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   Chapter 4 THIRTEEN YEARS AFTER AND THE CLERK OF THE COURT TELLS A STORY

The Money Master, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 22147

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


It was hard to say which was the more important person in the parish, the New Cure or M'sieu' Jean Jacques Barbille. When the Old Cure was alive Jean Jacques was a lesser light, and he accepted his degree of illumination with content. But when Pere Langon was gathered to his fathers, and thousands had turned away from the graveyard, where he who had baptised them, confirmed them, blessed them, comforted them, and firmly led them was laid to rest, they did not turn at once to his successor with confidence and affection. The new cure, M. Savry, was young; the Old Cure had lived to be eighty-five, bearing wherever he went a lamp of wisdom at which the people lighted their small souls. The New Cure could command their obedience, but he could not command their love and confidence until he had earned them.

So it was that, for a time, Jean Jacques took the place of the Old Cure in the human side of the life of the district, though in a vastly lesser degree. Up to the death of M. Langon, Jean Jacques had done very well in life, as things go in out-of-the-way places of the world. His mill, which ground good flour, brought him increasing pence; his saw-mill more than paid its way; his farms made a small profit, in spite of a cousin who worked one on halves, but who had a spendthrift wife; the ash-factory which his own initiative had started made no money, but the loss was only small; and he had even made profit out of his lime-kilns, although Sebastian Dolores, Carmen's father, had at one time mismanaged them-but of that anon. Jean Jacques himself managed the business of money-lending and horse-dealing; and he also was agent for fire insurance and a dealer in lightning rods.

In the thirteen years since he married he had been able to keep a good many irons in the fire, and also keep them more or less hot. Many people in his and neighbouring parishes were indebted to him, and it was worth their while to stand well with him. If he insisted on debts being paid, he was never exacting or cruel. If he lent money, he never demanded more than eight per cent.; and he never pressed his debtors unduly. His cheerfulness seldom deserted him, and he was notably kind to the poor. Not seldom in the winter time a poor man, here and there in the parish, would find dumped down outside his door in the early morning a half-cord of wood or a bag of flour.

It could not be said that Jean Jacques did not enjoy his own generosity. His vanity, however, did not come from an increasing admiration of his own personal appearance, a weakness which often belongs to middle age; but from the study of his so-called philosophy, which in time became an obsession with him. In vain the occasional college professors, who spent summer months at St. Saviour's, sought to interest him in science and history, for his philosophy had large areas of boredom; but science marched over too jagged a road for his tender intellectual feet; the wild places where it led dismayed him. History also meant numberless dates and facts. Perhaps he could have managed the dates, for he was quick at figures, but the facts were like bees in their hive,-he could scarcely tell one from another by looking at them.

So it was that Jean Jacques kept turning his eyes, as he thought, to the everlasting meaning of things, to "the laws of Life and the decrees of Destiny." He was one of those who had found, as he thought, what he could do, and was sensible enough to do it. Let the poor fellows, who gave themselves to science, trouble their twisted minds with trigonometry and the formula of some grotesque chemical combination; let the dull people rub their noses in the ink of Greek and Latin, which was no use for everyday consumption; let the heads of historians ache with the warring facts of the lives of nations; it all made for sleep. But philosophy-ah, there was a field where a man could always use knowledge got from books or sorted out of his own experiences!

It happened, therefore, that Jean Jacques, who not too vaguely realized that there was reputation to be got from being thought a philosopher, always carried about with him his little compendium from the quay at Quebec, which he had brought ashore inside his redflannel shirt, with the antique silver watch, when the Antoine went down.

Thus also it was that when a lawyer in court at Vilray, four miles from St. Saviour's, asked him one day, when he stepped into the witness-box, what he was, meaning what was his occupation, his reply was, "Moi-je suis M'sieu' Jean Jacques, philosophe-(Me-I am M'sieu' Jean Jacques, philosopher)."

A little later outside the court-house, the Judge who had tried the case-M. Carcasson-said to the Clerk of the Court:

"A curious, interesting little man, that Monsieur Jean Jacques. What's his history?"

"A character, a character, monsieur le juge," was the reply of M. Amand Fille. "His family has been here since Frontenac's time. He is a figure in the district, with a hand in everything. He does enough foolish things to ruin any man, yet swims along-swims along. He has many kinds of business-mills, stores, farms, lime-kilns, and all that, and keeps them all going; and as if he hadn't enough to do, and wasn't risking enough, he's now organizing a cheese-factory on the co-operative principle, as in Upper Canada among the English."

"He has a touch of originality, that's sure," was the reply of the Judge.

