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   Chapter 15 CARNAC AND JUNIA

Carnac's Folly, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 8403

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


Tarboe did not see Junia that evening nor for many evenings, but Carnac and Junia met the next day in her own house. He came on her as she was arranging the table for midday dinner. She had taken up again the threads of housekeeping, cheering her father, helping the old French-woman cook-a huge creature who moved like a small mountain, and was a tyrant in her way to the old cheerful avocat, whose life had been a struggle for existence, yet whose one daughter had married a rich lumberman, and whose other daughter could marry wealth, handsomeness and youth, if she chose.

When Carnac saw Junia she was entering the dining-room with flowers and fruit, and he recalled the last time they met, when she had thrust the farewell bouquet of flowers into his hand. That was in the early autumn, and this was in late spring, and the light in her face was as glowing as then. A remembrance of the scene came to the minds of both, and the girl gave a little laugh.

"Well, well, Carnac," she said gaily, her cheek flushing, her eyes warm with colour: "well, I sent you away with flowers. Did they bring you luck?" She looked him steadily in the eyes.

"Yes, they brought me a perfect remembrance-of one who has always been to me like the balm of Gilead."

"Soothing and stimulating, eh?" she asked, as she put the flowers on the table and gave him her hand-no, she suddenly gave him both hands with a rush of old-time friendship, which robbed it of all personal emotion.

For a moment he held her hands. He felt them tremble in his warm clasp, the delicate, shivering pulsation of youth, the womanly feeling. It was for an instant only, because she withdrew her fingers. Then she caught up an apple from the dish she had brought in, and tossed it to him.

"For a good boy," she said. "You have been a good boy, haven't you?"

"I think so, chiefly by remembering a good girl."

"That's a pretty compliment-meant for me?"

"Yes, meant for you. I think you understand me better than anyone else."

He noticed her forehead wrinkle slightly, and a faint, incredulous smile come to her lips.

"I shouldn't think I understand you, Carnac," she said, over her shoulder, as she arranged dishes on the sideboard. "I shouldn't think I know you well. There's no Book of Revelations of your life except in your face."

She suddenly turned full on him, and held his eyes. "Carnac, I think your face looks honest. I've always thought so, and yet I think you're something of a scamp, a rogue and a thief."

There was determination at her lips, through which, though only slightly apart, her beautiful teeth, so straight, so regular, showed. "You don't play fair. What's the good of having a friend if you don't tell your friend your troubles? And you've been in trouble, Carnac, and you're fighting it through alone. Is that wise? You ought to tell some bad man, or some good woman-if they're both clever-what's vexing you.

"You see the bad clever man would probably think out something that would have the same effect as the good clever woman. They never would think out the same thing, but each 'd think out what would help you."

"But you've just said I'm a bad clever man. Why shouldn't I work out my own trouble?"

"Oh, you're bad enough," she answered, "but you're not clever enough."

He smiled grimly. "I'm not sure though about the woman. Perhaps I'll tell the good clever woman some day and let her help me, if she can. But I'd warn her it won't be easy."

"Then there's another woman in it!"

He did not answer. He could not let her know the truth, yet he was sure she would come to know it one way or another.

At that moment she leaned over the table and stretched a hand to arrange something. The perfection of her poise, the beauty of her lines, the charm of her face seized Carnac, and, with an impulse, he ran his arm around her waist.

"Junia-Junia!" he said in a voice of rash, warm feeling.

She was like a wild bird caught in its flight. A sudden stillness held her, and then she turned her head towards him, subdued inquiry in her eyes. For a moment only she looked-and then she said:

"Take your arm away, please."

The conviction that he ought not to

make any sign of love to her broke his sudden passion. He drew back ashamed, yet defiant, rebuked, yet rebellious. It was like a challenge to her. A sarcastic smile crossed her lips.

"What a creature of impulses you are, Carnac! When we were children the day you saved Denzil years ago you flung your arms around me and kissed me. I didn't understand anything then, and what's more I don't think you did. You were a wilful, hazardous boy, and went your way taking the flowers in the garden that didn't belong to you. Yet after all these years, with an impulse behind which there is nothing-nothing at all, you repeat that incident."

Suddenly passion seemed to possess her. "How dare you trifle with things that mean so much! Have you learned nothing since I saw you last? Can nothing teach you, Carnac? Can you not learn how to play the big part? If you weren't grown up, do you know what I would do? I would slap the face of an insolent, thoughtless, hopeless boy." Then her temper seemed to pass. She caught up an apple again and thrust it into his hand. "Go and eat that, Adam. Perhaps it'll make you wise like the old Adam. He put his faults upon a woman."

"So do I," said Carnac. "So do I."

"That's what you would do, but you mustn't play that sort of game with a good woman." She burst out laughing. "For a man you're a precious fool! I don't think I want to see you again. You don't improve. You're full of horrid impulses." Her indignation came back. "How dare you put your arm around me!"

"It was the impulse of my heart. I can say no more; if I could I would. There's something I should like to tell you, but I mustn't." He put the apple down.

"About the other woman, I suppose," she said coldly, the hot indignation gone from her lips.

He looked her steadfastly in the eyes. "If you won't trust me-if you won't trust me-"

"I've always trusted you," she replied, "but I don't trust you now. Don't you understand that a good girl hates conduct like yours?"

Suddenly with anger he turned upon her. "Yes, I understand everything, but you don't understand. Why won't you believe that the reason I won't tell you my trouble is that it's best you shouldn't know? You're a young girl; you don't know life; you haven't seen it as I've seen it-in the sewage, in the ditch, on the road, on the mountain and in the bog. I want you to keep faith with your old friend who doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks, but who wants your confidence. Trust me-don't condemn me. Believe me, I haven't been wanton. Won't you trust me?"

The spirit of egotism was alive in her. She knew how much she had denied herself in the past months. She did not know whether she loved him, but injured pride tortured her. Except in a dance and in sports at a picnic or recreation-ground no man had ever put his arms around her. No man except Carnac, and that he had done it was like a lash upon the raw skinless flesh. If she had been asked by the Almighty whether she loved Carnac, she would have said she did not know. This was not a matter of love; but of womanhood, of self-respect, of the pride of one who cannot ask for herself what she wants in the field of love, who must wait to be wooed and won.

"You don't think I'm straight," he said in protest. "You think I'm no good, that I'm a fraud. You're wrong. Believe me, that is the truth." He came closer up to her. "Junia, if you'll stand by me, I'm sure I'll come out right. I've been caught in a mesh I can't untangle yet, but it can be untangled, and when it is, you shall know everything, because then you'll understand. I can free myself from the tangle, but it could never be explained-not so the world would believe. I haven't trifled with you. I would believe in you even if I saw, or thought I saw, the signs of wrong in you. I would know that at heart you were good. I put my faith in you long ago-last year I staked all on your friendship, and I haven't been deceived."

He smiled at her, his soul in his eyes. There was truth in his smile, and she realized it.

After a moment, she put out a hand and pushed him gently from her. "Go away, Carnac, please-now," she said softly.

A moment afterwards he was gone.

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