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   Chapter 4 WHAT WILL SHE DO WITH IT

The Lane That Had No Turning, Volume 4 By Gilbert Parker Characters: 6154

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


George Fournel was the heir to the Seigneury of Pontiac, not Louis Racine. There it was in the will of Monsieur de la Riviere, duly signed and attested.

Madelinette's heart stood still. Louis was no longer-indeed, never had been-Seigneur of Pontiac, and they had no right there, had never had any right there. They must leave this place which was to Louis the fetich of his soul, the small compensation fate had made him for the trouble nature had cynically laid upon him. He had clung to it as a drowning man clings to a spar. To him it was the charter from which he could appeal to the world as the husband of Madelinette Lajeunesse. To him it was the name, the dignity, and the fortune he brought her. It was the one thing that saved him from a dire humiliation; it was the vantage-ground from which he appealed to her respect, the flaming testimony of his own self-esteem. Every hour since his trouble had come upon him, since Madelinette's great fame had come to her, he had protested to himself that it was honour for honour; and every day he had laboured, sometimes how fantastically, how futilely! to dignify his position, to enhance his importance in her eyes. She had understood it all, had read him to the last letter in the alphabet of his mind and heart. She had realised the consternation of the people, and she knew that, for her sake, and because the Cure had commanded, all the obsolete claims he had made were responded to by the people. Certainly he had affected them by his eloquence and his fiery kindness, but at the same time they had shrewdly smelt the treason underneath his ardour. There was a definite limit to their loyalty to him; and, deprived of the Seigneury, he would count for nothing.

A hundred thoughts like these went through her mind as she stood by the table under the hanging lamp, her face white as the loose robe she wore, her eyes hot and staring, her figure rigid as stone.

To-morrow-how could she face to-morrow, and Louis! How could she tell him this! How could she say to him, "Louis, you are no longer Seigneur. The man you hate, he who is your inveterate enemy, who has every reason to exact from you the last tribute of humiliation, is Seigneur here!" How could she face the despair of the man whose life was one inward fever, one long illusion, which was yet only half an illusion, since he was forever tortured by suspicion; whose body was wearing itself out, and spirit was destroying itself in the struggle of a vexed imagination!

She knew that Louis' years were numbered. She knew that this blow would break him body and soul. He could never survive the humiliation. His sensitiveness was a disease, his pride was the only thing that kept him going; his love of her, strong as it was, would be drowned in an imagined shame!

It was midnight. She was alone with this secret. She held the paper in her hand, which was at once Louis' sentence or his charter of liberty. A candle was at her hand, the doors were shut, the blinds drawn, the house a frozen silence-how cold she was, though it was the deep of summe

r! She shivered from head to foot, and yet all day the harvest sun had drenched the room in its heat.

Yet her blood might run warm again, her cold cheeks might regain their colour, her heart beat quietly, if this paper were no more! The thought made her shrink away from herself, as it were, yet she caught up the candle and lighted it.

For Louis. For Louis, though she would rather have died than do it for herself. To save to Louis what was, to his imagination, the one claim he had upon her respect and the world's. After all, how little was it in value or in dignity! How little she cared for it! One year of her voice could earn two such Seigneuries as this. And the honour-save that it was Pontiac-it was naught to her. In all her life she had never done or said a dishonourable thing. She had never lied, she had never deceived, she had never done aught that might not have been written down and published to all the world. Yet here, all at once, she was faced with a vast temptation, to do a deed, the penalty of which was an indelible shame.

What injury would it do to George Fournel! He was used now to his disappointment; he was rich; he had no claims upon Pontiac; there was no one but himself to whom it mattered, this little Seigneury. What he did not know did not exist, so far as himself was concerned. How easily could it all be made right some day! She felt as though she were suffocating, and she opened the window a little very softly. Then she lit the candle tremblingly, watched the flame gather strength, and opened out the will. As she did so, however, the smell of a clover field, which is as honey, came stealing through the room, and all at once a strange association of ideas flashed into her brain.

She recalled one summer day long ago, when, in the church of St. Saviour's, the smell of the clover fields came through the open doors and windows, and her mind had kept repeating mechanically, till she fell asleep, the text of the Curb's sermon-"As ye sow, so also shall ye reap."

That placid hour which had no problems, no cares, no fears, no penalties in view, which was filled with the richness of a blessed harvest and the plenitude of innocent youth, came back on her now in the moment of her fierce temptation.

She folded up the paper slowly, a sob came in her throat, she blew out the candle, and put the will back in the cupboard. The faint click of the spring as she closed the panel seemed terribly loud to her. She started and looked timorously round. The blood came back to her face-she flushed crimson with guilt. Then she turned out the lighted lamp and crept away up the stairs to her room.

She paused beside Louis' bed. He was moving restlessly in his sleep; he was murmuring her name. With a breaking sigh she crept into bed slowly and lay like one who had been beaten, bruised, and shamed.

At last, before the dawn, she fell asleep. She dreamed that she was in prison and that George Fournel was her jailor.

She waked to find Louis at her bedside.

"I am holding my seigneurial court to-day," he said.

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