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- The Money Master, Volume 2. - 10/15 -


Jean Jacques' hand had spasmodically tightened on the lever as though he would wrench the gates open, and a snarl came from his lips.

"Figure de Christ, but it is true, as true as death! Listen, M'sieu' Jean Jacques. You are going to kill me, but listen so that you will know how to speak to her afterwards, understanding what I said as I died."

"Get on--quick!" growled Jean Jacques with white wrinkled lips and the sun in his agonized eyes. George Masson continued his pleading. "You were always a man of mind"--Jean Jacques' fierce agitation visibly subsided, and a surly sort of vanity crept into his face--"and you married a girl who cared more for what you did than what you thought-- that is sure, for I know women. I am not married, and I have had much to do with many of them. I will tell you the truth. I left the West because of a woman--of two women. I had a good business, but I could not keep out of trouble with women. They made it too easy for me."

"Peacock-pig!" exclaimed Jean Jacques with an ugly sneer.

"Let a man when he is dying tell all the truth, to ease his mind," said the master-carpenter with a machiavellian pretence and cunning. "It was vanity, it was, as you say; it was the peacock in me made me be the friend of many women and not the husband of one. I came down here to Quebec from the Far West to get away from consequences. It was expensive. I had to sacrifice. Well, here I am in trouble again--my last trouble, and with the wife of a man that I respect and admire, not enough to keep my hands off his wife, but still that I admire. It is my weakness that I could not be, as a man, honourable to Jean Jacques Barbille. And so I pay the price; so I have to go without time to make my will. Bless heaven above, I have no wife--"

"If you had a wife you would not be dying now. You would not then meddle with the home of Jean Jacques Barbille," sneered Jean Jacques. The note was savage yet.

"Ah, for sure, for sure! It is so. And if I lived I would marry at once."

Desperate as his condition was, the master-carpenter could almost have laughed at the idea of marriage preventing him from following the bent of his nature. He was the born lover. If he had been as high as the Czar, or as low as the ditcher, he would have been the same; but it would be madness to admit that to Jean Jacques now.

"But, as you say, let me get on. My time has come--"

Jean Jacques jerked his head angrily. "Enough of this. You keep on saying 'Wait a little,' but your time has come. Now take it so, and don't repeat."

"A man must get used to the idea of dying, or he will die hard," replied the master-carpenter, for he saw that Jean Jacques' hands were not so tightly clenched on the lever now; and time was everything. He had already been near five minutes, and every minute was a step to a chance of escape--somehow.

"I said you were to blame," he continued. "Listen, Jean Jacques Barbille. You, a man of mind, married a girl who cared more for a touch of your hand than a bucketful of your knowledge, which every man in the province knows is great. At first you were almost always thinking of her and what a fine woman she was, and because everyone admired her, you played the peacock, too. I am not the only peacock. You are a good man --no one ever said anything against your character. But always, always, you think most of yourself. It is everywhere you go as if you say, 'Look out. I am coming. I am Jean Jacques Barbille.

"'Make way for Jean Jacques. I am from the Manor Cartier. You have heard of me.' . . . That is the way you say things in your mind. But all the time the people say, 'That is Jean Jacques Barbille, but you should see his wife. She is a wonder. She is at home at the Manor with the cows and the geese. Jean Jacques travels alone through the parish to Quebec, to Three Rivers, to Tadousac, to the great exhibition at Montreal, but madame, she stays at home. M'sieu' Jean Jacques is nothing beside her'--that is what the people say. They admire you for your brains, but they would have fallen down before your wife, if you had given her half a chance."

"Ah, that's bosh--what do you know!" exclaimed Jean Jacques fiercely, but he was fascinated too by the argument of the man whose life he was going to take.

"I know the truth, my money-man. Do you think she'd have looked at me if you'd been to her what she thought I might be? No, bien sur! Did you take her where she could see the world? No. Did you bring her presents? No. Did you say, 'Come along, we will make a little journey to see the world?' No. Do you think that a woman can sit and darn your socks, and tidy your room, and bake you pancakes in the morning while you roast your toes, and be satisfied with just that, and not long for something outside?"

Jean Jacques was silent. He did not move. He was being hypnotized by a mind of subtle strength, by the logic of which he was so great a lover.

