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- The Money Master, Volume 2. - 4/15 -
"Ah, then he came every day! How do you know that?"
"It was my custom to walk to the mill every day--to watch the work on the flume. It was only four miles away across the fields and through the woods, making a walk of much charm--especially in the autumn, when the colours of the foliage are so fine, and the air has a touch of pensiveness, so that one is induced to reflection."
There was the slightest tinge of impatience in the Judge's response. "Yes, yes, I understand. You walked to study life and to reflect and to enjoy your intimacy with nature, but also to see our friend Zoe and her home. And I do not wonder. She has a charm which makes me sad-- for her."
"So I have felt, so I have felt for her, monsieur. When she is gayest, and when, as it might seem, I am quite happy, talking to her, or picnicking, or idling on the river, or helping her with her lessons, I have sadness, I know not why."
The Judge pressed his friend's arm firmly. His voice grew more insistent. "Now, Maitre Fille, I think I understand the story, but there are lacunee which you must fill. You say the thing happened three days ago--now, when will the work be finished?"
"The work will be finished to-morrow, monsieur. Only one workman is left, and he will be quit of his task to-night."
"So the thing--the comedy or tragedy will come to an end to-morrow?" remarked the Judge seriously. "How did you find out that the workmen go tomorrow, maitre?"
"Jean Jacques--he told me yesterday."
"Then it all ends to-morrow," responded the Judge.
The puzzled subordinate stood almost still, and looked at the Judge in wonder. Why should it all end to-morrow simply because the work was finished at the flume? At last he spoke.
"It is only twelve miles to Laplatte where George Masson lives, and he has, besides, another contract near here, but three miles from the Manor Cartier. Also besides, how can we know what she will do--Jean Jacques' wife. How can we tell but that she will perhaps go and leave the beloved Zoe alone!"
"And leave our little philosopher--miller also alone?" remarked the Judge quizzically, yet with solemnity. M. Fille was agitated; he made a protesting gesture. "Jean Jacques can find comfort, but the child--ah, no, it is too terrible! Someone should speak. I tried to do it--to Madame Carmen, to Jean Jacques; but it was no use. How could I betray her to him, how could I tell her that I knew her shame!"
The Judge turned brusquely and caught his friend by the shoulders, fastening him with the eyes which had made many a witness forget to lie.
"If you were an avocat in practice I would ruin your reputation, Fille," he said. "A fool would tell Jean Jacques, or speak to the woman, and spoil all; for women go mad when they are in danger, and they do the impossible things. But did it not occur to you that the one person to have in a quiet room with the doors shut, with the light of the sun in his face, with the book of the law open on your desk and the damages to be got by an injured husband, in a Catholic province with a Catholic Judge, written down on a piece of paper, to hand over at the right moment--did it not strike you that that person was your George Masson?"
M. Fille's head dropped before the disdainful eyes of M. Carcasson. He who prided himself in keeping the court right on points of procedure, who was looked upon almost with the respect given the position of the Judge himself, that he should fail in thinking of the obvious thing was humiliating, and alas! so disconcerting.
"I am a fool, an imbecile," he responded, in great dejection.
"This much must be said, my imbecile, that every man some time or other makes just such a fool of his intelligence," was the soft reply.
A thin hand made a gesture of dissent. "Not you, monsieur. Never!"
"If it is any comfort to you, know then, my Solon, that I have done so publicly in my time, while you have only done it privately. But let us see. That Masson must be struck of a heap. What sort of a man is he to look at? Apart from his morals, what class of creature is he?"
"He is a man of strength, of force in his way, monsieur. He made himself from an apprentice without a cent, and he has now thirty men at work."
"Then he does not drink or gamble?"
"Has he a family?"
"How old is he?"
"Forty or thereabouts, monsieur."
The Judge cogitated for a moment, then said: "Ah, that's bad--unmarried and forty, and no vices except this. It gives him few escape-valves. Is he good-looking? What is his appearance?"
"Nor short, nor tall, and square shoulders. His face like the yellow brown of a peach, hair that curls close to his head, blue eyes that see everything, and a big hand that knows what it is doing."
The Judge nodded. "Ah, you have watched him, maitre. . . . When? Since then?"
"No, no, monsieur, not since. If I had watched him since, I should perhaps have thought of the right thing to do. But I did not. I used to study him while the work was going on, when he first came, but I have known him some time from a distance. If a man makes himself what he is, you look at him, of course."
"Truly. His temper--his disposition, what is it?" M. Fille was very much alive now. He replied briskly. "Like the snap of a whip. He flies into anger and flies out. He has a laugh that makes men say, 'How he enjoys himself !' and his mind is very quick and sure."
The Judge nodded with satisfaction. "Well done! Well done! I have got him in my eye. He will not be so easy to handle; but, if he has brains, he will see that you have the right end of the stick; and he will kiss and ride away. It will not be easy, but the game is in your hands, my Fille. In a quiet room, with the book of the law open, and figures of damages given by a Catholic court and Judge--I think that will do it; and then the course of true philosophy will not long be interrupted in the house of Jean Jacques Barbille."
"Monsieur--monsieur le juge, you mean that I shall do this, shall see George Masson and warn him--me?"
"Who else? You are a friend of the family. You are a public officer, to whom the good name of your parish is dear. As all are aware, no doubt, you are the trusted ancient comrade of the daughter of the woman--I speak legally--Carmen Barbille nee Dolores, a name of charm to the ear. Who but you then to do it?"
"There is yourself, monsieur."
"Dismiss me from your mind. I go to Quebec to-night, as you know, and there is not time; but even if there were, I should not be the best person to do this. I am known to few; you are known to all. I have no locus standi. You have. No, no, it would not be for me."
Suddenly, in his desperation, the Clerk of the Court sought release for himself from this solemn and frightening duty.
"Monsieur," he said eagerly, "there is another. I had forgotten. It is Madame Carmen's father, Sebastian Dolores."
"Ah, a father! Yes, I had forgotten to ask about him; so we are one in our imbecility, my little Aristotle. This Sebastian Dolores, where is he?"
"In the next parish, Beauharnais, keeping books for a lumber-firm. Ah, monsieur, that is the way to deal with the matter--through Sebastian Dolores, her father!"
"What sort is he?"
The other shook his head and did not answer. "Ah, not of the best? Drinks?"
M. Fille nodded.
"Has a weak character?"
Again M. Fille nodded.
"Has no good reputation hereabouts?"
The nod was repeated. "He has never been steady He goes here and there, but always he comes back to get Jean Jacques' help. He and his daughter are not close friends, and yet he likes to be near her. She can endure him at least. He can command her interest. He is a stranger in a strange land, and he drifts back to where she is always. But that is all."
"Then he is out of the question, and he would be always out of the question except as a last resort; for sooner or later he would tell his daughter, and challenge our George Masson too; and that is what you do not wish, eh?"
"Precisely so," remarked M. Fille, dropping back again into gloom. "To be quite honest, monsieur, even though it gives me a task which I abhor, I do not think that M. Dolores could do what is needed without mistakes which could not be mended. At least I can--" He stopped.
The Judge interposed at once, well pleased with the way things were going for this "case." "Assuredly. You can as can no other, my Solon. The secret of success in such things is a good heart, a right mind, a clear intelligence and some astuteness, and you have it all. It is your task and yours only."
The little man's self-respect seemed restored. He preened himself somewhat and bowed to the Judge. "I take your commands, monsieur, to obey them as heaven gives me power so to do. Shall it be tomorrow?"
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