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- Carnac's Folly, Volume 3. - 6/18 -
shown. As he stood by the table, the dim light throwing haggard reflections on her face, he had a feeling that she was more than normal. He saw her greater than he had ever imagined her. Something in him revolted at a war between his own son and himself. Also, he wanted to tell her of the danger in which Carnac was--how Luzanne had come, and was hidden away in the outskirts of the city, waiting for the moment when the man who rejected her should be sacrificed.
Now that Barouche was face to face with Alma Grier, however, he felt the appalling nature of his task. In all the years he had taken no chance to pay tribute to the woman who, in a real sense, had been his mistress of body and mind for one short term of life, and who once, and once only, had yielded to him. They were both advanced in years, and Life and Time had taken toll. She was haggard, yet beautiful in a wan way. He did not believe the vanished years had placed between them an impassable barrier.
He put his chances to the test at last.
"Yes, I know--I understand. You remained silent because your nature was too generous to injure anyone. Down at the bottom of his heart, cantankerous, tyrannical as he was, John Grier loved you, and I loved you also."
She made a protest of her hand. "Oh, no! You never knew what love was-- never! You had passion, you had hunger of the body, but of love you did not know. I know you, Barode Barouche. You have no heart, you have only sentiment and imagination. No--no, you could not be true. You could never know how."
Suddenly a tempest of fire seemed to burn in his eyes, in his whole being. His face flushed: his eyes gleamed; his hands were thrust out with passion.
"Will you not understand that were I as foul as hell, a woman like you would make me clean again? The wild sin of our youth has eaten into the soul of my life. You think I have been indifferent to you and to our boy. No, never-never! That I left you both to yourselves was the best proof I was not neglectful. I was sorry, with all my soul, that you should have suffered through me. In the first reaction, I felt that nothing could put me right with you or with eternal justice. So I shrank away from you. You thought it was lust satisfied. I tell you it was honour shamed. Good God! You thought me just the brazen roue, who seized what came his way, who ate the fruit within his grasp, who lived to deceive for his own selfish joy.
"Did you think that? Then, if you did, I do not wonder you should be glad to see my son fighting me. It would seem the horrible revenge Destiny should take." He took a step nearer to her. His face flamed, his arms stretched out. "I have held you in these arms. I come with repentance in my heart, with--"
Her face now was flushed. She interrupted him.
"I don't believe in you, Barode Barouche. At least my husband did not go from his hearthstone looking for what belonged to others. No--No--no; however much I suffered, I understood that what he did not feel for me at least he felt for no one else. To him, life was his business, and to the long end business mastered his emotions. I have no faith in you! In the depth of my soul something cries out: 'He is not true. His life is false.' To leave me that was right, but, monsieur, not as you left me. You pick the fruit and eat it and spit upon the ground the fibre and the skin. I am no longer the slave of your false eloquence. It has nothing in it for me now, nothing at all--nothing."
"Yet your son--has he naught of me? If your son has genius, I have the right to say a part of it came from me. Why should you say that all that's good in the boy is yours--that the boy, in all he does and says, is yours! No--no. Your long years of suffering have hardened into injustice and wrong."
Suddenly he touched her arm. "There are women as young as you were when I wronged you, who would be my wife now--young, beautiful, buoyant; but I come to you because I feel we might still have some years of happiness. Together, where our boy's fate mattered, we two could help him on his way. That is what I feel, my dear."
When he touched her arm she did not move, yet there was in his fingers something which stirred ulcers long since healed and scarred. She stepped back from him.
"Do not touch me. The past is buried for ever. There can be no resurrection. I know what I should do, and I will do it. For the rest of my life, I shall live for my son. I hope he will defeat you. I don't lift a hand to help him except to give him money, not John Grier's money but my own, always that. You are fighting what is stronger than yourself. One thing is sure, he is nearer to the spirit of your race than you. He will win--but yes, he will win!"
Her face suffused with warmth, became alive with a wonderful fire, her whole being had a simple tragedy. Once again, and perhaps for the last time, she had renewed the splendour of her young womanhood. The vital warmth of a great idea had given an expression to her face which had long been absent from it.
