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- The Money Master, Volume 5. - 2/8 -
at St. Saviour's.
As he was walking by the riverside at Shilah, a woman spoke to him, touching his arm as she did so. He was in a deep dream as she spoke, but there certainly was a look in her face that reminded him of someone belonging to the old life. For an instant he could not remember. For a moment he did not even realize that he was at Shilah. His meditation had almost been a trance, and it took him time to adjust himself to the knowledge of the conscious mind. His subconsciousness was very powerfully alive in these days. There was not the same ceaselessly active eye, nor the vibration of the impatient body which belonged to the money-master and miller of the Manor Cartier. Yet the eye had more depth and force, and the body was more powerful and vigorous than it had ever been. The long tramping, the everlasting trail on false scents, the mental battling with troubles past and present, had given a fortitude and vigour to the body beyond what it had ever known. In spite of his homelessness and pilgrim equipment he looked as though he had a home-- far off. The eyes did not smile; but the lips showed the goodness of his heart--and its hardness too. Hardness had never been there in the old days. It was, however, the hardness of resentment, and not of cruelty. It was not his wife's or his daughter's flight that he resented, nor yet the loss of all he had, nor the injury done him by Sebastian Dolores. No, his resentment was against one he had never seen, but was now soon to see. As his mind came back from the far places where it had been, and his eyes returned to the concrete world, he saw what the woman recalled to him. It was--yes, it was Virginie Poucette--the kind and beautiful Virginie--for her goodness had made him remember her as beautiful, though indeed she was but comely, like this woman who stayed him as he walked by the river.
"You are M'sieu' Jean Jacques Barbille?" she said questioningly.
"How did you know?" he asked. . . . "Is Virginie Poucette here?"
"Ah, you knew me from her?" she asked.
"There was something about her--and you have it also--and the look in the eyes, and then the lips!" he replied.
Certainly they were quite wonderful, luxurious lips, and so shapely too --like those of Virginie.
"But how did you know I was Jean Jacques Barbille?" he repeated.
"Well, then it is quite easy," she replied with a laugh almost like a giggle, for she was quite as simple and primitive as her sister. "There is a photographer at Vilray, and Virginie got one of your pictures there, and sent, it to me. 'He may come your way,' said Virginie to me, 'and if he does, do not forget that he is my friend.'"
"That she is my friend," corrected Jean Jacques. "And what a friend-- merci, what a friend!" Suddenly he caught the woman's arm. "You once wrote to your sister about my Zoe, my daughter, that married and ran away--"
"That ran away and got married," she interrupted.
"Is there any more news--tell me, do you know-?"
But Virginie's sister shook her head. "Only once since I wrote Virginie have I heard, and then the two poor children--but how helpless they were, clinging to each other so! Well, then, once I heard from Faragay, but that was much more than a year ago. Nothing since, and they were going on--on to Fort Providence to spend the winter--for his health--his lungs."
"What to do--on what to live?" moaned Jean Jacques.
"His grandmother sent him a thousand dollars, so your Madame Zoe wrote me."
Jean Jacques raised a hand with a gesture of emotion. "Ah, the blessed woman! May there be no purgatory for her, but Heaven at once and always!"
"Come home with me--where are your things?" she asked.
"I have only a knapsack," he replied. "It is not far from here. But I cannot stay with you. I have no claim. No, I will not, for--"
"As to that, we keep a tavern," she returned. "You can come the same as the rest of the world. The company is mixed, but there it is. You needn't eat off the same plate, as they say in Quebec."
Quebec! He looked at her with the face of one who saw a vision. How like Virginie Poucette--the brave, generous Virginie--how like she was!
In silence now he went with her, and seeing his mood she did not talk to him. People stared as they walked along, for his dress was curious and his head was bare, and his hair like the coat of a young lion. Besides, this woman was, in her way, as brave and as generous as Virginie Poucette. In the very doorway of the tavern by the river a man jostled them. He did not apologize. He only leered. It made his foreign- looking, coarsely handsome face detestable.
"Pig!" exclaimed Virginie Poucette's sister. "That's a man--well, look out! There's trouble brewing for him. If he only knew! If suspicion comes out right and it's proved--well, there, he'll jostle the door-jamb of a jail."
