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- The Money Master, Volume 3. - 6/8 -
it? Take my word, I'd teach cousin Zoe a lesson with all her education and her two years at the convent. Wasn't it enough that her mother should spoil everything for Jean Jacques, and make the Manor Cartier a place to point the finger at, without her bringing disgrace on the parish too! What happened last night--didn't I hear this morning before I had my breakfast! Didn't I--"
She then proceeded to describe the scene in which Jean Jacques had thrown the wrecked guitar of his vanished spouse into the fire. Before she had finished, however, something occurred which swept them into another act of the famous history of Jean Jacques Barbille and his house.
She had arrived at the point where Zoe had cried aloud in pain at her father's incendiary act, when there was a great stir at the Court House door which opened on the market-place, and vagrant cheers arose. These were presently followed by a more disciplined fusillade; which presently, in turn, was met by hisses and some raucous cries of resentment. These increased as a man appeared on the steps of the Court House, looked round for a moment in a dazed kind of way, then seeing some friends below who were swarming towards him, gave a ribald cry, and scrambled down the steps towards them.
He was the prisoner whose release had suddenly been secured by a piece of evidence which had come as a thunder-clap on judge and jury. Immediately after giving this remarkable evidence the witness--Sebastian Dolores-- had left the court-room. He was now engaged in buying cordials in the market-place--in buying and drinking them; for he had pulled the cork out of a bottle filled with a rich yellow liquid, and had drained half the bottle at a gulp. Presently he offered the remainder to a passing carter, who made a gesture of contempt and passed on, for, to him, white whisky was the only drink worth while. Besides, he disliked Sebastian Dolores. Then, with a flourish, the Spaniard tendered the bottle to Madame Langlois and Palass Poucette's widow, at whose corner of merchandise he had now arrived.
Surely there never was a more benign villain and perjurer in the world than Sebastian Dolores! His evidence, given a half-hour before, with every sign of truthfulness, was false. The man--Rocque Valescure--for whom he gave it was no friend of his; but he owned a tavern called "The Red Eagle," a few miles from the works where the Spaniard was employed; also Rocque Valescure's wife set a good table, and Sebastian Dolores was a very liberal feeder; when he was not hungry he was always thirsty. The appeasement of hunger and thirst was now become a problem to him, for his employers at Beauharnais had given him a month's notice because of certain irregularities which had come to their knowledge. Like a wise man Sebastian Dolores had said nothing about this abroad, but had enlarged his credit in every direction, and had then planned this piece of friendly perjury for Rocque Valescure, who was now descending the steps of the Court House to the arms of his friends and amid the execrations of his foes. What the alleged crime was does not matter. It has no vital significance in the history of Jean Jacques Barbille, though it has its place as a swivel on which the future swung.
Sebastian Dolores had saved Rocque Valescure from at least three years in jail, and possibly a very heavy fine as well; and this service must have its due reward. Something for nothing was not the motto of Sebastian Dolores; and he confidently looked forward to having a home at "The Red Eagle" and a banker in its landlord. He was no longer certain that he could rely on help from Jean Jacques, to whom he already owed so much. That was why he wanted to make Rocque Valescure his debtor. It was not his way to perjure his soul for nothing. He had done so in Spain--yet not for nothing either. He had saved his head, which was now doing useful work for himself and for a needy fellow-creature. No one could doubt that he had helped a neighbour in great need, and had done it at some expense to his own nerve and brain. None but an expert could have lied as he had done in the witness-box. Also he had upheld his lies with a striking narrative of circumstantiality. He made things fit in "like mortised blocks" as the Clerk of the Court said to Judge Carcasson, when they discussed the infamy afterwards with clear conviction that it was perjury of a shameless kind; for one who would perjure himself to save a man from jail, would also swear a man into the gallows-rope. But Judge Carcasson had not been able to charge the jury in that sense, for there was no effective evidence to rebut the untruthful attestation of the Spaniard. It had to be taken for what it was worth, since the prosecuting attorney could not shake it; and yet to the Court itself it was manifestly false witness.
Sebastian Dolores was too wise to throw himself into the arms of his released tavern-keeper here immediately after the trial, or to allow Rocque Valescure a like indiscretion and luxury; for there was a strong law against perjury, and right well Sebastian Dolores knew that old Judge Carcasson would have little mercy on him, in spite of the fact that he was the grandfather of Zoe Barbille. The Judge would probably think that safe custody for his wayward character would be the kindest thing he could do for Zoe. Therefore it was that Sebastian Dolores paid no attention to the progress of the released landlord of "The Red Eagle," though, by a glance out of the corner of his eyes, he made sure that the footsteps of liberated guilt were marching at a tangent from where he was--even to the nearest tavern.
