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- The Money Master, Volume 5. - 6/8 -
"Yes, at once," answered the Young Doctor. Yet his feet were laggard, for he was not so sure that there would be another home for Jean Jacques with his grandchild as its star. He was thinking of Norah, to whom a waif of the prairie had made home what home should be for herself and Nolan Doyle.
"Read these letters first," he said, and he put the letters found on Zoe in Jean Jacques' eager hands.
A half-hour later, at the horse-breeding ranch, the Young Doctor introduced Jean Jacques to Norah Doyle, and instantly left the house. He had no wish to hear the interview which must take place between the two. Nolan Doyle was not at home, but in the room where they were shown to Norah was a cradle. Norah was rocking it with one foot while, standing by the table, she busied herself with sewing.
The introduction was of the briefest. "Monsieur Barbille wishes a word with you, Mrs. Doyle," said the Young Doctor. "It's a matter that doesn't need me. Monsieur has been in my care, as you know. . . . Well, there, I hope Nolan is all right. Tell him I'd like to see him to-morrow about the bay stallion and the roans. I've had an offer for them. Good-bye--good-bye, Mrs. Doyle"--he was at the door--"I hope you and Monsieur Barbille will decide what's best for the child without difficulty."
The door opened quickly and shut again, and Jean Jacques was alone with the woman and the child. "What's best for the child!"
That was what the Young Doctor had said. Norah stopped rocking the cradle and stared at the closed door. What had this man before her, this tramp habitant of whom she had heard, of course, to do with little Zoe in the cradle--her little Zoe who had come just when she was most needed; who had brought her man and herself close together again after an estrangement which neither had seemed able to prevent.
"What's best for the child!" How did the child in the cradle concern this man? Then suddenly his name almost shrieked in her brain. Barbille--that was the name on the letter found on the body of the woman who died and left Zoe behind--M. Jean Jacques Barbille.
Yes, that was the name. What was going to happen? Did the man intend to try and take Zoe from her?
"What is your name--all of it?" she asked sharply. She had a very fine set of teeth, as Jean Jacques saw mechanically; and subconsciously he said to himself that they seemed cruel, they were so white and regular-- and cruel. The cruelty was evident to him as she bit in two the thread for the waistcoat she was mending, and then plied her needle again. Also the needle in her fingers might have been intended to sew up his shroud, so angry did it appear at the moment. But her teeth had something almost savage about them. If he had seen them when she was smiling, he would have thought them merely beautiful and rare, atoning for her plain face and flat breast--not so flat as it had been; for since the child had come into her life, her figure, strangely enough, had rounded out, and lines never before seen in her contour appeared.
He braced himself for the contest he knew was at hand, and replied to her. "My name is Jean Jacques Barbille. I was of the Manor Cartier, in St. Saviour's parish, Quebec. The mother of the child Zoe, there, was born at the Manor Cartier. I was her father. I am the grandfather of this Zoe." He motioned towards the cradle.
Then, with an impulse he could not check and did not seek to check--why should he? was not the child his own by every right?--he went to the cradle and looked down at the tiny face on its white pillow. There could be no mistake about it; here was the face of his lost Zoe, with something, too, of Carmen, and also the forehead of the Barbilles. As though the child knew, it opened its eyes wide-big, brown eyes like those of Carmen Dolores.
"Ah, the beautiful, beloved thing!" he exclaimed in a low-voice, ere Norah stepped between and almost pushed him back. An outstretched arm in front of her prevented him from stooping to kiss the child. "Stand back. The child must not be waked," she said. "It must sleep another hour. It has its milk at twelve o'clock. Stand aside. I won't have my child disturbed."
"Have my child disturbed"--that was what she had said, and Jean Jacques realized what he had to overbear. Here was the thing which must be fought out at once.
"The child is not yours, but mine," he declared. "Here is proof--the letter found on my Zoe when she died--addressed to me. The doctor knew. There is no mistake."
He held out the letter for her to see. "As you can read here, my daughter was on her way back to the Manor Cartier, to her old home at St. Saviour's. She was on her way back when she died. If she had lived I should have had them both; but one is left, according to the will of God. And so I will take her--this flower of the prairie--and begin life again."
The face Norah turned on him had that look which is in the face of an animal, when its young is being forced from it--fierce, hungering, furtive, vicious.
