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- The Money Master, Volume 5. - 3/8 -


blind with hatred, and which fight like beasts. He glanced swiftly round the room.

"There is no weapon here," said Jean Jacques, nodding. "I have put everything away--so you could not hurt me if you wanted. . . . Sit down!"

To gain time Stolphe sat down, for he had a fear that Jean Jacques was armed, and might be a madman armed--there were his feet bare on the brown painted boards. They looked so strange, so uncanny. He surely must be a madman if he wanted to do harm to Hugo Stolphe; for Hugo Stolphe had only "kept" the woman who had left her husband, not because of himself, but because of another man altogether--one George Masson. Had not Carmen herself told him that before she and he lived together? What grudge could Carmen's husband have against Hugo Stolphe?

Jean Jacques sat down also, and, leaning on the table said: "Once I was a fool and let the other man escape-George Masson it was. Because of what he did, my wife left me."

His voice became husky, but he shook his throat, as it were, cleared it, and went on. "I won't let you go. I was going to kill George Masson--I had him like that!" He opened and shut his hand with a gesture of fierce possession. "But I did not kill him. I let him go. He was so clever-- cleverer than you will know how to be. She said to me--my wife said to me, when she thought I had killed him, 'Why did you not fight him? Any man would have fought him.' That was her view. She was right--not to kill without fighting. That is why I did not kill you at once when I knew."

"When you knew what?" Stolphe was staring at the madman.

"When I knew you were you. First I saw that ring--that ring on your hand. It was my wife's. I gave it to her the first New Year after we married. I saw it on your hand when you were drinking at the bar next door. Then I asked them your name. I knew it. I had read your letters to my wife--"

"Your wife once on a time!"

Jean Jacques' eyes swam red. "My wife always and always--and at the last there in my arms." Stolphe temporized. "I never knew you. She did not leave you because of me. She came to me because--because I was there for her to come to, and you weren't there. Why do you want to do me any harm?" He still must be careful, for undoubtedly the man was mad--his eyes were too bright.

"You were the death of her," answered Jean Jacques, leaning forward. "She was most ill-ah, who would not have been sorry for her! She was poor. She had been to you--but to live with a woman day by day, but to be by her side when the days are done, and then one morning to say, 'Au revoir till supper' and then go and never come back, and to take money and rings that belonged to her! . . . That was her death--that was the end of Carmen Barbille; and it was your fault."

"You would do me harm and not hurt her! Look how she treated you--and others."

Jean Jacques half rose from his seat in sudden rage, but he restrained himself, and sat down again. "She had one husband--only one. It was Jean Jacques Barbille. She could only treat one as she treated me--me, her husband. But you, what had you to do with that! You used her--so!" He made a motion as though to stamp out an insect with his foot. "Beautiful, a genius, sick and alone--no husband, no child, and you used her so! That is why I shall kill you to-night. We will fight for it."

Yes, but surely the man was mad, and the thing to do was to humour him, to gain time. To humour a madman--that is what one always advised, therefore Stolphe would make the pourparler, as the French say.

"Well, that's all right," he rejoined, "but how is it going to be done? Have you got a pistol?" He thought he was very clever, and that he would now see whether Jean Jacques Barbille was armed. If he was not armed, well, then, there would be the chances in his favour; it wasn't easy to kill with hands alone.

Jean Jacques ignored the question, however. He waved a hand impatiently, as though to dismiss it. "She was beautiful and splendid; she had been a queen down there in Quebec. You lied to her, and she was blind at first --I can see it all. She believed so easily--but yes, always! There she was what she was, and you were what you are, not a Frenchman, not Catholic, and an American--no, not an American--a South American. But no, not quite a South American, for there was the Portuguese nigger in you--Sit down!"

Jean Jacques was on his feet bending over the enraged mongrel. He had spoken the truth, and Carmen's last lover had been stung as though a serpent's tooth was in his flesh. Of all things that could be said about him, that which Jean Jacques said was the worst--that he was not all white, that he had nigger blood! Yet it was true; and he realized that Jean Jacques must have got his information in Shilah itself where he had been charged with it. Yet, raging as he was, and ready to take the Johnny Crapaud--that is the name by which he had always called Carmen's husband--by the throat, he was not yet sure that Jean Jacques was unarmed. He sat still under an anger greater than his own, for there was in it that fanaticism which only the love or hate of a woman could breed in a man's mind.