The Clerk of the Court nodded and sighed. "Monseigneur Giron of Laval, the greatest scholar in Quebec, he said to me once that M'sieu' Jean Jacques missed being a genius by an inch. But, monsieur le juge, not to have that inch is worse than to be an ignoramus."

Judge Carcasson nodded. "Ah, surely! Your Jean Jacques lacks a balance-wheel. He has brains, but not enough. He has vision, but it is not steady; he has argument, but it breaks down just where it should be most cohesive. He interested me. I took note of every turn of his mind as he gave evidence. He will go on for a time, pulling his strings, doing this and doing that, and then, all at once, when he has got a train of complications, his brain will not be big enough to see the way out. Tell me, has he a balance-wheel in his home-a sensible wife, perhaps?"

The Clerk of the Court shook his head mournfully and seemed to hesitate. Then he said, "Comme ci, comme ca-but no, I will speak the truth about it. She is a Spaniard-the Spanische she is called by the neighbours. I will tell you all about that, and you will wonder that he has carried on as well as he has, with his vanity and his philosophy."

"He'll have need of his philosophy before he's done, or I don't know human nature; he'll get a bad fall one of these days," responded the Judge. "'Moi-je suis M'sieu' Jean Jacques, philosophe'-that is what he said. Bumptious little man, and yet-and yet there's something in him. There's a sense of things which everyone doesn't have-a glimmer of life beyond his own orbit, a catching at the biggest elements of being, a hovering on the confines of deep understanding, as it were. Somehow I feel almost sorry for him, though he annoyed me while he was in the witness-box, in spite of myself. He was as the English say, so 'damn sure.'"

"So damn sure always," agreed the Clerk of the Court, with a sense of pleasure that his great man, this wonderful aged little judge, should have shown himself so human as to use such a phrase.

"But, no doubt, the sureness has been a good servant in his business," returned the Judge. "Confidence in a weak world gets unearned profit often. But tell me about his wife-the Spanische. Tell me the how and why, and everything. I'd like to trace our little money-man wise to his source."

Again M. Fille was sensibly agitated. "She is handsome, and she has great, good gifts when she likes to use them," he answered. "She can do as much in an hour as most women can do in two; but then she will not keep at it. Her life is but fits and starts. Yet she has a good head for business, yes, very good. She can see through things. Still, there it is-she will not hold fast from day to day."

"Yes, yes, but where did she come from? What was the field where she grew?"

"To be sure, monsieur. It was like this," responded the other.

Thereupon M. Fille proceeded to tell the history, musical with legend, of Jean Jacques' Grand Tour, of the wreck of the Antoine, of the marriage of the "seigneur," the home-coming, and the life that followed, so far as rumour, observation, and a mind with a gift for narrative, which was not to be incomplete for lack of imagination, could make it. It was only when he offered his own reflections on Carmen Dolores, now Carmen Barbille, and on women generally, that Judge Carcasson pulled him up.

"So, so, I see. She has temperament and so on, but she's unsteady, and regarded by her neighbours not quite as one that belongs. Bah, the conceit of every race! They are all the same. The English are the worst-as though the good God was English. But the child-so beautiful, you say, and yet more like the father than the mother. He is not handsome, that Jean Jacques, but I can understand that the little one should be like him and yet beautiful too. I should like to see the child."

Suddenly the Clerk of the Court stopped and touched the arm of his distinguished friend and patron. "That is very easy, monsieur," he said eagerly, "for there she is in the red wagon yonder, waiting for her father. She adores him, and that makes trouble sometimes. Then the mother gets fits, and makes things hard at the Manor Cartier. It is not all a bed of roses for our Jean Jacques. But there it is. He is very busy all the time. Something doing always, never still, except when you will find him by the road-side, or in a tavern with all the people round him, talking, jesting, and he himself going into a trance with his book of philosophy. It is very strange that everlasting going, going, going, and yet that love of his book. I sometimes think it is all pretence, and that he is all vanity-or almost so. Heaven forgive me for my want of charity!"

The little round judge cocked his head astutely. "But you say he is kind to the poor, that he does not treat men hardly who are in debt to him, and that he will take his coat off his back to give to a tramp-is it so?"

"As so, as so, monsieur."

"Then he is not all vanity, and because of that he will feel the blow when it comes-alas, so much he will feel it!"

