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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lane That Had No Turning - Chapter 10. The Door That Would Not Open
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The Lane That Had No Turning - Chapter 10. The Door That Would Not Open Post by :Wukka Category :Long Stories Author :Gilbert Parker Date :May 2012 Read :1587

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The Lane That Had No Turning - Chapter 10. The Door That Would Not Open

CHAPTER X. THE DOOR THAT WOULD NOT OPEN

The old Manor House of Pontiac was alive with light and merriment. It was the early autumn; not cool enough for the doors and windows to be shut, but cool enough to make dancing a pleasure, and to give spirit to the gaiety that filled the old house. The occasion was a notable one for Pontiac. An address of congratulation and appreciation and a splendid gift of silver had been brought to the Manor from the capital by certain high officials of the Government and the Army, representing the people of the Province. At first Madelinette had shrunk from the honour to be done her, and had so written to certain quarters whence the movement had proceeded; but a letter had come to her which had changed her mind. This letter was signed George Fournel. Fournel had a right to ask a favour of her; and one that was to do her honour seemed the least that she might grant. He had suffered much at Louis' hands; he had forborne much; and by an act of noble forgiveness and generosity, had left Louis undisturbed in an honour which was not his, and the enjoyment of an estate to which he had no claim. He had given much, suffered much, and had had nothing in return save her measureless and voiceless gratitude. Friendship she could give him; but it was a silent friendship, an incompanionable friendship, founded upon a secret and chivalrous act. He was in Quebec and she in Pontiac; and since that day when he had burned the will before her eyes she had not seen him. She had heard from him but twice; once to tell her that she need have no fear of Tardif, and again, when he urged her to accept the testimonial and the gift to be offered by her grateful fellow-citizens.

The deputation, distinguished and important, had been received by the people of Pontiac with the flaunting of flags, playing of bands, and every demonstration of delight. The honour done to Madelinette was an honour done to Pontiac, and Pontiac had never felt itself so important. It realised that this kind of demonstration was less expensive, and less dangerous, than sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion. The vanity of the habitants could be better exercised in applauding Madelinette and in show of welcome to the great men of the land, than in cultivating a dangerous patriotism under the leadership of Louis Racine. Temptations to conspiracy had been few since the day George Fournel, wounded and morose, left the Manor House secretly one night, and carried back to Quebec his resentment and his injuries. Treasonable gossip filtered no longer from doorway to doorway; carbines were not to be had for a song; no more nightly drills and weekly meetings gave a spice of great expectations to their life. Their Seigneur, silent, and pale, and stooped, lived a life apart. If he walked through the town, it was with bitter, abstracted eyes that took little heed of their presence. If he drove, his horses travelled like the wind. At Mass, he looked at no one, saw no one, and, as it would seem, heard no one.

But Madelinette--she was the Madelinette of old, simple, gracious, kind, with a smile here and a kind word there: a little child to be caressed or an old woman to be comforted; the sick to be fed and doctored; the poor to be helped; the idle to be rebuked with a persuasive smile; the angry to be coaxed by a humorous word; the evil to be reproved by a fearless friendliness; the spiteful to be hushed by a still, commanding presence. She never seemed to remember that she was the daughter of old Joe Lajeunesse the blacksmith, yet she never seemed to forget it. She was the wife of the Seigneur, and she was the daughter of the smithy-man too. She sat in the smithy-man's doorway with her hand in his; and she sat at the Manor table with its silver glitter, and its antique garnishings, with as real an unconsciousness.

Her influence seemed to pierce far and wide. The Cure and the Avocat adored her; and the proudest, happiest moment of their lives was when they sat at the Manor table, or, in the sombre drawing-room, watched her give it light and grace and charm, and fill their hearts with the piercing delight of her song. So her life had gone on; to the outward world serene and happy, full of simplicity, charity, and good works. What it was in reality no one could know, not even herself. Since the day when Louis had tried to kill George Fournel, life had been a different thing for them both. On her part she had been deeply hurt; wounded beyond repair. He had failed her from every vital stand-point, he had not fulfilled one hope she had ever had of him. But she laid the blame not at his door; she rather shrank with inner bitterness from the cynical cruelty of nature, which, in deforming the body, with a merciless cruelty had deformed a noble mind. These things were between her and her inmost soul.

