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- The Lane That Had No Turning, Volume 3. - 1/10 -
THE LANE THAT HAD NO TURNING
By Gilbert Parker
THE TRAGIC COMEDY OF ANNETTE THE MARRIAGE OF THE MILLER MATHURIN THE STORY OF THE LIME-BURNER THE WOODSMAN'S STORY OF THE GREAT WHITE CHIEF UNCLE JIM THE HOUSE WITH THE TALL PORCH PARPON THE DWARF
THE TRAGIC COMEDY OF ANNETTE
The chest of drawers, the bed, the bedding, the pieces of linen, and the pile of yarn had been ready for many months. Annette had made inventory of them every day since the dot was complete--at first with a great deal of pride, after a time more shyly and wistfully: Benoit did not come. He had said he would be down with the first drive of logs in the summer, and at the little church of St. Saviour's they would settle everything and get the Cure's blessing. Almost anybody would have believed in Benoit. He had the brightest scarf, the merriest laugh, the quickest eyes, and the blackest head in Pontiac; and no one among the river drivers could sing like him. That was, he said gaily, because his earrings were gold, and not brass like those of his comrades. Thus Benoit was a little vain, and something more; but old ladies such as the Little Chemist's wife said he was galant. Probably only Medallion the auctioneer and the Cure did not lose themselves in the general admiration; they thought he was to Annette like a farthing dip to a holy candle.
Annette was the youngest of twelve, and one of a family of thirty-for some of her married brothers and sisters and their children lived in her father's long white house' by the river. When Benoit failed to come in the spring, they showed their pity for her by abusing him; and when she pleaded for him they said things which had an edge. They ended by offering to marry her to Farette, the old miller, to whom they owed money for flour. They brought Farette to the house at last, and she was patient while he ogled her, and smoked his strong tabac, and tried to sing. She was kind to him, and said nothing until, one day, urged by her brother Solime, he mumbled the childish chanson Benoit sang the day he left, as he passed their house going up the river:
"High in a nest of the tam'rac tree, Swing under, so free, and swing over; Swing under the sun and swing over the world, My snow-bird, my gay little lover My gay little lover, don, don! . . . don, don!
"When the winter is done I will come back home, To the nest swinging under and over, Swinging under and over and waiting for me, Your rover, my snow-bird, your rover-- Your lover and rover, don, don! . . . don, don!"
It was all very well in the mouth of the sprightly, sentimental Benoit; it was hateful foolishness in Farette. Annette now came to her feet suddenly, her pale face showing defiance, and her big brown eyes flicking anger. She walked up to the miller and said: "You are old and ugly and a fool. But I do not hate you; I hate Solime, my brother, for bringing you here. There is the bill for the flour? Well, I will pay it myself--and you can go as soon as you like."
Then she put on her coat and capote and mittens, and went to the door. "Where are you going, Ma'm'selle?" cried Solime, in high rage.
"I am going to M'sieu' Medallion," she said.
Hard profane words followed her, but she ran, and never stopped till she came to Medallion's house. He was not there. She found him at the Little Chemist's. That night a pony and cart took away from the house of Annette's father the chest of drawers, the bed, the bedding, the pieces of linen, and the pile of yarn which had been made ready so long against Benoit's coming. Medallion had said he could sell them at once, and he gave her the money that night; but this was after he had had a talk with the Cure, to whom Annette had told all. Medallion said he had been able to sell the things at once; but he did not tell her that they were stored in a loft of the Little Chemist's house, and that the Little Chemist's wife had wept over them and carried the case to the shrine of the Blessed Virgin.
It did not matter that the father and brothers stormed. Annette was firm; the dot was hers, and she would do as she wished. She carried the money to the miller. He took it grimly and gave her a receipt, grossly mis-spelled, and, as she was about to go, brought his fist heavily down on his leg and said: "Mon Dieu, it is brave--it is grand--it is an angel." Then he chuckled: "So, so! It was true. I am old, ugly, and a fool. Eh, well, I have my money!" Then he took to counting it over in his hand, forgetting her, and she left him growling gleefully over it.
