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   Chapter 22 POINT TO POINT

Carnac's Folly, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 10761

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


While these things were happening, Carnac was spending all his time in the constituency. Every day was busy to the last minute, every hole in the belt of his equipment was buckled tight. In spite of his enthusiasm he was, however, troubled by the fact that Luzanne might appear. Yet as time went on he gained confidence. There were days, however, when he appeared, mentally, to be watching the street corners.

One day at a public meeting he thought the sensation had come. He had just finished his speech in reply to Barode Barouche-eloquent, eager, masterful. Youth's aspirations, with a curious sympathy with the French Canadian people, had idealized his utterances. When he finished there had been cheering, but in the quiet instant that followed the cheering, a habitant got up-a weird, wilful fellow who had a reputation for brag, yet who would not have hurt an enemy save in wild passion.

"M'sieu' Carnac Grier," he said, "I'd like to put a question to you. You've been asking for our votes. We're a family people, we Canucs, and we like to know where we're going. Tell me, m'sieu', where's your woman?"

Having asked the question, he remained standing. "Where's your woman?" the habitant had asked. Carnac's breath came quick and sharp. There were many hundreds present, and a good number of them were foes. Barode Barouche was on the same platform.

Not only Carnac was stirred by the question, for Barouche, who had listened to his foe's speech with admiring anxiety, was startled.

"Where's your woman?" was not a phrase to be asked anyhow, or anywhere. Barouche was glad of the incident. Ready as he was to meet challenge, he presently realized that his son had a readiness equally potent. He was even pleased to see the glint of a smile at the lips of the slim young politician, in whom there was more than his own commingling of temperament, wisdom, wantonness and raillery.

After a moment, Carnac said: "Isn't that a leading question to an unmarried man?"

Barouche laughed inwardly. Surely it was the reply he himself would have made. Carnac had showed himself a born politician. The audience cheered, but the questioner remained standing. He meant to ask another question.

"Sit down-sit down, jackass!" shouted some of the more raucous of the crowd, but the man was stubborn. He stretched out an arm towards Carnac.

"Bien, look here, my son, you take my advice. Pursue the primrose path into the meadows of matrimony."

Again Carnac shrank, but his mind rallied courageously, and he said: "There are other people who want to ask questions, perhaps." He turned to Barode Barouche. "I don't suggest my opponent has planned this heckling, but he can see it does no good. I'm not to be floored by catch-penny tricks. I'm going to win. I run straight. I haven't been long enough in politics to learn how to deceive. Let the accomplished professionals do that. They know how."

He waved a hand disdainfully at Barouche. "Let them put forth all that's in them, I will remain; let them exert the last ounce of energy, I will prevail; let them use the thousand devices of elections, I will use no device, but rely upon my policy. I want nothing except my chance in Parliament. My highest ambition is to make good laws. I am for the man who was the first settler on the St. Lawrence and this section of the continent-his history, his tradition, his honour and fame are in the history books of the world. If I should live a hundred years, I should wish nothing better than the honour of having served the men whose forefathers served Frontenac, Cartier, La Salle and Maisonneuve, and all the splendid heroes of that ancient age. What they have done is for all men to do. They have kept the faith. I am for the habitant, for the land of his faith and love, first and last and all the time."

He sat down in a tumult of cheering. Many present remarked that no two men they had ever heard spoke so much alike, and kept their attacks so free from personal things.

There had been at this public meeting two intense supporters of Carnac, who waited for him at the exit from the main doorway. They were Fabian's wife and Junia.

Barode Barouche came out of the hall before Carnac. His quick eye saw the two ladies, and he raised his broad-brimmed hat like a Stuart cavalier, and smiled.

"Waiting for your champion, eh?" he asked with cynical friendliness. "Well, work hard, because that will soften his fall." He leaned over, as it were confidentially, to them, while his friends craned their necks to hear what he said: "If I were you I'd prepare him. He's beaten as sure as the sun shines."

Junia was tempted to say what was in her mind, but her sister Sibyl, who resented Barouche's patronage, said:

"There's an old adage about the slip 'twixt the cup and the lip, Monsieur Barouche. He's young, and he's got a better policy than yours."

"And he's unmarried, eh!" Barouche remarked. "He's unmarried, and I suppose that matters!" There was an undercurrent of meaning in his voice which did not escape Junia.

"And Monsieur Barouche is also unmarried," she remarked. "So you're even there."

"Not quite even. I'm a widower. The women don't work for me as they work for him."

"I don't understand," remarked Junia. "The women can't all marry him."

"There are a lot of things that can't be understood by just blinking the eyes,

but there's romance in the fight of an unmarried man, and women like romance even if it's some one else's. There's sensation in it."

