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   Chapter 2 ELEVEN YEARS PASS

Carnac's Folly, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 23114

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


Eleven years had passed since Denzil's fall, and in that time much history had been made. Carnac Grier, true to his nature, had travelled from incident to incident, from capacity to capacity, apparently without system, yet actually with the keenest desire to fulfil himself; with an honesty as inveterate as his looks were good and his character filled with dark recesses. In vain had his father endeavoured to induce him to enter the lumber business; to him it seemed too conventional and fixed.

Yet, in his way, he knew the business well. By instinct, over the twenty-five years of his life, he had observed and become familiar with the main features of the work. He had once or twice even buried himself in the shanties of the backwoods, there to inhale and repulse the fetid air, to endure the untoward, half-savage life, the clean, strong food, the bitter animosities and the savage friendships. It was a land where sunshine travelled, and in the sun the bright, tuneful birds made lively the responsive world. Sometimes an eagle swooped down the stream; again and again, hawks, and flocks of pigeons which frequented the lonely groves on the river-side, made vocal the world of air; flocks of wild ducks, or geese, went whirring down the long spaces of water between the trees on either bank; and some one with a fiddle or a concertina made musical the evening, while the singing voices of rough habitants rang through the air.

It was all spirited; it smelt good; it felt good; but it was not for Carnac. When he had a revolt against anything in life, the grim storm scenes of winter in the shanties under the trees and the snow-swept hills came to his mind's eye. The summer life of the river, and what is called "running the river," had for him great charms. The smell of hundreds of thousands of logs in the river, the crushed bark, the slimy ooze were all suggestive of life in the making. But the savage seclusion of the wild life in winter repelled his senses. Besides, the lumber business meant endless figures and measurements in stuffy offices and he retreated from it all.

He had an artistic bent. From a small child he had had it, and it grew with his years. He wanted to paint, and he painted; he wanted to sculp in clay, and he sculped in clay; but all the time he was conscious it was the things he had seen and the life he had lived which made his painting and his sculpture worth while. It was absurd that a man of his great outdoor capacity should be the slave of a temperamental quality, and yet it was so. It was no good for his father to condemn, or his mother to mourn, he went his own way.

He had seen much of Junia Shale in these years and had grown fond of her, but she was away much with an aunt in the West, and she was sent to boarding-school, and they saw each other only at intervals. She liked him and showed it, but he was not ready to go farther. As yet his art was everything to him, and he did not think of marriage. He was care-free. He had a little money of his own, left by an uncle of his mother, and he had also an allowance from his mother-none from his father-and he was satisfied with life.

His brother, Fabian, being the elder, by five years, had gone into his father's business as a partner, and had remained there. Fabian had at last married an elder sister of Junia Shale and settled down in a house on the hill, and the lumber-king, John Grier, went on building up his splendid business.

At last, Carnac, feeling he was making small headway with his painting, determined to go again to New York and Paris. He had already spent a year in each place and it had benefited him greatly. So, with that sudden decision which marked his life, he started for New York. It was immediately after the New Year and the ground was covered with snow. He looked out of the window of the train, and there was only the long line of white country broken by the leafless trees and rail-fences and the mansard-roofs and low cottages with their stoops, built up with earth to keep them warm; and the sheds full of cattle; and here and there a sawmill going hard, and factories pounding away and men in fur coats driving the small Indian ponies; and the sharp calls of the men with the sleigh bringing wood, or meat, or vegetables to market. He was by nature a queer compound of Radical and Conservative, a victim of vision and temperament. He was full of pride, yet fuller of humility of a real kind. As he left Montreal he thought of Junia Shale, and he recalled the day eleven years before when he had worn brass-toed boots, and he had caught Junia in his arms and kissed her, and Denzil had had his accident. Denzil had got unreasonably old since then; but Junia remained as she was the joyous day when boyhood took on the first dreams of manhood.