"What blow, monsieur le juge?-but ah, look, monsieur!" He pointed eagerly. "There she is, going to the red wagon-Madame Jean Jacques. Is she not a figure of a woman? See the walk of her-is it not distinguished? She is half a hand-breadth taller than Jean Jacques. And her face, most sure it is a face to see. If Jean Jacques was not so busy with his farms and his mills and his kilns and his usury, he would see what a woman he has got. It is his good fortune that she has such sense in business. When Jean Jacques listens to her, he goes right. She herself did not want her father to m

anage the lime-kilns-the old Sebastian Dolores. She was for him staying at Mirimachi, where he kept the books of the lumber firm. But no, Jean Jacques said that he could make her happy by having her father near her, and he would not believe she meant what she said. He does not understand her; that is the trouble. He knows as much of women or men as I know of-"

"Of the law-hein?" laughed the great man.

"Monsieur-ah, that is your little joke! I laugh, yes, but I laugh," responded the Clerk of the Court a little uncertainly. "Now once when she told him that the lime-kilns-"

The Judge, who had retraced his steps down the street of the town-it was little more than a large village, but because it had a court-house and a marketplace it was called a town-that he might have a good look at Madame Jean Jacques and her child before he passed them, suddenly said:

"How is it you know so much about it all, Maitre Fille-as to what she says and of the inner secrets of the household? Ah, ha, my little Lothario, I have caught you-a bachelor too, with time on his hands, and the right side of seventy as well! The evidence you have given of a close knowledge of the household of our Jean Jacques does not have its basis in hearsay, but in acute personal observation. Tut-tut! Fie-fie! my little gay Clerk of the Court. Fie! Fie!"

M. Fille was greatly disconcerted. He had never been a Lothario. In forty years he had never had an episode with one of "the other sex," but it was not because he was impervious to the softer emotions. An intolerable shyness had ever possessed him when in the presence of women, and even small girl children had frightened him, till he had made friends with little Zoe Barbille, the daughter of Jean Jacques. Yet even with Zoe, who was so simple and companionable and the very soul of childish confidence, he used to blush and falter till she made him talk. Then he became composed, and his tongue was like a running stream, and on that stream any craft could sail. On it he became at ease with madame the Spanische, and he even went so far as to look her full in the eyes on more than one occasion.

"Answer me-ah, you cannot answer!" teasingly added the Judge, who loved his Clerk of the Court, and had great amusement out of his discomfiture. "You are convicted. At an age when a man should be settling down, you are gallivanting with the wife of a philosopher."

"Monsieur-monsieur le juge!" protested M. Fille with slowly heightening colour. "I am innocent, yes, altogether. There is nothing, believe me. It is the child, the little Zoe-but a maid of charm and kindness. She brings me cakes and the toffy made by her own hands; and if I go to the Manor Cartier, as I often do, it is to be polite and neighbourly. If Madame says things to me, and if I see what I see, and hear what I hear, it is no crime; it is no misdemeanour; it is within the law-the perfect law."

Suddenly the Judge linked his arm within that of the other, for he also was little, and he was fat and round and ruddy, and even smaller than M. Fille, who was thin, angular and pale.

"Ah, my little Confucius," he said gently, "have you seen and heard me so seldom that you do not know me yet, or what I really think? Of course it is within the law-the perfect law-to visit at m'sieu' the philosopher's house and talk at length also to m'sieu' the philosopher's wife; while to make the position regular by friendship with the philosopher's child is a wisdom which I can only ascribe to"-his voice was charged with humour and malicious badinage "to an extended acquaintance with the devices of human nature, as seen in those episodes of the courts with which you have been long familiar."

"Oh, monsieur, dear monsieur!" protested the Clerk of the Court, "you always make me your butt."

"My friend," said the Judge, squeezing his arm, "if I could have you no other way, I would make you my butler!"

Then they both laughed at the inexpensive joke, and the Clerk of the Court was in high spirits, for on either side of the street were people with whom he lived every day, and they could see the doyen of the Bench, the great Judge Carcasson, who had refused to be knighted, arm in arm with him. Aye, and better than all, and more than all, here was Zoe Barbille drawing her mother's attention to him almost in the embrace of the magnificent jurist.

The Judge, with his small, round, quizzical eyes which missed nothing, saw too; and his attention was strangely arrested by the faces of both the mother and the child. His first glance at the woman's face made him flash an inward light on the memory of Jean Jacques' face in the witness-box, and a look of reflective irony came into his own. The face of Carmen Dolores, wife of the philosophic miller and money-master, did not belong to the world where she was placed-not because she was so unlike the habitant women, or even the wives of the big farmers, or the sister of the Cure, or the ladies of the military and commercial exiles who lived in that portion of the province; but because of an alien something in her look-a lonely, distant sense of isolation, a something which might hide a companionship and sympathy of a rare kind, or might be but the mask of a furtive, soulless nature. In the child's face was nothing of this. It was open as the day, bright with the cheerfulness of her father's countenance, alive with a humour which that countenance did not possess. The contour was like that of Jean Jacques, but with a fineness and delicacy to its fulness absent from his own; and her eyes were a deep and lustrous brown, under a forehead which had a boldness of gentle dignity possessed by neither father nor mother. Her hair was thick, brown and very full, like that of her father, and in all respects, save one, she had an advantage over both her parents. Her mouth had a sweetness which might not unfairly be called weakness, though that was balanced by a chin of commendable strength.

