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- Carnac's Folly, Volume 2. - 4/5 -
Suddenly with anger he turned upon her. "Yes, I understand everything, but you don't understand. Why won't you believe that the reason I won't tell you my trouble is that it's best you shouldn't know? You're a young girl; you don't know life; you haven't seen it as I've seen it--in the sewage, in the ditch, on the road, on the mountain and in the bog. I want you to keep faith with your old friend who doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks, but who wants your confidence. Trust me--don't condemn me. Believe me, I haven't been wanton. Won't you trust me?"
The spirit of egotism was alive in her. She knew how much she had denied herself in the past months. She did not know whether she loved him, but injured pride tortured her. Except in a dance and in sports at a picnic or recreation-ground no man had ever put his arms around her. No man except Carnac, and that he had done it was like a lash upon the raw skinless flesh. If she had been asked by the Almighty whether she loved Carnac, she would have said she did not know. This was not a matter of love; but of womanhood, of self-respect, of the pride of one who cannot ask for herself what she wants in the field of love, who must wait to be wooed and won.
"You don't think I'm straight," he said in protest. "You think I'm no good, that I'm a fraud. You're wrong. Believe me, that is the truth." He came closer up to her. "Junia, if you'll stand by me, I'm sure I'll come out right. I've been caught in a mesh I can't untangle yet, but it can be untangled, and when it is, you shall know everything, because then you'll understand. I can free myself from the tangle, but it could never be explained--not so the world would believe. I haven't trifled with you. I would believe in you even if I saw, or thought I saw, the signs of wrong in you. I would know that at heart you were good. I put my faith in you long ago--last year I staked all on your friendship, and I haven't been deceived."
He smiled at her, his soul in his eyes. There was truth in his smile, and she realized it.
After a moment, she put out a hand and pushed him gently from her. "Go away, Carnac, please--now," she said softly.
A moment afterwards he was gone.
JOHN GRIER MAKES A JOURNEY
John Grier's business had beaten all past records. Tarboe was everywhere: on the river, in the saw-mills, in the lumber-yards, in the office. Health and strength and goodwill were with him, and he had the confidence of all men in the lumber-world. It was rumoured that he was a partner of John Grier, and it was a good thing for him as well as for the business. He was no partner, however; he was on a salary with a bonus percentage of the profits; but that increased his vigour.
There were times when he longed for the backwoods life; when the smell of the pines and the firs and the juniper got into his nostrils; when he heard, in imagination, the shouts of the river-men as they chopped down the trees, sawed the boles into standard lengths, and plunged the big timbers into the stream, or round the fire at night made call upon the spirit of recreation. In imagination, he felt the timbers creaking and straining under his feet; he smelt the rich soup from the cook's caboose; he drank basins of tea from well-polished metal; he saw the ugly rows in the taverns, where men let loose from river duty tried to regain civilian life by means of liquor and cards; he heard the stern thud of a hard fist against a piece of wood; he saw twenty men spring upon another twenty with rage in their faces; he saw hundreds of men arrived in civilization once again striking for their homes and loved ones, storming with life. He saw the door flung open, and the knee-booted, corduroyed river-man, with red sash around his waist and gold rings in his ears, seize the woman he called wife and swing her to him with a hungry joy; he saw the children pushed gently here, or roughly, but playfully, tossed in the air and caught again; but he also saw the rough spirits of the river march into their homes like tyrants returned, as it were, cursing and banging their way back to their rightful nests.
Occasionally he would wish to be in it all again, out in the wild woods and on the river and in the shanty, free and strong and friendly and a bit ferocious. All he had known of the backwoods life filled his veins, tortured him at times.
From the day that both wills were made and signed, no word had been spoken concerning them between him and John Grier. He admired certain characteristics of John Grier; some secret charities, some impulsive generosity, some signs of public spirit. The old man was fond of animals, and had given water-troughs to the town; and his own horses and the horses he used in the woods were always well fed. Also, in all his arrangements for the woods, he was generous. He believed in feeding his men well. It was rough food--beans, potatoes, peas, lentils, pork in barrels-salted pork; but there was bread of the best, rich soup, pork well boiled and fried, with good tea, freshly made. This was the regular fare, and men throve on it.
