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- Carnac's Folly, Volume 3. - 5/18 -
"I know I'm always settling troubles my business foes make for me. I have to settle one of them now, and I'm glad I've met you, for you can help me. I want some new river-rules made. If Belloc and Grier'll agree to them, we'll do away with this constant trouble between our gangs."
"And you'd like me to help you?"
He smiled a big riverman's smile down at her, full of good-humour and audacity.
"If you could make it clear to Fabian that all I'm after is peace on the river, it'd do a lot of good."
"Well, do you know," she said demurely, "I don't think I'll take a hand in this game, chiefly because--" she paused.
"Yes: chiefly because--"
"Because you'll get your own way without help. You get everything you want," she added with a little savage comment.
A flood of feeling came into his eyes, his head jerked like that of a bull-moose. "No, I don't get everything I want. The thing I want most in the world doesn't come to me." His voice grew emotional. She knew what he was trying to say, and as the idea was not new she kept composure. "I'm not as lucky as you think me," he added.
"You're pretty lucky. You've done it all as easy as clasping your fingers. If I had your luck--!" she paused.
"I don't know about that, but if I could reach out and touch you at any time, as it were, I think it'd bring me permanent good luck. You'll find out one day that my luck is only a bubble the prick of a pin'll destroy. I don't misunderstand it. I've been left John Grier's business by Grier himself, and he's got a son that ought to have it, and maybe will have it, when the time is ripe."
Suddenly an angry hand flashed out towards him. "When the time is ripe! Does that mean, when you've made all you want, you'll give up to Carnac what isn't yours but his? Why don't you do it now?"
"Well, because, in the first place, I like my job and he doesn't want it; in the second place, I promised his father I'd run the business as he wished it run; and in the third place, Carnac wouldn't know how to use the income the business brings."
She laughed in a mocking, challenging way. "Was there ever a man didn't know how to use an income no matter how big it was! You're talking enigmas, and I think we'd better say good-bye. Your way to the Belloc offices is down that street." She pointed.
"And you won't help me? You won't say a word to Fabian?"
She shrugged a shoulder. "If I were a man like you, who's so big, so lucky, and so dominant, I wouldn't ask a woman to help me. I'd do the job myself. I'd keep faith with my reputation. But there's one nice thing about you: you're going to help Carnac to beat Barode Barouche. You've made a gallant offer. If you'd gone against him, if you'd played Barouche's game, I--"
The indignation which came to her face suddenly fled, and she said: "Honestly, I'd never speak to you again, and I always keep my word. Carnac'll see it through. He's a man of mark, Mr. Tarboe, and he'll be Prime Minister of the whole country one day. I don't think you'll like it."
"You hit hard, but if I hadn't taken the business, Carnac Grier wouldn't have got it. If it hadn't been me, it would have been some one else."
"Well, why don't you live like a rich man and not like a foreman?"
"I've been too busy to change my mode of living. I only want enough to eat and drink and wear, and that's not costly." Suddenly an idea came to him. "Now, if that business had been left to you, you'd be building a stone house somewhere; and you'd have horses and carriages, and lots of servants, and you'd swing along like a pretty coloured bird in the springtime, wouldn't you?"
"If I had wealth, I'd make it my servant. I'd give it its chance; but as I haven't got it, I live as I do--poor and unknown."
"Not unknown. See, you could control what belonged to John Grier, if you would. I need some one to show me how to spend the money coming from the business. What is wealth unless you buy things that give pleasure to life? Do you know--"
He got no further. "I don't know anything you're trying to tell me, and anyhow this is not the place--" With that she hastened from him up the street. Tarboe had a pang, and yet her very last words gave him hope. "I may be a bit sharp in business," he said to himself, "but I certainly am a fool in matters of the heart. Yet what she said at last had something in it for me. Every woman has an idea where a man ought to make love to her, and this open road certainly ain't the place. If Carnac wins this game with Barouche I don't know where I'll be with her- maybe I'm a fool to help him." He turned the letter over and over in his hand. "No, I'm not. I ought to do it, and I will."
