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   Chapter 15 BON MARCHE

The Money Master, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 28548

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


Vilray was having its market day, and everyone was either going to or coming from market, or buying and selling in the little square by the Court House. It was the time when the fruits were coming in, when vegetables were in full yield, when fish from the Beau Cheval were to be had in plenty-from mud-cats and suckers, pike and perch, to rock-bass, sturgeon and even maskinonge. Also it was the time of year when butter and eggs, chickens and ducks were so cheap that it was a humiliation not to buy. There were other things on sale also, not for eating and drinking, but for wear and household use-from pots and pans to rag-carpets and table-linen, from woollen yarn to pictures of the Virgin and little calvaries.

These were side by side with dried apples, bottled fruits, jars of maple syrup, and cordials of so generous and penetrating a nature that the currant and elderberry wine by which they were flanked were tipple for babes beside them. Indeed, when a man wanted to forget himself quickly he drank one of these cordials, in preference to the white whisky so commonly imbibed in the parishes. But the cordials being expensive, they were chiefly bought for festive occasions like a wedding, a funeral, a confirmation, or the going away of some young man or young woman to the monastery or the convent to forget the world. Meanwhile, if these spiritual argonauts drank it, they were likely to forget the world on the way to their voluntary prisons. It was very seldom that a man or woman bought the cordials for ordinary consumption, and when that was done, it would almost make a parish talk! Yet cordials of nice brown, of delicate green, of an enticing yellow colour, were here for sale at Vilray market on the morning after the painful scene at the Manor Cartier between Zoe and her father.

The market-place was full-fuller than it had been for many a day. A great many people were come in as much to "make fete" as to buy and sell. It was a saint's day, and the bell of St. Monica's had been ringing away cheerfully twice that morning. To it the bell of the Court House had made reply, for a big case was being tried in the court. It was a river-driving and lumber case for which many witnesses had been called; and there were all kinds of stray people in the place-red-shirted river-drivers, a black-coated Methodist minister from Chalfonte, clerks from lumber-firms, and foremen of lumber-yards; and among these was one who greatly loved such a day as this when he could be free from work, and celebrate himself!

Other people might celebrate saints dead and gone, and drink to 'La Patrie', and cry "Vive Napoleon!" or "Vive la Republique!" or "Vive la Reine!" though this last toast of the Empire was none too common-but he could only drink with real sincerity to the health of Sebastian Dolores, which was himself. Sebastian Dolores was the pure anarchist, the most complete of monomaniacs.

"Here comes the father of the Spanische," remarked Mere Langlois, who presided over a heap of household necessities, chiefly dried fruits, preserves and pickles, as Sebastian Dolores appeared not far away.

"Good-for-nothing villain! I pity the poor priest that confesses him."

"Who is the Spanische?" asked a young woman from her own stall or stand very near, as she involuntarily arranged her hair and adjusted her waist-belt; for the rakish-looking reprobate, with the air of having been somewhere, was making towards them; and she was young enough to care how she looked when a man, who took notice, was near. Her own husband had been a horse-doctor, farmer, and sportsman of a kind, and she herself was now a farmer of a kind; and she had only resided in the parish during the three years since she had been married to, and buried, Palass Poucette.

Old Mere Langlois looked at her companion in merchanting irritably, then she remembered that Virginie Poucette was a stranger, in a way, and was therefore deserving of pity, and she said with compassionate patronage: "Newcomer you-I'd forgotten. Look you then, the Spanische was the wife of my third cousin, M'sieu' Jean Jacques, and-"

Virginie Poucette nodded, and the slight frown cleared from her low yet shapely forehead. "Yes, yes, of course I know. I've heard enough. What a fool she was, and M'sieu' Jean Jacques so rich and kind and good-looking! So this is her father-well, well, well!"

Palass Poucette's widow leaned forward, and looked intently at Sebastian Dolores, who had stopped near by, and facing a couple of barrels on which were exposed some bottles of cordial and home-made wine. He was addressing himself with cheerful words to the dame that owned the merchandise.