Life was a queer thing, and he had not yet got his bearings in it. He had a desire to reform the world and he wanted to be a great painter or sculptor, or both; and he entered New York with a new sense developed. He was keen to see, to do, and to feel. He wanted to make the world ring with his name and fame, yet he wanted to do the world good also, if he could. It was a curious state of mind for the English boy, who talked French like a native and loved French literature and the French people, and was angry with those English-Canadians who were so selfish they would never learn French.

Arrived in New York he took lodgings near old Washington Square, where there were a few studios near the Bohemian restaurants and a life as nearly continental as was possible in a new country. He got in touch with a few artists and began to paint, doing little scenes in the Bowery and of the night-life of New York, and visiting the Hudson River and Long Island for landscape and seascape sketches.

One day he was going down Broadway, and near Union Square he saved a girl from being killed by a street-car. She had slipped and fallen on the track and a car was coming. It was impossible for her to get away in time, and Carnac had sprung to her and got her free. She staggered to her feet, and he saw she was beautiful and foreign. He spoke to her in French and her eyes lighted, for she was French. She told him at once that her name was Luzanne Larue. He offered to get a cab and take her home, but she said no, she was fit to walk, so he went with her slowly to her home in one of the poor streets on the East side. They talked as they went, and Carnac saw she was of the lower middle-class, with more refinement than was common in that class, and more charm. She was a fascinating girl with fine black eyes, black hair, a complexion of cream, and a gift of the tongue. Carnac could not see that she was very subtle. She seemed a marvel of guilelessness. She had a wonderful head and neck, and as he was planning a picture of an early female martyr, he decided to ask her to sit to him.

Arrived at her humble home, he was asked to enter, and there he met her father, Isel Larue, a French monarchist who had been exiled from Paris for plotting against the Government. He was handsome with snapping black eyes, a cruel mouth and a droll and humorous tongue. He was grateful to Carnac for saving his daughter's life. Coffee and cigarettes were produced, and they chatted and smoked while Carnac took in the surroundings. Everything was plain, but spotlessly clean, and he learned that Larue made his living by doing odd jobs in an electric firm. He was just home from his work. Luzanne was employed every afternoon in a milliner's shop, but her evenings were free after the housework was done at nine o'clock. Carnac in a burst of enthusiasm asked if she would sit to him as a model in the mornings. Her father instantly said, of course she would.

This she did for many days, and sat with her hair down and bared neck, as handsome and modest as a female martyr should. Carnac painted her with skill. Sometimes he would walk with her to lunch and make her eat something sustaining, and they talked freely then, though little was said while he was painting her. At last one day the painting was finished, and she looked up at him wistfully when he told her he would not need another sitting. Carnac, overcome by her sadness, put his arms round her and kissed her mouth, her eyes, her neck ravenously. She made only a slight show of resistance. When he stopped she said: "Is that the way you keep your word to my father? I am here alone and you embrace me-is that fair?"

"No, it isn't, and I promise I won't do it again, Luzanne. I am sorry. I wanted our friendship to benefit us both, and now I've spoiled it all."

"No, you haven't spoiled it all," said Luzanne with a sigh, and she buttoned up the neck of her blouse, flushing slightly as she did so. Her breast heaved and suddenly she burst into tears. It was evident she wanted Carnac to comfort her, perhaps to kiss her again, but he did not do so. He only stood over her, murmuring penance and asking her to forget it.

"I can't forget it-I can't. No man but my father has ever kissed me before. It makes me, oh! so miserable!" but she smiled through her tears. Suddenly she dried her eyes. "Once a man tried to kiss me-and something more. He was rich and he'd put money into Madame Margot's millinery business. He was brilliant, and married, but he had no rules for his morals-all he wanted was money and pleasures which he bought. I was attracted by him, but one day he tried to kiss me. I slapped his face, and then I hated him. So, when you kissed me to-day, I thought of that, and it made me unhappy-but yes."

"You did not slap my face, Luzanne?"

