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   Chapter 11 CARNAC’S TALK WITH HIS MOTHER

Carnac's Folly, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 12417

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


Carnac went slowly towards his father's house on the hill. Fixed, as his mind was, upon all that had just happened, his eye took fondly from the gathering dusk pictures which the artist's mind cherishes-the long roadway, with the maples and pines, the stump fences; behind which lay the garnered fields, where the plough had made ready the way for the Fall wheat; the robins twittering in the scattered trees; the cooing of the wood-pigeon; over all, the sky in its perfect purpling blue, and far down the horizon the evening-star slowly climbing. He noted the lizards slipping through the stones; he saw where the wheel of a wagon had crushed some wild flower-growth; he heard the far call of a milkmaid to the cattle; he caught the sweet breath of decaying verdure, and through all, the fresh, biting air of the new-land autumn, pleasantly stinging his face.

Something kept saying to his mind: "It's all good. It's life and light, and all good." But his nerves were being tried; his whole nature was stirred.

He took the letter from his pocket again, and read it in the fading light. It was native, naive, brutal, and unconsciously clever-and the girl who had written it was beautiful. It had only a few lines. It asked him why he had deserted her, his wife. It said that he would find American law protected the deluded stranger. It asked if he had so soon forgotten the kisses he had given her, and did he not realize they were married? He felt that, with her, beneath all, there was more than malice; there was a passion which would run risks to secure its end.

A few moments later he was in the room where his mother, with her strong, fine, lonely face, sat sewing by the window. The door opened squarely on her, and he saw how refined and sad, yet self-contained, was the woman who had given him birth. The look in her eyes warmly welcomed him. Her own sorrows made her sensitive to those of others, and as Carnac entered she saw something was vexing him.

"Dear lad!" she said.

He was beside her now, and he kissed her cheek. "Best of all the world," he said; and he did not see that she shrank a little.

"Are you in trouble?" she asked, and her hand touched his shoulder.

The wrong she had done him long ago vexed her. It was not possible this boy could fit in with a life where, in one sense, he did not belong. It was not part of her sorrow that he had given himself to painting and sculpture. In her soul she believed this might be best for him in the end. She had a surreptitious, an almost anguished, joy in the thought that he and John Grier could not hit it off. It seemed natural that both men, ignorant of their own tragedy, believing themselves to be father and son, should feel for each other the torture of distance, a misunderstanding, which only she and one other human being understood.

John Grier was not the boy's father. Carnac was the son of Barode Barouche.

After a moment he said: "Mother, I know why I've come to you. It's because I feel when I'm in trouble, I get helped by being with you."

"How do I help, my boy?" she asked with a sad smile, for he had said the thing dearest to her heart.

"When I'm with you, I seem to get a hold on myself. I've always had a strange feeling about you. I felt when I was a child that you're two people; one that lives on some distant, lonely prairie, silent, shadowy and terribly loving; and the other, a vocal person, affectionate, alert, good and generous."

He paused, but she only shook her head. After a moment he continued: "I know you aren't happy, mother, but maybe you once were-at the start."

She got to her feet, and drew herself up.

"I'm happy in your love, but all the rest-is all the rest. It isn't your father's fault wholly. He was busy; he forgot me. Dear, dear boy, never give up your soul to things only, keep it for people."

She was naturally straight and composed; yet as she stood there, she had a certain lonely splendour like some soft metal burning. Among her fellow-citizens she had place and position, but she took no lead; she was always an isolated attachment of local enterprises. It was in her own house where her skill and adaptability had success. She had brought into her soul misery and martyrdom, and all martyrs are lonely and apart.

Sharp visions of what she was really flashed through Carnac's mind, and he said:

"Mother, there must be something wrong with you and me. You were naturally a great woman, and sometimes I have a feeling I might be a great man, but I don't get started for it. I suppose, you once had an idea you'd play a big part in the world?"

"Girls have dreams," she answered with moist eyes, "and at times I thought great things might come to me; but I married and got lost."

"You got lost?" asked Carnac anxiously, for there was a curious note in her voice.

She tried to change the effect of her words.

"Yes, I lost myself in somebody else's ambitions I lost myself in the storm."

Carnac laughed. "Father was always a blizzard, wasn't he? Now here, now there, he rushed about making money, humping up his business, and yet why shouldn't you have ranged beside him. I don't understand."

"No, that's the bane of life," she replied. "We don't understand each other. I can't understand why you don't marry Junia. You love her. You don't understand why I couldn't play as big a part as your father-I couldn't. He was always odd-masterful and odd, and I never could do just as he liked."

There was yearning sadness in her eyes. "Dear Carnac, John Grier is a whirlwind, but he's also a still pool in which currents are secretly twisting, turning. His imagination, his power is enormous; but he's Oriental, a barbarian."

"You mean he might have had twenty wives?"

"He might have had twenty, and he'd have been the same to all of them, because they play no part, except to make his home a place where his body can live. That's the kind of thing, when a wife finds it out, that either kills her slowly, or drives her mad."

"It didn't kill you, mother," remarked Carnac with a little laugh.

"No, it didn't kill me."

"And it didn't drive you mad," he continued.

She looked at him with burning intensity. "O

h, yes, it did-but I became sane again." She gazed out of the window, down the hillside. "Your father will soon be home. Is there anything you want to say before that?"

