, and ready to take the Johnny Crapaud—that is the name by which he had always called Carmen's husband—by the throat, he was not yet sure that Jean Jacques was unarmed. He sat still under an anger greater than his own, for there was in it that fanaticism which only the love or hate of a woman could breed in a man's mind.
Suddenly Stolphe laughed outright, a crackling, mirthless, ironical laugh; for it really was absurdity made sublime that this man, who had been abandoned by his wife, should now want to kill one who had abandoned her! This outdid Don Quixote over and over.
"Well, what do you want?" he asked.
"I want you to fight," said Jean Jacques. "That is the way. That was Carmen's view. You shall have your chance to live, but I shall throw you in the river, and you can then fight the river. The current is swift, the banks are steep and high as a house down below there. Now, I am ready. . . . !"
He had need to be, for Stolphe was quick, kicking the chair from beneath him, and throwing himself heavily on Jean Jacques. He had had his day at that in South America, and as Jean Jacques Barbille had said, the water was swift and deep, and the banks of the Watloon high and steep!
But Jean Jacques was unconscious of everything save a debt to be collected for a woman he had loved, a compensation which must be taken in flesh and blood. Perhaps at the moment, as Stolphe had said to himself, he was a little mad, for all his past, all his plundered, squandered, spoiled life was crying out at him like a hundred ghosts, and he was fighting with beasts at Ephesus. An exaltation possessed him. Not since the day when his hand was on the lever of the flume with George Masson below; not since the day he had turned his back for ever on the Manor Cartier had he been so young and so much his old self-an egotist, with all the blind confidence of his kind; a dreamer inflamed into action with all a mad dreamer's wild power. He was not fifty-two years of age, but thirty-two at this moment, and all the knowledge got of the wrestling river-drivers of his boyhood, when he had spent hours by the river struggling with river-champions, came back to him. It was a relief to his sick soul to wrench and strain, and propel and twist and force onward, step by step, to the door opening on the river, this creature who had left his Carmen to die alone.
"No, you don't—not yet. The jail before the river!" called a cool, sharp, sour voice; and on the edge of the trembling platform overhanging the river, Hugo Stolphe was dragged back from the plunge downward he was about to take, with Jean Jacques' hand at his throat.
Stolphe had heard the door of the bedroom forced, but Jean Jacques had not heard it; he was only conscious of hands dragging him back just at the moment of Stolphe's deadly peril.