To Louis she was ever the same, affectionate, gentle, and unselfish; but her stronger soul ruled him without his knowledge, commanded his perturbed spirit into the abstracted quiet and bitter silence wherein he lived, and which she sought to cheer by a thousand happy devices. She did not let him think that she was giving up anything for him; no word or act of hers could have suggested to him the sacrifices she had made. He knew them, still he did not know them in their fulness; he was grateful, but his gratitude did not compass the splendid self-effacing devotion with which she denied herself the glorious career that had lain before her. Morbid and self-centred, he could not understand. Since her return from Quebec she had sought to give a little touch of gaiety to their life, and she had not the heart to interfere with his constant insistence on the little dignities of the position of Seigneur, ironical as they all were in her eyes. She had sacrificed everything; and since another also had sacrificed himself to give her husband the honours and estate he possessed, the game should be delicately played to the unseen end.

So it had gone on until the coming of the deputation with the testimonial and the gift. She had proposed the gaieties of the occasion to Louis with so simple a cheerfulness, that he had no idea of the torture it meant to her; no realisation of how she would be brought face to face with the life that she had given up for his sake. But neither he nor she was aware of one thing, that the beautiful embossed address contained an appeal to her to return to the world of song which she had renounced, to go forth once more and contribute to the happiness of humanity.

When, therefore, in the drawing-room of the Manor, the address was read to her, and this appeal rang upon her ears, she felt herself turn dizzy and faint: her whole life seemed to reel backwards to all she had lost, and the tyranny of the present bore down upon her with a cruel weight. It needed all her courage and all her innate strength to rule herself to composure. For an instant the people in the room were a confused mass, floating away into a blind distance. She heard, however, the quick breathing of the Seigneur beside her, and it called her back to an active and necessary confidence.

With a smile she received the address, and, turning, handed it to Louis, smiling at him too with a winning duplicity, for which she might never have to ask forgiveness in this world or the next. Then she turned and spoke. Eloquently, simply, she gave out her thanks for the gift of silver and the greater gift of kind words; and said that in her quiet life, apart from that active world of the stage, where sorrow and sordid experience went hand in hand with song, where the delights of home were sacrificed to the applause of the world, she would cherish their gift as a reward that she might have earned, had she chosen the public instead of the private way of life. They had told her of the paths of glory, but she was walking the homeward way.

Thus deftly, and without strain, and with an air of happiness even, did she set aside the words and the appeal which had created a storm in her soul. A few moments afterwards, as the old house rang to the laughter of old and young, with dancing well begun, no one would have thought that the Manor of Pontiac was not the home of peace and joy. Even Louis himself, who had had his moments of torture and suspicion when the appeal was read, was now in a kind of happy reaction. He moved about among the guests with less abstraction and more cheerfulness than he had shown for months. He carried in his hand the address which Madelinette had handed him. Again and again he showed it to eager guests.

Suddenly, as he was about to fold it up for the last time and carry it to the library, he saw the name of George Fournel among the signatures. Stunned, dumfounded, he left the room. George Fournel, whom he had tried to kill, had signed this address of congratulation to his wife! Was it Fournel's intention thus to show that he had forgiven and forgotten? It was not like the man to either forgive or forget. What did it mean? He left the house buried in morbid speculation, and involuntarily made his way to a little hut of two rooms which he had built in the Seigneury grounds. Here it was he read and wrote, here he had spent moody hours alone, day after day, for months past. He was not aware that some one left the crowd about the house and followed him. Arrived at the hut, he entered and shut the door; lighted candles, and spread the embossed parchment out before him upon the table. As he stood looking at it, he heard the door open behind him. Tardif stood before him.

The face of Tardif had an evil hunted look. Before the astonished and suspicious Seigneur had chance to challenge him, he said in a low insolent tone:

"Good evening, M'sieu'! Fine doings at the Manor--eh?

"What are you doing at the Manor, and what are you doing here?" asked the Seigneur, scanning the face of the man closely; for there was a look in it he did not understand.

"I have as much right to be here as you, M'sieu'."

"You have no right at all to be here. You were dismissed your place by the mistress of this Manor."

