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   Chapter 21 IF SHE HAD KNOWN IN TIME

The Money Master, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 15113

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


Nothing stops when we stop for a time, or for all time, except ourselves. Everything else goes on-not in the same way; but it does go on. Life did not stop at St. Saviour's after Jean Jacques made his exit. Slowly the ruined mill rose up again, and very slowly indeed the widow of Palass Poucette recovered her spirits, though she remained a widow in spite of all appeals; but M. Fille and his sister never were the same after they lost their friend. They had great comfort in the dog which Jean Jacques had given to them, and they roused themselves to a malicious pleasure when Bobon, as he had been called by Zoe, rushed out at the heels of an importunate local creditor who had greatly worried Jean Jacques at the last. They waited in vain for a letter from Jean Jacques, but none came; nor did they hear anything from him, or of him, for a long, long time.

Jean Jacques did not mean that they should. When he went away with his book of philosophy and his canary he had but one thing in his mind, and that was to find Zoe and make her understand that he knew he had been in the wrong. He had illusions about starting life again, in which he probably did not believe; but the make-believe was good for him. Long before the crash came, in Zoe's name-not his own-he had bought from the Government three hundred and twenty acres of land out near the Rockies and had spent five hundred dollars in improvements on it.

There it was in the West, one remaining asset still his own-or rather Zoe's-but worth little if he or she did not develop it. As he left St. Saviour's, however, he kept fixing his mind on that "last domain," as he called it to himself. If this was done intentionally, that he might be saved from distraction and despair, it was well done; if it was a real illusion-the old self-deception which had been his bane so often in the past-it still could only do him good at the present. It prevented him from noticing the attention he attracted on the railway journey from St. Saviour's to Montreal, cherishing his canary and his book as he went.

He was not so self-conscious now as in the days when he was surprised that Paris did not stop to say, "Bless us, here is that fine fellow, Jean Jacques Barbille of St. Saviour's!" He could concentrate himself more now on things that did not concern the impression he was making on the world. At present he could only think of Zoe and of her future.

When a patronizing and aggressive commercial traveller in the little hotel on a side-street where he had taken a room in Montreal said to him, "Bien, mon vieux" (which is to say, "Well, old cock"), "aren't you a long way from home?" something of a new dignity came into Jean Jacques' bearing, very different from the assurance of the old days, and in reply he said:

"Not so far that I need be careless about my company." This made the landlady of the little hotel laugh quite hard, for she did not like the braggart "drummer" who had treated her with great condescension for a number of years. Also Madame Glozel liked Jean Jacques because of his canary. She thought there must be some sentimental reason for a man of fifty or more carrying a bird about with him; and she did not rest until she had drawn from Jean Jacques that he was taking the bird to his daughter in the West. There, however, madame was stayed in her search for information. Jean Jacques closed up, and did but smile when she adroitly set traps for him, and at last asked him outright where his daughter was.

Why he waited in Montreal it would be hard to say, save that it was a kind of middle place between the old life and the new, and also because he must decide what was to be his plan of search. First the West-first Winnipeg, but where after that? He had at last secured information of where Zoe and Gerard Fynes had stayed while in Montreal; and now he followed clues which would bring him in touch with folk who knew them. He came to know one or two people who were with Zoe and Gerard in the last days they spent in the metropolis, and he turned over and over in his mind every word said about his girl, as a child turns a sweetmeat in its mouth. This made him eager to be off; but on the very day he decided to start at once for the West, something strange happened.

It was towards the late afternoon of a Saturday, when the streets were full of people going to and from the shops in a marketing quarter, that Madame Glozel came to him and said:

