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- Carnac's Folly, Volume 2. - 3/5 -
"The verdict of the coroner's court was that he was shot by his own hand --by accident," said Denzil. "That was the coroner's verdict, but yes! Well, he was shot by his own gun, but not by his own hand. There was some one who loved the girl, took toll. The world did not know, and does not know, but you know--you--you, the brother of him that spoiled a woman's life! Do you think such a man should live? She was the sweetest girl that ever lived, and she loved me! She told me the truth--and he died by his own gun--in the woods; but it wasn't accident--it wasn't accident--but no! The girl had gone, but behind her was some one that loved her, and he settled it once for all."
As he had told the story, Denzil's body seemed to contract; his face took on an insane expression. It was ghastly pale, but his eyes ware aflame. His arms stretched out with grim realism as he told of the death of Almeric Tarboe.
"You've got the whole truth, m'sieu'. I've told it you at last. I've never been sorry for killing him--never--never--never. Now, what are you going to do about it--you--his brother--you that come here making love too?"
As the truth dawned upon Tarboe, his great figure stretched itself. A black spirit possessed him.
When Denzil had finished, Tarboe stood up. There was dementia, cruelty, stark purpose in his eyes, in every movement.
"What am I going to do? You killed my brother! Well, I'm going to kill you. God blast your soul--I'm going to kill you!"
He suddenly swooped upon Denzil, his fingers clenched about the thick throat, insane rage was on him.
At that moment there was a knock at the door, it opened, and Carnac stepped inside. He realized the situation and rushed forward. There was no time to struggle.
"Let him go," he cried. "You devil--let him go." Then with all his might, he struck Tarboe in the face. The blow brought understanding back to Tarboe. His fingers loosed from the Frenchman's throat, and Carnac caught Denzil as he fell backwards.
"Good God!" said Carnac. "Good God, Tarboe! Wasn't it enough for your brother to take this man's love without your trying to take his life?"
Carnac's blow brought conviction to Tarboe, whose terrible rage passed away. He wiped the blood from his face.
"Is the little devil all right?" he whispered.
Denzil spoke: "Yes. This is the second time M'sieu' Carnac has saved my life."
Carnac intervened. "Tell me, Tarboe, what shall you do, now you know the truth?"
At last Tarboe thrust out a hand. "I don't know the truth," he said.
By this Carnac knew that Denzil was safe from the law.
CARNAC AND JUNIA
Tarboe did not see Junia that evening nor for many evenings, but Carnac and Junia met the next day in her own house. He came on her as she was arranging the table for midday dinner. She had taken up again the threads of housekeeping, cheering her father, helping the old French- woman cook--a huge creature who moved like a small mountain, and was a tyrant in her way to the old cheerful avocat, whose life had been a struggle for existence, yet whose one daughter had married a rich lumberman, and whose other daughter could marry wealth, handsomeness and youth, if she chose.
When Carnac saw Junia she was entering the dining-room with flowers and fruit, and he recalled the last time they met, when she had thrust the farewell bouquet of flowers into his hand. That was in the early autumn, and this was in late spring, and the light in her face was as glowing as then. A remembrance of the scene came to the minds of both, and the girl gave a little laugh.
"Well, well, Carnac," she said gaily, her cheek flushing, her eyes warm with colour: "well, I sent you away with flowers. Did they bring you luck?" She looked him steadily in the eyes.
"Yes, they brought me a perfect remembrance--of one who has always been to me like the balm of Gilead."
"Soothing and stimulating, eh?" she asked, as she put the flowers on the table and gave him her hand--no, she suddenly gave him both hands with a rush of old-time friendship, which robbed it of all personal emotion.
For a moment he held her hands. He felt them tremble in his warm clasp, the delicate, shivering pulsation of youth, the womanly feeling. It was for an instant only, because she withdrew her fingers. Then she caught up an apple from the dish she had brought in, and tossed it to him.
"For a good boy," she said. "You have been a good boy, haven't you?"
"I think so, chiefly by remembering a good girl."
"That's a pretty compliment--meant for me?"
"Yes, meant for you. I think you understand me better than anyone else."
He noticed her forehead wrinkle slightly, and a faint, incredulous smile come to her lips.
"I shouldn't think I understand you, Carnac," she said, over her shoulder, as she arranged dishes on the sideboard. "I shouldn't think I know you well. There's no Book of Revelations of your life except in your face."
She suddenly turned full on him, and held his eyes. "Carnac, I think your face looks honest. I've always thought so, and yet I think you're something of a scamp, a rogue and a thief."
There was determination at her lips, through which, though only slightly apart, her beautiful teeth, so straight, so regular, showed. "You don't play fair. What's the good of having a friend if you don't tell your friend your troubles? And you've been in trouble, Carnac, and you're fighting it through alone. Is that wise? You ought to tell some bad man, or some good woman--if they're both clever--what's vexing you.
"You see the bad clever man would probably think out something that would have the same effect as the good clever woman. They never would think out the same thing, but each 'd think out what would help you."
"But you've just said I'm a bad clever man. Why shouldn't I work out my own trouble?"
"Oh, you're bad enough," she answered, "but you're not clever enough."
He smiled grimly. "I'm not sure though about the woman. Perhaps I'll tell the good clever woman some day and let her help me, if she can. But I'd warn her it won't be easy."
"Then there's another woman in it!"
He did not answer. He could not let her know the truth, yet he was sure she would come to know it one way or another.
At that moment she leaned over the table and stretched a hand to arrange something. The perfection of her poise, the beauty of her lines, the charm of her face seized Carnac, and, with an impulse, he ran his arm around her waist.
"Junia--Junia!" he said in a voice of rash, warm feeling.
She was like a wild bird caught in its flight. A sudden stillness held her, and then she turned her head towards him, subdued inquiry in her eyes. For a moment only she looked--and then she said:
"Take your arm away, please."
The conviction that he ought not to make any sign of love to her broke his sudden passion. He drew back ashamed, yet defiant, rebuked, yet rebellious. It was like a challenge to her. A sarcastic smile crossed her lips.
"What a creature of impulses you are, Carnac! When we were children the day you saved Denzil years ago you flung your arms around me and kissed me. I didn't understand anything then, and what's more I don't think you did. You were a wilful, hazardous boy, and went your way taking the flowers in the garden that didn't belong to you. Yet after all these years, with an impulse behind which there is nothing--nothing at all, you repeat that incident."
Suddenly passion seemed to possess her. "How dare you trifle with things that mean so much! Have you learned nothing since I saw you last? Can nothing teach you, Carnac? Can you not learn how to play the big part? If you weren't grown up, do you know what I would do? I would slap the face of an insolent, thoughtless, hopeless boy." Then her temper seemed to pass. She caught up an apple again and thrust it into his hand. "Go and eat that, Adam. Perhaps it'll make you wise like the old Adam. He put his faults upon a woman."
"So do I," said Carnac. "So do I."
"That's what you would do, but you mustn't play that sort of game with a good woman." She burst out laughing. "For a man you're a precious fool! I don't think I want to see you again. You don't improve. You're full of horrid impulses." Her indignation came back. "How dare you put your arm around me!"
"It was the impulse of my heart. I can say no more; if I could I would. There's something I should like to tell you, but I mustn't." He put the apple down.
"About the other woman, I suppose," she said coldly, the hot indignation gone from her lips.
He looked her steadfastly in the eyes. "If you won't trust me--if you won't trust me--"
"I've always trusted you," she replied, "but I don't trust you now. Don't you understand that a good girl hates conduct like yours?"
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