"There is no mistress of this Manor."

"Madame Racine dismissed you."

"And I dismissed Madame Racine," answered the man with a sneer.

"You are training for the horsewhip. You forget that, as Seigneur, I have power to give you summary punishment."

"You haven't power to do anything at all, M'sieu'!" The Seigneur started. He thought the remark had reference to his physical disability. His fingers itched to take the creature by the throat, and choke the tongue from his mouth. Before he could speak, the man continued with a half-drunken grimace:

"You, with your tributes, and your courts, and your body-guards! Bah! You'd have a gibbet if you could, wouldn't you? You with your rebellion and your tinpot honours! A puling baby could conspire as well as you. And all the world laughing at you--v'la!"

"Get out of this room and take your feet from my Manor, Tardif," said the Seigneur with a deadly quietness, "or it will be the worse for you."

"Your Manor--pish!" The man laughed a hateful laugh. "Your Manor? You haven't any Manor. You haven't anything but what you carry on your back."

A flush passed swiftly over the Seigneur's face, then left it cold and white, and the eyes shone fiery in his head. He felt some shameful meaning in the man's words, beyond this gross reference to his deformity.

"I am Seigneur of this Manor, and you have taken wages from me, and eaten my bread, slept under my roof, and--"

"I've no more eaten your bread and slept under your roof than you have. Pish! You were living then on another man's fortune, now you're living on what your wife earns."

The Seigneur did not understand yet. But there was a strange light of suspicion in his eyes, a nervous rage knotting his forehead.

"My land and my earnings are my own, and I have never lived on another man's fortune. If you mean that the late Seigneur made a will--that canard--"

"It was no canard." Tardif laughed hatefully. "There was a will right enough."

"Where is it? I've heard that fool's gossip before."

"Where is it? Ask your wife; she knows. Ask your loving Tardif, he knows."

"Where is the will, Tardif?" asked the Seigneur in a voice that, in his own ears, seemed to come from an infinite distance; to Tardif's ears it was merely tuneless and harsh.

"In M'sieu' Fournel's pocket, or Madame's. What's the difference? The price is the same, and you keep your eyes shut and play the Seigneur, and eat and drink what they give you just the same."

Now the Seigneur understood. His eyes went blind for a moment, and his hands twitched convulsively on the embossed address he had been rolling and unrolling. A terror, a shame, a dreadful cruelty entered into him, but he was still and numb, and his tongue was thick. He spoke heavily.

"Tell me all," he said. "You shall be well paid."

"I don't want your money. I want to see you squirm. I want to see her put where she deserves. Bah! Do you think Fournel forgave you for putting his feet in his shoes, and for that case at law, for nothing? Why should he? He hated you, and you hated him. His name's on that paper in your hand among all the rest. Do you think he eats humble pie and crawls to Madame and lets you stay here for nothing?"

The Seigneur was painfully quiet and intent, yet his brain was like some great lens, refracting and magnifying things to monstrous proportions.

"A will was found?" he asked.

"By Madame in the library. She left it where she found it--behind the picture over the Louis Seize table. The day you dismissed me, I saw her at the cupboard. I found the will and started with it to M'sieu' Fournel. She followed. You remember when she went--eh? On business--and such business! she and Havel and the old slut Marie. You remember, eh; Louis?" he added with unnamable insolence. The Seigneur inclined his head. "V'la! they followed me, overtook me, and Havel shot me in the wrist. See there!"--he held out his wrist. The Seigneur nodded. "But I got to Fournel's first. I put the will into his hands.

"I told him Madame Madelinette was following. Then I went to bring the constables to his house to arrest her when he had finished with her." He laughed a brutal laugh, which deepened the strange glittering look in Louis' eyes. "When I came an hour later, she was there. But--now you shall see what stuff they are both made of! He laughed at me, said I had lied; that there was no will; that I was a thief; and had me locked up in gaol. For a month I was in gaol without trial. Then one day I was let out without trial. His servant met me and brought me to his house. He gave me money and told me to leave the country. If I didn't, I would be arrested again for trying to shoot Havel, and for blackmail. They could all swear me off my feet and into prison--what was I to do! I took the money and went. But I came back to have my revenge. I could cut their hearts out and eat them."