"I suppose you think it's a pity Jean Jacques can't get a divorce," said Mere Langlois, rather spitefully to Virginie, for she had her sex's aversion to widows who had had their share of mankind, and were afterwards free to have someone else's share as well. But suddenly repenting, for Virginie was a hard-working widow who had behaved very well for an outsider-having come from Chalfonte beyond the Beau Chevalshe added: "But if he was a Protestant and could get a divorce, and you did marry him, you'd make him have more sense than he's got; for you've a quiet sensible way, and you've worked hard since Palass Poucette died."

"Where doesn't he show sense, that M'sieu' Jean Jacques?" the younger woman asked.

"Where? Why, with his girl-with Ma'm'selle." "Everybody I ever heard speaks well of Ma'm'selle Zoe," returned the other warmly, for she had a very generous mind and a truthful, sentimental heart. Mere Langlois sniffed, and put her hands on her hips, for she had a daughter of her own; also she was a relation of Jean Jacques, and therefore resented in one way the difference in their social position, while yet she plumed herself on being kin.

"Then you'll learn something now you never knew before," she said. "She's been carrying on-there's no other word for it-with an actor fellow-"

"Yes, yes, I did hear about him-a Protestant and an Englishman."

"Well, then, why do you pretend you don't know-only to hear me talk, is it? Take my word, I'd teach cousin Zoe a lesson with all her education and her two years at the convent. Wasn't it enough that her mother should spoil everything for Jean Jacques, and make the Manor Cartier a place to point the finger at, without her bringing disgrace on the parish too! What happened last night-didn't I hear this morning before I had my breakfast! Didn't I-"

She then proceeded to describe the scene in which Jean Jacques had thrown the wrecked guitar of his vanished spouse into the fire. Before she had finished, however, something occurred which swept them into another act of the famous history of Jean Jacques Barbille and his house.

She had arrived at the point where Zoe had cried aloud in pain at her father's incendiary act, when there was a great stir at the Court House door which opened on the market-place, and vagrant cheers arose. These were presently followed by a more disciplined fusillade; which presently, in turn, was met by hisses and some raucous cries of resentment. These increased as a man appeared on the steps of the Court House, looked round for a moment in a dazed kind of way, then seeing some friends below who were swarming towards him, gave a ribald cry, and scrambled down the steps towards them.

He was the prisoner whose release had suddenly been secured by a piece of evidence which had come as a thunder-clap on judge and jury. Immediately after giving this remarkable evidence the witness-Sebastian Dolores-had left the court-room. He was now engaged in buying cordials in the market-place-in buying and drinking them; for he had pulled the cork out of a bottle filled with a rich yellow liquid, and had drained half the bottle at a gulp. Presently he offered the remainder to a passing carter, who made a gesture of contempt and passed on, for, to him, white whisky was the only drink worth while. Besides, he disliked Sebastian Dolores. Then, with a flourish, the Spaniard tendered the bottle to Madame Langlois and Palass Poucette's widow, at whose corner of merchandise he had now arrived.

Surely there never was a more benign villain and perjurer in the world than Sebastian Dolores! His evidence, given a half-hour before, with every sign of truthfulness, was false. The man-Rocque Valescure-for whom he gave it was no friend of his; but he owned a tavern called "The Red Eagle," a few miles from the works where the Spaniard was employed; also Rocque Valescure's wife set a good table, and Sebastian Dolores was a very liberal feeder; when he was not hungry he was always thirsty. The appeasement of hunger and thirst was now become a problem to him, for his employers at Beauharnais had given him a month's notice because of certain irregularities which had come to their knowledge. Like a wise man Sebastian Dolores had said nothing about this abroad, but had enlarged his credit in every direction, and had then planned this piece of friendly perjury for Rocque Valescure, who was now descending the steps of the Court House to the arms of his friends and amid the execrations of his foes. What the alleged crime was does not matter. It has no vital significance in the history of Jean Jacques Barbille, though it has its place as a swivel on which the future swung.

