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- The Money Master, Volume 2. - 3/15 -
him; but that is not enough--is it, mother?" she added with a sudden sense that she had gone too far, that she ought not to say this perhaps.
The woman's face had darkened for an instant, and irritation showed in her eyes, but by an effort of the will she controlled herself.
"Your father knows best what he can do and can't do," she said evenly.
"But you would not let a man judge for himself, would you, ma'm'selle?" asked the old inquisitor. "You would judge for the man what was best for him to do?"
"I would judge for my father," she replied. "He is too good a man to judge for himself."
"Well, there's a lot of sense in that, ma'm'selle philosophe," answered Judge Carcasson. "You would make the good idle, and make the bad work. The good you would put in a mill to watch the stones grind, and the bad you would put on a prairie alone to make the grist for the grinding. Ma'm'selle, we must be friends--is it not so?"
"Haven't we always been friends?" the young girl asked with the look of a visionary suddenly springing up in her eyes.
Here was temperament indeed. She pleased Judge Carcasson greatly. "But yes, always, and always, and always," he replied. Inwardly he said to himself, "I did not see that at first. It is her father in her.
"Zoe!" said her mother reprovingly.
THE CLERK OF THE COURT ENDS HIS STORY
A moment afterwards the Judge, as he walked down the street still arm in arm with the Clerk of the Court, said: "That child must have good luck, or she will not have her share of happiness. She has depths that are not deep enough." Presently he added, "Tell me, my Clerk, the man--Jean Jacques--he is so much away--has there never been any talk about--about."
"About--monsieur le juge?" asked M. Fille rather stiffly. "For instance --about what?"
"For instance, about a man--not Jean Jacques."
The lips of the Clerk of the Court tightened. "Never at any time--till now, monsieur le juge."
The Clerk of the Court blushed. What he was about to say was difficult, but he alone of all the world guessed at the tragedy which was hovering over Jean Jacques' home. By chance he had seen something on an afternoon of three days before, and he had fled from it as a child would fly from a demon. He was a purist at law, but he was a purist in life also, and not because the flush of youth had gone and his feet were on the path which leads into the autumn of a man's days. The thing he had seen had been terribly on his mind, and he had felt that his own judgment was not sufficient for the situation, that he ought to tell someone.
The Cure was the only person who had come to his mind when he became troubled to the point of actual mental agony. But the new curb, M. Savry, was not like the Old Cure, and, besides, was it not stepping between the woman and her confessional? Yet he felt that something ought to be done. It never occurred to him to speak to Jean Jacques. That would have seemed so brutal to the woman. It came to him to speak to Carmen, but he knew that he dared not do so. He could not say to a woman that which must shame her before him, she who had kept her head so arrogantly high--not so much to him, however, as to the rest of the world. He had not the courage; and yet he had fear lest some awful thing would at any moment now befall the Manor Cartier. If it did, he would feel himself to blame had he done nothing to stay the peril. So far he was the only person who could do so, for he was the only person who knew!
The Judge could feel his friend's arm tremble with emotion, and he said: "Come, now, my Plato, what is it? A man has come to disturb the peace of Jean Jacques, our philosophe, eh?"
"That is it, monsieur--a man of a kind."
"Oh, of course, my bambino, of course, a man 'of a kind,' or there would be no peace disturbed. You want to tell me, I see. Proceed then; there is no reason why you should not. I am secret. I have seen much. I have no prejudices. As you will, however; but I can see it would relieve your mind to tell me. In truth I felt there was something when I saw you look at her first, when you spoke to her, when she talked with me. She is a fine figure of a woman, and Jean Jacques, as you say, is much away from home. In fact he neglects her--is it not so?"
"He means it not, but it is so. His life is full of--"
"Yes, yes, of stores and ash-factories and debtors and lightning-rods and lime-kilns, and mortgaged farms, and the price of wheat--but certainly, I understand it all, my Fille. She is too much alone, and if she has travelled by the compass all these thirteen years without losing the track, it is something to the credit of human nature."
