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- The Pomp of the Lavilettes, Volume 2. - 1/12 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
POMP OF THE LAVILETTES
By Gilbert Parker
Ferrols's recovery from his injuries was swifter than might have been expected. As soon as he was able to move about Christine was his constant attendant. She had made herself his nurse, and no one had seriously interfered, though the Cure had not at all vaguely offered a protest to Madame Lavilette. But Madame Lavilette was now in the humour to defy or evade the Cure, whichever seemed the more convenient or more necessary. To be linked by marriage with the nobility would indeed be the justification of all her long-baffled hopes. Meanwhile, the parish gossiped, though little of that gossip was heard at the Manor Casimbault. By and by the Cure ceased to visit the Manor, but the Regimental Surgeon came often, and sometimes stayed late. He, perhaps, could have given Madame Lavilette the best advice and warning; but, in truth, he enjoyed what he considered a piquant position. Once, drawing at his pipe, as little like an Englishman as possible, he tried to say with an English accent, "Amusing and awkward situation!" but he said, "Damn funny and chic!" instead. He had no idea that any particular harm would be done-- either by love or marriage; and neither seemed certain.
One day as Ferrol, entirely convalescent, was sitting in an arbour of the Manor garden, half asleep, he was awakened by voices near him.
He did not recognise one of the voices; the other was Nic Lavilette's.
The strange voice was saying: "I have collected five thousand dollars-- all that can be got in the two counties. It is at the Seigneury. Here is an order on the Seigneur Duhamel. Go there in two days and get the money. You will carry it to headquarters. These are General Papineau's orders. You will understand that your men--"
Ferrol heard no more, for the two rebels passed on, their voices becoming indistinct. He sat for a few moments moveless, for an idea had occurred to him even as Papineau's agent spoke.
If that money were only his!
Five thousand dollars--how that would ease the situation! The money belonged to whom? To a lot of rebels: to be used for making war against the British Government. After the money left the hands of the men who gave it--Lavilette and the rest--it wasn't theirs. It belonged to a cause. Well, he was the enemy of that cause. All was fair in love and war!
There were two ways of doing it. He could waylay Nicolas as he came from the house of the old seigneur, could call to him to throw up his hands in good highwayman fashion, and, well disguised, could get away with the money without being discovered. Or again, he could follow Nic from the Seigneury to the Manor, discover where he kept the money, and devise a plan to steal it.
For some time he had given up smoking; but now, as a sort of celebration of his plan, he opened his cigar case, and finding two cigars left, took one out and lighted it.
"By Jove," he said to himself, "thieving is a nice come-down, I must say! But a man has to live, and I'm sick of charity--sick of it. I've had enough."
He puffed his cigar briskly, and enjoyed the forbidden and deadly luxury to the full.
Presently he got up, took his stick, came down-stairs, and passed out into the garden. The shoulder which had been lacerated by the bear drooped forward some what, and seemed smaller than the other. Although he held himself as erect as possible, you still could have laid your hand in the hollow of his left breast, and it would have done no more than give it a natural fulness. Perhaps it was a sort of vanity, perhaps a kind of courage, which made him resolutely straighten himself, in spite of the deadly weight dragging his shoulder down. He might be melancholy in secret, but in public he was gay and hopeful, and talked of everything except himself. On that interesting topic he would permit no discussion. Yet there often came jugs and jars from friendly people, who never spoke to him of his disease--they were polite and sensitive, these humble folk --but sent him their home-made medicines, with assurances scrawled on paper that "it would cure Mr. Ferrol's cold, oh, absolutely."
Before the Lavilettes he smiled, and received the gifts in a debonair way, sometimes making whimsical remarks. At the same time the jugs and jars of cordial (whose contents varied from whiskey, molasses and boneset, to rum, licorice, gentian and sarsaparilla roots) he carried to his room; and he religiously tried them all by turn. Each seemed to do him good for a few days, then to fail of effect; and he straightway tried another, with renewed hope on every occasion, and subsequent disappointment. He also secretly consulted the Regimental Surgeon, who was too kindhearted to tell him the truth; and he tried his hand at various remedies of his own, which did no more than to loosen the cough which was breaking down his strength.
