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- The Money Master, Volume 3. - 3/8 -
To leave him alone! To be left alone--it had never become a possibility to his mind. It did not break upon him with its full force all at once. He first got the glimmer of it, then the glimmer grew to a glow, and the glow to a great red light, in which his brain became drunk, and all his philosophy was burned up like wood-shavings in a fiery furnace.
"Did you like it so much?" Zoe had asked when her song was finished, and the Man from Outside had replied, "Ah, but splendid, splendid! It got into every corner of every one of us."
"Into the senses--why not into the heart? Songs are meant for the heart," said Zoe.
"Yes, yes, certainly," was the young man's reply, "but it depends upon the song whether it touches the heart more than the senses. Won't you sing that perfect thing, 'La Claire Fontaine'?" he added, with eyes as bright as passion and the hectic fires of his lung-trouble could make them.
She nodded and was about to sing, for she loved the song, and it had been ringing in her head all day; but at that point M. Fille rose, and with his glass raised high--for at that moment Seraphe Corniche and another carried round native wine and cider to the company--he said:
"To Monsieur Jean Jacques Barbille, and his fifty years, good health-- bonne sante! This is his birthday. To a hundred years for Jean Jacques!"
Instantly everyone was up with glass raised, and Zoe ran and threw her arms round her father's neck. "Kiss me before you drink," she said.
With a touch almost solemn in its tenderness Jean Jacques drew her head to his shoulder and kissed her hair, then her forehead. "My blessed one --my angel," he whispered; but there was a look in his eyes which only M. Fille had seen there before. It was the look which had been in his eyes at the flax-beaters' place by the river.
"Sing--father, you must sing," said Zoe, and motioned to the fiddler. "Sing It's Fifty Years," she cried eagerly. They all repeated her request, and he could but obey.
Jean Jacques' voice was rather rough, but he had some fine resonant notes in it, and presently, with eyes fastened on the distance, and with free gesture and much expression, he sang the first verse of the haunting ballad of the man who had reached his fifty years:
"Wherefore these flowers? This fete for me? Ah, no, it is not fifty years, Since in my eyes the light you see First shone upon life's joys and tears! How fast the heedless days have flown Too late to wail the misspent hours, To mourn the vanished friends I've known, To kneel beside love's ruined bowers. Ah, have I then seen fifty years, With all their joys and hopes and fears!"
Through all the verses he ranged, his voice improving with each phrase, growing more resonant, till at last it rang out with a ragged richness which went home to the hearts of all. He was possessed. All at once he was conscious that the beginning of the end of things was come for him; and that now, at fifty, in no sphere had he absolutely "arrived," neither in home nor fortune, nor--but yes, there was one sphere of success; there was his fatherhood. There was his daughter, his wonderful Zoe. He drew his eyes from the distance, and saw that her ardent look was not towards him, but towards one whom she had known but a few weeks.
Suddenly he stopped in the middle of a verse, and broke forward with his arms outstretched, laughing. He felt that he must laugh, or he would cry; and that would be a humiliating thing to do.
"Come, come, my friends, my children, enough of that!" he cried. "We'll have no more maundering. Fifty years--what are fifty years! Think of Methuselah! It's summer in the world still, and it's only spring at St. Saviour's. It's the time of the first flowers. Let's dance--no, no, never mind the Cure to-night! He will not mind. I'll settle it with him. We'll dance the gay quadrille."
He caught the hands of the two youngest girls present, and nodded at the fiddler, who at once began to tune his violin afresh. One of the joyous young girls, however, began to plead with him.
"Ah, no, let us dance, but at the last--not yet, M'sieu' Jean Jacques! There is Zoe's song, we must have that, and then we must have charades. Here is M'sieu' Fynes--he can make splendid charades for us. Then the dance at the last--ah, yes, yes, M'sieu' Jean Jacques! Let it be like that. We all planned it, and though it is your birthday, it's us are making the fete."
"As you will then, as you will, little ones," Jean Jacques acquiesced with a half-sigh; but he did not look at his daughter. Somehow, suddenly, a strange constraint possessed him where Zoe was concerned. "Then let us have Zoe's song; let us have 'La Claire Fontaine'," cried the black-eyed young madcap who held Jean Jacques' arms.
But Zoe interrupted. "No, no," she protested, "the singing spell is broken. We will have the song after the charades--after the charades."