"Ah, monsieur, a vow before the good God--!" The Judge interrupted sharply. "Tut, tut--these vows! Do you not know that a vow may be a thing that ruins past redemption? A vow is sacred. Well, a poor mortal in one moment of weakness breaks it. Then there is a sense of awful shame of being lost, of never being able to put right the breaking of the vow, though the rest can be put right by sorrow and repentance! I would have no vows. They haunt like ghosts when they are broken, they torture like fire then. Don't talk to me of vows. It is not vows that keep the world right, but the prayer of a man's soul from day to day."
The Judge's words sounded almost blasphemous to M. Fille. A vow not keep the world right! Then why the vows of the Church at baptism, at confirmation, at marriage? Why the vows of the priests, of the nuns, of those who had given themselves to eternal service? Monsieur had spoken terrible things. And yet he had said at the last: "It is not vows that keep the world right, but the prayer of a man's soul from day to day." That was not heretical, or atheistic, or blasphemous. It sounded logical and true and good.
He was about to say that, to some people, vows were the only way of keeping them to their duty--and especially women--but the Judge added gently: "I would not for the world hurt your sensibilities, my little Clerk, and we are not nearly so far apart as you think at the minute. Thank God, I keep the faith that is behind all faith--the speech of a man's soul with God. . . . But there, if you can, let us hear what man it is who disturbs the home of the philosopher. It is not my Fille, that's sure."
He could not resist teasing, this judge who had a mind of the most rare uprightness; and he was not always sorry when his teasing hurt; for, to his mind, men should be lashed into strength, when they drooped over the tasks of life; and what so sharp a lash as ridicule or satire!
"Proceed, my friend," he urged brusquely, not waiting for the gasp of pained surprise of the little Clerk to end. He was glad to see the figure beside him presently straighten itself, as though to be braced for a task of difficulty. Indignation and resentment were good things to stiffen a man's back.
"It was three days ago," said M. Fille. "I saw it with my own eyes. I had come to the Manor Cartier by the road, down the hill--Mont Violet-- behind the house. I could see into the windows of the house. There was no reason why I should not see--there never has been a reason," he added, as though to justify himself.
"Of course, of course, my friend. One's eyes are open, and one sees what one sees, without looking for it. Proceed."
"As I looked down I saw Madame with a man's arms round her, and his lips to hers. It was not Jean Jacques."
"Of course, of course. Proceed. What did you do?"
"I stopped. I fell back--"
"Of course. Behind a tree?"
"Behind some elderberry bushes."
"Of course. Elderberry bushes--that's better than a tree. I am very fond of elderberry wine when it is new. Proceed."
The Clerk of the Court shrank. What did it matter whether or no the Judge liked elderberry wine, when the world was falling down for Jean Jacques and his Zoe--and his wife. But with a sigh he continued: "There is nothing more. I stayed there for awhile, and then crept up the hill again, and came back to my home and locked myself in."
"What had you done that you should lock yourself in?"
"Ah, monsieur, how can I explain such things? Perhaps I was ashamed that I had seen things I should not have seen. I do not blush that I wept for the child, who is--but you saw her, monsieur le juge."
"Yes, yes, the little Zoe, and the little philosopher. Proceed."
"What more is there to tell!"
"A trifle perhaps, as you will think," remarked the Judge ironically, but as one who, finding a crime, must needs find the criminal too. "I must ask you to inform the Court who was the too polite friend of Madame."
"Monsieur, pardon me. I forgot. It is essential, of course. You must know that there is a flume, a great wooden channel--"
"Yes, yes. I comprehend. Once I had a case of a flume. It was fifteen feet deep and it let in the water of the river to the mill-wheels. A flume regulates, concentrates, and controls the water power. I comprehend perfectly. Well?"
"So. This flume for Jean Jacques' mill was also fifteen feet deep or more. It was out of repair, and Jean Jacques called in a master- carpenter from Laplatte, Masson by name--George Masson--to put the flume right."
"How long ago was that?"
"A month ago. But Masson was not here all the time. It was his workmen who did the repairs, but he came over to see--to superintend. At first he came twice in the week. Then he came every day."
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