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   Chapter 5 THE ONE WHO SAW

The Lane That Had No Turning, Volume 4 By Gilbert Parker Characters: 8822

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


All day and every day Madelinette's mind kept fastening itself upon one theme, kept turning to one spot. In her dreams she saw the hanging lamp, the moving panel, the little cupboard, the fatal paper. Waking and restlessly busy, she sometimes forgot it for a moment, but remembrance would come back with painful force, and her will must govern her hurt spirit into quiet resolution. She had such a sense of humiliation as though some one dear to her had committed a crime against herself. Two persons were in her-Madelinette Lajeunesse, the daughter of the village blacksmith, brought up in the peaceful discipline of her religion, shunning falsehood and dishonour with a simple proud self-respect; and Madame Racine, the great singer, who had touched at last the heart of things; and, with the knowledge, had thrown aside past principles and convictions to save her stricken husband from misery and humiliation-to save his health, his mind, his life maybe.

The struggle of conscience and expediency, of principle and womanliness wore upon her, taking away the colour from her cheeks, but spiritualising her face, giving the large black eyes an expression of rare intensity, so that the Avocat in his admiration called her Madonna, and the Cure came oftener to the Manor House with a fear in his heart that all was not well. Yet he was met by her cheerful smile, by her quiet sense of humour, by the touching yet not demonstrative devotion of the wife to the husband, and a varying and impulsive adoration of the wife by the husband. One day when the Cure was with the Seigneur, Madelinette entered upon them. Her face was pale though composed, yet her eyes had a look of abstraction or detachment. The Cure's face brightened at her approach. She wore a simple white gown with a bunch of roses at the belt, and a broad hat lined with red that shaded her face and gave it a warmth it did not possess.

"Dear Madame!" said the Cure, rising to his feet and coming towards her.

"I have told you before that I will have nothing but 'Madelinette,' dear Cure," she replied, with a smile, and gave him her hand. She turned to Louis, who had risen also, and putting a hand on his arm pressed him gently into his chair, then, with a swift, almost casual, caress of his hair, placed on the table the basket of flowers she was carrying, and began to arrange them.

"Dear Louis," she said presently, and as though en passant, "I have dismissed Tardif to-day-I hope you won't mind these dull domestic details, Cure," she added.

The Cure nodded and turned his head towards the window musingly. He was thinking that she had done a wise thing in dismissing Tardif, for the man had evil qualities, and he was hoping that he would leave the parish now.

The Seigneur nodded. "Then he will go. I have dismissed him-I have a temper-many times, but he never went. It is foolish to dismiss a man in a temper. He thinks you do not mean it. But our Madelinette there"-he turned towards the Cure now-"she is never in a temper, and every one always knows she means what she says; and she says it as even as a clock." Then the egoist in him added: "I have power and imagination and the faculty for great things; but Madelinette has serene judgment-a tribute to you, Cure, who taught her in the old days."

"In any case, Tardif is going," she repeated quietly. "What did he do?" said the Seigneur. "What was your grievance, beautiful Madame?"

He was looking at her with unfeigned admiration-with just such a look as was in his face the first day they met in the Avocat's house on his arrival in Pontiac. She turned and saw it, and remembered. The scene flashed before her mind. The thought of herself then, with the flush of a sunrise love suddenly rising in her heart, roused a torrent of feeling now, and it required every bit of strength she had to prevent her bursting into a passion of tears. In imagination she saw him there, a straight, slim, handsome figure, with the very vanity of proud health upon him, and ambition and passionate purpose in every line of his figure, every glance of his eyes. Now-there he was, bent, frail, and thin, with restless eyes and deep discontent in voice and manner; the curved shoulder and the head grown suddenly old; the only thing, speaking of the past, the graceful hand, filled with the illusory courage of a declining vitality. But for the nervous force in him, the latent v

itality which renewed with stubborn persistence the failing forces, he was dead. The brain kept commanding the body back to life and manhood daily.

"What did Tardif do?" the Seigneur again questioned, holding out a hand to her.

She did not dare to take his hand lest her feelings should overcome her; so with an assumed gaiety she put in it a rose from her basket and said:

"He has been pilfering. Also he was insolent. I suppose he could not help remembering that I lived at the smithy once-the dear smithy," she added softly.

"I will go at once and pay the scoundrel his wages," said the Seigneur, rising, and with a nod to the Cure and his wife opened the door.

"Do not see him yourself, Louis," said Madelinette. "Not I. Havel shall pay him and he shall take himself off to-morrow morning."

The door closed, and Madelinette was left alone with the Cure. She came to him and said with a quivering in her voice:

"He mocked Louis."

"It is well that he should go. He is a bad man and a bad servant. I know him too well."

"You see, he keeps saying"-she spoke very slowly-"that he witnessed a will the Seigneur made in favour of Monsieur Fournel. He thinks us interlopers, I suppose."

The Cure put a hand on hers gently. "There was a time when I felt that Monsieur Fournel was the legal heir to the Seigneury, for Monsieur de la Riviere had told me there was such a will; but since then I have changed my mind. Your husband is the natural heir, and it is only just that the Seigneury should go on in the direct line. It is best."

"Even with all Louis' mistakes?"

"Even with them. You have set them right, and you will keep him within the bounds of wisdom and prudence. You are his guardian angel, Madelinette."

She looked up at him with a pensive smile and a glance of gratitude.

"But suppose that will-if there is one-exists, see how false our position!"

"Do you think it is mere accident that the will has never been found-if it was not destroyed by the Seigneur himself before he died? No, there is purpose behind it, with which neither you or I or Louis have anything to do. Ah, it is good to have you here in this Seigneury, my child! What you give us will return to you a thousandfold. Do not regret the world and your work there. You will go back all too soon."

She was about to reply when the Seigneur again entered the room.

"I made up my mind that he should go at once, and so I've sent him word-the rat!"

"I will leave you two to be drowned in the depths of your own intelligence," said Madelinette; and taking her empty basket left the room.

A strange compelling feeling drove her to the library where the fateful panel was. With a strange sense that her wrong-doing was modified by the fact, she had left the will where she had found it. She had a superstition that fate would deal less harshly with her if she did. It was not her way to temporise. She had concealed the discovery of the will with an unswerving determination. It was for Louis, it was for his peace, for the ease of his fading life, and she had no repentance. Yet there it was, that curious, useless concession to old prejudices, the little touch of hypocrisy-she left the will where she had found it. She had never looked at it since, no matter how great the temptation, and sometimes this was overpowering.

To-day it overpowered her. The house was very still and the blinds were drawn to shut out the heat, but the soft din of the locusts came through the windows. Her household were all engaged elsewhere. She shut the doors of the little room, and kneeling on the table touched the spring. The panel came back and disclosed the cupboard. There lay the will. She took it up and opened it. Her eyes went dim on the instant, and she leaned her forehead against the wall sick at heart.

As she did so a sudden gust of wind drove in the blind of the window. She started, but saw what it was, and hastily putting the will back, closed the panel, and with a fast-beating heart, left the room.

Late that evening she found a letter on her table addressed to herself. It ran:

You've shipped me off like dirt. You'll be shipped off, Madame,

double quick. I've got what'll bring the right owner here. You'll

soon hear from

Tardif.

In terror she hastened to the library and sprung the panel. The will was gone.

Tardif was on his way with it to George Fournel.

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