Jean Jacques stared after the man, and somehow every nerve in his body became angry. He had all at once a sense of hatred. He shook the shoulder against which the man had collided. He remembered the leer on the insolent, handsome face.
"I'd like to see him thrown into the river," said Virginie Poucette's sister. "We have a nice girl here--come from Ireland--as good as can be. Well, last night--but there, she oughtn't to have let him speak to her. 'A kiss is nothing,' he said. Well, if he kissed me I would kill him--if I didn't vomit myself to death first. He's a mongrel--a South American mongrel with nigger blood."
Jean Jacques kept looking after the man. "Why don't you turn him out?" he asked sharply.
"He's going away to-morrow anyhow," she replied. "Besides, the girl, she's so ashamed--and she doesn't want anyone to know. 'Who'd want to kiss me after him' she said, and so he stays till to-morrow. He's not in the tavern itself, but in the little annex next door-there, where he's going now. He's only had his meals here, though the annex belongs to us as well. He's alone there on his dung-hill."
She brought Jean Jacques into a room that overlooked the river--which, indeed, hung on its very brink. From the steps at its river-door, a little ferry-boat took people to the other side of the Watloon, and very near--just a few hand-breadths away--was the annex where was the man who had jostled Jean Jacques.
JEAN JACQUES HAS WORK TO DO
A single lighted lamp, turned low, was suspended from the ceiling of the raftered room, and through the open doorway which gave on to a little wooden piazza with a slight railing and small, shaky gate came the swish of the Watloon River. No moon was visible, but the stars were radiant and alive--trembling with life. There was something soothing, something endlessly soothing in the sound of the river. It suggested the ceaseless movement of life to the final fulness thereof.
So still was the room that it might have seemed to be without life, were it not for a faint sound of breathing. The bed, however, was empty, and no chair was occupied; but on a settle in a corner beside an unused fireplace sat a man, now with hands clasped between his knees, again with arms folded across his breast; but with his head always in a listening attitude. The whole figure suggested suspense, vigilance and preparedness. The man had taken off his boots and stockings, and his bare feet seemed to grip the floor; also the sleeves of his jacket were rolled up a little. It was not a figure you would wish to see in your room at midnight unasked. Once or twice he sighed heavily, as he listened to the river slishing past and looked out to the sparkle of the skies. It was as though the infinite had drawn near to the man, or else that the man had drawn near to the infinite. Now and again he brought his fists down on his knees with a savage, though noiseless, force. The peace of the river and the night could not contend successfully against a dark spirit working in him. When, during his vigil, he shook his shaggy head and his lips opened on his set teeth, he seemed like one who would take toll at a gateway of forbidden things.
He started to his feet at last, hearing footsteps outside upon the stairs. Then he settled back again, drawing near to the chimney-wall, so that he should not be easily seen by anyone entering. Presently there was the click of a latch, then the door opened and shut, and cigar-smoke invaded the room. An instant later a hand went up to the suspended oil- lamp and twisted the wick into brighter flame. As it did so, there was a slight noise, then the click of a lock. Turning sharply, the man under the lamp saw at the door the man who had been sitting in the corner. The man had a key in his hand. Exit now could only be had through the door opening on to the river.
"Who are you? What the hell do you want here?" asked the fellow under the lamp, his swarthy face drawn with fear and yet frowning with anger.
"Me--I am Jean Jacques Barbille," said the other in French, putting the key of the door in his pocket. The other replied in French, with a Spanish-English accent. "Barbille--Carmen's husband! Well, who would have thought--!"
He ended with a laugh not pleasant to hear, for it was coarse with sardonic mirth; yet it had also an unreasonable apprehension; for why should he fear the husband of the woman who had done that husband such an injury!
"She treated you pretty bad, didn't she--not much heart, had Carmen!" he added.
"Sit down. I want to talk to you," said Jean Jacques, motioning to two chairs by a table at the side of the room. This table was in the middle of the room when the man under the lamp-Hugo Stolphe was his name--had left it last. Why had the table been moved?
"Why should I sit down, and what are you doing here?--I want to know that," Stolphe demanded. Jean Jacques' hands were opening and shutting. "Because I want to talk to you. If you don't sit down, I'll give you no chance at all. . . . Sit down!" Jean Jacques was smaller than Stolphe, but he was all whipcord and leather; the other was sleek and soft, but powerful too; and he had one of those savage natures which go
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