Sebastian Dolores had saved Rocque Valescure from at least three years in jail, and possibly a very heavy fine as well; and this service must have its due reward. Something for nothing was not the motto of Sebastian Dolores; and he confidently looked forward to having a home at "The Red Eagle" and a banker in its landlord. He was no longer certain that he could rely on help from Jean Jacques, to whom he already owed so much. That was why he wanted to make Rocque Valescure his debtor. It was not his way to perjure his soul for nothing. He had done so in Spain-yet not for nothing either. He had saved his head, which was now doing useful work for himself and for a needy fellow-creature. No one could doubt that he had helped a neighbour in great need, and had done it at some expense to his own nerve and brain. None but an expert could have lied as he had done in the witness-box. Also he had upheld his lies with a striking narrative of circumstantiality. He made things fit in "like mortised blocks" as the Clerk of the Court said to Judge Carcasson, when they discussed the infamy afterwards with clear conviction that it was perjury of a shameless kind; for one who would perjure himself to save a man from jail, would also swear a man into the gallows-rope. But Judge Carcasson had not been able to charge the jury in that sense, for there was no effective evidence to rebut the untruthful attestation of the Spaniard. It had to be taken for what it was worth, since the prosecuting attorney could not shake it; and yet to the Court itself it was manifestly false witness.

Sebastian Dolores was too wise to throw himself into the arms of his released tavern-keeper here immediately after the trial, or to allow Rocque Valescure a like indiscretion and luxury; for there was a strong law against perjury, and right well Sebastian Dolores knew that old Judge Carcasson would have little mercy on him, in spite of the fact that he was the grandfather of Zoe Barbille. The Judge would probably think that safe custody for his wayward character would be the kindest thing he could do for Zoe. Therefore it was that Sebastian Dolores paid no attention to the progress of the released landlord of "The Red Eagle," though, by a glance out of the corner of his eyes, he made sure that the footsteps of liberated guilt were marching at a tangent from where he was-even to the nearest tavern.

It was enough for Dolores that he should watch the result of his good deed from the isolated area where he now was, in the company of two virtuous representatives of domesticity. His time with liberated guilt would come! He chuckled to think how he had provided himself with a refuge against his hour of trouble. That very day he had left his employment, meaning to return no more, securing his full wages through having suddenly become resentful and troublesome, neglectful-and imperative. To avoid further unpleasantness the firm had paid him all his wages; and he had straightway come to Vilray to earn his bed and board by other means than through a pen, a ledger and a gift for figures. It would not be a permanent security against the future, but it would suffice for the moment. It was a rest-place on the road. If the worst came to the worst, there was his grand-daughter and his dear son-in-law whom he so seldom saw-blood was thicker than water, and he would see to it that it was not thinned by neglect.

Meanwhile he ogled Palass Poucette's widow with one eye, and talked softly with his tongue to Mere Langlois, as he importuned Madame to "Sip the good cordial in the name of charity to all and malice towards none."

"You're a bad man-you, and I want none of your cordials," was Mere Langlois's response. "Malice towards none, indeed! If you and the devil started business in the same street, you'd make him close up shop in a year. I've got your measure, for sure; I have you certain as an arm and a pair of stirrups."

"I go about doing good-only good," returned the old sinner with a leer at the young widow, whose fingers he managed to press unseen, as he swung the little bottle of cordial before the eyes of Mere Langlois. He was not wholly surprised when Palass Poucette's widow did not show abrupt displeasure at his bold familiarity.

A wild thought flashed into his mind. Might there not be another refuge here-here in Palass Poucette's widow! He was sixty-three, it was true, and she was only thirty-two; but for her to be an old man's darling who had no doubt been a young man's slave, that would surely have its weight with her. Also she owned the farm where she lived; and she was pleasant pasturage-that was the phrase he used in his own mind, even as his eye swept from Mere Langlois to hers in swift, hungry inquiry.

