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   Chapter 11 THE CLERK OF THE COURT KEEPS A PROMISE

The Money Master, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 14043

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"Well, what is it, M'sieu' Fille? What do you want with me? I've got a lot to do before sundown, and it isn't far off. Out with it."

George Masson was in no good humour; from the look on the face of the little Clerk of the Court he had no idea that he would disclose any good news. It was probably some stupid business about "money not being paid into the Court," which had been left over from cases tried and lost; and he had had a number of cases that summer. His head was not so clear to-day as usual, but he had had little difficulties with M'sieu' Fille before, and he was sure that there was something wrong now.

"Do you want to make me a present?" he added with humorous impatience, for though he was not in a good temper, he liked the Clerk of the Court, who was such a figure at Vilray.

The opening for his purpose did not escape M. Fille. He had been at a loss to begin, but here was a natural opportunity for him.

"Well, good advice is not always a present, but I should like mine to be taken as such, monsieur," he said a little oracularly.

"Oh, advice-to give me advice-that's why you've brought me in here, when I've so much to do I can't breathe! Time is money with me, old 'un."

"Mine is advice which may be money in your pocket, monsieur," remarked the Clerk of the Court with meaning. "Money saved is money earned."

"How do you mean to save me money-by getting the Judge to give decisions in my favour? That would be money in my pocket for sure. The Court has been running against my interests this year. When I think I was never so right in my life-bang goes the judgment of the Court against me, and into my pocket goes my hand. I don't only need to save money, I need to make it; so if you can help me in that way I'm your man, M'sieu' la Fillette?"

The little man bristled at the misuse of his name, and he flushed slightly also; but there was always something engaging in the pleasure-loving master-carpenter. He had such an eloquent and warm temperament, the atmosphere of his personality was so genial, that his impertinence was insulated. Certainly the master-carpenter was not unpopular, and people could not easily resist the grip of his physical influence, while mentally he was far indeed from being deficient. He looked as little like a villain as a man could, and yet-and yet-a nature like that of George Masson (even the little Clerk could see that) was not capable of being true beyond the minute in which he took his oath of fidelity. While the fit of willingness was on him he would be true; yet in reality there was no truth at all-only self-indulgence unmarked by duty or honour.

"Give me a judgment for defamation of character. Give me a thousand dollars or so for that, m'sieu', and you'll do a good turn to a deserving fellow-citizen and admirer-one little thousand, that's all, m'sieu'. Then I'll dance at your wedding and weep at your tomb-so there!"

How easy he made the way for the little Clerk of the Court! "Defamation of character"-could there possibly be a better opening for what he had promised Judge Carcasson he would say!

"Ah, Monsieur Masson," very officially and decorously replied M. Fille, "but is it defamation of character? If the thing is true, then what is the judgment? It goes against you-so there!" There was irony in the last words.

"If what thing is true?" sharply asked the mastercarpenter, catching at the fringe of the idea in M. Fille's mind. "What thing?"

"Ah, but it is true, for I saw it! Yes, alas! I saw it with my own eyes. By accident of course; but there it was-absolute, uncompromising, deadly and complete."

It was a happy moment for the little Clerk of the Court when he could, in such an impromptu way, coin a phrase, or a set of adjectives, which would bear inspection of purists of the language. He loved to talk, though he did not talk a great deal, but he made innumerable conversations in his mind, and that gave him facility when he did speak. He had made conversations with George Masson in his mind since yesterday, when he gave his promise to Judge Carcasson; but none of them was like the real conversation now taking place. It was all the impression of the moment, while the phrases in his mind had been wonderfully logical things which, from an intellectual standpoint, would have delighted the man whose cause he was now engaged in defending.

"You saw what, M'sieu' la Fillette? Out with it, and don't use such big adjectives. I'm only a carpenter. 'Absolute, uncompromising, deadly, complete'-that's a mouthful of grammar, my lords! Come, my sprig of jurisprudence, tell us what you saw." There was an apparent nervousness in Masson's manner now. Indeed he showed more agitation than when, a few hours before, Jean Jacques had stood with his hand on the lever of the gates of the flume, and the life of the master-carpenter at his feet, to be kicked into eternity.

