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   Chapter 1 THE GRAND TOUR OF JEAN JACQUES BARBILLE

The Money Master, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 28549

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"Peace and plenty, peace and plenty"-that was the phrase M. Jean Jacques Barbille, miller and moneymaster, applied to his home-scene, when he was at the height of his career. Both winter and summer the place had a look of content and comfort, even a kind of opulence. There is nothing like a grove of pines to give a sense of warmth in winter and an air of coolness in summer, so does the slightest breeze make the pine-needles swish like the freshening sea. But to this scene, where pines made a friendly background, there were added oak, ash, and hickory trees, though in less quantity on the side of the river where were Jean Jacques Barbille's house and mills. They flourished chiefly on the opposite side of the Beau Cheval, whose waters flowed so waywardly-now with a rush, now silently away through long reaches of country. Here the land was rugged and bold, while farther on it became gentle and spacious, and was flecked or striped with farms on which low, white houses with dormer-windows and big stoops flashed to the passer-by the message of the pioneer, "It is mine. I triumph."

At the Manor Cartier, not far from the town of Vilray, where Jean Jacques was master, and above it and below it, there had been battles and the ravages of war. At the time of the Conquest the stubborn habitants, refusing to accept the yielding of Quebec as the end of French power in their proud province, had remained in arms and active, and had only yielded when the musket and the torch had done their work, and smoking ruins marked the places where homes had been. They took their fortune with something of the heroic calm of men to whom an idea was more than aught else. Jean Jacques' father, grandfather, and great-great-grandfather had lived here, no one of them rising far, but none worthless or unnoticeable. They all had had "a way of their own," as their neighbours said, and had been provident on the whole. Thus it was that when Jean Jacques' father died, and he came into his own, he found himself at thirty a man of substance, unmarried, who "could have had the pick of the province." This was what the Old Cure said in despair, when Jean Jacques did the incomprehensible thing, and married l'Espagnole, or "the Spanische," as the lady was always called in the English of the habitant.

When she came it was spring-time, and all the world was budding, exuding joy and hope, with the sun dancing over all. It was the time between the sowing and the hay-time, and there was a feeling of alertness in everything that had life, while even the rocks and solid earth seemed to stir. The air was filled with the long happy drone of the mill-stones as they ground the grain; and from farther away came the soft, stinging cry of a saw-mill. Its keen buzzing complaint was harmonious with the grumble of the mill-stones, as though a supreme maker of music had tuned it. So said a master-musician and his friend, a philosopher from Nantes, who came to St. Saviour's in the summer just before the marriage, and lodged with Jean Jacques. Jean Jacques, having spent a year at Laval University at Quebec, had almost a gift of thought, or thinking; and he never ceased to ply the visiting philosopher and musician with questions which he proceeded to answer himself before they could do so; his quaint, sentimental, meretricious observations on life saddening while they amused his guests. They saddened the musician more than the other because he knew life, while the philosopher only thought it and saw it.

But even the musician would probably have smiled in hope that day when the young "Spanische" came driving up the river-road from the steamboat-landing miles away. She arrived just when the clock struck noon in the big living-room of the Manor. As she reached the open doorway and the wide windows of the house which gaped with shady coolness, she heard the bell summoning the workers in the mills and on the farm-yes, M. Barbille was a farmer, too-for the welcome home to "M'sieu' Jean Jacques," as he was called by everyone.

That the wedding had taken place far down in Gaspe and not in St. Saviour's was a reproach and almost a scandal; and certainly it was unpatriotic. It was bad enough to marry the Spanische, but to marry outside one's own parish, and so deprive that parish and its young people of the week's gaiety, which a wedding and the consequent procession and tour through the parish brings, was little less than treason. But there it was; and Jean Jacques was a man who had power to hurt, to hinder, or to help; for the miller and the baker are nearer to the hearthstone of every man than any other, and credit is a good thing when the oven is empty and hard times are abroad. The wedding in Gaspe had not been attended by the usual functions, for it had all been hurriedly arranged, as the romantic circumstances of the wooing required. Romance indeed it was; so remarkable that the master-musician might easily have found a theme for a comedy-or tragedy-and the philosopher would have shaken his head at the defiance it offered to the logic of things.

