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- The Money Master, Volume 3. - 4/8 -


grave.

CHAPTER XIV

"I DO NOT WANT TO GO"

It is a bad thing to call down a crisis in the night-time. A "scene" at midnight is a savage enemy of ultimate understanding, and that Devil, called Estrangement, laughs as he observes the objects of his attention in conflict when the midnight candle burns.

He should have been seized with a fit of remorse, however, at the sight he saw in the Manor Cartier at midnight of the day when Jean Jacques Barbille had reached his fiftieth year. There is nothing which, for pathos and for tragedy, can compare with a struggle between the young and the old.

The Devil of Estrangement when he sees it, may go away and indulge himself in sleep; for there will be no sleep for those who, one young and the other old, break their hearts on each other's anvils, when the lights are low and it is long till morning.

When Jean Jacques had broken the forgotten guitar which his daughter had retrieved from her mother's life at the Manor Cartier (all else he had had packed and stored away in the flour-mill out of sight) and thrown it in the fire, there had begun a revolt in the girl's heart, founded on a sense of injustice, but which itself became injustice also; and that is a dark thing to come between those who love--even as parent and child.

After her first exclamation of dismay and pain, Zoe had regained her composure, and during the rest of the evening she was full of feverish gaiety. Indeed her spirits and playful hospitality made the evening a success in spite of the skeleton at the feast. Jean Jacques had also roused himself, and, when the dance began, he joined in with spirit, though his face was worn and haggard even when lighted by his smile. But though the evening came to the conventional height of hilarity, there was a note running through it which made even the youngest look at each other, as though to say, "Now, what's going to happen next!"

Three people at any rate knew that something was going to happen. They were Zoe, the Man from Outside and M. Fille. Zoe had had more than one revelation that night, and she felt again as she did one day, seven years before, when, coming home from over the hills, she had stepped into a house where Horror brooded as palpably as though it sat beside the fire, or hung above the family table. She had felt something as soon as she had entered the door that far-off day, though the house seemed empty. It was an emptiness which was filled with a torturing presence or torturing presenes. It had stilled her young heart. What was it? She had learned the truth soon enough. Out of the sunset had come her father with a face twisted with misery, and as she ran to him, he had caught her by both shoulders, looked through her eyes to something far beyond, and hoarsely said: "She is gone--gone from us! She has run away from home! Curse her baptism--curse it, curse it!"

Zoe could never forget these last words she had ever heard her father speak of Carmen. They were words which would make any Catholic shudder to hear. It was a pity he had used them, for they made her think at last that her mother had been treated with injustice. This, in spite of the fact that in the days, now so far away, when her mother was with them she had ever been nearer to her father, and that, after first childhood, she and her mother were not so close as they had been, when she went to sleep to the humming of a chanson of Cadiz. Her own latent motherhood, however, kept stealing up out of the dim distances of childhood's ignorance and, with modesty and allusiveness, whispering knowledge in her ear. So it was that now she looked back pensively to the years she had spent within sight and sound of her handsome mother, and out of the hunger of her own spirit she had come to idealize her memory. It was good to have a loving father; but he was a man, and he was so busy just when she wanted--when she wanted she knew not what, but at least to go and lay her head on a heart that would understand what was her sorrow, her joy, or her longing.

And now here at last was come Crisis, which showed its thunderous head in the gay dance, and shook his war-locks in the fire, where her mother's guitar had shrieked in its last agony.

When all the guests had gone, when the bolts had been shot home, and old Seraphe Corniche had gone to bed, father and daughter came face to face.

There was a moment's pause, as the two looked at each other, and then Zoe came up to Jean Jacques to kiss him good-night. It was her way of facing the issue. Instinctively she knew that he would draw back, and that the struggle would begin. It might almost seem that she had invited it; for she had let the Man from Outside hold her hand for far longer than courtesy required, while her father looked on with fretful eyes--even with a murmuring which was not a benediction. Indeed, he had evaded shaking hands with his hated visitor by suddenly offering him a cigar, and then in the doorway itself handing a lighted match.

"His eminence, Cardinal Christophe, gave these cigars to me when he passed through St. Saviour's five years ago," Jean Jacques had remarked loftily, "and I always smoke one on my birthday. I am a good Catholic, and his eminence rested here for a whole day."