Carnac wanted to tell his tragic story, but it was difficult. He caught his mother's hand.

"What's the matter, Carnac? You are in trouble. I can see it in your eyes-I feel it. Is it money?" she asked. She knew it was not, yet she could not help but ask. He shook his head in negation.

"Is it business?"

She knew his answer, yet she must make these steps before she said to him: "Is it a woman?"

He nodded now. She caught his eyes and held them with her own. All the silence and sorrow, all the remorse and regret of the past twenty-six years gathered in her face.

"Yes and no," he answered with emotion. "You've quarrelled with Junia?"

"No," he replied.

"Why don't you marry her?" she urged. "We all would like it, even your father."

"I can't."

"Why?" She leant forward with a slight burning of the cheek. "Why, Carnac?"

He had determined to keep his own secret, to hide the thing which had vexed his life, but a sudden feeling overcame his purpose. With impulse he drew out the letter he had received in John Grier's office and handed it to her.

"Read that, and then I'll tell you all about it-all I can."

With whitening face, she took the letter and read its few lines. It was written in French, with savage little flourishes and twists, and the name signed at the end was "Luzanne." At last she handed it back, her fingers trembling.

"Who is Luzanne, and what does it mean?" What she had read was startling.

He slowly seated himself beside her. "I will tell you."

When Carnac had ended his painful story, she said to him: "It's terrible-oh, terrible. But there was divorce."

"Yes, but they told me I couldn't get a divorce. Yet I wish now I'd tried for it. I've never heard a word from the girl till I got that letter. It isn't strange she hasn't moved in the thing till now. It was I that should have acted; and she knew that. She means business, that's clear, and it'll be hard to prove I didn't marry her with eyes wide open. It gets between me and my work and my plans for the future; between-"

"Between you and Junia," she said mournfully. "Don't you think you ought to get a divorce for Junia's sake, if nothing else?"

"Yes, of course. But I'm not sure I could get a divorce-evidence is so strong against me, and it was a year ago! If I can see Luzanne again perhaps I can get her to tear up the marriage-lines-that's what I want. She isn't all bad. I must go again to New York; and Junia can wait. I'm not much, I know-not worth waiting for, maybe, but I'm in earnest where Junia's concerned. I could make a little home for her at once, and a better one as time went on, if she would marry me."

After a moment of silence, Carnac added: "I'm going to New York. Don't you think I ought to go?"

The gaunt, handsome face of the woman darkened, and then she answered: "Yes."

There was silence again for a moment, deep and painful, and then Carnac spoke.

"Mother, I don't think father is well. I see a great change in him. He hasn't long to travel, and some day you'll have everything. He might make you run the business, with Tarboe as manager."

She shuddered slightly. "With Tarboe-I never thought of that-with Tarboe!... Are you going to wait for-your father? He'll be here presently."

"No, I'm off. I'll go down the garden, through the bushes," he said.... "Mother, I've got nearer you to-night than in all the rest of my life."

She kissed him fondly. "You're going away, but I hope you'll come back in time."

He knew she meant Junia.

"Yes, I hope I'll come back in time."

A moment later he was gone, out of the sidedoor, through the bushes, and down the hill, running like a boy. He had for the first time talked to his mother about the life of their home; the facts she told him stripped away the curtain that hid the secret things of life from his eyes.

John Grier almost burst upon his wife. He opened and shut the door noisily; he stamped into the dusky room.

"Isn't it time for a light?" he said with a quizzical nod towards her.

The short visit of Carnac had straightened her back. "I like the twilight. I don't light up until it's dark, but if you wish-"

"You like the twilight; you don't light up until it's dark, but if I wish-ah, that's it! Have your own way.... I'm the breadwinner; I'm the breadwinner; I'm the fighter; I'm the man that makes the machine go; but I don't like the twilight, and I don't like to wait until it's dark before I light up. So there it is!"

She said nothing at once, but struck a match, and lit the gas.

"It's easy to give you what you want," she answered after a little. "I'm used to it now."

There was something animal-like in the thrust forward of his neck, in the anger that mounted to his eyes. When she had drawn down the blinds, he said to her: "Who's been here?"

For an instant she hesitated. Then she said: "Carnac's been here, but that has naught to do with what I said. I've lived with you for over thirty years, and I haven't spoken my mind often, but I'm speaking it now."

"Never too late to mend, eh!" he gruffly interposed. "So Carnac's been here! Putting up his independent clack, eh? He leaves his old father to struggle as best he may, and doesn't care a damn. That's your son Carnac."

How she longed to say to him, "That's not your son Carnac!" but she could not. A greyness crossed over her face.

"Is Carnac staying here?"

She shook her head in negation.

"Well, now I'll tell you about Carnac," he said viciously. "I'm shutting him out of the business of my life. You understand?"

"You mean-" She paused.

"He's taken his course, let him stick to it. I'm taking my course, and I'll stick to it."

She came close and reached out a faltering hand. "John, don't do what you'll be sorry for."

"I never have."

"When Fabian was born, you remember what you said? You said: 'Life's worth living now.'"

"Yes, but what did I say when Carnac was born?"

"I didn't hear, John," she answered, her face turning white.

"Well, I said naught."

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