Now this is the true narrative, though in the parish of St. Saviour's it is more highly decorated and has many legends hanging to it like tassels to a curtain. Even the Cure of to-day, who ought to know all the truth, finds it hard to present it in its bare elements; for the history of Jean Jacques Barbille affected the history of many a man in St. Saviour's; and all that befel him, whether of good or evil, ran through the parish in a thousand invisible threads.

.......................

What had happened was this. After the visit of the musician and the philosopher, Jean Jacques, to sustain his reputation and to increase it, had decided to visit that Normandy from which his people had come at the time of Frontenac. He set forth with much 'eclat' and a little innocent posturing and ritual, in which a cornet and a violin figured, together with a farewell oration by the Cure.

In Paris Jean Jacques had found himself bewildered and engulfed. He had no idea that life could be so overbearing, and he was inclined to resent his own insignificance. However, in Normandy, when he read the names on the tombstones and saw the records in the baptismal register of other Jean Jacques Barbilles, who had come and gone generations before, his self-respect was somewhat restored. This pleasure was dashed, however, by the quizzical attitude of the natives of his ancestral parish, who walked round about inspecting him as though he were a zoological specimen, and who criticized his accent-he who had been at Laval for one whole term; who had had special instruction before that time from the Old Cure and a Jesuit brother; and who had been the friend of musicians and philosophers!

His cheerful, kindly self-assurance stood the test with difficulty, but it became a kind of ceremonial with him, whenever he was discomfited, to read some pages of a little dun-coloured book of philosophy, picked up on the quay at Quebec just before he sailed, and called, "Meditations in Philosophy." He had been warned by the bookseller that the Church had no love for philosophy; but while at Laval he had met the independent minds that, at eighteen to twenty-two, frequent academic groves; and he was not to be put off by the pious bookseller-had he not also had a philosopher in his house the year before, and was he not going to Nantes to see this same savant before returning to his beloved St. Saviour's parish.

But Paris and Nantes and Rouen and Havre abashed and discomfited him, played havoc with his self-esteem, confused his brain, and vexed him by formality, and, more than all, by their indifference to himself. He admired, yet he wished to be admired; he was humble, but he wished all people and things to be humble with him. When he halted he wanted the world to halt; when he entered a cathedral-Notre Dame or any other; or a great building-the Law Courts at Rouen or any other; he simply wanted people to say, wanted the cathedral, or at least the cloister, to whisper to itself, "Here comes Jean Jacques Barbille."

That was all he wanted, and that would have sufficed. He would not have had them whisper about his philosophy and his intellect, or the mills and the ash-factory which he meant to build, the lime-kilns he had started even before he left, and the general store he intended to open when he returned to St. Saviour's. Not even his modesty was recognized; and, in his grand tour, no one was impressed by all that he was, except once. An ancestor, a grandmother of his, had come from the Basque country; and so down to St. Jean Pied de Port he went; for he came of a race who set great store by mothers and grandmothers. At St. Jean Pied de Port he was more at home. He was, in a sense, a foreigner among foreigners there, and the people were not quizzical, since he was an outsider in any case and not a native returned, as he had been in Normandy. He learned to play pelota, the Basque game taken from the Spaniards, and he even allowed himself a little of that oratory which, as they say, has its habitat chiefly in Gascony. And because he had found an audience at last, he became a liberal host, and spent freely of his dollars, as he had never done either in Normandy, Paris, or elsewhere. So freely did he spend, that when he again embarked at Bordeaux for Quebec, he had only enough cash left to see him through the remainder of his journey in the great world. Yet he left France with his self-respect restored, and he even waved her a fond adieu, as the creaking Antoine broke heavily into the waters of the Bay of Biscay, while he cried:

"My little ship,

It bears me far

From lights of home

To alien star.