He seemed in earnest when he spoke-but that was his way; it had done him service often. "I do good whenever it comes my way to do it,"

he continued. "I left my work this morning"-he lied of course-"and hired a buggy to bring me over here, all at my own cost, to save a fellow-man. There in the Court House he was sure of prison, with a wife and three small children weeping in 'The Red Eagle'; and there I come at great expense and trouble to tell the truth-before all to tell the truth-and save him and set him free. Yonder he is in the tavern, the work of my hands, a gift to the world from an honest man with a good heart and a sense of justice. But for me there would be a wife and three children in the bondage of shame, sorrow, poverty and misery"-his eyes again ravished the brown eyes of Palass Poucette's widow-"and here again I drink to my own health and to that of all good people-with charity to all and malice towards none!"

The little bottle of golden cordial was raised towards Mere Langlois. The fingers of one hand, however, were again seeking those of the comely young widow who was half behind him, when he felt them caught spasmodically away. Before he had time to turn round he heard a voice, saying: "I should have thought that 'With malice to all and charity towards none,' was your motto, Dolores."

He knew that voice well enough. He had always had a lurking fear that he would hear it say something devastating to him, from the great chair where its owner sat and dispensed what justice a jury would permit him to do. That devastating something would be agony to one who loved liberty and freedom-had not that ever been his watchword, liberty and freedom to do what he pleased in the world and with the world? Yes, he well knew Judge Carcasson's voice. He would have recognized it in the dark-or under the black cap. "M'sieu' le juge!" he said, even before he turned round and saw the faces of the tiny Judge and his Clerk of the Court. There was a kind of quivering about his mouth, and a startled look in his eyes as he faced the two. But there was the widow of Palass Poucette, and, if he was to pursue and frequent her, something must be done to keep him decently figured in her eye and mind.

"It cost me three dollars to come here and save a man from jail to-day, m'sieu' le juge," he added firmly. The Judge pressed the point of his cane against the stomach of the hypocrite and perjurer. "If the Devil and you meet, he will take off his hat to you, my escaped anarchist"-Dolores started almost violently now-"for you can teach him much, and Ananias was the merest aboriginal to you. But we'll get you-we'll get you, Dolores. You saved that guilty fellow by a careful and remarkable perjury to-day. In a long experience I have never seen a better performance-have you, monsieur?" he added to M. Fille.

"But once," was the pointed and deliberate reply. "Ah, when was that?" asked Judge Carcasson, interested.

"The year monsieur le juge was ill, and Judge Blaquiere took your place. It was in Vilray at the Court House here."

"Ah-ah, and who was the phenomenon-the perfect liar?" asked the Judge with the eagerness of the expert.

"His name was Sebastian Dolores," meditatively replied M. Fille. "It was even a finer performance than that of to-day."

The Judge gave a little grunt of surprise. "Twice, eh?" he asked. "Yet this was good enough to break any record," he added. He fastened the young widow's eyes. "Madame, you are young, and you have an eye of intelligence. Be sure of this: you can protect yourself against almost anyone except a liar-eh, madame?" he added to Mere Langlois. "I am sure your experience of life and your good sense-"

"My good sense would make me think purgatory was hell if I saw him"-she nodded savagely at Dolores as she said it, for she had seen that last effort of his to take the fingers of Palass Poucette's widow-"if I saw him there, m'sieu' le juge."

"We'll have you yet-we'll have you yet, Dolores," said the Judge, as the Spaniard prepared to move on. But, as Dolores went, he again caught the eyes of the young widow.

This made him suddenly bold. "'Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour,'-that is the commandment, is it not, m'sieu' le juge? You are doing against me what I didn't do in Court to-day. I saved a man from your malice."

The crook of the Judge's cane caught the Spaniard's arm, and held him gently.

"You're possessed of a devil, Dolores," he said, "and I hope I'll never have to administer justice in your case. I might be more man than judge. But you will come to no good end. You will certainly-"

He got no further, for the attention of all was suddenly arrested by a wagon driving furiously round the corner of the Court House. It was a red wagon. In it was Jean Jacques Barbille.

His face was white and set; his head was thrust forward, as though looking at something far ahead of him; the pony stallions he was driving were white with sweat, and he had an air of tragic helplessness and panic.