She blushed and hung her head. "No, I did not; you are not a bad man. He would have spoiled my life. He made it clear I could have all the luxuries money could buy-all except marriage!" She shrugged her shoulders.

Carnac was of an impressionable nature, but brought to face the possibility of marriage with Luzanne, he shrank. If ever he married it would be a girl like Junia Shale, beautiful, modest, clever and well educated. No, Luzanne could never be for him. So he forbore doing more than ask her to forgive him, and he would take her to lunch-the last lunch of the picture-if she would. With features in chagrin, she put on her hat, yet when she turned to him, she was smiling.

He visited her home occasionally, and Luzanne's father had a friend, Ingot by name, who was sometimes present. This man made himself almost unbearable at first; but Luzanne pulled Ingot up acridly, and he presently behaved well. Ingot disliked all men in better positions than himself, and was a revolutionary of the worst sort-a revolutionary and monarchist. He was only a monarchist because he loved conspiracy and hated the Republican rulers who had imprisoned him-"those bombastics," he called them. It was a constitutional quarrel with the world. However, he became tractable, and then he and Larue formed a plot to make Carnac marry Luzanne. It was hatched by Ingot, approved by Larue, and at length consented to by the girl, for so far as she could love anyone, she loved Carnac; and she made up her mind that if he married her, no matter how, she would make him so happy he would forgive all.

About four months after the incident in the studio, a picnic was arranged for the Hudson River. Only the four went. Carnac had just sold a picture at a good price-his Christian Martyr picture-and he was in high spirits. They arrived at the spot arranged for the picnic in time for lunch, and Luzanne prepared it. When the lunch was re

ady, they sat down. There was much gay talk, compliments to Carnac came from both Larue and Ingot, and Carnac was excited and buoyant. He drank much wine and beer, and told amusing stories of the French-Canadians which delighted them all. He had a gift of mimicry and he let himself go.

"You got a pretty fine tongue in your head-but of the best," said Ingot with a burst of applause. "You'd make a good actor, a holy good actor. You got a way with you. Coquelin, Salvini, Bernhardt! Voila, you're just as good! Bagosh, I'd like to see you on the stage."

"So would I," said Larue. "I think you could play a house full in no time and make much cash-I think you could. Don't you think so, Luzanne?"

Luzanne laughed. "He can act very first-class, I'm sure," she said, and she turned and looked Carnac in the eyes. She was excited, she was handsome, she was slim and graceful, and Carnac felt towards her as he did the day at the studio, as though he'd like to kiss her. He knew it was not real, but it was the man in him and the sex in her.

For an hour and a half the lunch went on, all growing gayer, and then at last Ingot said: "Well, I'm going to have a play now here, and Carnac Grier shall act, and we all shall act. We're going to have a wedding ceremony between M'sieu' Grier and Luzanne-but, hush, why not!" he added, when Luzanne shook her finger at him, and said she'd do nothing of the kind, having, however, agreed to it beforehand. "Why not! There's nothing in it. They'll both be married some day and it will be good practice for them. They can learn now how to do it. It's got to be done-but yes. I'll find a Judge in the village. Come now, hands up, those that will do it."

With a loud laugh Larue held up his hand, Carnac, who was half-drunk, did the same, and after a little hesitation Luzanne also.

"Good-a gay little comedy, that's what it is. I'm off for the Judge," and away went Ingot hard afoot, having already engaged a Judge, called Grimshaw, in the village near to perform the ceremony. When he had gone, Larue went off to smoke and Luzanne and Carnac cleared up the lunch-things and put all away in the baskets. When it was finished, Carnac and Luzanne sat down under a tree and talked cheerfully, and Luzanne was never so effective as she was that day. They laughed over the mock ceremony to be performed.

"I'm a Catholic, you know," said Luzanne, "and it isn't legal in my church with no dispensation to be married to a Protestant like you. But as it is, what does it matter!"

"Well, that's true," said Carnac. "I suppose I ought to be acting the lover now; I ought to be kissing you, oughtn't I?"