Suddenly Stolphe laughed outright, a crackling, mirthless, ironical laugh; for it really was absurdity made sublime that this man, who had been abandoned by his wife, should now want to kill one who had abandoned her! This outdid Don Quixote over and over.

"Well, what do you want?" he asked.

"I want you to fight," said Jean Jacques. "That is the way. That was Carmen's view. You shall have your chance to live, but I shall throw you in the river, and you can then fight the river. The current is swift, the banks are steep and high as a house down below there. Now, I am ready. . . . !"

He had need to be, for Stolphe was quick, kicking the chair from beneath him, and throwing himself heavily on Jean Jacques. He had had his day at that in South America, and as Jean Jacques Barbille had said, the water was swift and deep, and the banks of the Watloon high and steep!

But Jean Jacques was unconscious of everything save a debt to be collected for a woman he had loved, a compensation which must be taken in flesh and blood. Perhaps at the moment, as Stolphe had said to himself, he was a little mad, for all his past, all his plundered, squandered, spoiled life was crying out at him like a hundred ghosts, and he was fighting with beasts at Ephesus. An exaltation possessed him. Not since the day when his hand was on the lever of the flume with George Masson below; not since the day he had turned his back for ever on the Manor Cartier had he been so young and so much his old self-an egotist, with all the blind confidence of his kind; a dreamer inflamed into action with all a mad dreamer's wild power. He was not fifty-two years of age, but thirty-two at this moment, and all the knowledge got of the wrestling river-drivers of his boyhood, when he had spent hours by the river struggling with river-champions, came back to him. It was a relief to his sick soul to wrench and strain, and propel and twist and force onward, step by step, to the door opening on the river, this creature who had left his Carmen to die alone.

"No, you don't--not yet. The jail before the river!" called a cool, sharp, sour voice; and on the edge of the trembling platform overhanging the river, Hugo Stolphe was dragged back from the plunge downward he was about to take, with Jean Jacques' hand at his throat.

Stolphe had heard the door of the bedroom forced, but Jean Jacques had not heard it; he was only conscious of hands dragging him back just at the moment of Stolphe's deadly peril.

"What is it?" asked Jean Jacques, seeing Stolphe in the hands of two men, and hearing the snap of steel. "Wanted for firing a house for insurance--wanted for falsifying the accounts of a Land Company--wanted for his own good, Mr. Hugo Stolphe, C.O.D.--collect on delivery!" said the officer of the law. "And collected just in time!"

"We didn't mean to take him till to-morrow," the officer added, "but out on the river one of us saw this gladiator business here in the red-light zone, and there wasn't any time to lose. . . . I don't know what your business with him was," the long-moustached detective said to Jean Jacques, "but whatever the grudge is, if you don't want to appear in court in the morning, the walking's good out of town night or day--so long!"

He hustled his prisoner out.

Jean Jacques did not want to appear in court, and as the walking was officially good at dawn, he said good-bye to Virginie Poucette's sister through the crack of a door, and was gone before she could restrain him.

"Well, things happen that way," he said, as he turned back to look at Shilah before it disappeared from view.

"Ah, the poor, handsome vaurien!" the woman at the tavern kept saying to her husband all that day; and she could not rest till she had written to Virginie how Jean Jacques came to Shilah in the evening, and went with the dawn.

CHAPTER XXIV

JEAN JACQUES ENCAMPED

The Young Doctor of Askatoon had a good heart, and he was exercising it honourably one winter's day near three years after Jean Jacques had left St. Saviour's.

"There are many French Canadians working on the railway now, and a good many habitant farmers live hereabouts, and they have plenty of children --why not stay here and teach school? You are a Catholic, of course, monsieur?"

This is what the Young Doctor said to one who had been under his anxious care for a few, vivid days. The little brown-bearded man with the grey- brown hair nodded in reply, but his gaze was on the billowing waste of snow, which stretched as far as eye could see to the pine-hills in the far distance. He nodded assent, but it was plain to be seen that the Young Doctor's suggestion was not in tune with his thought. His nod only acknowledged the reasonableness of the proposal. In his eyes, however, was the wanderlust which had possessed him for three long years, in which he had been searching for what to him was more than Eldorado, for it was hope and home. Hope was all he had left of the assets which had made him so great a figure--as he once thought--in his native parish of St. Saviour's. It was his fixed idea--une idee fixe, as he himself said. Lands, mills, manor, lime-kilns, factories, store, all were gone, and his


The Money Master, Volume 5. - 3/8

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