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- The Money Master, Volume 4. - 4/13 -
hand on the door.
"That's so, without doubt that's so," he said. "You have stumbled on a truth of life, madame."
Suddenly there came into his look something of the yearning and hunger which the lonely and forsaken feel when they are not on the full tide of doing. It was as though he must have companionship, in spite of his brave announcement that he must fight his fight alone. He had been wounded in the battle, and here was one who held out the hand of healing to him. Never since his wife had left him the long lonely years ago had a woman meant anything to him except as one of a race; but in this moment here a woman had held his hand, and he could feel still the warm palm which had comforted his own agitated fingers.
Virginie Poucette saw, and she understood what was passing in his mind. Yet she did not see and understand all by any means; and it is hard to tell what further show of fire there might have been, but that the Clerk of the Court was there, saying harshly under his breath, "The huzzy! The crafty huzzy!"
The Clerk of the Court was wrong. Virginie was merely sentimental, not intriguing or deceitful; for Jean Jacques was not a widower--and she was an honest woman and genuinely tender-hearted.
"I'm coming to the Manor Cartier to-morrow," Virginie continued. "I have a rug of yours. By mistake it was left at my house by M'sieu' Dolores."
"You needn't do that. I will call at your place tomorrow for it," replied Jean Jacques almost eagerly. "I told M'sieu' Dolores to-day never to enter my house again. I didn't know it was your rug. It was giving away your property, not his own," she hurriedly explained, and her face flushed.
"That is the Spanish of it," said Jean Jacques bitterly. His eyes were being opened in many directions to-day.
M. Fille was in distress. Jean Jacques had had a warning about Sebastian Dolores, but here was another pit into which he might fall, the pit digged by a widow, who, no doubt, would not hesitate to marry a divorced Catholic philosopher, if he could get a divorce by hook or by crook. Jean Jacques had said that he was going to Virginie Poucette's place the next day. That was as bad as it could be; yet there was this to the good, that it was to-morrow and not to-day; and who could tell what might happen between to-day and to-morrow!
A moment later the three were standing outside the office in the street. As Jean Jacques climbed into his red wagon, Virginie Poucette's eyes were attracted to the northern sky where a reddish glow appeared, and she gave an exclamation of surprise.
"That must be a fire," she said, pointing.
"A bit of pine-land probably," said M. Fille--with anxiety, however, for the red glow lay in the direction of St. Saviour's where were the Manor Cartier and Jean Jacques' mills. Maitre Fille was possessed of a superstition that all the things which threaten a man's life to wreck it, operate awhile in their many fields before they converge like an army in one field to deliver the last attack on their victim. It would not have seemed strange to him, if out of the night a voice of the unseen had said that the glow in the sky came from the Manor Cartier. This very day three things had smitten Jean Jacques, and, if three, why not four or five, or fifty!
With a strange fascination Jean Jacques' eyes were fastened on the glow. He clucked to his horses, and they started jerkily away. M. Fille and the widow Poucette said good-bye to him, but he did not hear, or if he heard, he did not heed. His look was set upon the red reflection which widened in the sky and seemed to grow nearer and nearer. The horses quickened their pace. He touched them with the whip, and they went faster. The glow increased as he left Vilray behind. He gave the horses the whip again sharply, and they broke into a gallop. Yet his eyes scarcely left the sky. The crimson glow drew him, held him, till his brain was afire also. Jean Jacques had a premonition and a conviction which was even deeper than the imagination of M. Fille.
In Vilray, behind him, the telegraph clerk was in the street shouting to someone to summon the local fire-brigade to go to St. Saviour's.
"What is it--what is it?" asked M. Fille of the telegraph clerk in marked agitation.
"It's M'sieu' Jean Jacques' flour-mill," was the reply.
Wagons and buggies and carts began to take the road to the Manor Cartier; and Maitre Fille went also with the widow of Palass Poucette.
HIS GREATEST ASSET
Jean Jacques did not go to the house of the widow of Palass Poucette "next day" as he had proposed: and she did not expect him. She had seen his flour-mill burned to the ground on the-evening when they met in the office of the Clerk of the evening Court, when Jean Jacques had learned that his Zoe had gone into farther and farther places away from him. Perhaps Virginie Poucette never had shed as many tears in any whole year of her life as she did that night, not excepting the year Palass Poucette died, and left her his farm and seven horses, more or less sound, and a threshing-machine in good condition. The woman had a rare heart and there was that about Jean Jacques which made her want to help him. She had no clear idea as to how that could be done, but she had held his hand at any rate, and he had seemed the better for it. Virginie had only an objective view of things; and if she was not material, still she could best express herself through the medium of the senses.