"As an actor, yes, but as a man, better not unless others are present. Wait till the others come. Wait for witnesses, so that it can look like the real thing.

"See, there they come now." She pointed, and in the near distance Ingot could be seen approaching with a short, clean-shaven, roly-poly sort of man who did not look legal, but was a real magistrate. He came waddling along in good spirits and rather pompously. At that moment Larue appeared. Presently Ingot presented the Judge to the would-be bride and bridegroom. "You wish to be married-you are Mr. Grier?" said Judge Grimshaw.

"That's me and I'm ready," said Carnac. "Get on with the show. What's the first thing?"

"Well, the regular thing is to sign some forms, stating age, residence, etc., and here they are all ready. Brought 'em along with me. Most unusual form of ceremony, but it'll do. It's all right. Here are the papers to sign."

Carnac hastily scratched in the needed information, and Luzanne doing the same, the magistrate pocketed the papers.

"Now we can perform the ceremony," said the Judge. "Mr. Larue, you go down there with the young lady and bring her up in form, and Mr. Carnac Grier waits here."

Larue went away with Luzanne, and presently turned, and she, with her arm in his, came forward. Carnac stood waiting with a smile on his face, for it seemed good acting. When Luzanne came, her father handed her over, and the marriage ceremony proceeded. Presently it concluded, and Grimshaw, who had had more drink than was good for him, wound up the ceremony with the words: "And may the Lord have mercy on you!"

Every one laughed, Carnac kissed the bride, and the Judge handed her the marriage certificate duly signed. It was now Carnac's duty to pay in the usual way for the ceremony, and he handed the Judge ten dollars; and Grimshaw rolled away towards the village, Ingot having also given him ten.

"That's as good a piece of acting as I've ever seen," said Larue with a grin. "It beats Coquelin and Henry Irving."

"I didn't think there was much in it," said Carnac, laughing, "though it was real enough to cost me ten dollars. One has to pay for one's fun. But I got a wife cheap at the price, and I didn't pay for the wedding ring."

"No, the ring was mine," said Larue. "I had it a long time. It was my engagement ring, and I want it back now."

Luzanne took it off her finger-it was much too large-and gave it to him. "It's easy enough to get another," she said in a queer voice.

"You did the thing in style, young man," said Ingot to Carnac with a nod.

"I'll do it better when it's the real thing," said Carnac. "I've had my rehearsal now, and it seemed almost real."

"It was almost real," said Ingot, with his head turned away from Carnac, but he winked at Larue and caught a furtive look from Luzanne's eye.

"I think we'd better have another hour hereabouts, then get back to New York," said Larue. "There's a circus in the village-let us go to that."

At the village, they did the circus, called out praise to the clown, gave the elephant some buns, and at five o'clock started back to New York. Arrived at New York, they went to a hotel off Broadway for dinner, and Carnac signed names in the hotel register as "Mr. and Mrs. Carnac Grier." When he did it, he saw a furtive glance pass from Luzanne's eyes to her father. It was disconcerting to him. Presently the two adjourned to the sitting-room, and there he saw that the table was only laid for two. That opened his eyes. The men had disappeared and he and Luzanne were alone. She was sitting on a sofa near the table, showing to good advantage. She was composed, while Carnac was embarrassed. Carnac began to take a grip on himself.

The waiter entered. "When shall I serve dinner, sir?" he said.

Carnac realized that the dinner had been ordered by the two men, and he said quietly: "Don't serve it for a half-hour yet-not till I ring, please. Make it ready then. There's no hurry. It's early."

The waiter bowed and withdrew with a smile, and Carnac turned to Luzanne. She smiled, got up, came over, laid a hand on his arm, and said: "It's quiet and nice here, Carnac dear," and she looked up ravishingly in his face.

"It's too quiet and it's not at all nice," he suddenly replied. "Your father and Ingot have gone. They've left us alone on purpose. This is a dirty game and I'm not going to play it any longer. I've had enough of it. I've had my fill. I'm going now. Come, let's go together."