O vierge Marie,

Pour moi priez Dieu!

Adieu, dear land,

Provence, adieu."

Then a further wave of sentiment swept over him, and he was vaguely conscious of a desire to share the pains of parting which he saw in labour around him-children from parents, lovers from loved. He could not imagine the parting from a parent, for both of his were in the bosom of heaven, having followed his five brothers, all of whom had died in infancy, to his good fortune, for otherwise his estate would now be only one-sixth of what it was. But he could imagine a parting with some sweet daughter of France, and he added another verse to the thrilling of the heart of Casimir Delavigne:

"Beloved Isaure,

Her hand makes sign-

No more, no more,

To rest in mine.

O vierge Marie,

Pour moi priez Dieu!

Adieu, dear land,

Isaure, adieu!"

As he murmured with limpid eye the last words, he saw in the forecastle not far from him a girl looking at him. There was unmistakable sadness in her glance of interest. In truth she was thinking of just such a man as Jean Jacques, whom she could never see any more, for he had paid with his life the penalty of the conspiracy in which her father, standing now behind her on the leaky Antoine, had been a tool, and an evil tool. Here in Jean Jacques was the same ruddy brown face, black restless eye, and young, silken, brown beard. Also there was an air of certainty and universal comprehension, and though assertion and vanity were apparent, there was no self-consciousness. The girl's dead and gone conspirator had not the same honesty of face, the same curve of the ideal in the broad forehead, the same poetry of rich wavy brown hair, the same goodness of mind and body so characteristic of Jean Jacques-he was but Jean Jacques gone wrong at the start; but the girl was of a nature that could see little difference between things which were alike superficially, and in the young provincial she only saw one who looked like the man she had loved. True, his moustaches did not curl upwards at the ends as did those of Carvillho Gonzales, and he did not look out of the corner of his eyes and smoke black cigarettes; but there he was, her Carvillho with a difference-only such a difference that made him to her Carvillho II., and not the ghost of Carvillho I.

She was a maiden who might have been as good as need be for all life, so far as appearances went. She had a wonderful skin, a smooth, velvety cheek, where faint red roses came and went, as it might seem at will; with a deep brown eye; and eh, but she was grandly tall-so Jean Jacques thought, while he drew himself up to his full five feet, six and a half with a determined air. Even at his best, however, Jean Jacques could not reach within three inches of her height.

Yet he did not regard her as at all overdone because of that. He thought her hair very fine, as it waved away from her low forehead in a grace which reminded him of the pictures of the Empress Eugenie, and of the sister of that monsieur le duc who had come fishing to St. Saviour's a few years before. He thought that if her hair was let down it would probably reach to her waist, and maybe to her ankles. She had none of the plump, mellow softness of the beauties he had seen in the Basque country. She was a slim and long limbed Diana, with fine lines and a bosom of extreme youth, though she must have been twenty-one her last birthday. The gown she wore was a dark green well-worn velvet, which seemed of too good a make and quality for her class; and there was no decoration about her anywhere, save at the ears, where two drops of gold hung on little links an inch and a half long.

Jean Jacques Barbille's eyes took it all in with that observation of which he was so proud and confident, and rested finally on the drops of gold at her ears. Instinctively he fingered the heavy gold watch-chain he had bought in Paris to replace the silver chain with a little crucifix dangling, which his father and even his great-grandfather had worn before him. He had kept the watch, however-the great fat-bellied thing which had never run down in a hundred years. It was his mascot. To lose that watch would be like losing his share in the promises of the Church. So his fingers ran along the new gold-fourteen-carat-chain, to the watch at the end of it; and he took it out a little ostentatiously, since he saw that the eyes of the girl were on him. Involuntarily he wished to impress her.