Suddenly a child ran across the roadway in front of the ponies, and the wild cry of the mother roused Jean Jacques out of his agonized trance. He sprang to his feet, wrenching the horses backward and aside with deftness and presence of mind. The margin of safety was not more than a foot, but the child was saved.

The philosopher of the Manor Cartier seemed to come out of a dream as men and women applauded, and cries arose of "Bravo, M'sieu' Jean Jacques!"

At any other time this would have made Jean Jacques nod and smile, or wave a hand, or exclaim in good fellowship. Now, however, his eyes were full of trouble, and the glassiness of the semi-trance leaving them, they shifted restlessly here and there. Suddenly they fastened on the little group of which Judge Carcasson was the centre. He had stopped his horses almost beside them.

"Ah!" he said, "ah!" as his eyes rested on the Judge. "Ah!" he again exclaimed, as the glance ran from the Judge to Sebastian Dolores. "Ah, mercy of God!" he added, in a voice which had both a low note and a high note-deep misery and shrill protest in one. Then he seemed to choke, and words would not come, but he kept looking, looking at Sebastian Dolores, as though fascinated and tortured by the sight of him.

"What is it, Jean Jacques?" asked the little Clerk of the Court gently, coming forward and laying a hand on the steaming flank of a spent and trembling pony.

As though he could not withdraw his gaze from Sebastian Dolores, Jean Jacques did not look at M. Fille; but he thrust out the long whip he carried towards the father of his vanished Carmen and his Zoe's grandfather, and with the deliberation of one to whom speaking was like the laceration of a nerve he said: "Zoe's run away-gone-gone!"

At that moment Louis Charron, his cousin, at whose house Gerard Fynes had lodged, came down the street galloping his horse. Seeing the red wagon, he made for it, and drew rein.

"It's no good, Jean Jacques," he called. "They're married and gone to Montreal-married right under our noses by the Protestant minister at Terrebasse Junction. I've got the telegram here from the stationmaster at Terrebasse.... Ah, the villain to steal away like that-only a child-from her own father! Here it is-the telegram. But believe me, an actor, a Protestant and a foreigner-what a devil's mess!"

He waved the telegram towards Jean Jacques.

"Did he owe you anything, Louis?" asked old Mere Langlois, whose practical mind was alert to find the material status of things.

"Not a sou. Well, but he was honest, I'll say that for the rogue and seducer."

"Seducer-ah, God choke you with your own tongue!" cried Jean Jacques, turning on Louis Charron with a savage jerk of the whip he held. "She is as pure-"

"It is no marriage, of course!" squeaked a voice from the crowd.

"It'll be all right among the English, won't it, monsieur le juge?" asked the gentle widow of Palass Poucette, whom the scene seemed to rouse out of her natural shyness.

"Most sure, madame, most sure," answered the Judge. "It will be all right among the English, and it is all right among the French so far as the law is concerned. As for the Church, that is another matter. But-but see," he added addressing Louis Charron, "does the station-master say what place they took tickets for?"

"Montreal and Winnipeg," was the reply. "Here it is in the telegram. Winnipeg-that's as English as London."

"Winnipeg-a thousand miles!" moaned Jean Jacques.

With the finality which the tickets for Winnipeg signified, the shrill panic emotion seemed to pass from him. In its mumbling, deadening force it was like a sentence on a prisoner.

As many eyes were on Sebastian Dolores as on Jean Jacques. "It's the bad blood that was in her," said a farmer with a significant gesture towards Sebastian Dolores.

"A little bad blood let out would be a good thing," remarked a truculent river-driver, who had given evidence directly contrary to that given by Sebastian Dolores in the trial just concluded. There was a savage look in his eye.

Sebastian Dolores heard, and he was not the man to invite trouble. He could do no good where he was, and he turned to leave the market-place; but in doing so he sought the eye of Virginie Poucette, who, however, kept her face at an angle from him, as she saw Mere Langlois sharply watching her.