"You are drunk," said the Seigneur quietly. "You don't know what you're saying."

"I'm not drunk. I'm always trying to get drunk now. I couldn't have come here if I hadn't been drinking. I couldn't have told you the truth, if I hadn't been drinking. But I'm sober enough to know that I've done for him and for her! And I'm even with you too--bah! Did you think she cared a fig for you? She's only waiting till you die. Then she'll go to her lover. He's a man of life and limb. Youpish! a hunchback, that all the world laughs at, a worm--" he turned towards the door laughing hideously, his evil face gloating. "You've not got a stick or stone. She"--jerking a finger towards the house--"she earns what you eat, she--"

It was the last word he ever spoke, for, with a low terrible cry, the Seigneur snatched up a knife from the table and sprang upon him, catching him by the throat. Once, twice, thrice, the knife went home, and the ruffian collapsed under it with one loud cry. Not letting go his grasp of the dying man's collar, the Seigneur dragged him across the floor, and, opening the door of the small inner room, pulled him inside. For a moment he stood beside the body, panting, then he went to the other room and, bringing a candle, looked at the dead thing in silence. Presently he stooped, held the candle to the wide-staring eyes, then felt the heart. "He is gone," he said in an even voice. Stooping for the knife he had dropped on the floor, he laid it on the body. He looked at his hands. There was one spot of blood on his fingers. He wiped it off with his handkerchief, then blowing out the light, he calmly opened the door of the hut, locked it, went out, and moved on slowly towards the house.

As he left the hut he was conscious that some one was moving under the trees by the window, but his mind was not concerned with things outside himself and the one other thing left for him to do.

He entered the house and went in search of Madelinette. When he reached the drawing-room, surrounded by eager listeners, she was beginning to sing. Her bearing was eager and almost tremulous, for, with this crowd round her and in the flush of this gaiety and excitement, there was something of that exhilarating air that greets the singer upon the stage. Her eyes were shining with a look, half-sorrowful, half-triumphant. Within the past half-hour she had overcome herself; she had fought down the blind, wild rebellion that, for one moment as it were, had surged up in her heart. She was proud and glad, and piteous and triumphant and deeply womanly all at once.

Going to the piano she had looked round for Louis, but he was not visible. She smiled to herself, however, for she knew that her singing would bring him--he worshipped it. Her heart was warm towards him, because of that moment when she rebelled and was hard at soul. She played her own accompaniment, and he was hidden from her by the piano as she sang--sang more touchingly and more humanly, if not more artistically, than she had ever done in her life. The old art was not so perfect, perhaps, but there was in the voice all that she had learned and loved and suffered and hoped. When she rose from the piano to a storm of applause, and saw the shining faces and tearful eyes round her, her own eyes filled with tears. These people--most of them--had known and loved her since she was a child, and loved her still without envy or any taint. Her father was standing near, and with smiling face she caught from his hand the handkerchief with which he was mopping his eyes, and kissed him, saying:

"I learned that from the tunes you played on your anvil, dear smithy-man."

Then she turned again to look for Louis. Near the door she saw him, and with so strange a face, so wild a look, that, unheeding eager requests to sing again, she responded to the gesture he made, made her way through the crowd to the hall-way, and followed him up the stairs, and to the little boudoir beside her bedroom. As she entered and shut the door, a low sound like a moan broke from him. She went quickly to lay a hand upon his arm, but he waved her back. "What is it, Louis?" she asked, in a bewildered voice. "Where is the will?" he said.

"Where is the will, Louis," she repeated after him mechanically, staring at his face, ghostly in the moonlight.

"The will you found behind the picture in the library."

"O Louis!" she cried, and made a gesture of despair. "O Louis!"

"You found it, and Tardif stole it and took it to Quebec."

"Yes, Louis, but Louis--ah, what is the matter, dear! I cannot bear that look in your face. What is the matter, Louis?"

"Tardif took it to Fournel, and you followed. And I have been living in another man's house, on another's bread--"

"O Louis, no--no--no! Our money has paid for all."

"Your money, Madelinette!" His voice rose.