The master-carpenter pressed his logic home. "No, she must sit in your shadow always. She must wait till you come. And when you come, it was 'Here am I, your Jean Jacques. Fall down and worship me. I am your husband.' Did you ever say, 'Heavens, there you are, the woman of all the world, the rising and the setting sun, the star that shines, the garden where all the flowers of love grow'? Did you ever do that? But no, there was only one person in the world--there was only you, Jean Jacques. You were the only pig in the sty."

It was a bold stroke, but if Jean Jacques could stand that, he could stand anything. There was a savage start on the part of Jean Jacques, and the lever almost moved.

"Stop one second!" cried the master-carpenter, sharply now, for in spite of the sudden savagery on Jean Jacques' part, he felt he had an advantage, and now he would play his biggest card.

"You can kill me. It is there in your hand. No one can stop you. But will that give you anything? What is my life? If you take it away, will you be happier? It is happiness you want. Your wife--she will love you, if you give her a chance. If you kill me, I will have my revenge in death, for it is the end of all things for you. You lose your wife for ever. You need not do so. She would have gone with me, not because of me, but because I was a man who she thought would treat her like a friend, like a comrade; who would love her--sacre, what husband could help make love to such a woman, unless he was in love with himself instead of her!"

Jean Jacques rocked to and fro over the lever in his agitation, yet he made no motion to move it. He was under a spell.

Straight home drove the master-carpenter's reasoning now. "Kill me, and you lose her for ever. Kill me, and she will hate you. You think she will not find out? Then see: as I die I will shriek out so loud that she can hear me, and she will understand. She will go mad, and give you over to the law. And then--and then! Did you ever think what will become of your child, of your Zoe, if you go to the gallows? That would be your legacy and your blessing to her--the death of a murderer; and she would be left alone with the woman that would hate you in death! Voila--do you not see?"

Jean Jacques saw. The terrific logic of the thing smote him. His wife hating him, himself on the scaffold, his little Zoe disgraced and dishonoured all her life; and himself out of it all, unable to help her, and bringing irremediable trouble on her! As a chemical clears a muddy liquid, leaving it pure and atomless, so there seemed to pass over Jean Jacques' face a thought like a revelation.

He took his hand from the lever. For a moment he stood like one awakened out of a sleep. He put his hands to his eyes, then shook his head as though to free it of some hateful burden. An instant later he stooped, lifted up the ladder beside him, and let it down to the floor of the flume.

"There, go--for ever," he said.

Then he turned away with bowed head. He staggered as he stepped down from the bridge of the flume, where the lever was. He swayed from side to side. Then he raised his head and looked towards his house. His child lived there--his Zoe.

"Moi je suis philosophe !" he said brokenly.

After a moment or two, as he stumbled on, he said it again--"Me, I am a philosopher!"

CHAPTER X

"QUIEN SABE"--WHO KNOWS!

This much must be said for George Masson, that after the terrible incident at the flume he would have gone straight to the Manor Cartier to warn Carmen, if it had been possible, though perhaps she already knew. But there was Jean Jacques on his way back to the Manor, and nothing remained but to proceed to Laplatte, and give the woman up for ever. He had no wish to pull up stakes again and begin life afresh, though he was only forty, and he had plenty of initiative left. But if he had to go, he would want to go alone, as he had done before. Yes, he would have liked to tell Carmen that Jean Jacques knew everything; but it was impossible. She would have to face the full shock from Jean Jacques' own battery. But then again perhaps she knew already. He hoped she did.

At the very moment that Masson was thinking this, while he went to the main road where he had left his horse and buggy tied up, Carmen came to know.

Carmen had not seen her husband that morning until now. She had waked late, and when she was dressed and went into the dining-room to look for him, with an apprehension which was the reflection of the bad dreams of the night, she found that he had had his breakfast earlier than usual and had gone to the mill. She also learned that he had eaten very little, and that he had sent a man into Vilray for something or other. Try as she would to stifle her anxiety, it obtruded itself, and she could eat no breakfast. She kept her eyes on the door and the window, watching for Jean Jacques.

Yet she reproved herself for her stupid concern, for Jean Jacques would have spoken last night, if he had discovered anything. He was not the man to hold his tongue when he had a chance of talking. He would be sure to make the most of any opportunity for display of intellectual emotion, and he would have burst his buttons if he had known. That was the way she put it in a vernacular which was not Andalusian. Such men love a grievance, because it gives them an opportunity to talk--with a good case


The Money Master, Volume 2. - 10/15

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