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   Chapter 22 BELLS OF MEMORY

The Money Master, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 16245

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


However far Jean Jacques went, however long the day since leaving the Manor Cartier, he could not escape the signals from his past. He heard more than once the bells of memory ringing at the touch of the invisible hand of Destiny which accepts no philosophy save its own. At Montreal, for one hallowed instant, he had regained his lost Carmen, but he had turned from her grave-the only mourners being himself, Mme. Glozel and Mme. Popincourt, together with a barber who had coiffed her wonderful hair once a week-with a strange burning at his heart. That iceberg which most mourners carry in their breasts was not his, as he walked down the mountainside from Carmen's grave. Behind him trotted Mme. Glozel and Mme. Popincourt, like little magpies, attendants on this eagle of sorrow whose life-love had been laid to rest, her heart-troubles over. Passion or ennui would no more vex her.

She had had a soul, had Carmen Dolores, though she had never known it till her days closed in on her, and from the dusk she looked out of the casements of life to such a glowing as Jean Jacques had seen when his burning mill beatified the evening sky. She had known passion and vivid life in the days when she went hand-in-hand with Carvillho Gonzales through the gardens of Granada; she had known the smothering home-sickness which does not alone mean being sick for a distant home, but a sickness of the home that is; and she had known what George Masson gave her for one thrilling hour, and then-then the man who left her in her death-year, taking not only the last thread of hope which held her to life. This vulture had taken also little things dear to her daily life, such as the ring Carvillho Gonzales had given her long ago in Cadiz, also another ring, a gift of Jean Jacques, and things less valuable to her, such as money, for which she knew surely she would have no long use.

As she lay waiting for the day when she must go from the garish scene, she unconsciously took stock of life in her own way. There intruded on her sight the stages of the theatres where she had played and danced, and she heard again the music of the paloma and those other Spanish airs which had made the world dance under her girl's feet long ago. At first she kept seeing the faces of thousands looking up at her from the stalls, down at her from the gallery, over at her from the boxes; and the hot breath of that excitement smote her face with a drunken odour that sent her mad. Then, alas! somehow, as disease took hold of her, there were the colder lights, the colder breath from the few who applauded so little. And always the man who had left her in her day of direst need; who had had the last warm fires of her life, the last brief outrush of her soul, eager as it was for a joy which would prove she had not lost all when she fled from the Manor Cartier-a joy which would make her forget!

What she really did feel in this last adventure of passion only made her remember the more when she was alone now, her life at the Manor Cartier. She was wont to wake up suddenly in the morning-the very early morning-with the imagined sound of the gold Cock of Beaugard crowing in her ears. Memory, memory, memory-yet never a word, and never a hearsay of what had happened at the Manor Cartier since she had left it! Then there came a time when she longed intensely to see Jean Jacques before she died, though she could not bring herself to send word to him. She dreaded what the answer might be-not Jean Jacques' answer, but the answer of Life. Jean Jacques and her child, her Zoe-more his than hers in years gone by-one or both might be dead! She dared not write, but she cherished a desire long denied. Then one day she saw everything in her life more clearly than she had ever done. She found an old book of French verse, once belonging to Mme. Popincourt's husband, who had been a professor. Some lines therein opened up a chamber of her being never before unlocked. At first only the feeling of the thing came, then slowly the spiritual meaning possessed her. She learnt it by heart and let it sing to her as she lay half-sleeping and half-waking, half-living and half-dying:

"There is a World; men compass it through tears,

Dare doom for joy of it; it called me o'er the foam;

I found it down the track of sundering years,

Beyond the long island where the sea steals home.

"A land that triumphs over shame and pain,

Penitence and passion and the parting breath,

Over the former and the latter rain,

The birth-morn fire and the frost of death.

"From its safe shores the white boats ride away,

Salving the wreckage of the portless ships

The light desires of the amorous day,

The wayward, wanton wastage of the lips.

"Star-mist and music and the pensive moon

These when I harboured at that perfumed shore;

And then, how soon! the radiance of noon,

And faces of dear children at the door.

"Land of the Greater Love-men call it this;

No light-o'-love sets here an ambuscade;

No tender torture of the secret kiss

Makes sick the spirit and the soul afraid.

"Bright bowers and the anthems of the free,

The lovers absolute-ah, hear the call!

Beyond the long island and the sheltering sea,

That World I found which holds my world in thrall.

"There is a World; men compass it through tears,

Dare doom for joy of it; it called me o'er the foam;

I found it down the track of sundering years,

Beyond the long island where the sea steals home."