One day, however, shortly after Carnac's return home, there came a change in the scene. Things had been going badly for a couple of days and the old man had been seriously overworked. He had not listened to the warnings of Tarboe, or to the hints thrown out by his own punished physique. He was not a man to take hints. Everything that vexed his life roused opposition. This Tarboe knew, but he also knew that the business must suffer, if the old man suffered.
When John Grier left the office it was with head bowed and mind depressed. Nothing had happened to cause him grave anxiety, yet he had been below par for several hours. Why was he working so hard? Why was life to him such a concentration? Why did he seek for more money and to get more power? To whom could it go? Not to Fabian; not to his wife. To Tarboe--well, there was not enough in that! This man had only lately come into his life, and was only near to him in a business sense. Carnac was near in every sense that really mattered, and Carnac was out of it all.
He was not loved, and in his heart of hearts he knew it, but he had had his own way, and he loved himself. No one seemed to care for him, not even his wife. How many years was it since they had roomed together? Yet as he went towards his own home now, he recalled the day they were married, and for the first time had drawn as near to each other as life could draw. He had thought her wonderful then, refined, and oh! so rich in life's gifts. His love had almost throttled her. She was warm and bountiful and full of temperament. So it went for three years, and then slowly he drew away from her until at last, returning from the backwoods, he had gone to another room, and there had stayed. Very occasionally he had smothered her with affection, but that had passed, until now, middle- aged, she seemed to be not a room away from him, but a thousand rooms away. He saw it with no reproach to himself. He forgot it was he who had left her room, and had set up his own tabernacle, because his hours differed from hers, and because she tossed in her bed at nights, and that made him restless too.
Yet, if his love had been the real thing, he would have stayed, because their lives were so similar, and the rules of domestic life in French Canada were so fixed. He had spoiled his own household, destroyed his own peace, forsaken his own nest, outlived his hope and the possibility of further hope, except more business success, more to leave behind him.
That was the stern truth. Had he been a different man the devotion his wife had shown would have drawn him back to her; had she been a different woman, unvexed by a horrible remembrance, she would have made his soul her own and her soul his own once again. She had not dared to tell him the truth; afraid more for her boy's sake than for her own. She had been glad that Tarboe had helped to replace the broken link with Fabian, that he had taken the place which Carnac, had he been John Grier's son, ought to have taken. She could not blame Carnac, and she could not blame her husband, but the thing ate into her heart.
John Grier found her sitting by her table in the great living-room, patient and grave, and yet she smiled at him, and rose as he came into the room. His troubled face brought her forward quickly. She stretched out a hand appealingly to him.
"What's the matter, John? Has anything upset you?"
"I'm not upset."
"Yes you are," she urged, "but, yes, you are! Something has gone wrong."
"Nothing's gone wrong that hasn't been wrong for many a year," he said.
"What's been wrong for many a year?"
"The boys you brought into this world--your sons!" he burst out. "Why isn't Carnac working with me? There must have been something damned bad in the bringing up of those boys. I've not, got the love of any of you, and I know it. Why should I be thrown over by every one?"
"Every one hasn't thrown you over. Mr. Tarboe hasn't. You've been in great spirits about him. What's the matter?"
He waved a hand savagely at her, with an almost insane look in his eyes.
"What's he to me! He's a man of business. In a business way I like him, but I want my own flesh and blood by me in my business. I wanted Carnac, and he wouldn't come--a few weeks only he came. I had Fabian, and he wouldn't stay. If I'd had a real chance--"
He broke off, with an outward savage protest of his hands, his voice falling.
"If you'd had your chance, you'd have made your own home happy," she said sadly. "That was your first duty, not your business--your home--your home! You didn't care about it. There were times when for months you forgot me; and then--then--"
Suddenly a dreadful suspicion seized his brain. His head bent forward, his shoulders thrust out, he stumbled towards her.
"Then--well, what then!" he gasped. "Then--you--forgot--"
She realized she had gone too far, saw the storm in his mind.
"No--no--no, I didn't forget you, John. Never--but--"
She got no farther. Suddenly his hands stretched out as if to seize her shoulders, his face became tortured--he swayed. She caught him. She lowered him to the floor, and put a hassock under his head. Then she rang the bell--rang it--and rang again.
When help came, all was too late. John Grier had gone for ever.
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