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- The Money Master, Volume 2. - 2/15 -
and yet that love of his book. I sometimes think it is all pretence, and that he is all vanity--or almost so. Heaven forgive me for my want of charity!"
The little round judge cocked his head astutely. "But you say he is kind to the poor, that he does not treat men hardly who are in debt to him, and that he will take his coat off his back to give to a tramp--is it so?"
"As so, as so, monsieur."
"Then he is not all vanity, and because of that he will feel the blow when it comes--alas, so much he will feel it!"
"What blow, monsieur le juge?--but ah, look, monsieur!" He pointed eagerly. "There she is, going to the red wagon--Madame Jean Jacques. Is she not a figure of a woman? See the walk of her--is it not distinguished? She is half a hand-breadth taller than Jean Jacques. And her face, most sure it is a face to see. If Jean Jacques was not so busy with his farms and his mills and his kilns and his usury, he would see what a woman he has got. It is his good fortune that she has such sense in business. When Jean Jacques listens to her, he goes right. She herself did not want her father to manage the lime-kilns--the old Sebastian Dolores. She was for him staying at Mirimachi, where he kept the books of the lumber firm. But no, Jean Jacques said that he could make her happy by having her father near her, and he would not believe she meant what she said. He does not understand her; that is the trouble. He knows as much of women or men as I know of--"
"Of the law--hein?" laughed the great man.
"Monsieur--ah, that is your little joke! I laugh, yes, but I laugh," responded the Clerk of the Court a little uncertainly. "Now once when she told him that the lime-kilns--"
The Judge, who had retraced his steps down the street of the town--it was little more than a large village, but because it had a court-house and a marketplace it was called a town--that he might have a good look at Madame Jean Jacques and her child before he passed them, suddenly said:
"How is it you know so much about it all, Maitre Fille--as to what she says and of the inner secrets of the household? Ah, ha, my little Lothario, I have caught you--a bachelor too, with time on his hands, and the right side of seventy as well! The evidence you have given of a close knowledge of the household of our Jean Jacques does not have its basis in hearsay, but in acute personal observation. Tut-tut! Fie-fie! my little gay Clerk of the Court. Fie! Fie!"
M. Fille was greatly disconcerted. He had never been a Lothario. In forty years he had never had an episode with one of "the other sex," but it was not because he was impervious to the softer emotions. An intolerable shyness had ever possessed him when in the presence of women, and even small girl children had frightened him, till he had made friends with little Zoe Barbille, the daughter of Jean Jacques. Yet even with Zoe, who was so simple and companionable and the very soul of childish confidence, he used to blush and falter till she made him talk. Then he became composed, and his tongue was like a running stream, and on that stream any craft could sail. On it he became at ease with madame the Spanische, and he even went so far as to look her full in the eyes on more than one occasion.
"Answer me--ah, you cannot answer!" teasingly added the Judge, who loved his Clerk of the Court, and had great amusement out of his discomfiture. "You are convicted. At an age when a man should be settling down, you are gallivanting with the wife of a philosopher."
"Monsieur--monsieur le juge!" protested M. Fille with slowly heightening colour. "I am innocent, yes, altogether. There is nothing, believe me. It is the child, the little Zoe--but a maid of charm and kindness. She brings me cakes and the toffy made by her own hands; and if I go to the Manor Cartier, as I often do, it is to be polite and neighbourly. If Madame says things to me, and if I see what I see, and hear what I hear, it is no crime; it is no misdemeanour; it is within the law--the perfect law."
Suddenly the Judge linked his arm within that of the other, for he also was little, and he was fat and round and ruddy, and even smaller than M. Fille, who was thin, angular and pale.
"Ah, my little Confucius," he said gently, "have you seen and heard me so seldom that you do not know me yet, or what I really think? Of course it is within the law--the perfect law--to visit at m'sieu' the philosopher's house and talk at length also to m'sieu' the philosopher's wife; while to make the position regular by friendship with the philosopher's child is a wisdom which I can only ascribe to"--his voice was charged with humour and malicious badinage "to an extended acquaintance with the devices of human nature, as seen in those episodes of the courts with which you have been long familiar."
"Oh, monsieur, dear monsieur!" protested the Clerk of the Court, "you always make me your butt."
"My friend," said the Judge, squeezing his arm, "if I could have you no other way, I would make you my butler!"