"Grandfather, mother and daughter, all of a piece!" said a spiteful woman, as Sebastian Dolores passed her. The look he gave her was not the same as that he had given to Palass Poucette's widow. If it had been given by a Spanish inquisitor to a heretic, little hope would have remained in the heretic's heart. Yet there was a sad patient look on his face, as though he was a martyr. He had no wish to be a martyr; but he had a feeling that for want of other means of expressing their sympathy with Jean Jacques, these rough people might tar and feather him at least; though it was only his misfortune that those sprung from his loins had such adventurous spirits!

Sebastian Dolores was not without a real instinct regarding things. What was in his mind was also passing through that of the river-driver and a few of his friends, and they carefully watched the route he was taking.

Jean Jacques prepared to depart. He had ever loved to be the centre of a picture, but here was a time when to be in the centre was torture. Eyes of morbid curiosity were looking at the open wounds of his heart-ragged wounds made by the shrapnel of tragedy and treachery, not the clean wounds got in a fair fight, easily healed. For the moment at least the little egoist was a mere suffering soul-an epitome of shame, misery and disappointment. He must straightway flee the place where he was tied to the stake of public curiosity and scorn. He drew the reins tighter, and the horses straightened to depart. Then it was that old Judge Carcasson laid a hand on his knee.

"Come, come," he said to the dejected and broken little man, "where is your philosophy?"

Jean Jacques looked at the Judge, as though with a new-born suspicion that henceforth the world would laugh at him, and that Judge Carcasson was setting the fashion; but seeing a pitying moisture in the other's eyes, he drew himself up, set his jaw, and calling on all the forces at his command, he said:

"Moi je suis philosophe!"

His voice frayed a little on the last word, but his head was up now. The Clerk of the Court would have asked to accompany him to the Manor Cartier, but he was not sure that Jean Jacques would like it. He had a feeling that Jean Jacques would wish to have his dark hour alone. So he remained silent, and Jean Jacques touched his horses with the whip. After starting, however, and having been followed for a hundred yards or so by the pitying murmurs and a few I-told-you-so's and revilings for having married as he did, Jean Jacques stopped the ponies. Standing up in the red wagon he looked round for someone whom, for a moment, he did not see in the slowly shifting crowd.

Philosophy was all very well, and he had courageously given his allegiance to it, or a formula of it, a moment before; but there was something deeper and rarer still in the little man's soul. His heart hungered for the two women who had been the joy and pride of his life, even when he had been lost in the business of the material world. They were more to him than he had ever known; they were parts of himself which had slowly developed, as the features and characteristics of ancestors gradually emerge and are emphasized in a descendant as his years increase. Carmen and Zoe were more a part of himself now than they had ever been.

They were gone, the living spirits of his home. Anything that reminded him of them, despite the pain of the reminder, was dear to him. Love was greater than the vengeful desire of injured human nature. His eyes wandered over the people, over the market. At last he saw what he was looking for. He called. A man turned. Jean Jacques beckoned to him. He came eagerly, he hurried to the red wagon.

"Come home with me," said Jean Jacques.

The words were addressed to Sebastian Dolores, who said to himself that this was a refuge surer than "The Red Eagle," or the home of the widow Poucette. He climbed in beside Jean Jacques with a sigh of content.

"Ah, but that-but that is the end of our philosopher," said Judge Carcasson sadly to the Clerk of the Court, as with amazement he saw this catastrophe.

"Alas! if I had only asked to go with him, as I wished to do!" responded M. Fille. "There, but a minute ago, it was in my mind," he added with a look of pain.

"You missed your chance, falterer," said the Judge severely. "If you have a good thought, act on it-that is the golden rule. You missed your chance. It will never come again. He has taken the wrong turning, our unhappy Jean Jacques."

"Monsieur-oh, monsieur, do not shut the door in the face of God like that!" said the shocked little master of the law. "Those two together-it may be only for a moment."

"Ah, no, my little owl, Jean Jacques will wind the boa-constrictor round his neck like a collar, all for love of those he has lost," answered the Judge with emotion; and he caught M. Fille's arm in the companionship of sorrow.

In silence these two watched the red wagon till it was out of sight.

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