Then he fell to brooding. He remembered about the second hidden will. There came upon him a wild wish to destroy it. He loved controlling John Grier's business. Never had anything absorbed him so. Life seemed a new thing. The idea of disappearing from the place where, with a stroke of his fingers, he moved five thousand men, or swept a forest into the great river, or touched a bell which set going a saw-mill with its many cross- cut saws, or filled a ship to take the pine, cedar, maple, ash or elm boards to Europe, or to the United States, was terrible to him. He loved the smell of the fresh-cut wood. The odour of the sawdust as he passed through a mill was sweeter than a million bunches of violets. Many a time he had caught up a handful of the damp dust and smelt it, as an expert gardener would crumble the fallen flowers of a fruittree and sniff the sweet perfume. To be master of one of the greatest enterprises of the New World for three years, and then to disappear! He felt he could not do it.
His feelings shook his big frame. The love of a woman troubled his spirit. Suppose the will were declared and the girl was still free, what would she do?
As he set foot in the office of the firm of Belloc, however, he steeled himself to composure.
His task well accomplished, he went back to his own office, and spent the day like a racehorse under the lash, restive, defiant, and reckless. When night and the shadows came, he sat alone in his office with drawn blinds, brooding, wondering.
THE SECRET MEETING
As election affairs progressed, Mrs. Grier kept withdrawn from public ways. She did not seek supporters for her son. As the weeks went on, the strain became intense. Her eyes were aflame with excitement, but she grew thinner, until at last she was like a ghost haunting familiar scenes. Once, and once only, did she have touch with Barode Barouche since the agitation began. This was how it happened:
Carnac was at Ottawa, and she was alone, in the late evening. As she sat sewing, she heard a knock at the front door. Her heart stood still. It was a knock she had not heard for over a quarter of a century, but it had an unforgettable touch. She waited a moment, her face pale, her eyes shining with tortured memory. She waited for the servant to answer the knock, but presently she realized that the servant probably had not heard. Laying down her work, she passed into the front hall. There for an instant she paused, then opened the door.
It was Barode Barouche. Then the memory of a summer like a terrible dream shook her. She trembled. Some old quiver of the dead days swept through her. How distant and how--bad it all was! For one instant the old thrill repeated itself and then was gone--for ever.
"What is it you wish here?" she asked.
"Will you not shut the door?" he responded, for her fingers were on the handle. "I cannot speak with the night looking in. Won't you ask me to your sitting-room? I'm not a robber or a rogue."
Slowly she closed the door. Then she turned, and, in the dim light, she said:
"But you are both a robber and a rogue."
He did not answer until they had entered the sittin-groom.
"I gave you that which is out against me now. Is he not brilliant, capable and courageous?"
There was in her face a stern duty.
"It was Fate, monsieur. When he and I went to your political meeting at Charlemont it had no purpose. No blush came to his cheek, because he did not know who his father is. No one in the world knows--no one except myself, that must suffer to the end. Your speech roused in him the native public sense, the ancient fire of the people from whom he did not know he came. His origin has been his bane from the start. He did not know why the man he thought his father seemed almost a stranger to him. He did not understand, and so they fell apart. Yet John Grier would have given more than he had to win the boy to himself. Do you ever think what the boy must have suffered? He does not know. Only you and I know!" She paused.
He thrust out a hand as though to stay her speech, but she went on again
"Go away from me. You have spoiled my life; you have spoiled my boy's life, and now he fights you. I give him no help save in one direction. I give to him something his reputed father withheld from him. Don't you think it a strange thing"--her voice was thick with feeling--"that he never could bear to take money from John Grier, and that, even as a child, gifts seemed to trouble him. I think he wanted to give back again all that John Grier had ever paid out to him or for him; and now, at last, he fights the man who gave him birth! I wanted to tell John Grier all, but I did not because I knew it would spoil his life and my boy's life. It was nothing to me whether I lived or died. But I could not bear Carnac should know. He was too noble to have his life spoiled."
Barode Barouche drew himself together. Here was a deep, significant problem, a situation that needed more expert handling than he had ever
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