At last the inner thought of it got into her heart, and then it was in reply to Mme. Glozel, who asked her where her home was, she said: "In Heaven, but I did not know it!" And thus it was, too, that at the very last, when Jean Jacques followed the singing bird into her death-chamber, she cried out, "Ah, my beautiful Jean Jacques!"

And because Jean Jacques knew that, at the last, she had been his, soul and body, he went down from the mountain-side, the two black magpies fluttering mournfully and yet hopefully behind him, with more warmth at his heart than he had known for years. It never occurred to him that the two elderly magpies would jointly or severally have given the rest of their lives and their scant fortunes to have him with them either as husband, or as one who honourably hires a home at so much a day.

Though Jean Jacques did not know this last fact, when he fared forth again he left behind his canary with Mme. Glozel; also all Carmen's clothes, except the dress she died in, he gave to Mme. Popincourt, on condition that she did not wear them till he had gone. The dress in which Carmen died he wrapped up carefully, with her few jewels and her wedding-ring, and gave the parcel to Mme. Glozel to care for till he should send for it or come again.

"The bird-take him on my birthday to sing at her grave," he said to Mme. Glozel just before he went West. "It is in summer, my birthday, and you shall hear how he will sing there," he added in a low voice at the very door. Then he took out a ten-dollar bill, and would have given it to her to do this thing for him; but she would have none of his money. She only wiped her eyes and deplored his going, and said that if ever he wanted a home, and she was alive, he would know where to find it. It sounded and looked sentimental, yet Jean Jacques was never less sentimental in a very sentimental life. This particular morning he was very quiet and grave, and not in the least agitated; he spoke like one from a friendly, sun-bright distance to Mme. Glozel, and also to Mme. Popincourt as he passed her at the door of her house.

Jean Jacques had no elation as he took the Western trail; there was not much hope in his voice; but there was purpose and there was a little stream of peace flowing through his being-and also, mark, a stream of anger tumbling over rough places. He had read two letters addressed to Carmen by the man-Hugo Stolphe-who had left her to her fate; and there was a grim devouring thing in him which would break loose, if ever the man crossed his path. He would not go hunting him, but if he passed him or met h

im on the way-! Still he would go hunting-to find his Carmencita, his little Carmen, his Zoe whom he had unwittingly, God knew! driven forth into the far world of the millions of acres-a wide, wide hunting-ground in good sooth.

So he left his beloved province where he no longer had a home, and though no letters came to him from St. Saviour's, from Vilray or the Manor Cartier, yet he heard the bells of memory when the Hand Invisible arrested his footsteps. One day these bells rang so loud that he would have heard them were he sunk in the world's deepest well of shame; but, as it was, he now marched on hills far higher than the passes through the mountains which his patchwork philosophy had ever provided.

It was in the town of Shilah on the Watloon River that the bells boomed out-not because he had encountered one he had ever known far down by the Beau Cheval, or in his glorious province, not because he had found his Zoe, but because a man, the man-not George Masson, but the other-met him in the way.

Shilah was a place to which, almost unconsciously, he had deviated his course, because once Virginie Poucette had read him a letter from there. That was in the office of the little Clerk of the Court at Vilray. The letter was from Virginie's sister at Shilah, and told him that Zoe and her husband had gone away into farther fields of homelessness. Thus it was that Shilah ever seemed to him, as he worked West, a goal in his quest-not the last goal perhaps, but a goal.

He had been far past it by another route, up, up and out into the more scattered settlements, and now at last he had come to it again, having completed a kind of circle. As he entered it, the past crowded on to him with a hundred pictures. Shilah-it was where Virginie Poucette's sister lived; and Virginie had been a part of the great revelation of his life at St. Saviour's.

As he was walking by the riverside at Shilah, a woman spoke to him, touching his arm as she did so. He was in a deep dream as she spoke, but there certainly was a look in her face that reminded him of someone belonging to the old life. For an instant he could not remember. For a moment he did not even realize that he was at Shilah. His meditation had almost been a trance, and it took him time to adjust himself to the knowledge of the conscious mind. His subconsciousness was very powerfully alive in these days. There was not the same ceaselessly active eye, nor the vibration of the impatient body which belonged to the money-master and miller of the Manor Cartier. Yet the eye had more depth and force, and the body was more powerful and vigorous than it had ever been. The long tramping, the everlasting trail on false scents, the mental battling with troubles past and present, had given a fortitude and vigour to the body beyond what it had ever known. In spite of his homelessness and pilgrim equipment he looked as though he had a home-far off. The eyes did not smile; but the lips showed the goodness of his heart-and its hardness too. Hardness had never been there in the old days. It was, however, the hardness of resentment, and not of cruelty. It was not his wife's or his daughter's flight that he resented, nor yet the loss of all he had, nor the injury done him by Sebastian Dolores. No, his resentment was against one he had never seen, but was now soon to see. As his mind came back from the far places where it had been, and his eyes returned to the concrete world, he saw what the woman recalled to him. It was-yes, it was Virginie Poucette-the kind and beautiful Virginie-for her goodness had made him remember her as beautiful, though indeed she was but comely, like this woman who stayed him as he walked by the river.