Barouche looked to where Carnac was slowly coming down the centre of the hall. Women were waving handkerchiefs and throwing kisses towards him. One little girl was pushed in front of him, and she reached out a hand in which was a wild rose.

"That's for luck, m'sieu'," she said.

Carnac took the rose, and placed it in his buttonhole; then, stooping down, he kissed the child's cheek. Outside the hall, Barode Barouche winked an eye knowingly. "He's got it all down to a science. Look at him-kissing the young chick. Nevertheless, he's walking into an abyss."

Carnac was near enough now for the confidence in his face to be seen. Barouche's eyes suddenly grew resentful. Sometimes he had a feeling of deep affection for his young challenger; sometimes there was a storm of anger in his bosom, a hatred which can be felt only for a member of one's own family. Resentment showed in his face now. This boy was winning friends on every side.

Something in the two men, some vibration of temperament, struck the same chord in Junia's life and being. She had noticed similar gestures, similar intonations of voice, and, above all else, a little toss of the head backwards. She knew they were not related, and so she put the whole thing down to Carnac's impressionable nature which led its owner into singular imitations. It had done so in the field of Art. He was young enough to be the imitator without loss to himself.

"I'm doing my best to defeat you," she said to Barouche, reaching out a hand for good-bye, "and I shall work harder now than ever. You're so sure you're going to win that I'd disappoint you, monsieur-only to do you good."

"Ah, I'm sorry you haven't any real interest in Carnac Grier, if it's only to do me good! Well, goodbye-good-bye," he added, raising his hat, and presently was gone.

As Carnac drew near, Fabian's wife stepped forward. "Carnac," she said, "I hope you'll come with us on the river in Fabian's steam-launch. There's work to do there. It's pay-day in the lumber-yards on the Island, so please come. Will you?"

Carnac laughed. "Yes, there's no engagement to prevent it." He thanked Junia and Sibyl for all they had done for him, and added: "I'd like a couple of hours among the rivermen. Where's the boat?" Fabian's wife told him, and added: "I've got the roan team here, and you can drive us down, if you will."

A few moments afterwards, with the cheers of the crowd behind them, they were being driven by Carnac to the wharf where lay the "Fleur-de-lis." On board was Fabian.

"Had a good meeting, Carnac?" Fabian asked.

"I should call it first-class. It was like a storm, at sea-wind from one direction, then from another, but I think on the whole we had the best of it. Don't you think so?" he added to Fabian's wife.

"Oh, much the best," she answered. "That's so, Junia, isn't it?"

"I wouldn't say so positively," answered Junia. "I don't understand Monsieur Barouche. He talked as if he had something up his sleeve." Her face became clouded. "Have you any idea what it is, Carnac?"

Carnac laughingly shook his head. "That's his way. He's always bluffing. He does it to make believe the game's his, and to destroy my confidence. He's a man of mark, but he's having the biggest fight he ever had-of that I'm sure.... Do you think I'll win?" he asked Junia presently with a laugh, as they made their way down the river. "Have I conquest in my eye?"

How seldom did Junia have Carnac to herself in these days! How kind of Fabian to lend his yacht for the purpose of canvassing! But Sibyl had in her mind a deeper thing-she had become a match-maker. She and Fabian, when the boat left the shore, went to one corner of the stern, leaving Carnac and Junia in the bow.

Three miles below the city was the Island on which many voters were working in a saw-mill and lumberyard. It had supporters of Barouche chiefly in the yards and mills. Carnac had never visited it, and it was Junia's view that he should ingratiate himself with the workers, a rough-and-ready lot. They were ready to "burst a meeting" or bludgeon a candidate on occasion.

When Carnac asked his question Junia smiled up at him. "Yes, I think you'll win, Carnac. You have the tide with you." Presently she added: "I'm not sure that you've got all the cards, though-I don't know why, but I have that fear."

"You think that-"

She nodded. "I think Monsieur Barouche has some cards he hasn't played yet. What they are I don't know, but he's confident. Tell me, Carnac, is there any card that would defeat you? Have you committed any crime against the law-no, I'm sure you haven't, but I want to hear you say so." She smiled cheerfully at him.

"He has no card of any crime of mine, and he can't hit me in a mortal place."

"You have the right policy for this province. But tell me, is there anyone who could hurt you, who could spring up in the fight-man or woman?"

She looked him straight in the eye, and his own did not waver.

"There's no one has a knock-out blow for me-that's sure. I can weather any storm."

He paused, however, disconcerted, for the memory of Luzanne came to him, and his spirit became clouded. "Except one-except one," he added.

"And you won't tell me who it is?"

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