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   Chapter 26 THE CHALLENGE

Carnac's Folly, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 11209

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


The day of the election came. Never had feeling run higher, never had racial lines been so cut across. Barode Barouche fought with vigour, but from the going of Luzanne Larue, there passed from him the confidence he had felt since the first day of Carnac's candidature. He had had temptation to announce to those who heard him the night before the poll what Luzanne had told; but better wisdom guided him, to his subsequent content. He had not played a scurvy trick on his son for his own personal advantage. Indeed, when his meetings were all over, he was thankful for the disappearance of Luzanne. At heart he was not all bad. A madness had been on him. He, therefore, slept heavily from midnight till morning on the eve of the election, and began the day with the smile of one who abides the result with courage.

Several times he came upon Carnac in the streets, and they saluted courteously; yet he saw the confidence of Carnac in his bearing. Twice also he came upon Junia and he was startled by the look she gave him. It was part of his punishment that Junia was the source of his undoing where Luzanne was concerned. Junia knew about Luzanne; but if she condemned him now, what would she think if she knew that Carnac was his own son!

"A devilish clever girl that," he said to himself. "If he wins, it'll be due to her, and if he wins-no, he can't marry her, for he's already married; but he'll owe it all to her. If he wins!... No, he shall not win; I've been in the game too long; I've served too many interests; I've played too big a part."

It was then he met his agent, who said: "They're making strong play against us-the strongest since you began politics."

"Strong enough to put us in danger?" inquired Barouche. "You've been at the game here for thirty years, and I'd like to know what you think-quite honestly."

His agent was disturbed. "I think you're in danger; he has all your gifts, and he's as clever as Old Nick besides. He's a man that'll make things hum, if he gets in."

"If he gets in-you think...?"

"He has as good a chance as you, m'sieu'. Here's a list of doubtful ones, and you'll see they're of consequence."

"They are indeed," said Barouche, scanning the list. "I'd no idea these would be doubtful."

"Luke Tarboe's working like the devil for Carnac. People believe in him. Half the men on that list were affected by Tarboe's turning over. Tarboe is a master-man; he has fought like hell."

"Nevertheless, I've been too long at it to miss it now," said the rueful member with a forced smile. "I must win now, or my game is up."

The agent nodded, but there was no certainty in his eye. Feeling ran higher and higher, but there was no indication that Barouche's hopes were sure of fulfilment. His face became paler as the day wore on, and his hands freer with those of his late constituents. Yet he noticed that Carnac was still glib with his tongue and freer with his hands. Carnac seemed everywhere, on every corner, in every street, at every polling booth; he laid his trowel against every brick in the wall. Carnac was not as confident as he seemed, but he was nearing the end of the trail; and his feet were free and his head clear. One good thing had happened. The girl who could do him great harm was not in evidence, and it was too late to spoil his chances now, even if she came. What gave him greatest hope was the look on Junia's face as he passed her. It was the sign of the conqueror-something he could not under stand. It was knowledge and victory.

Also, he had a new feeling towards Tarboe, who had given him such powerful support. There was, then, in the man the bigger thing, the light of fairness and reason! He had had no talk with Tarboe, and he desired none, but he had seen him at three of his meetings, and he had evidence of arduous effort on his behalf. Tarboe had influenced many people in his favour, men of standing and repute, and the workmen of the Grier firm had come, or were coming, his way. He had always been popular with them, in spite of the strike he had fought, but they voted independently of their employers; and he was glad to know that most of them were with him in the fight.

His triumph over Eugene Grandois at the Island had been a good influence, and he had hopes of capturing the majority of the river people. Yet, strange to say, the Church had somewhat reversed its position, and at the last had swung round to Barouche, quietly, though not from the pulpit, supporting him. The old prejudice in favour of a Catholic and a Frenchman was alive again.

Carnac was keyed to anxiety, but outwardly seemed moving with brilliant certainty. He walked on air, and he spoke and acted like one who had the key of the situation in his fingers, and the button of decision at his will. It was folly electioneering on the day of the poll, and yet he saw a few labour leaders and moved them to greater work for him. One of these told him that at the Grier big-mill was one man working to defeat him by personal attacks. It had something to do with a so-called secret marriage, and it would be good to get hold of the man, Roudin, as soon as possible.

A secret marriage! So the thing had, after all, been bruited and used-what was the source of the information? Who was responsible? He must go to the mill at once, and he started for it. On the way he met Luke Tarboe.

"There's trouble down at the mill," Tarboe said. "A fellow called Roudin has been spreading a story that you're married and repudiate your wife. It'd be good to fight it now before it gets going. There's no truth in it, of cours

e," he added with an opposite look in his eye, for he remembered the letter Carnac received one day in the office and his own conclusion then.