"You are M'sieu' Jean Jacques Barbille?" she said questioningly.

"How did you know?" he asked.... "Is Virginie Poucette here?"

"Ah, you knew me from her?" she asked.

"There was something about her-and you have it also-and the look in the eyes, and then the lips!" he replied.

Certainly they were quite wonderful, luxurious lips, and so shapely too-like those of Virginie.

"But how did you know I was Jean Jacques Barbille?" he repeated.

"Well, then it is quite easy," she replied with a laugh almost like a giggle, for she was quite as simple and primitive as her sister. "There is a photographer at Vilray, and Virginie got one of your pictures there, and sent, it to me. 'He may come your way,' said Virginie to me, 'and if he does, do not forget that he is my friend.'"

"That she is my friend," corrected Jean Jacques. "And what a friend-merci, what a friend!" Suddenly he caught the woman's arm. "You once wrote to your sister about my Zoe, my daughter, that married and ran away-"

"That ran away and got married," she interrupted.

"Is there any more news-tell me, do you know-?"

But Virginie's sister shook her head. "Only once since I wrote Virginie have I heard, and then the two poor children-but how helpless they were, clinging to each other so! Well, then, once I heard from Faragay, but that was much more than a year ago. Nothing since, and they were going on-on to Fort Providence to spend the winter-for his health-his lungs."

"What to do-on what to live?" moaned Jean Jacques.

"His grandmother sent him a thousand dollars, so your Madame Zoe wrote me."

Jean Jacques raised a hand with a gesture of emotion. "Ah, the blessed woman! May there be no purgatory for her, but Heaven at once and always!"

"Come home with me-where are your things?" she asked.

"I have only a knapsack," he replied. "It is not far from here. But I cannot stay with you. I have no claim. No, I will not, for-"

"As to that, we keep a tavern," she returned. "You can come the same as the rest of the world. The company is mixed, but there it is. You needn't eat off the same plate, as they say in Quebec."

Quebec! He looked at her with the face of one who saw a vision. How like Virginie Poucette-the brave, generous Virginie-how like she was!

In silence now he went with her, and seeing his mood she did not talk to him. People stared as they walked along, for his dress was curious and his head was bare, and his hair like the coat of a young lion. Besides, this woman was, in her way, as brave and as generous as Virginie Poucette. In the very doorway of the tavern by the river a man jostled them. He did not apologize. He only leered. It made his foreign-looking, coarsely handsome face detestable.

"Pig!" exclaimed Virginie Poucette's sister. "That's a man-well, look out! There's trouble brewing for him. If he only knew! If suspicion comes out right and it's proved-well, there, he'll jostle the door-jamb of a jail."

Jean Jacques stared after the man, and somehow every nerve in his body became angry. He had all at once a sense of hatred. He shook the shoulder against which the man had collided. He remembered the leer on the insolent, handsome face.

"I'd like to see him thrown into the river," said Virginie Poucette's sister. "We have a nice girl here-come from Ireland-as good as can be. Well, last night-but there, she oughtn't to have let him speak to her. 'A kiss is nothing,' he said. Well, if he kissed me I would kill him-if I didn't vomit myself to death first. He's a mongrel-a South American mongrel with nigger blood."

Jean Jacques kept looking after the man. "Why don't you turn him out?" he asked sharply.

"He's going away to-morrow anyhow," she replied. "Besides, the girl, she's so ashamed-and she doesn't want anyone to know. 'Who'd want to kiss me after him' she said, and so he stays till to-morrow. He's not in the tavern itself, but in the little annex next door-there, where he's going now. He's only had his meals here, though the annex belongs to us as well. He's alone there on his dung-hill."

She brought Jean Jacques into a room that overlooked the river-which, indeed, hung on its very brink. From the steps at its river-door, a little ferry-boat took people to the other side of the Watloon, and very near-just a few hand-breadths away-was the annex where was the man who had jostled Jean Jacques.

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