He had had a grim pleasure in avoiding the handshake, and in having the Protestant outsider smoke the Catholic cigar! In his anger it seemed to him that he had done something worthy almost of the Vatican, indeed of the great Cardinal Christophe himself. Even in his moments of crisis, in his hours of real tragedy, in the times when he was shaken to the centre, Jean Jacques fancied himself more than a little. It was as the master- carpenter had remarked seven years before, he was always involuntarily saying, "Here I come--look at me. I am Jean Jacques Barbille!"

When Zoe reached out a hand to touch his arm, and raised her face as though to kiss him good-night, Jean Jacques drew back.

"Not yet, Zoe," he said. "There are some things--What is all this between you and that man? . . . I have seen. You must not forget who you are--the daughter of Jean Jacques Barbille, of the Manor Cartier, whose name is known in the whole province, who was asked to stand for the legislature. You are Zoe Barbille--Mademoiselle Zoe Barbille. We do not put on airs. We are kind to our neighbours, but I am descended from the Baron of Beaugard. I have a place--yes, a place in society; and it is for you to respect it. You comprehend?"

Zoe flushed, but there was no hesitation whatever in her reply. "I am what I have always been, and it is not my fault that I am the daughter of M. Jean Jacques Barbille! I have never done anything which was not good enough for the Manor Cartier." She held her head firmly as she said it.

Now Jean Jacques flushed, and he did hesitate in his reply. He hated irony in anyone else, though he loved it in himself, when heaven gave him inspiration thereto. He was in a state of tension, and was ready to break out, to be a force let loose--that is the way he would have expressed it; and he was faced by a new spirit in his daughter which would surely spring the mine, unless he secured peace by strategy. He had sense enough to feel the danger.

He did not see, however, any course for diplomacy here, for she had given him his cue in her last words. As a pure logician he was bound to take it, though it might lead to drama of a kind painful to them both.

"It is not good enough for the Manor Cartier that you go falling in love with a nobody from nowhere," he responded.

"I am not falling in love," she rejoined.

"What did you mean, then, by looking at him as you did; by whispering together; by letting him hold your hand when he left, and him looking at you as though he'd eat you up--without sugar!"

"I said I was not falling in love," she persisted, quietly, but with characteristic boldness. "I am in love."

"You are in love with him--with that interloper! Heaven of heavens, do you speak the truth? Answer me, Zoe Barbille."

She bridled. "Certainly I will answer. Did you think I would let a man look at me as he did, that I would look at a man as I looked at him, that I would let him hold my hand as I did, if I did not love him? Have you ever seen me do it before?"

Her voice was even and quiet--as though she had made up her mind on a course, and meant to carry it through to the end.

"No, I never saw you look at a man like that, and everything is as you say, but--" his voice suddenly became uneven and higher--pitched and a little hoarse, "but he is English, he is an actor--only that; and he is a Protestant."

"Only that?" she asked, for the tone of his voice was such as one would use in speaking of a toad or vermin, and she could not bear it. "Is it a disgrace to be any one of those things?"

"The Barbilles have been here for two hundred years; they have been French Catholics since the time of"--he was not quite sure--"since the time of Louis XI.," he added at a venture, and then paused, overcome by his own rashness.

"Yes, that is a long time," she said, "but what difference does it make? We are just what we are now, and as if there never had been a Baron of Beaugard. What is there against Gerard except that he is an actor, that he is English, and that he is a Protestant? Is there anything?"

"Sacre, is it not enough? An actor, what is that--to pretend to be someone else and not to be yourself!"

"It would be better for a great many people to be someone else rather than themselves--for nothing; and he does it for money."

"For money! What money has he got? You don't know. None of us know. Besides, he's a Protestant, and he's English, and that ends it. There never has been an Englishman or a Protestant in the Barbille family, and it shan't begin at the Manor Cartier." Jean Jacques' voice was rising in proportion as he perceived her quiet determination. Here was something of the woman who had left him seven years ago--left this comfortable home of his to go to disgrace and exile, and God only knew what else! Here in this very room--yes, here where they now were, father and daughter, stood husband and wife that morning when he had his hand on the lever prepared to destroy the man who had invaded his home; who had cast a blight upon it, which remained after all the years; after he had done all a man could do to keep the home and the woman too. The woman had gone; the home remained with his daughter in it, and now again there was a fight for home and the woman. Memory reproduced the picture of the mother standing just where the daughter now stood, Carmen quiet and well in hand, and himself all shaken with weakness, and with all power gone out of him-- even the power which rage and a murderous soul give.


The Money Master, Volume 3. - 4/8

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