He might have saved himself the trouble. She was impres

sed. It was quite another matter however, whether he would have been pleased to know that the impression was due to his resemblance to a Spanish conspirator, whose object was to destroy the Monarchy and the Church, as had been the object of the middle-aged conspirator-the girl's father-who had the good fortune to escape from justice. It is probable that if Jean Jacques had known these facts, his story would never have been written, and he would have died in course of time with twenty children and a seat in the legislature; for, in spite of his ardent devotion to philosophy and its accompanying rationalism, he was a devout monarchist and a child of the Church.

Sad enough it was that, as he shifted his glance from the watch, which ticked loud enough to wake a farmhand in the middle of the day, he found those Spanish eyes which had been so lost in studying him. In the glow and glisten of the evening sun setting on the shores of Bordeaux, and flashing reflected golden light to the girl's face, he saw that they were shining with tears, and though looking at him, appeared not to see him. In that moment the scrutiny of the little man's mind was volatilized, and the Spanische, as she was ultimately called, began her career in the life of the money-master of St. Saviour's.

It began by his immediately resenting the fact that she should be travelling in the forecastle. His mind imagined misfortune and a lost home through political troubles, for he quickly came to know that the girl and her father were Spanish; and to him, Spain was a place of martyrs and criminals. Criminals these could not be-one had but to look at the girl's face; while the face of her worthless father might have been that of a friend of Philip IV. in the Escorial, so quiet and oppressed it seemed. Nobility was written on the placid, apathetic countenance, except when it was not under observation, and then the look of Cain took its place. Jean Jacques, however, was not likely to see that look; since Sebastian Dolores-that was his name-had observed from the first how the master-miller was impressed by his daughter, and he was set to turn it to account.

Not that the father entered into an understanding with the girl. He knew her too well for that. He had a wholesome respect, not to say fear, of her; for when all else had failed, it was she who had arranged his escape from Spain, and who almost saved Carvillho Gonzales from being shot. She could have saved Gonzales, might have saved him, would have saved him, had she not been obliged to save her father. In the circumstances she could not save both.

Before the week was out Jean Jacques was possessed of as fine a tale of political persecution as mind could conceive, and, told as it was by Sebastian Dolores, his daughter did not seek to alter it, for she had her own purposes, and they were mixed. These refugees needed a friend, for they would land in Canada with only a few dollars, and Carmen Dolores loved her father well enough not to wish to see him again in such distress as he had endured in Cadiz. Also, Jean Jacques, the young, verdant, impressionable French Catholic, was like her Carvillho Gonzales, and she had loved her Carvillho in her own way very passionately, and-this much to her credit-quite chastely. So that she had no compunction in drawing the young money-master to her side, and keeping him there by such arts as such a woman possesses. These are remarkable after their kind. They are combined of a frankness as to the emotions, and such outer concessions to physical sensations, as make a painful combination against a mere man's caution; even when that caution has a Norman origin.

More than once Jean Jacques was moved to tears, as the Ananias of Cadiz told his stories of persecution.

So that one day, in sudden generosity, he paid the captain the necessary sum to transfer the refugees from the forecastle to his own select portion of the steamer, where he was so conspicuous a figure among a handful of lower-level merchant folk and others of little mark who were going to Quebec. To these latter Jean Jacques was a gift of heaven, for he knew so much, and seemed to know so much more, and could give them the information they desired. His importance lured him to pose as a seigneur, though he had no claim to the title. He did not call himself Seigneur in so many words, but when others referred to him as the Seigneur, and it came to his ears, he did not correct it; and when he was addressed as such he did not reprove.