"M'sieu', I have an idea, and you will not think it strange, for you have a kind heart. There is a woman-look you, it is a sad, sad story hers. She is ill and dying in a room a little way down the street. But yes, I am sure she is dying-of heart disease it is. She came here first when the illness took her, but she could not afford to stay. She went to those cheaper lodgings down the street. She used to be on the stage over in the States, and then she came back here, and there was a man-married to him or not I do not know, and I will not think. Well, the man-the brute-he left her when she got ill-but yes, forsook her absolutely! He was a land-agent or something like that, and all very fine to your face, to promise and to pretend-just make-believe. When her sickness got worse, off he went with 'Au revoir, my dear-I will be back to supper.' Supper! If she'd waited for her supper till he came back, she'd have waited as long as I've done for the fortune the gipsy promised me forty years ago. Away he went, the rogue, without a thought of her, and with another woman. That's what hurt her most of all. Straight from her that could hardly drag herself about-ah, yes, and has been as handsome a woman as ever was!-straight from her he went to a slut. She was a slut, m'sieu'-did I not know her? Did Ma'm'selle Slut not wait at table in this house and lead the men a dance here night and day-day and night till I found it out! Well, off he went with the slut, and left the lady behind.... You men, you treat women so."

Jean Jacques put out a hand as though to argue with her. "Sometimes it is the other way," he retorted. "Most of us have seen it like that."

"Well, for sure, you're right enough there, m'sieu'," was the response. "I've got nothing to say to that, except that it's a man that runs away with a woman, or that gets her to leave her husband when she does go. There's always a man that says, 'Come along, I'm the better chap for you.'"

Jean Jacques wearily turned his head away towards the cage where his canary was beginning to pipe its evening lay.

"It all comes to the same thing in the end," he said pensively; and then he who had been so quiet since he came to the little hotel-Glozel's, it was called-began to move about the room excitedly, running his fingers through his still bushy hair, which, to his credit, was always as clean as could be, burnished and shiny even at his mid-century period. He began murmuring to himself, and a frown settled on his fore head. Mme. Glozel saw that she had perturbed him, and that no doubt she had roused some memories which made sombre the sunny little room where the canary sang; where, to ravish the eyes of the pessimist, was a picture of Louis XVI. going to heaven in the arms of St. Peter.

When started, however, the good woman could no more "slow down" than her French pony would stop when its head was turned homewards from market. So she kept on with the history of the woman down the street.

"Heart disease," she said, nodding with assurance and finality; "and we know what that is-a start, a shock, a fall, a

strain, and pht! off the poor thing goes. Yes, heart disease, and sometimes with such awful pain. But so; and yesterday she told me she had only a hundred dollars left. 'Enough to last me through,' she said to me. Poor thing, she lifted up her eyes with a way she has, as if looking for something she couldn't find, and she says, as simple as though she was asking about the price of a bed-tick, 'It won't cost more than fifty dollars to bury me, I s'pose?' Well, that made me squeamish, for the poor dear's plight came home to me so clear, and she young enough yet to get plenty out of life, if she had the chance. So I asked her again about her people-whether I couldn't send for someone belonging to her. 'There's none that belongs to me,' she says, 'and there's no one I belong to.'

"I thought very likely she didn't want to tell me about herself; perhaps because she had done wrong, and her family had not been good to her. Yet it was right I should try and get her folks to come, if she had any folks. So I said to her, 'Where was your home?' And now, what do you think she answered, m'sieu'?' 'Look there,' she said to me, with her big eyes standing out of her head almost-for that's what comes to her sometimes when she is in pain, and she looks more handsome then than at any other time-'Look there,' she said to me, 'it was in heaven, that's where-my home was; but I didn't know it. I hadn't been taught to know the place when I saw it.'

"Well, I felt my skin go goosey, for I saw what was going on in her mind, and how she was remembering what had happened to her some time, somewhere; but there wasn't a tear in her eyes, and I never saw her cry-never once, m'sieu'-well, but as brave as brave. Her eyes are always dry-burning. They're like two furnaces scorching up her face. So I never found out her history, and she won't have the priest. I believe that's because she wants to die unknown, and doesn't want to confess. I never saw a woman I was sorrier for, though I think she wasn't married to the man that left her. But whatever she was, there's good in her-I haven't known hundreds of women and had seven sisters for nothing. Well, there she is-not a friend near her at the last; for it's coming soon, the end-no one to speak to her, except the woman she pays to come in and look after her and nurse her a bit. Of course there's the landlady too, Madame Popincourt, a kind enough little cricket of a woman, but with no sense and no head for business. And so the poor sick thing has not a single pleasure in the world. She can't read, because it makes her head ache, she says; and she never writes to any one. One day she tried to sing a little, but it seemed to hurt her, and she stopped before she had begun almost. Yes, m'sieu', there she is without a single pleasure in the long hours when she doesn't sleep."

