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- Carnac's Folly, Volume 2. - 2/5 -
THE HOUSE OF THE THREE TREES
During Carnac's absence, Denzil had lain like an animal, watching, as it were, the doorway out of which Tarboe came and went. His gloom at last became fanaticism. During all the eight months of Carnac's absence he prowled in the precincts of memory.
While Junia was at home he had been watchfully determined to save her from Tarboe, if possible. He had an obsession of wrong-mindedness which is always attached to crime. Though Luke Tarboe had done him no wrong, and was entitled, if he could, to win Junia for himself, to the mind of Denzil the stain of his brother's past was on Tarboe's life. He saw Tarboe and Junia meet; he knew Tarboe put himself in her way, and he was right in thinking that the girl, with a mind for comedy and coquetry, was drawn instinctively to danger.
Undoubtedly the massive presence of Tarboe, his animal-like, bull-headed persistency, the fun at his big mouth and the light in his bold eye had a kind of charm for her. It was as though she placed herself within the danger zone to try her strength, her will; and she had done it without real loss. More than once, as she waited in the office for old John Grier to come, she had a strange, intuitive feeling that Tarboe might suddenly grip her in his arms.
She flushed at the thought of it; it seemed so absurd. Yet that very thought had passed through the mind of the man. He was by nature a hunter; he was self-willed and reckless. No woman had ever moved him in his life until this girl crossed his path, and he reached out towards her with the same will to control that he had used in the business of life. Yet, while this brute force suggested physical control of the girl, it had its immediate reaction. She was so fine, so delicate, and yet so full of summer and the free unfettered life of the New World, so unimpassioned physically, yet so passionate in mind and temperament, that he felt he must atone for the wild moment's passion--the passion of possession, which had made him long to crush her to his breast. There was nothing physically repulsive in it; it was the wild, strong life of conquering man, of which he had due share. For, as he looked at her sitting in his office, her perfect health, her slim boyishness, her exquisite lines and graceful turn of hand, arm and body, or the flower- like turn of the neck, were the very harmony and poetry of life. But she was terribly provoking too; and he realized that she was an unconscious coquette, that her spirit loved mastery as his did.
Denzil could not know this, however. It was impossible for him to analyse the natures of these two people. He had instinct, but not enough to judge the whole situation, and so for two months after Carnac disappeared he had lived a life of torture. Again and again he had determined to tell Junia the story of Tarboe's brother, but instinctive delicacy stopped him. He could not tell her the terrible story which had robbed him of all he loved and had made him the avenger of the dead. A half-dozen times after she came back from John Grier's office, with slightly heightening colour, and the bright interest in her eyes, and had gone about the garden fondling the flowers, he had started towards her; but had stopped short before her natural modesty. Besides, why should he tell her? She had her own life to make, her own row to hoe. Yet, as the weeks passed, it seemed he must break upon this dangerous romance; and then suddenly she went to visit her sick aunt in the Far West. Denzil did not know, however, that, in John Grier's office as she had gone over figures of a society in which she was interested, the big hand of Tarboe had suddenly closed upon her fingers, and that his head bent down beside hers for one swift instant, as though he would whisper to her. Then she quickly detached herself, yet smiled at him, as she said reprovingly:
"You oughtn't to do that. You'll spoil our friendship."
She did not wait longer. As he stretched out his hands to her, his face had gone pale: she vanished through the doorway, and in forty-eight hours was gone to her sick aunt. The autumn had come and the winter and the spring, and the spring was almost gone when she returned; and, with her return, Catastrophe lifted its head in the person of Denzil.
Perhaps it was imperative instinct that brought Junia back in an hour coincident with Carnac's return--perhaps. In any case, there it was. They had both returned, as it were, in the self-same hour, each having endured a phase of emotion not easy to put on paper.
Denzil told her of Carnac's return, and she went to the house where Carnac's mother lived, and was depressed at what she saw and felt. Mrs. Grier's face was not that of one who had good news. The long arms almost hurt when they embraced her. Yet Carnac was a subject of talk between them--open, clear eyed talk. The woman did not know what to say, except to praise her boy, and the girl asked questions cheerfully, unimportantly as to sound, but with every nerve tingling. There was, however, so much of the comedienne in her, so much coquetry, that only one who knew her well could have seen the things that troubled her behind all. As though to punish herself, she began to speak of Tarboe, and Mrs. Grier's face clouded; she spoke more of Tarboe, and the gloom deepened. Then, with the mask of coquetry still upon her she left Carnac's mother abashed, sorrowful and alone.