As now, he often walked down the street swinging his cane, not as though he needed it for walking, but merely for occupation and companionship. He did not delude the villagers by these sorrowful deceptions, but they made believe he did. There were a few people who did not like him; but they were of that cantankerous minority who put thorns in the bed of the elect.
To-day, occupied with his thoughts, he walked down the main road, then presently diverged on a side road which led past Magon Farcinelle's house to an old disused mill, owned by Magon's father. He paused when he came opposite Magon's house, and glanced up at the open door. He was tired, and the coolness of the place looked inviting. He passed through the gate, and went lightly up the path. He could see straight through the house into the harvest-fields at the back. Presently a figure crossed the lane of light, and made a cheerful living foreground to the blue sky beyond the farther door. The light and ardour of the scene gave him a thrill of pleasure, and hurried his footsteps. The air was palpitating with sleepy comfort round him, and he felt a new vitality pass into him: his imagination was feeding his enfeebled body; his active brain was giving him a fresh counterfeit of health. The hectic flush on his pale face deepened. He came to the wooden steps of the piazza, or stoop, and then paused a moment, as if for breath; but, suddenly conscious of what he was doing, he ran briskly up the steps, knocked with his cane upon the door jamb, and, without waiting, stepped inside.
Between him and the outer door, against the ardent blue background, stood Sophie Farcinelle--the English faced Sophie--a little heavy, a little slow, but with the large, long profile which is the type of English beauty--docile, healthy, cow-like. Her face, within her sunbonnet, caught the reflected light, and the pink calico of her dress threw a glow over her cheeks and forehead, and gave a good gleam to her eyes. She had in her hands a dish of strawberries. It was a charming picture in the eyes of a man to whom the feelings of robustness and health were mostly a reminiscence. Yet, while the first impression was on him, he contrasted Sophie with the impetuous, fiery-hearted Christine, with her dramatic Gallic face and blood, to the latter's advantage, in spite of the more harmonious setting of this picture.
Sophie was in place in this old farmhouse, with its dormer windows, with the weaver's loom in the large kitchen, the meat-block by the fireplace, and the big bread-tray by the stove, where the yeast was as industrious as the reapers beyond in the fields. She was in keeping with the chromo of the Madonna and the Child upon the wall, with the sprig of holy palm at the shrine in the corner, with the old King Louis blunderbuss above the chimney.
Sophie tried to take off her sunbonnet with one hand, but the knot tightened, and it tipped back on her head, giving her a piquant air. She flushed.
"Oh, m'sieu'!" she said in English, "it's kind of you to call. I am quite glad--yes."
Then she turned round to put the strawberries upon a table, but he was beside her in an instant and took the dish out of her hands. Placing it on the table, he took a couple of strawberries in his fingers.
"May I?" he asked in French.
She nodded as she whipped off the sunbonnet, and replied in her own language:
"Certainly, as many as you want."
He bit into one, but got no further with it. Her back was turned to him, and he threw the berry out of the window. She felt rather than saw what he had done. She saw that he was fagged. She instantly thought of a cordial she had in the house, the gift of a nun from the Ursuline Convent in Quebec; a precious little bottle which she had kept for the anniversary of her wedding day. If she had been told in the morning that she would open that bottle now, and for a stranger, she probably would have resented the idea with scorn.
His disguised weariness still exciting her sympathy, she offered him a chair.
"You will sit down, m'sieu'?" she asked. "It is very warm."
She did not say: "You look very tired." She instinctively felt that it would suggest the delicate state of his health.
The chair was inviting enough, with its chintz cover and wicker seat, but he would never admit fatigue. He threw his leg half jauntily over the end of the table and said:
"No--no, thanks; I'd rather not sit."
His forehead was dripping with perspiration. He took out his handkerchief and dried it. His eyes were a little heavy, but his complexion was a delicate and unnatural pink and white-like a piece of fine porcelain. It was a face without care, without vice, without fear, and without morals. For the absence of vice with the absence of morals are not incongruous in a human face. Sophie went into another room for a moment, and brought back a quaint cut-glass bottle of cordial.
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