"Good, good--after the charades!" they all cried, for there would be charades like none which had ever been played before, with a real actor to help them, to carry them through as they did on the stage. To them the stage was compounded of mystery, gaiety and the forbidden.
So, for the next half-hour they were all at the disposal of the Man from Outside, who worked as though it was a real stage, and they were real players, and there were great audiences to see them. It was all quite wonderful, and it involved certain posings, attitudes, mimicry and pantomime, for they were really ingenious charades.
So it happened that Zoe's fingers often came in touch with those of the stage-manager, that his hands touched her shoulders, that his cheek brushed against her dark hair once, and that she had sensations never experienced before. Why was it that she thrilled when she came near to him, that her whole body throbbed and her heart fluttered when their shoulders or arms touched? Her childlike nature, with all its warmth and vibration of life, had never till now felt the stir of sex in its vital sense. All men had in one way been the same to her; but now she realized that there was a world-wide difference between her Judge Carcasson, her little Clerk of the Court, and this young man whose eyes drank hers. She had often been excited, even wildly agitated, had been like a sprite let loose in quiet ways; but that was mere spirit. Here was body and senses too; here was her whole being alive to a music, which had an aching sweetness and a harmony coaxing every sense into delight.
"To-morrow evening, by the flume, where the beechtrees are--come--at six. I want to speak with you. Will you come?"
Thus whispered the maker of this music of the senses, who directed the charades, but who was also directing the course of another life than his own.
"Yes, if I can," was Zoe's whispered reply, and the words shook as she said them; for she felt that their meeting in the beech-trees by the flume would be of consequence beyond imagination.
Judge Carcasson had always said that Zoe had judgment beyond her years; M. Fille had remarked often that she had both prudence and shrewdness as well as a sympathetic spirit; but M. Fille's little whispering sister, who could never be tempted away from her home to any house, to whom the market and the church were like pilgrimages to distant wilds, had said to her brother:
"Wait, Armand--wait till Zoe is waked, and then prudence and wisdom will be but accident. If all goes well, you will see prudence and wisdom; but if it does not, you will see--ah, but just Zoe!"
The now alert Jean Jacques had seen the whispering of the two, though he did not know what had been said. It was, however, something secret, and if it was secret, then it was--yes, it was love; and love between his daughter and that waif of the world--the world of the stage--in which men and women were only grown-up children, and bad grown-up children at that --it was not to be endured. One thing was sure, the man should come to the Manor Cartier no more. He would see to that to-morrow. There would be no faltering or paltering on his part. His home had been shaken to its foundations once, and he was determined that it should not fall about his ears a second time. An Englishman, an actor, a Protestant, and a renegade lawyer! It was not to be endured.
The charade now being played was the best of the evening. One of the madcap friends of Zoe was to be a singing-girl. She was supposed to carry a tambourine. When her turn to enter came, with a look of mischief and a gay dancing step, she ran into the room. In her hands was a guitar, not a tambourine. When Zoe saw the guitar she gave a cry.
"Where did you get that?" she asked in a low, shocked, indignant voice.
"In your room--your bedroom," was the half-frightened answer. "I saw it on the dresser, and I took it."
"Come, come, let's get on with the charade," urged the Man from Outside.
On the instant's pause, in which Zoe looked at her lover almost involuntarily, and without fully understanding what he said, someone else started forward with a smothered exclamation--of anger, of horror, of dismay. It was Jean Jacques. He was suddenly transformed.
His eyes were darkened by hideous memory, his face alight with passion. He caught from the girl's hands the guitar--Carmen's forgotten guitar which he had not seen for seven years--how well he knew it! With both hands he broke it across his knee. The strings, as they snapped, gave a shrill, wailing cry, like a voice stopped suddenly by death. Stepping jerkily to the fireplace he thrust it into the flame.
"Ah, there!" he said savagely. "There--there!" When he turned round slowly again, his face--which he had never sought to control before he had his great Accident seven years ago--was under his command. A strange, ironic-almost sardonic-smile was on his lips.
"It's in the play," he said.
"No, it's not in the charade, Monsieur Barbille," said the Man from Outside fretfully.
"That is the way I read it, m'sieu'," retorted Jean Jacques, and he made a motion to the fiddler.
"The dance! The dance!" he exclaimed.
But yet he looked little like a man who wished to dance, save upon a
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