Thus, when he brought the two refugees from the forecastle and assured his fellow-passengers that they were Spanish folk of good family exiled by persecution, his generosity was acclaimed, even while all saw he was enamoured of Carmen. Once among the first-class passengers, father and daughter maintained reserve, and though there were a few who saw that they were not very far removed above peasants, still the dress of the girl, which was good-she had been a maid in a great nobleman's family-was evidence in favour of the father's story. Sebastian Dolores explained his own workman's dress as having been necessary for his escape.

Only one person gave Jean Jacques any warning. This was the captain of the Antoine. He was a Basque, he knew the Spanish people well-the types, the character, the idiosyncrasies; and he was sure that Sebastian Dolores and his daughter belonged to the lower clerical or higher working class, and he greatly inclined towards the former. In that he was right, because Dolores, and his father before him, had been employed in the office of a great commercial firm in Cadiz, and had repaid much consideration by stirring up strife and disloyalty in the establishment. But before the anarchist subtracted himself from his occupation, he had appropriated certain sums of money, and these had helped to carry him on, when he attached himself to the revolutionaries. It was on his daughter's savings that he was now travelling, with the only thing he had saved from the downfall, which was his head. It was of sufficient personal value to make him quite cheerful as the Antoine plunged and shivered on her way to the country where he could have no steady work as a revolutionist.

With reserve and caution the Basque captain felt it his duty to tell Jean Jacques of his suspicions, warning him that the Spaniards were the choicest liars in the world, and were not ashamed of it; but had the same pride in it as had their greatest rivals, the Arabs and the Egyptians.

His discreet confidences, however, were of no avail; he was not discreet enough. If he had challenged the bona fides of Sebastian Dolores only, he might have been convincing, but he used the word "they" constantly, and that roused the chivalry of Jean Jacques. That the comely, careful Carmen should be party to an imposture was intolerable. Everything about her gave it the lie. Her body was so perfect and complete, so finely contrived and balanced, so cunningly curved with every line filled in; her eye was so full of lustre and half-melancholy too; her voice had such a melodious monotone; her mouth was so ripe and yet so distant in its luxury, that imposture was out of the question.

Ah, but Jean Jacques was a champion worth while! He did nothing by halves. He was of the breed of men who grow more intense, more convinced, more thorough, as they talk. One adjective begets another, one warm allusion gives birth to a warmer, one flashing impulse evokes a brighter confidence, till the atmosphere is flaming with conviction. If Jean Jacques started with faint doubt regarding anything, and allowed himself betimes the flush of a declaration of belief, there could be but one end. He gathered fire as he moved, impulse expanded into momentum, and momentum became an Ariel fleeing before the dark. He would start by offering a finger to be pricked, and would end by presenting his own head on a charger. He was of those who hypnotize themselves, who glow with self-creation, who flower and bloom without pollen.

His rejection of the captain's confidence even had a dignity. He took out his watch which represented so many laborious hours of other Barbilles, and with a decision in which the strong pulse of chivalry was beating hard, he said:

"I can never speak well till I have ate. That is my hobby. Well, so it is. And I like good company. So that is why I sit beside Senor and Senorita Dolores at table-the one on the right, the other on the left, myself between, like this, like that. It is dinner-time now here, and my friends-my dear friends of Cadiz-they wait me. Have you heard the Senorita sing the song of Spain, m'sieu'? What it must be with the guitar, I know not; but with voice alone it is ravishing. I have learned it also. The Senorita has taught me. It is a song of Aragon. It is sung in high places. It belongs to the nobility. Ah, then, you have not heard it-but it is not too late! The Senorita, the unhappy ma'm'selle, driven from her ancestral home by persecution, she will sing it to you as she has sung it to me. It is your due. You are the master of the ship. But, yes, she shall of her kindness and of her grace sing it to you. You do not know how it runs? Well, it is like this-listen and tell me if it does not speak of things that belong to the old regime, the ancient noblesse-listen, m'sieu' le captainne, how it runs:

"Have you not heard of mad Murcie?

Granada gay and And'lousie?

