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- The Money Master, Volume 5. - 5/8 -
greatly different from what it became. He was able to tell his story from the very first to the last. Had it been interrupted or unfinished one name might not have been mentioned. When Jean Jacques used it, the Young Doctor sat up and leaned forward eagerly, while a light came into his face-a light of surprise, of revelation and understanding.
When Jean Jacques came to that portion of his life when manifest tragedy began--it began of course on the Antoine, but then it was not manifest-- when his Carmen left him after the terrible scene with George Masson, he paused and said: "I don't know why I tell you this, for it is not easy to tell; but you saved my life, and you have a right to know what it is you have saved, no matter how hard it is to put it all before you."
It was at this point that he mentioned Zoe's name--he had hitherto only spoken of her as "my daughter"; and here it was the Young Doctor showed startled interest, and repeated the name after Jean Jacques. "Zoe! Zoe! --ah!" he said, and became silent again.
Jean Jacques had not noticed the Young Doctor's pregnant interruption, he was so busy with his own memories of the past; and he brought the tale to the day when he turned his face to the West to look for Zoe. Then he paused.
"And then?" the Young Doctor asked. "There is more--there is the search for Zoe ever since."
"What is there to say?" continued Jean Jacques. "I have searched till now, and have not found."
"How have you lived?" asked the other.
"Keeping books in shops and factories, collecting accounts for storekeepers, when they saw they could trust me, working at threshings and harvests, teaching school here and there. Once I made fifty dollars at a railway camp telling French Canadian tales and singing chansons Canadiennes. I have been insurance agent, sold lightning-rods, and been foreman of a gang building a mill--but I could not bear that. Every time I looked up I could see the Cock of Beaugard where the roof should be. And so on, so on, first one thing and then another till now--till I came to Askatoon and fell down by the drug-store, and you played the good Samaritan. So it goes, and I step on from here again, looking--looking."
"Wait till spring," said the Young Doctor. "What is the good of going on now! You can only tramp to the next town, and--"
"And the next," interposed Jean Jacques. "But so it is my orders." He put his hand on his heart, and gathered up his hat and knapsack.
"But you haven't searched here at Askatoon." "Ah? . . . Ah-well, surely that is so," answered Jean Jacques wistfully. "I had forgotten that. Perhaps you can tell me, you who know all. Have you any news about my Zoe for me? Do you know--was she ever here? Madame Gerard Fynes would be her name. My name is Jean Jacques Barbille."
"Madame Zoe was here, but she has gone," quietly answered the Young Doctor.
Jean Jacques dropped the hat and the knapsack. His eyes had a glad, yet staring and frightened look, for the Young Doctor's face was not the bearer of good tidings.
"Zoe--my Zoe! You are sure? . . . When was she here?" he added huskily.
"A month ago."
"When did she go?" Jean Jacques' voice was almost a whisper.
"A month ago."
"Where did she go?" asked Jean Jacques, holding himself steady, for he had a strange dreadful premonition.
"Out of all care at last," answered the Young Doctor, and took a step towards the little man, who staggered, then recovered himself.
"She--my Zoe is dead! How?" questioned Jean Jacques in a ghostly sort of voice, but there was a steadiness and control unlike what he had shown in other tragic moments.
"It was a blizzard. She was bringing her husband's body in a sleigh to the railway here. He had died of consumption. She and the driver of the sleigh went down in the blizzard. Her body covered the child and saved it. The driver was lost also."
"Her child--Zoe's child?" quavered Jean Jacques. "A little girl--Zoe. The name was on her clothes. There were letters. One to her father-- to you. Your name is Jean Jacques Barbille, is it not? I have that letter to you. We buried her and her husband in the graveyard yonder." He pointed. "Everybody was there--even when they knew it was to be a Catholic funeral."
"Ah! she was buried a Catholic?" Jean Jacques' voice was not quite so blurred now.
"Yes. Her husband had become Catholic too. A priest who had met them in the Peace River Country was here at the time."
At that, with a moan, Jean Jacques collapsed. He shed no tears, but he sat with his hands between his knees, whispering his child's name.