It was enough for Dolores that he should watch the result of his good deed from the isolated area where he now was, in the company of two virtuous representatives of domesticity. His time with liberated guilt would come! He chuckled to think how he had provided himself with a refuge against his hour of trouble. That very day he had left his employment, meaning to return no more, securing his full wages through having suddenly become resentful and troublesome, neglectful--and imperative. To avoid further unpleasantness the firm had paid him all his wages; and he had straightway come to Vilray to earn his bed and board by other means than through a pen, a ledger and a gift for figures. It would not be a permanent security against the future, but it would suffice for the moment. It was a rest-place on the road. If the worst came to the worst, there was his grand-daughter and his dear son-in-law whom he so seldom saw--blood was thicker than water, and he would see to it that it was not thinned by neglect.
Meanwhile he ogled Palass Poucette's widow with one eye, and talked softly with his tongue to Mere Langlois, as he importuned Madame to "Sip the good cordial in the name of charity to all and malice towards none."
"You're a bad man--you, and I want none of your cordials," was Mere Langlois's response. "Malice towards none, indeed! If you and the devil started business in the same street, you'd make him close up shop in a year. I've got your measure, for sure; I have you certain as an arm and a pair of stirrups."
"I go about doing good--only good," returned the old sinner with a leer at the young widow, whose fingers he managed to press unseen, as he swung the little bottle of cordial before the eyes of Mere Langlois. He was not wholly surprised when Palass Poucette's widow did not show abrupt displeasure at his bold familiarity.
A wild thought flashed into his mind. Might there not be another refuge here--here in Palass Poucette's widow! He was sixty-three, it was true, and she was only thirty-two; but for her to be an old man's darling who had no doubt been a young man's slave, that would surely have its weight with her. Also she owned the farm where she lived; and she was pleasant pasturage--that was the phrase he used in his own mind, even as his eye swept from Mere Langlois to hers in swift, hungry inquiry.
He seemed in earnest when he spoke--but that was his way; it had done him service often. "I do good whenever it comes my way to do it," he continued. "I left my work this morning"--he lied of course--"and hired a buggy to bring me over here, all at my own cost, to save a fellow-man. There in the Court House he was sure of prison, with a wife and three small children weeping in 'The Red Eagle'; and there I come at great expense and trouble to tell the truth--before all to tell the truth--and save him and set him free. Yonder he is in the tavern, the work of my hands, a gift to the world from an honest man with a good heart and a sense of justice. But for me there would be a wife and three children in the bondage of shame, sorrow, poverty and misery"--his eyes again ravished the brown eyes of Palass Poucette's widow--"and here again I drink to my own health and to that of all good people--with charity to all and malice towards none!"
The little bottle of golden cordial was raised towards Mere Langlois. The fingers of one hand, however, were again seeking those of the comely young widow who was half behind him, when he felt them caught spasmodically away. Before he had time to turn round he heard a voice, saying: "I should have thought that 'With malice to all and charity towards none,' was your motto, Dolores."
He knew that voice well enough. He had always had a lurking fear that he would hear it say something devastating to him, from the great chair where its owner sat and dispensed what justice a jury would permit him to do. That devastating something would be agony to one who loved liberty and freedom--had not that ever been his watchword, liberty and freedom to do what he pleased in the world and with the world? Yes, he well knew Judge Carcasson's voice. He would have recognized it in the dark--or under the black cap. "M'sieu' le juge !" he said, even before he turned round and saw the faces of the tiny Judge and his Clerk of the Court. There was a kind of quivering about his mouth, and a startled look in his eyes as he faced the two. But there was the widow of Palass Poucette, and, if he was to pursue and frequent her, something must be done to keep him decently figured in her eye and mind.
"It cost me three dollars to come here and save a man from jail to-day, m'sieu' le juge," he added firmly. The Judge pressed the point of his cane against the stomach of the hypocrite and perjurer. "If the Devil and you meet, he will take off his hat to you, my escaped anarchist"-- Dolores started almost violently now--"for you can teach him much, and Ananias was the merest aboriginal to you. But we'll get you--we'll get you, Dolores. You saved that guilty fellow by a careful and remarkable perjury to-day. In a long experience I have never seen a better performance--have you, monsieur?" he added to M. Fille.
"But once," was the pointed and deliberate reply. "Ah, when was that?" asked Judge Carcasson, interested.
"The year monsieur le juge was ill, and Judge Blaquiere took your place. It was in Vilray at the Court House here."
"Ah--ah, and who was the phenomenon--the perfect liar?" asked the Judge with the eagerness of the expert.
"His name was Sebastian Dolores," meditatively replied M. Fille. "It was even a finer performance than that of to-day."
The Judge gave a little grunt of surprise. "Twice, eh?" he asked. "Yet this was good enough to break any record," he added. He fastened the young widow's eyes. "Madame, you are young, and you have an eye of intelligence. Be sure of this: you can protect yourself against almost anyone except a liar--eh, madame?" he added to Mere Langlois. "I am sure your experience of life and your good sense--"
"My good sense would make me think purgatory was hell if I saw him"-- she nodded savagely at Dolores as she said it, for she had seen that last effort of his to take the fingers of Palass Poucette's widow--"if I saw him there, m'sieu' le juge."
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