"Four days ago at five o'clock in the afternoon"-in a voice formal and exact, the little Clerk of the Court seemed to be reading from a paper, since he kept his eyes fixed on the blotter before him, as he did in Court-"I was coming down the hill behind the Manor Cartier, when my attention-by accident-was drawn to a scene below me in the Manor. I stopped short, of course, and-"

"Diable! You stopped short 'of course' before what you saw! Spit it out-what did you see?" George Masson had had a trying day, and there was danger of losing control of himself. There was a whiteness growing round the eyes, and eating up the warmth of the cheek; his admirably smooth brow was contracted into heavy wrinkles, and a foot shifted uneasily on the floor with a scraping sole. This drew the attention of M. Fille, who raised his head reprovingly-he could not get rid of the feeling that he was in court, and that a case was being tried; and the severity of a Judge is naught compared with the severity of a Clerk of the Court, particularly if he is small and unmarried, and has no one to beat him into manageable humanity.

M. Fille's voice was almost querulous.

"If you will but be patient, monsieur! I saw a man with a woman in his arms, and I fear that I must mention the name of the man. It is not necessary to give the name of the woman, but I have it written here"-he tapped the paper-"and there is no mistake in the identity. The man's name is George Masson, master-carpenter, of the town of Laplatte in the province of Quebec."

George Masson was as one hit between the eyes. He made a motion as though to ward off a blow. "Name of Peter, old cock!" he exclaimed abruptly. "You saw enough certainly, if you saw that, and you needn't mention the lady's name, as you say. The evidence is not merely circumstantial. You saw it with your own eyes, and you are an official of the Court, and have the ear of the Judge, and you look like a saint to a jury. Well for sure, I can't prove defamation of character, as you say. But what then-what do you want?"

"What I want I hope you may be able to grant withou

t demur, monsieur. I want you to give your pledge on the Book"-he laid his hand on a Testament lying on the table-"that you will hold no further communication with the lady."

"Where do you come inhere? What's your standing in the business?" Masson jerked out his words now. The Clerk of the Court made a reproving gesture. "Knowing what I did, what I had seen, it was clear that I must approach one or other of the parties concerned. Out of regard for the lady I could not approach her husband, and so betray her; out of regard for the husband I could not approach himself and destroy his peace; out of regard for all concerned I could not approach the lady's father, for then-"

Masson interrupted with an oath.

"That old reprobate of Cadiz-well no, bagosh!

"And so you whisked me into your office with the talk of urgent business and-"

"Is not the business urgent, monsieur?"

"Not at all," was the sharp reply of the culprit.

"Monsieur, you shock me. Do you consider that your conduct is not criminal? I have here"-he placed his hand on a book-"the Statutes of Victoria, and it lays down with wholesome severity the law concerning the theft of the affection of a wife, with the accompanying penalty, going as high as twenty thousand dollars."

George Masson gasped. Here was a new turn of affairs. But he set his teeth.

"Twenty thousand dollars-think of that!" he sneered angrily.

"That is what I said, monsieur. I said I could save you money, and money saved is money earned. I am your benefactor, if you will but permit me to be so, monsieur. I would save you from the law, and from the damages which the law gives. Can you not guess what would be given in a court of the Catholic province of Quebec, against the violation of a good man's home? Do you not see that the business is urgent?"

"Not at all," curtly replied the master-carpenter. M. Fille bridled up, and his spare figure seemed to gain courage and dignity.

"If you think I will hold my peace unless you give your sacred pledge, you are mistaken, monsieur. I am no meddler, but I have had much kindness at the hands of Monsieur and Madame Barbille, and I will do what I can to protect them and their daughter-that good and sweet daughter, from the machinations, corruptions and malfeasance-"

"Three damn good words for the Court, bagosh!" exclaimed Masson with a jeer.