"There's my canary-that would cheer her up," eagerly said Jean Jacques, who, as the story of the chirruping landlady continued, became master of his agitation, and listened as though to the tale of some life for which he had concern. "Yes, take my canary to her, madame. It picked me up when I was down. It'll help her-such a bird it is! It's the best singer in the world. It's got in its throat the music of Malibran and Jenny Lind and Grisi, and all the stars in heaven that sang together. Also, to be sure, it doesn't charge anything, but just as long as there's daylight it sings and sings, as you know."

"M'sieu'-oh, m'sieu', it was what I wanted to ask you, and I didn't dare!" gushingly declared madame. "I never heard a bird sing like that-just as if it knew how much good it was doing, and with all the airs of a grand seigneur. It's a prince of birds, that. If you mean it, m'sieu', you'll do as good a thing as you have ever done."

"It would have to be much better, or it wouldn't be any use," remarked Jean Jacques.

The woman made a motion of friendliness with both hands. "I don't believe that. You may be queer, but you've got a kind eye. It won't be for long she'll need the canary, and it will cheer her. There certainly was never a bird so little tied to one note. Now this note, now that, and so amusing. At times it's as though he was laughing at you."

"That's because, with me for his master, he has had good reason to laugh," remarked Jean Jacques, who had come at last to take a despondent view of himself.

"That's bosh," rejoined Mme. Glozel; "I've seen several people odder than you."

She went over to the cage eagerly, and was about to take it away. "Excuse me," interposed Jean Jacques, "I will carry the cage to the house. Then you will go in with the bird, and I'll wait outside and see if the little rascal sings."

"This minute?" asked madame.

"For sure, this very minute. Why should the poor lady wait? It's a lonely time of day, this, the evening, when the long night's ahead."

A moment later the two were walking along the street to the door of Mme. Popincourt's lodgings, and people turned to look at the pair, one carrying something covered with a white cloth, evidently a savoury dish of some kind-the other with a cage in which a handsome canary hopped about, well pleased with the world.

At Mme. Popincourt's door Mme. Glozel took the cage and went upstairs. Jean Jacques, left behind, paced backwards and forwards in front of the house waiting and looking up, for Mme. Glozel had said that behind the front window on the third floor was where the sick woman lived. He had not long to wait. The setting sun shining full on the window had roused the bird, and he began to pour out a flood of delicious melody which flowed on and on, causing the people in the street to stay their steps and look up. Jean Jacques' face, as he listened, had something very like a smile. There was that in the smile belonging to the old pride, which in days gone by had made him say when he looked at his domains at the Manor Cartier-his houses, his mills, his store, his buildings and his lands-"It is all mine. It all belongs to Jean Jacques Barbille."

Suddenly, however, there came a sharp pause in the singing, and after that a cry-a faint, startled cry. Then Mme. Glozel's head was thrust out of the window three floors up, and she called to Jean Jacques to come quickly. As she bade him come, some strange premonition flashed to Jean Jacques, and with thumping heart he hastened up the staircase. Outside a bedroom door, Mme. Glozel met him. She was so excited she could only whisper.

"Be very quiet," she said. "There is something strange. When the bird sang as it did-you heard it-she sat like one in a trance. Then her face took on a look glad and frightened too, and she stared hard at the cage. 'Bring that cage to me,' she said. I brought it. She looked sharp at it, then she gave a cry and fell back. As I took the cage away I saw what she had been looking at-a writing at the bottom of the cage. It was the name Carmen."

With a stifled cry Jean Jacques pushed her aside and entered the room. As he did so, the sick woman in the big armchair, so pale yet so splendid in her death-beauty, raised herself up. With eyes that Francesca might have turned to the vision of her fate, she looked at the opening door, as though to learn if he who came was one she had wished to see through long, relentless days.

"Jean Jacques-ah, my beautiful Jean Jacques!" she cried out presently in a voice like a wisp of sound, for she had little breath; and then with a smile she sank back, too late to hear, but not too late to know, what Jean Jacques said to her.

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