"It's a lie, and I'll go and see Roudin at once.... You've been a good friend to me in the fight, Tarboe, and I'd like a talk when it's all over."

"That'll be easy enough, Grier. Don't make any mistake-this is a big thing you're doing; and if a Protestant Britisher can beat a Catholic Frenchman in his own habitant seat, it's the clinching of Confederation. We'll talk it over when you've won."

"You think I'm going to win?" asked Carnac with thumping heart, for the stark uncertainty seemed to overpower him, though he smiled.

"If the lie doesn't get going too hard, I'm sure you'll pull it off. There's my hand on it. I'd go down with you to the mill, but you should go alone. You've got your own medicine to give. Go it alone, Grier. It's best-and good luck to you!"

A few moments later Carnac was in the yard of the mill, and in one corner he saw the man he took to be Roudin talking to a group of workmen. He hurried over, and heard Roudin declaring that he, Carnac, was secretly married to a woman whom he repudiated, and was that the kind of man to have as member of Parliament? Presently Roudin was interrupted by cheers from supporters of Carnac, and he saw it was due to Carnac's arrival. Roudin had courage. He would not say behind a man's back what he would not say to his face.

"I was just telling my friends here, m'sieu', that you was married, and you didn't acknowledge your wife. Is that so?"

Carnac's first impulse was to say No, but he gained time by challenging.

"Why do you say such things to injure me? Is that what Monsieur Barouche tells you to say?"

Roudin shook his head protestingly.

"If Monsieur Barouche does that he oughtn't to hold the seat, he ought to be sent back to his law offices."

"No, I didn't hear it from M'sieu' Barouche. I get it from better hands than his," answered Roudin.

"Better hands than his, eh? From the lady herself, perhaps?"

"Yes, from the lady herself, m'sieu'."

"Then bring the lady here and let us have it out, monsieur. It's a lie. Bring the lady here, if you know her."

Roudin shrugged a shoulder. "I know what I know, and I don't have to do what you say-no-no!"

"Then you're not honest. You do me harm by a story like that. I challenge you, and you don't respond. You say you know the woman, then produce her-there's no time to be lost. The poll closes in four hours. If you make such statements, prove them. It isn't playing the game-do you think so, messieurs?" he added to the crowd which had grown in numbers. At that moment a man came running from the en trance towards Carnac. It was Denzil.

"A letter for you, an important letter," he kept crying as he came nearer. He got the letter into Carnac's hands.

"Read it at once, m'sieu'," Denzil said urgently. Carnac saw the handwriting was Junia's, and he tore open the letter, which held the blue certificate of the marriage with Luzanne. He conquered the sudden dimness of his eyes, and read the letter. It said:

DEAR CARNAC,

I hear from Mr. Tarboe of the lies being told against you. Here is

the proof. She has gone. She told it to Barode Barouche, and he

was to have announced it last night, but I saw her first. You can

now deny the story. The game is yours. Tell the man Roudin to

produce the woman-she is now in New York, if the train was not

lost. I will tell you all when you are M.P.

JUNIA.

With a smile, Carnac placed the certificate in his pocket. How lucky it was he had denied the marriage and demanded that Roudin produce the woman! He was safe now, safe and free. It was no good any woman declaring she was married to him if she could not produce the proof-and the proof was in his pocket and the woman was in New York.

"Come, Monsieur Roudin, tell us about the woman, and bring her to the polls. There is yet time, if you're telling the truth. Who is she? Where does she live? What's her name?"

"Mrs. Carnac Grier-that's her name," responded Roudin with a snarl, and the crowd laughed, for Carnac's boldness gave them a sense of security.

"What was her maiden name?"

"Larue," answered the other sharply.

"What was her Christian name, since you know so much, monsieur?"

He had no fear now, and his question was audacity, but he knew the game was with him, and he took the risks. His courage had reward, for Roudin made no reply. Carnac turned to the crowd.

"Here's a man tried to ruin my character by telling a story about a woman whose name he doesn't know. Is that playing the game after the rules-I ask you?"

There were cries from the crowd supporting him, and he grew bolder. "Let the man tell his story and I'll meet it here face to face. I fear nothing. Out with your story, monsieur. Tell us why you haven't brought her into the daylight, why she isn't claiming her husband at the polls. What's the story? Let's have it now."

The truth was, Roudin dared not tell what he knew. It was based wholly on a talk he had partly overheard between Barode Barouche and Luzanne in the house where she stayed and where he, Roudin, lodged. It had not been definite, and he had no proofs. He was a sensationalist, and he had had his hour and could say no more, because of Barode Barouche. He could not tell the story of his overhearing, for why had not Barouche told the tale? With an oath he turned away and disappeared. As he went he could hear his friends cheering Carnac.

"Carnac Grier lies, but he wins the game," he said.

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