"No, with a man devoid of honour, I shall not hesitate, for the Manor Cartier has been the home of domestic peace, and madame, who came to us a stranger, deserves well of the people of that ancient abode of chivalry-the chivalry of France."

"When we are wound up, what a humming we can make!" laughed George Masson sourly. "Have you quite finished, m'sieu'?"

"The matter is urgent, you will admit, monsieur?" again demanded M. Fille with austerity.

"Not at all."

The master-carpenter was defiant and insolent, yet there was a devilish kind of humour in his tone as in his attitude.

"You will not heed the warning I give?" The little Clerk pointed to the open page of the Victorian statutes before him.

"Not at all."

"Then I shall, with profound regret-"

Suddenly George Masson thrust his face forward near that of M. Fille, who did not draw back.

"You will inform the Court that the prisoner refuses to incriminate himself, eh?" he interjected.

"No, monsieur, I will inform Monsieur Barbille of what I saw. I will do this without delay. It is the one thing left me to do."

In quite a grand kind of way he stood up and bowed, as though to dismiss his visitor.

As George Masson did not move, the other went to the door and opened it. "It is the only thing left to do," he repeated, as he made a gentle gesture of dismissal.

"Not at all, my legal bombardier. Not at all, I say. All you know Jean Jacques knows, and a good deal more-what he has seen with his own eyes, and understood with his own mind, without legal help. So, you see, you've kept me here talking when there's no need and while my business waits. It is urgent, M'sieu' la Fillette-your business is stale. It belongs to last session of the Court." He laughed at his joke. "M'sieu' Jean Jacques and I understand each other." He laughed grimly now. "We know each other like a book, and the Clerk of the Court couldn't get in an adjective that would make the sense of it all clearer."

Slowly M. Fille shut the door, and very slowly he came back. Almost blindly, as it might seem, and with a moan, he dropped into his chair. His eyes fixed themselves on George Masson.

"Ah-that!" he said helplessly. "That! The little Zoe-dear God, the little Zoe, and the poor madame!" His voice was aching with pain and repugnance.

"If you were not such an icicle naturally, I'd be thinking your interest in the child was paternal," said the master-carpenter roughly, for the virtuous horror of the other's face annoyed him. He had had a vexing day.

The Clerk of the Court was on his feet in a second. "Monsieur, you dare!" he exclaimed. "You dare to multiply your crimes in that shameless way. Begone! There are those who can make you respect decency. I am not without my friends, and we all stand by each other in our love of home-of sacred home, monsieur."

There was something right in the master-carpenter at the bottom, with all his villainy. It was not alone that he knew there were fifty men in the Parish of St. Saviour's who would man-handle him for such a suggestion, and for what he had done at the Manor Cartier, if they were roused; but he also had a sudden remorse for insulting the man who, after all, had tried to do him a service. His amende was instant.

"I take it back with humble apology-all I can hold in both hands, m'sieu'," he said at once. "I would not insult you so, much less Madame Barbille. If she'd been like what I've hinted at, I wouldn't have gone her way, for the promiscuous is not for me. I'll tell you the whole truth of what happened to-day this morning. Last night I met her at the river, and-Then briefly he told all that had happened to the moment when Jean Jacques had left him at the flume with the words, 'Moi, je suis philosophe!' And at the last he said:

"I give you my word-my oath on this"-he laid his hand on the Testament on the table-"that beyond what you saw, and what Jean Jacques saw, there has been nothing." He held up a hand as though taking an oath.

"Name of God, is it not enough what there has been?" whispered the little Clerk.

"Oh, as you think, and as you say! It is quite enough for me after to-day. I'm a teetotaller, but I'm not so fond of water as to want to take my eternal bath in it." He shuddered slightly. "Bien sur, I've had my fill of the Manor Cartier for one day, my Clerk of the Court."

"Bien sur, it was enough to set you thinking, monsieur," was the dry comment of M. Fille, who was now recovering his composure.

At that moment there came a knock at the door, and another followed quickly; then there entered without waiting for a reply-Carmen Barbille.

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