The Young Doctor laid a hand on his shoulder gently, but presently went out, shutting the door after him. As he left the room, however, he turned and said, "Courage, Monsieur Jean Jacques! Courage!"
When the Young Doctor came back a half-hour later he had in his hand the letters found in Zoe's pocket. "Monsieur Jean Jacques," he said gently to the bowed figure still sitting as he left him.
Jean Jacques got up slowly and looked at him as though scarce understanding where he was.
"The child--the child--where is my Zoe's child? Where is Zoe's Zoe?" he asked in agitation. His whole body seemed to palpitate. His eyes were all red fire.
WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE?
The Young Doctor did not answer Jean Jacques at once. As he looked at this wayworn fugitive he knew that another, and perhaps the final crisis of his life, was come to Jean Jacques Barbille, and the human pity in him shrank from the possible end to it all. It was an old-world figure this, with the face of a peasant troubadour and the carriage of an aboriginal-- or an aristocrat. Indeed, the ruin, the lonely wandering which had been Jean Jacques' portion, had given him that dignity which often comes to those who defy destiny and the blows of angry fate. Once there had been in his carriage something jaunty. This was merely life and energy and a little vain confidence; now there was the look of courage which awaits the worst the world can do. The life which, according to the world's logic, should have made Jean Jacques a miserable figure, an ill-nourished vagabond, had given him a physical grace never before possessed by him. The face, however, showed the ravages which loss and sorrow had made. It was lined and shadowed with dark reflection, yet the forehead had a strange smoothness and serenity little in accord with the rest of the countenance. It was like the snow-summit of a mountain below which are the ragged escarpments of trees and rocks, making a look of storm and warfare.
"Where is she--the child of my Zoe?" Jean Jacques repeated with an almost angry emphasis; as though the Young Doctor were hiding her from him.
"She is with the wife of Nolan Doyle, my partner in horse-breeding, not very far from here. Norah Doyle was married five years, and she had no child. This was a grief to her, even more than to Nolan, who, like her, came of a stock that was prolific. It was Nolan who found your daughter on the prairie--the driver dead, but she just alive when found. To give her ease of mind, Nolan said he would make the child his own. When he said that, she smiled and tried to speak, but it was too late, and she was gone."
In sudden agony Jean Jacques threw up his hands. "So young and so soon to be gone!" he exclaimed. "But a child she was and had scarce tasted the world. The mercy of God--what is it!"
"You can't take time as the measure of life," rejoined the Young Doctor with a compassionate gesture. "Perhaps she had her share of happiness-- as much as most of us get, maybe, in a longer course."
"Share! She was worth a hundred years of happiness!" bitterly retorted Jean Jacques.
"Perhaps she knew her child would have it?" gently remarked the Young Doctor.
"Ah, that--that ! . . . Do you think that possible, m'sieu'? Tell me, do you think that was in her mind--to have loved, and been a mother, and given her life for the child, and then the bosom of God. Answer that to me, m'sieu'?"
There was intense, poignant inquiry in Jean Jacques' face, and a light seemed to play over it. The Young Doctor heeded the look and all that was in the face. It was his mission to heal, and he knew that to heal the mind was often more necessary than to heal the body. Here he would try to heal the mind, if only in a little.
"That might well have been in her thought," he answered. "I saw her face. It had a wonderful look of peace, and a smile that would reconcile anyone she loved to her going. I thought of that when I looked at her. I recall it now. It was the smile of understanding."
He had said the only thing which could have comforted Jean Jacques at that moment. Perhaps it was meant to be that Zoe's child should represent to him all that he had lost--home, fortune, place, Carmen and Zoe. Perhaps she would be home again for him and all that home should mean--be the promise of a day when home would again include that fled from Carmen, and himself, and Carmen's child. Maybe it was sentiment in him, maybe it was sentimentality--and maybe it was not.
"Come, m'sieu'," Jean Jacques said impatiently: "let us go to the house of that M'sieu' Doyle. But first, mark this: I have in the West here some land--three hundred and twenty acres. It may yet be to me a home, where I shall begin once more with my Zoe's child--with my Zoe of Zoe-- the home-life I lost down by the Beau Cheval. . . . Let us go at once."
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