She looked a bit smashed and overdone. "The dinner!" she said in confusion.

"I'll pay for that. We won't wait any longer. Come on at once, please."

She put on her things coolly, and he noticed a savage stealthiness as she pushed the long pins through her hat and hair. He left the room. Outside the hotel, Carnac held out his hand.

"Good night and good-bye, Luzanne," he said huskily. "You can get home alone, can't you?"

She laughed a little, then she said: "I guess so. I've lived in New York some years. But you and I are married, Carnac, and you ought to take me to your home."

There was something devilish in her smile now. Then the whole truth burst upon Carnac. "Married-married! When did I marry you? Good God!"

"You married me this afternoon after lunch at Shipton. I have the certificate and I mean to hold you to it."

"You mean to hold me to it-a real marriage to-day at Shipton! You and your father and Ingot tricked me into this."

"He was a real Judge, and it was a real marriage."

"It is a fraud, and I'll unmask it," Carnac declared in anger.

"It would be difficult to prove. You signed our names in the hotel register as Mr. and Mrs. Carnac Grier. I mean to stick to that name-Mrs. Carnac Grier. I'll make you a good wife, Carnac-do believe it.

"I'll believe nothing but the worst of you ever. I'll fight the thing out, by God!"

She shook her head and smiled. "I meant you to marry me, when you saved my life from the streetcar. I never saw but one man I wanted to marry, and you are that man, Carnac. You wouldn't ask me, so I made you marry me. You could go farther and fare worse. Come, take me home-take me home, my love. I want you to love me."

"You little devil!" Carnac declared. "I'd rather cut my own throat. I'm going to have a divorce. I'm going to teach you and the others a lesson you won't forget."

"There isn't a jury in the United States you could convince after what you've done. You've made it impossible. Go to Judge Grimshaw and see what he will say. Go and ask the hotel people and see what they will say. You're my husband, and I mean you shall live with me, and I'll love you better than any woman on earth can love you.... Won't you?" She held out her hand.

With an angry exclamation, Carnac refused it, and then she suddenly turned on her heel, slipped round a corner and was gone.

Carnac was dumbfounded. He did not know what to do. He went dazedly home, and slept little that night. The next day he went out to Shipton and saw Judge Grimshaw and told him the whole tale. The Judge shook his head.

"It's too tall a story. Why, you went through the ceremony as if it was the real thing, signed the papers, paid my fee, and kissed the bride. You could not get a divorce on such evidence. I'm sorry for you, if you don't want the girl. She's very nice, and 'd make a good wife. What does she mean to do?"

"I don't know. She left me in the street and went back to her home. I won't live with her."

"I can't help you anyhow. She has the certificate. You are validly married. If I were you, I'd let the matter stand."

So they parted, and Carnac sullenly went back to his apartments. The next day he went to see a lawyer, however. The lawyer opened his eyes at the story. He had never heard anything like it.

"It doesn't sound as if you were sober when you did it. Were you, sir? It was a mad prank, anyhow!"

"I had been drinking, but I wasn't drunk. I'd been telling them stories and they used them as a means of tempting me to act in the absurd marriage ceremony. Like a fool I consented. Like a fool-but I wasn't drunk."

"No, but when you were in your right mind and sober you signed your names as Mr. and Mrs. Carnac Grier in the register of a hotel. I will try to win your case for you, but it won't be easy work. You see the Judge himself told you the same thing. But it would be a triumph to expose a thing of that kind, and I'd like to do it. It wouldn't be cheap, though. You'd have to foot the bill. Are you rich?"

"No, but my people are," said Carnac. "I could manage the cash, but suppose I lost!"

"Well, you'd have to support the woman. She could sue you for cruelty and desertion, and the damages would be heavy."

Carnac shook his head, paid his fee and left the office.

He did not go near Luzanne. After a month he went to Paris for eight months, and then back to Montreal.

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