There were others besides her who shed tears also--those who saw Jean Jacques' chief asset suddenly disappear in flame and smoke and all his other assets become thereby liabilities of a kind; and there were many who would be the poorer in the end because of it. If Jean Jacques went down, he probably would not go alone. Jean Jacques had done a good fire- insurance business over a course of years, but somehow he had not insured himself as heavily as he ought to have done; and in any case the fire- policy for the mill was not in his own hands. It was in the safe-keeping of M. Mornay at Montreal, who had warned M. Fille of the crisis in the money-master's affairs on the very day that the crisis came.
No one ever knew how it was that the mill took fire, but there was one man who had more than a shrewd suspicion, though there was no occasion for mentioning it. This was Sebastian Dolores. He had not set the mill afire. That would have been profitable from no standpoint, and he had no grudge against Jean Jacques. Why should he have a grudge? Jean Jacques' good fortune, as things were, made his own good fortune; for he ate and drank and slept and was clothed at his son-in-law's expense. But he guessed accurately who had set the mill on fire, and that it was done accidentally. He remembered that a man who smoked bad tobacco which had to be lighted over and over again, threw a burning match down after applying it to his pipe. He remembered that there was a heap of flour- bags near where the man stood when the match was thrown down; and that some loose strings for tying were also in a pile beside the bags. So it was easy for the thing to have happened if the man did not turn round after he threw the match down, but went swaying on out of the mill, and over to the Manor Cartier, and up staggering to bed; for he had been drinking potato-brandy, and he had been brought up on the mild wines of Spain! In other words, the man who threw down the lighted match which did the mischief was Sebastian Dolores himself.
He regretted it quite as much as he had ever regretted anything; and on the night of the fire there were tears in his large brown eyes which deceived the New Cure and others; though they did not deceive the widow of Palass Poucette, who had found him out, and who now had no pleasure at all in his aged gallantries. But the regret Dolores experienced would not prevent him from doing Jean Jacques still greater injury if, and when, the chance occurred, should it be to his own advantage.
Jean Jacques shed no tears on the night that his beloved flour-mill became a blackened ruin, and his saw-mill had a narrow escape. He was like one in a dream, scarcely realizing that men were saying kind things to him; that the New Cure held his hand and spoke to him more like a brother than one whose profession it was to be good to those who suffered. In his eyes was the same half-rapt, intense, distant look which came into them when, at Vilray, he saw that red reflection in the sky over against St. Saviour's, and urged his horses onward.
The world knew that the burning of the mill was a blow to Jean Jacques, but it did not know how great and heavy the blow was. First one and then another of his friends said he was insured, and that in another six months the mill-wheel would be turning again. They said so to Jean Jacques when he stood with his eyes fixed on the burning fabric, which nothing could save; but he showed no desire to speak. He only nodded and kept on staring at the fire with that curious underglow in his eyes. Some chemistry of the soul had taken place in him in the hour when he drove to the Manor Cartier from Vilray, and it produced a strange fire, which merged into the reflection of the sky above the burning mill. Later, came things which were strange and eventful in his life, but that under-glow was for ever afterwards in his eyes. It was in singular contrast to the snapping fire which had been theirs all the days of his life till now--the snapping fire of action, will and design. It still was there when they said to him suddenly that the wind had changed, and that the flame and sparks were now blowing toward the saw-mill. Even when he gave orders, and set to work to defend the saw-mill, arranging a line of men with buckets on its roof, and so saving it, this look remained. It was something spiritual and unmaterial, something, maybe, which had to do with the philosophy he had preached, thought and practised over long years. It did not disappear when at last, after midnight, everyone had gone, and the smouldering ruins of his greatest asset lay mournful in the wan light of the moon.
Kind and good friends like the Clerk of the Court and the New Cure had seen him to his bedroom at midnight, leaving him there with a promise that they would come on the morrow; and he had said goodnight evenly, and had shut the door upon them with a sort of smile. But long after they had gone, when Sebastian Dolores and Seraphe Corniche were asleep, he had got up again and left the house, to gaze at the spot where the big white mill with the red roof had been-the mill which had been there in the days of the Baron of Beaugard, and to which time had only added size and adornment. The gold-cock weathervane of the mill, so long the admiration of people living and dead, and indeed the symbol of himself, as he had been told, being so full of life and pride, courage and vigour-it lay among the ruins, a blackened relic of the Barbilles.
He had said in M. Fille's office not many hours before, "I will fight it all out alone," and here in the tragic quiet of the night he made his resolve a reality. In appearance he was not now like the "Seigneur" who sang to the sailors on the Antoine when she was fighting for the shore of Gaspe; nevertheless there was that in him which would keep him much the same man to the end.
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