She had not a happy life, but her people left her alone, for the Cure had said stern things to them. All during the winter she went out fishing every day at a great hole in the ice--bitter cold work, and fit only for a man; but she caught many fish, and little by little laid aside pennies to buy things to replace what she had sold. It had been a hard trial to her to sell them. But for the kind-hearted Cure she would have repined. The worst thing happened, however, when the ring Benoit had given her dropped from her thin finger into the water where she was fishing. Then a shadow descended on her, and she grew almost unearthly in the anxious patience of her face. The Little Chemist's wife declared that the look was death. Perhaps it would have been if Medallion had not sent a lad down to the bottom of the river and got the ring. He gave it to the Cure, who put it on her finger one day after confession. Then she brightened, and waited on and on patiently.
She waited for seven years. Then the deceitful Benoit came pensively back to her, a cripple from a timber accident. She believed what he told her; and that was where her comedy ended and her tragedy began.
THE MARRIAGE OF THE MILLER
Medallion put it into his head on the day that Benoit and Annette were married. "See," said Medallion, "Annette wouldn't have you--and quite right--and she took what was left of that Benoit, who'll laugh at you over his mush-and-milk."
"Benoit will want flour some day, with no money." The old man chuckled and rubbed his hands. "That's nothing; he has the girl--an angel!" "Good enough, that is what I said of her--an angel!"
"Get married yourself, Farette."
For reply Farette thrust a bag of native tabac into Medallion's hands. Then they went over the names of the girls in the village. Medallion objected to those for whom he wished a better future, but they decided at last on Julie Lachance, who, Medallion thought, would in time profoundly increase Farette's respect for the memory of his first wife; for Julie was not an angel. Then the details were ponderously thought out by the miller, and ponderously acted upon, with the dry approval of Medallion, who dared not tell the Cure of his complicity, though he was without compunction. He had a sense of humour, and knew there could be no tragedy in the thing--for Julie. But the miller was a careful man and original in his methods. He still possessed the wardrobe of the first wife, thoughtfully preserved by his sister, even to the wonderful grey watered-poplin which had been her wedding-dress. These he had taken out, shaken free of cayenne, camphor, and lavender, and sent upon the back of Parpon, the dwarf, to the house where Julie lodged (she was an orphan), following himself with a statement on brown paper, showing the extent of his wealth, and a parcel of very fine flour from the new stones in his mill. All was spread out, and then he made a speech, describing his virtues, and condoning his one offence of age by assuring her that every tooth in his head was sound. This was merely the concession of politeness, for he thought his offer handsome.
Julie slyly eyed the wardrobe and as slyly smiled, and then, imitating Farette's manner--though Farette could not see it, and Parpon spluttered with laughter--said:
"M'sieu', you are a great man. The grey poplin is noble, also the flour, and the writing on the brown paper. M'sieu', you go to Mass, and all your teeth are sound; you have a dog-churn, also three feather-beds, and five rag carpets; you have sat on the grand jury.
"M'sieu', I have a dot; I accept you. M'sieu', I will keep the brown paper, and the grey poplin, and the flour." Then with a grave elaborate bow, "M'sieu'!"
That was the beginning and end of the courtship. For though Farette came every Sunday evening and smoked by the fire, and looked at Julie as she arranged the details of her dowry, he only chuckled, and now and again struck his thigh and said:
"Mon Dieu, the ankle, the eye, the good child, Julie, there!"
Then he would fall to thinking and chuckling again. One day he asked her to make him some potato-cakes of the flour he had given her. Her answer was a catastrophe. She could not cook; she was even ignorant of buttermilk-pudding. He went away overwhelmed, but came back some days afterwards and made another speech. He had laid his plans before Medallion, who approved of them. He prefaced the speech by placing the blank marriage certificate on the table. Then he said that his first wife was such a cook, that when she died he paid for an extra Mass and twelve very fine candles. He called upon Parpon to endorse his words, and Parpon nodded to all he said, but, catching Julie's eye, went off into gurgles of laughter, which he pretended were tears, by smothering his face in his capote. "Ma'm'selle," said the miller, "I have thought. Some men go to the Avocat or the Cure with great things; but I have been a pilgrimage, I have sat on the grand jury. There, Ma'm'selle!" His chest swelled, he blew out his cheeks, he pulled Parpon's ear as Napoleon pulled Murat's. "Ma'm'selle, allons! Babette, the sister of my first wife-ah! she is a great cook also--well, she was pouring into my plate the soup--there is nothing like pea-soup with a fine lump of pork, and thick molasses for the buckwheat cakes. Ma'm'selle, allons! Just then I thought. It is very good; you shall see; you shall learn how to cook. Babette will teach you. Babette said many things. I got mad and spilt the soup. Ma'm'selle--eh, holy, what a turn has your waist!"
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