He fell back from her. Then suddenly passion seized him. The gaunt beauty of her roused a spirit of contest in him. The evil thing in him, which her love for her son had almost conquered, came back upon him. He remembered Luzanne, and now with a spirit alive with anger he said to her:
"No--no--no, he cannot win." He stretched out a hand. "I have that which will keep for me the place in Parliament that has been mine; which will send him back to the isolation whence he came. Do you think I don't know how to win an election? Why from east to west, from north to south in this Province of Quebec my name, my fame, have been all-conquering. Suppose he did defeat me, do you think that would end my political life? It would end nothing. I should still go on."
A scornful smile came to her lips. "So you think your party would find a seat for you who had been defeated by a young man who never knew what political life meant till he came to this campaign? You think they would find you a seat? I know you are coming to the end of your game, and when he defeats you, it will finish everything for you. You will disappear from public life, and your day will be done. Men will point at you as you pass along the street, and say: 'There goes Barode Barouche. He was a great man in his day. He was defeated by a boy with a painter's brush in his hand.' He will take from you your livelihood. You will go, and he will stay; he will conquer and grow strong. Go from me, Barode Barouche," she cried, thrusting out her hands against him, "go from me. I love my son with all my soul. His father has no place in my heart."
There had been upon him the wild passion of revenge. It had mastered him before she spoke, and while she spoke, but, as she finished, the understanding spirit of him conquered. Instead of telling her of Luzanne Larue, and of what he would do if he found things going against him, instead of that he resolved to say naught. He saw he could not conquer her. For a minute after she had ceased speaking, he watched her in silence, and in his eyes was a remorse which would never leave them. She was master.
Slowly, and with a sense of defeat, he said to her: "Well, we shall never meet again like this. The fight goes on. I will defeat Carnac. No, do not shake your head. He shall not put me from my place. For you and me there is no future--none; yet I want to say to you before we part for ever now, that you have been deeper in my life than any other woman since I was born."
He said no more. Catching up his hat from the chair, and taking his stick, he left the room. He opened the front door, stepped out, shut it behind him and, in a moment, was lost in the night.
POINT TO POINT
While these things were happening, Carnac was spending all his time in the constituency. Every day was busy to the last minute, every hole in the belt of his equipment was buckled tight. In spite of his enthusiasm he was, however, troubled by the fact that Luzanne might appear. Yet as time went on he gained confidence. There were days, however, when he appeared, mentally, to be watching the street corners.
One day at a public meeting he thought the sensation had come. He had just finished his speech in reply to Barode Barouche--eloquent, eager, masterful. Youth's aspirations, with a curious sympathy with the French Canadian people, had idealized his utterances. When he finished there had been cheering, but in the quiet instant that followed the cheering, a habitant got up--a weird, wilful fellow who had a reputation for brag, yet who would not have hurt an enemy save in wild passion.
"M'sieu' Carnac Grier," he said, "I'd like to put a question to you. You've been asking for our votes. We're a family people, we Canucs, and we like to know where we're going. Tell me, m'sieu', where's your woman?"
Having asked the question, he remained standing. "Where's your woman?" the habitant had asked. Carnac's breath came quick and sharp. There were many hundreds present, and a good number of them were foes. Barode Barouche was on the same platform.
Not only Carnac was stirred by the question, for Barouche, who had listened to his foe's speech with admiring anxiety, was startled.
"Where's your woman?" was not a phrase to be asked anyhow, or anywhere. Barouche was glad of the incident. Ready as he was to meet challenge, he presently realized that his son had a readiness equally potent. He was even pleased to see the glint of a smile at the lips of the slim young politician, in whom there was more than his own commingling of temperament, wisdom, wantonness and raillery.
After a moment, Carnac said: "Isn't that a leading question to an unmarried man?"
Barouche laughed inwardly. Surely it was the reply he himself would have made. Carnac had showed himself a born politician. The audience cheered, but the questioner remained standing. He meant to ask another question.
"Sit down--sit down, jackass!" shouted some of the more raucous of the crowd, but the man was stubborn. He stretched out an arm towards Carnac.
"Bien, look here, my son, you take my advice. Pursue the primrose path into the meadows of matrimony."
Again Carnac shrank, but his mind rallied courageously, and he said: "There are other people who want to ask questions, perhaps." He turned to Barode Barouche. "I don't suggest my opponent has planned this
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