Tarboe had called in her absence. Entering the garden, he saw Denzil at work. At the click of the gate Denzil turned, and came forward.
"She ain't home," he said bluntly. "She's out. She ain't here. She's up at Mr. Grier's house, bien sur."
To Tarboe Denzil's words were offensive. It was none of Denzil's business whether he came or went in this house, or what his relations with Junia were. Democrat though he was, he did not let democracy transgress his personal associations. He knew that the Frenchman was less likely to say and do the crude thing than the Britisher.
Tarboe knew of the position held by Denzil in the Shale household; and that long years of service had given him authority. All this, however, could not atone for the insolence of Denzil's words, but he had controlled men too long to act rashly.
"When will Mademoiselle be back?" he asked, putting a hand on himself.
"To-night," answered Denzil, with an antipathetic eye.
"Don't be a damn fool. Tell me the hour when you think she will be at home. Before dinner--within the next sixty minutes?"
"Ma'm'selle is under no orders. She didn't say when she would be back-- but no!"
"Do you think she'll be back for dinner?" asked Tarboe, smothering his anger, but get to get his own way.
"I think she'll be back for dinner!" and he drove the spade into the ground.
"Then I'll sit down and wait." Tarboe made for the verandah.
Denzil presently trotted after and said: "I'd like a word with you."
Tarboe turned round. "Well, what have you got to say?"
"Better be said in my house, not here," replied Denzil. His face was pale, but there was fire in his eyes. There was no danger of violence, and, if there were, Tarboe could deal with it. Why should there be violence? Why should that semi-insanity in Denzil's eyes disturb him? The one thing to do was to forge ahead. He nodded.
"Where are you taking me?" he asked presently, as they passed through the gate.
"To my little house by the Three Trees. I've got things I'd like to show you, and there's some things I'd like to say. You are a big hulk of a man, and I'm nobody, but yet I've been close to you and yours in my time --that's so, for sure."
"You've been close to me and mine in your time, eh? I didn't know that."
"No, you didn't know it. Nobody knew it--I've kept it to myself. Your family wasn't all first-class--but no."
They soon reached the plain board-house, with the well-laid foundation of stone, by the big Three Trees. Inside the little spare, undecorated room, Tarboe looked round. It was all quiet and still enough. It was like a lodge in the wilderness. Somehow, the atmosphere of it made him feel apart and lonely. Perhaps that was a little due to the timbered ceiling, to the walls with cedar scantlings showing, to the crude look of everything-the head of a moose, the skins hanging down the sides of the walls, the smell of the cedar, and the swift movement of a tame red squirrel, which ran up the walls and over the floor and along the chimney-piece, for Denzil avoided the iron stove so common in these new cold lands, and remained faithful to a huge old-fashioned mantel.
Presently Denzil faced him, having closed the door. "I said I'd been near to your family and you didn't believe me. Sit down, please to, and I'll tell you my story."
Seating himself with a little curt laugh, Tarboe waved a hand as though to say: "Go ahead. I'm ready."
It was difficult for Denzil to begin. He walked up and down the room, muttering and shaking his head. Presently, however, he made the Sign of the Cross upon himself, and, leaning against the wall, and opposite to Tarboe, he began the story he had told Carnac.
His description of his dead fiancee had flashes of poetry and excruciating touches of life:
"She had no mother, and there was lots of things she didn't know because of that--ah, plenty! She had to learn, and she brought on her own tragedy by not knowing that men, even when good to look at, can't be trusted; that every place, even in the woods and the fields where every one seems safe to us outdoor people, ain't safe--but no. So she trusted, and then one day--"
For the next five minutes the words poured from him in moroseness. He drew a picture of the lonely wood, of the believing credulous girl and the masterful, intellectual, skilful man. In the midst of it Tarboe started. The description of the place and of the man was familiar. He had a vision of a fair young girl encompassed by clanger; he saw her in the man's arms; the man's lips to hers, and--
"Good God--good God!" he said twice, for a glimmer of the truth struck him. He knew what his brother had done. He could conceive the revenge to his brother's amorous hand. He listened till the whole tale was told; till the death of the girl in the pond at home--back in her own little home. Then the rest of the story shook him.
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