There's where you'll see the joyous rout,

When patios pour their beauties out;

Come, children, come, the night gains fast,

And Time's a jade too fair to last.

My flower of Spain, my Juanetta,

Away, away to gay Jota!

Come forth, my sweet, away, my queen,

Though daybreak scorns, the night's between.

The Fete's afoot-ah! ah! ah! ah!

De la Jota Ar'gonesa.

Ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah!

De la Jota Ar'gonesa."

Before he had finished, the captain was more than ready to go, for he had no patience with such credulity, simplicity and sentimentalism. He was Basque, and to be Basque is to lack sentiment and feel none, to play ever for the safe thing, to get without giving, and to mind your own business. It had only been an excessive sense of duty which had made the captain move in this, for he liked Jean Jacques as everyone aboard his Antoine did; and he was convinced that the Spaniards would play the "Seigneur" to the brink of disaster at least, though it would have been hard to detect any element of intrigue or coquetry in Carmen Dolores.

That was due partly to the fact that she was still in grief for her Gonzales, whose heart had been perforated by almost as many bullets as the arrows of Cupid had perforated it in his short, gay life of adventure and anarchy; also partly because there was no coquetry needed to interest Jean Jacques. If he was interested it was not necessary to interest anyone else, nor was it expedient to do so, for the biggest fish in the net on the Antoine was the money-master of St. Saviour's.

Carmen had made up her mind from the first to marry Jean Jacques, and she deported herself accordingly-with modesty, circumspection and skill. It would be the easiest way out of all their difficulties. Since her heart, such as it was, fluttered, a mournful ghost, over the Place d'Armes, where her Gonzales was shot, it might better go to Jean Jacques than anyone else; for he was a man of parts, of money, and of looks, and she loved these all; and to her credit she loved his looks better than all the rest. She had no real cupidity, and she was not greatly enamoured of brains. She had some real philosophy of life learned in a hard school; and it was infinitely better founded than the smattering of conventional philosophy got by Jean Jacques from his compendium picked up on the quay at Quebec.

Yet Jean Jacques' cruiser of life was not wholly unarmed. From his Norman forebears he had, beneath all, a shrewdness and an elementary alertness not submerged by his vain, kind nature. He was quite a good business man, and had proved himself so before his father died-very quick to see a chance, and even quicker to see where the distant, sharp corners in the road were; though not so quick to see the pitfalls, for his head was ever in the air. And here on the Antoine, there crossed his mind often the vision of Carmen Dolores and himself in the parish of St. Saviour's, with the daily life of the Beau Cheval revolving about him. Flashes of danger warned him now and then, just at the beginning of the journey, as it were; just before he had found it necessary to become her champion against the captain and his calumnies; but they were of the instant only. But champion as he became, and worshipping as his manner seemed, it all might easily have been put down to a warm, chivalrous, and spontaneous nature, which had not been bitted or bridled, and he might have landed at Quebec without committing himself, were it not for the fact that he was not to land at Quebec.

That was the fact which controlled his destiny. He had spent many, many hours with the Dona Dolores, talking, talking, as he loved to talk, and only saving himself from the betise of boring her by the fact that his enthusiasm had in it so fresh a quality, and because he was so like her Gonzales that she could always endure him. Besides, quick of intelligence as she was, she was by nature more material than she looked, and there was certainly something physically attractive in him-some curious magnetism. She had a well of sensuousness which might one day become sensuality; she had a richness of feeling and a contour in harmony with it, which might expand into voluptuousness, if given too much sun, or if untamed by the normal restraints of a happy married life. There was an earthquake zone in her being which might shake down the whole structure of her existence. She was unsafe, not because she was deceiving Jean Jacques now as to her origin and as to her feelings for him; she was unsafe because of the natural strain of the light of love in her, joined to a passion for comfort and warmth and to a natural self-indulgence. She was determined to make Jean Jacques offer himself before they landed at Quebec.

But they did not land at Quebec.

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