But the Judge's eyes found at once this vulnerable point in her character as he had found that of her mother. Delightful the child was, and alert and companionable, with no remarkable gifts, but with a rare charm and sympathy. Her face was the mirror of her mind, and it had no ulterior thought. Her mother's face, the Judge had noted, was the foreground of a landscape which had lonely shadows. It was a face of some distinction and suited to surroundings more notable, though the rural life Carmen had led since the Antoine went down and her fortunes came up, had coarsened her beauty a very little.

"There's something stirring in the coverts," said the Judge to himself as he was introduced to the mother and child. By a hasty gesture Zoe gave a command to M. Fille to help her down. With a hand on his shoulder she dropped to the ground. Her object was at once apparent. She made a pretty old-fashioned curtsey to the Judge, then held out her hand, as though to reassert her democratic equality.

As the Judge looked at Madame Barbille, he was involuntarily, but none the less industriously, noting her characteristics; and the sum of his reflections, after a few moments' talk, was that dangers he had seen ahead of Jean Jacques, would not be averted by his wife, indeed might easily have their origin in her.

"I wonder it has gone on as long as it has," he said to himself; though it seemed unreasonable that his few moments with her, and the story told him by the Clerk of the Court, should enable him to come to any definite conclusion. But at eighty-odd Judge Carcasson was a Solon and a Solomon in one. He had seen life from all angles, and he was not prepared to give any virtue or the possession of any virtue too much rope; while nothing in life surprised him.

"How would you like to be a judge?" he asked of Zoe, suddenly taking her hand in his. A kinship had been at once established between them, so little has age, position, and intellect to do with the natural gravitations of human nature.

She did not answer direct, and that pleased him. "If I were a judge I should have no jails," she said. "What would you do with the bad people?" he asked.

"I would put them alone on a desert island, or out at sea in a little boat, or out on the prairies without a horse, so that they'd have to work for their lives."

"Oh, I see! If M. Fille here set fire to a house, you would drop him on the prairie far away from everything and everybody and let him 'root hog or die'?"

"Don't you think it would kill him or cure him?" she asked whimsically.

The Judge laughed, his eyes twinkling. "That's what they did when the world was young, dear ma'm'selle. There was no time to build jails. Alone on the prairie-a separate prairie for every criminal-that would take a lot of space; but the idea is all right. It mightn't provide the proper degree of punishment, however. But that is being too particular. Alone on the prairie for punishment-well, I should like to see it tried."

He remembered that saying of his long after, while yet he was alive, and a tale came to him from the prairies which made his eyes turn more intently towards a land that is far off, where the miserable miscalculations and mistakes of this world are readjusted. Now he was only conscious of a primitive imagination looking out of a young girl's face, and making a bridge between her understanding and his own.

"What else would you do if you were a judge?" he asked presently.

"I would make my father be a miller," she replied. "But he is a miller, I hear."

"But he is so many other things-so many. If he was only a miller we should have more of him. He is at home only a little. If I get up early enough in the morning, or if I am let stay up at night late enough, I see him; but that is not enough-is it, mother?" she added with a sudden sense that she had gone too far, that she ought not to say this perhaps.

The woman's face had darkened for an instant, and irritation showed in her eyes, but by an effort of the will she controlled herself.

"Your father knows best what he can do and can't do," she said evenly.

"But you would not let a man judge for himself, would you, ma'm'selle?" asked the old inquisitor. "You would judge for the man what was best for him to do?"

"I would judge for my father," she replied. "He is too good a man to judge for himself."

"Well, there's a lot of sense in that, ma'm'selle philosophe," answered Judge Carcasson. "You would make the good idle, and make the bad work. The good you would put in a mill to watch the stones grind, and the bad you would put on a prairie alone to make the grist for the grinding. Ma'm'selle, we must be friends-is it not so?"

"Haven't we always been friends?" the young girl asked with the look of a visionary suddenly springing up in her eyes.

Here was temperament indeed. She pleased Judge Carcasson greatly. "But yes, always, and always, and always," he replied. Inwardly he said to himself, "I did not see that at first. It is her father in her.

"Zoe!" said her mother reprovingly.

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