Then they both laughed at the inexpensive joke, and the Clerk of the Court was in high spirits, for on either side of the street were people with whom he lived every day, and they could see the doyen of the Bench, the great Judge Carcasson, who had refused to be knighted, arm in arm with him. Aye, and better than all, and more than all, here was Zoe Barbille drawing her mother's attention to him almost in the embrace of the magnificent jurist.
The Judge, with his small, round, quizzical eyes which missed nothing, saw too; and his attention was strangely arrested by the faces of both the mother and the child. His first glance at the woman's face made him flash an inward light on the memory of Jean Jacques' face in the witness- box, and a look of reflective irony came into his own. The face of Carmen Dolores, wife of the philosophic miller and money-master, did not belong to the world where she was placed--not because she was so unlike the habitant women, or even the wives of the big farmers, or the sister of the Cure, or the ladies of the military and commercial exiles who lived in that portion of the province; but because of an alien something in her look--a lonely, distant sense of isolation, a something which might hide a companionship and sympathy of a rare kind, or might be but the mask of a furtive, soulless nature. In the child's face was nothing of this. It was open as the day, bright with the cheerfulness of her father's countenance, alive with a humour which that countenance did not possess. The contour was like that of Jean Jacques, but with a fineness and delicacy to its fulness absent from his own; and her eyes were a deep and lustrous brown, under a forehead which had a boldness of gentle dignity possessed by neither father nor mother. Her hair was thick, brown and very full, like that of her father, and in all respects, save one, she had an advantage over both her parents. Her mouth had a sweetness which might not unfairly be called weakness, though that was balanced by a chin of commendable strength.
But the Judge's eyes found at once this vulnerable point in her character as he had found that of her mother. Delightful the child was, and alert and companionable, with no remarkable gifts, but with a rare charm and sympathy. Her face was the mirror of her mind, and it had no ulterior thought. Her mother's face, the Judge had noted, was the foreground of a landscape which had lonely shadows. It was a face of some distinction and suited to surroundings more notable, though the rural life Carmen had led since the Antoine went down and her fortunes came up, had coarsened her beauty a very little.
"There's something stirring in the coverts," said the Judge to himself as he was introduced to the mother and child. By a hasty gesture Zoe gave a command to M. Fille to help her down. With a hand on his shoulder she dropped to the ground. Her object was at once apparent. She made a pretty old-fashioned curtsey to the Judge, then held out her hand, as though to reassert her democratic equality.
As the Judge looked at Madame Barbille, he was involuntarily, but none the less industriously, noting her characteristics; and the sum of his reflections, after a few moments' talk, was that dangers he had seen ahead of Jean Jacques, would not be averted by his wife, indeed might easily have their origin in her.
"I wonder it has gone on as long as it has," he said to himself; though it seemed unreasonable that his few moments with her, and the story told him by the Clerk of the Court, should enable him to come to any definite conclusion. But at eighty-odd Judge Carcasson was a Solon and a Solomon in one. He had seen life from all angles, and he was not prepared to give any virtue or the possession of any virtue too much rope; while nothing in life surprised him.
"How would you like to be a judge?" he asked of Zoe, suddenly taking her hand in his. A kinship had been at once established between them, so little has age, position, and intellect to do with the natural gravitations of human nature.
She did not answer direct, and that pleased him. "If I were a judge I should have no jails," she said. "What would you do with the bad people?" he asked.
"I would put them alone on a desert island, or out at sea in a little boat, or out on the prairies without a horse, so that they'd have to work for their lives."
"Oh, I see! If M. Fille here set fire to a house, you would drop him on the prairie far away from everything and everybody and let him 'root hog or die'?"
"Don't you think it would kill him or cure him?" she asked whimsically.
The Judge laughed, his eyes twinkling. "That's what they did when the world was young, dear ma'm'selle. There was no time to build jails. Alone on the prairie--a separate prairie for every criminal--that would take a lot of space; but the idea is all right. It mightn't provide the proper degree of punishment, however. But that is being too particular. Alone on the prairie for punishment--well, I should like to see it tried."
He remembered that saying of his long after, while yet he was alive, and a tale came to him from the prairies which made his eyes turn more intently towards a land that is far off, where the miserable miscalculations and mistakes of this world are readjusted. Now he was only conscious of a primitive imagination looking out of a young girl's face, and making a bridge between her understanding and his own.
"What else would you do if you were a judge?" he asked presently.
"I would make my father be a miller," she replied. "But he is a miller, I hear."
"But he is so many other things--so many. If he was only a miller we should have more of him. He is at home only a little. If I get up early enough in the morning, or if I am let stay up at night late enough, I see
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