"The child is mine," she exclaimed--"mine and no other's. The prairie gave it to me. It came to me out of the storm. 'Tis mine-mine only. I was barren and wantin', and my man was slippin' from me, because there was only two of us in our home. I was older than him, and yonder was a girl with hair like a sheaf of wheat in the sun, and she kept lookin' at him, and he kept goin' to her. 'Twas a man she wanted, 'twas a child he wanted, and there they were wantin', and me atin' my heart out with passion and pride and shame and sorrow. There was he wantin' a child, and the girl wantin' a man, and I only wantin' what God should grant all women that give themselves to a man's arms after the priest has blessed them. And whin all was at the worst, and it looked as if he was away with her--the girl yonder--then two things happened. A man--he was me own brother and a millionaire if I do say it--he took her and married her; and then, too, Heaven's will sent this child's mother to her last end and the child itself to my Nolan's arms. To my husband's arms first it came, you understand; and he give the child to me, as it should be, and said he, 'We'll make believe it is our own.' But I said to him, 'There's no make-believe. 'Tis mine. 'Tis mine. It came to me out of the storm from the hand of God.' And so it was and is; and all's well here in the home, praise be to God. And listen to me: you'll not come here to take the child away from me. It can't be done. I'll not have it. Yes, you can let that sink down into you--I'll not have it."
During her passionate and defiant appeal Jean Jacques was restless with the old unrest of years ago, and his face twitched with emotion; but before she had finished he had himself in some sort of control.
"You--madame, you are only thinking of yourself in this. You are only thinking what you want, what you and your man need. But it's not to be looked at that way only, and--"
"Well, then it isn't to be looked at that way only," she interrupted. "As you say, it isn't Nolan and me alone to be considered. There's--"
"There's me," he interrupted sharply. "The child is bone of my bone. It is bone of all the Barbilles back to the time of Louis XI."--he had said that long ago to Zoe first, and it was now becoming a fact in his mind. "It is linked up in the chain of the history of the Barbilles. It is one with the generations of noblesse and honour and virtue. It is--"
"It's one with Abel the son of Adam, if it comes to that, and so am I," Norah bitingly interjected, while her eyes flashed fire, and she rocked the cradle more swiftly than was good for the child's sleep.
Jean Jacques flared up. "There were sons and daughters of the family of Adam that had names, but there were plenty others you whistled to as you would to a four-footer, and they'd come. The Barbilles had names--always names of their own back to Adam. The child is a Barbille--Don't rock the cradle so fast," he suddenly added with an irritable gesture, breaking off from his argument. "Don't you know better than that when a child's asleep? Do you want it to wake up and cry?"
She flushed to the roots of her hair, for he had said something for which she had no reply. She had undoubtedly disturbed the child. It stirred in its sleep, then opened its eyes, and at once began to cry.
"There," said Jean Jacques, "what did I tell you? Any one that had ever had children would know better than that."
Norah paid no attention to his mocking words, to the undoubted-truth of his complaint. Stooping over, she gently lifted the child up. With hungry tenderness she laid it against her breast and pressed its cheek to her own, murmuring and crooning to it.
"Acushla! Acushla! Ah, the pretty bird--mother's sweet--mother's angel!" she said softly.
She rocked backwards and forwards. Her eyes, though looking at Jean Jacques as she crooned and coaxed and made lullaby, apparently did not see him. She was as concentrated as though it were a matter of life and death. She was like some ancient nurse of a sovereign-child, plainly dressed, while the dainty white clothes of the babe in her arms--ah, hadn't she raided the hoard she had begun when first married, in the hope of a child of her own, to provide this orphan with clothes good enough for a royal princess!
The flow of the long, white dress of the waif on the dark blue of Norah's gown, which so matched the deep sapphire of her eyes, caught Jean Jacques' glance, allured his mind. It was the symbol of youth and innocence and home. Suddenly he had a vision of the day when his own Zoe had been given to the cradle for the first time, and he had done exactly what Norah had done--rocked too fast and too hard, and waked his little one; and Carmen had taken her up in her long white draperies, and had rocked to and fro, just like this, singing a lullaby. That lullaby he had himself sung often afterwards; and now, with his grandchild in Norah's arms there before him--with this other Zoe--the refrain of it kept lilting in his brain. In the pause ensuing, when Norah stooped to put the pacified child again in its nest, he also stooped over the cradle and began to hum the words of the lullaby:
"Sing, little bird, of the whispering leaves, Sing a song of the harvest sheaves; Sing a song to my Fanchonette, Sing a song to my Fanchonette! Over her eyes, over her eyes, over her eyes of violet, See the web that the weaver weaves, The web of sleep that the weaver weaves-- Weaves, weaves, weaves! Over those eyes of violet, Over those eyes of my Fanchonette, Weaves, weaves, weaves-- See the web that the weaver weaves!"
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