"Ah, don't speak like that! See, Louis. It can make no difference. How you have found out I do not know, but it can make no difference. I did not want you to know--you loved the Seigneury so. I concealed the will; Tardif found it, as you say. But, Louis, dear, it is all right. Monsieur Fournel would not take the place, and--and I have bought it."

She told her falsehood fearlessly. This man's trouble, this man's peace, if she might but win it, was the purpose of her life.

"Tardif said that--he said that you--that you and Fournel--"

She read his meaning in his tone, and shrank back in terror, then with a flush, straightened herself, and took a step towards him.

"It was natural that you should not care for a hunchback like me," he continued, "but--"

"Louis!" she cried, in a voice of anguish and reproach.

"But I did not doubt you. I believed in you when he said it, as I believe in you now when you stand there like that. I know what you have done for me--"

"I pleaded with Monsieur Fournel, knowing how you loved the Seigneury--pleaded and offered to pay three times the price--"

"Yourself would have been a hundred million times the price. Ah, I know you, Madelinette--I know you now! I have been selfish, but I see all now. Now when all is over--" he seemed listening to noises with out--"I see what you have done for me. I know how you have sacrificed all for me--all but honour--all but honour," he added, a wild fire in his eyes, a trembling seizing him. "Your honour is yours forever. I say so. I say so, and I have proved it. Kiss me, Madelinette--kiss me once," he added, in a quick whisper.

"My poor, poor Louis!" she said, laid a soothing hand upon his arm, and leaned towards him. He snatched her to his breast, and kissed her twice in a very agony of joy, then let her go. He listened for an instant to the growing noise without, then said in a hoarse voice:

"Now, I will tell you, Madelinette. They are coming for me--don't you hear them? They are coming to take me; but they shall not have me. They shall not have me--" he glanced to a little door that led into a bath-room at his right.

"Louis-Louis!" she said in a sudden fright, for though his words seemed mad, a strange quiet sanity was in all he did. "What have you done? Who are coming?" she asked in agony, and caught him by the arm.

"I killed Tardif. He is there in the hut in the garden--dead! I was seen, and they are coming to take me."

With a cry she ran to the door that led into the hall, and locked it. She listened, then turned her face to Louis.

"You killed him!" she gasped. "Louis! Louis!" Her face was like ashes.

"I stabbed him to death. It was all I could do, and I did it. He slandered you. I went mad, and did it. Now--"

There was a knocking at the door, and a voice calling--a peremptory voice.

"There is only one way," he said. "They shall not take me. I will not be dragged to gaol for crowds to jeer at. I will not be sent to the scaffold, to your shame."

He ran to the door of the bath-room and flung it open. "If my life is to pay the price, then--!"

She came blindly towards him, stretching out her hands.

"Louis! Louis!" was all that she could say.

He caught her hands and kissed them, then stepped swiftly back into the little bath-room, and locked the door, as the door of the room she was in was burst open, and two constables and a half-dozen men crowded into the room.

She stood with her back to the bath-room door, panting, and white, and anguished, and her ears strained to the terrible thing inside the place behind her.

The men understood, and came towards her. "Stand back," she said. "You shall not have him. You shall not have him. Ah, don't you hear? He is dying--O God, O God!" she cried, with tearless eyes and upturned face--"Ah, let it be soon! Ah, let him die soon!"

The men stood abashed before her agony. Behind the little door where she stood there was a muffled groaning. She trembled, but her arms were spread out before the door as though on a cross, and her lips kept murmuring: "O God, let him die! Let him die! Oh spare him agony!"

Suddenly she stood still and listened-listened, with staring eyes that saw nothing. In the room men shrank back, for they knew that death was behind the little door, and that they were in the presence of a sorrow greater than death.

Suddenly she turned upon them with a gesture of piteous triumph and said:

"You cannot have him now."

Then she swayed and fell forward to the floor as the Cure and George Fournel entered the room. The Cure hastened to her side and lifted up her head.

George Fournel pushed the men back who would have entered the bath-room, and himself, bursting the door open, entered. Louis lay dead upon the floor. He turned to the constables.

"As she said, you cannot have him now. You have no right here. Go. I had a warning from the man he killed. I knew there would be trouble. But I have come too late," he added bitterly.

An hour later the house was as still as the grave. Madame Marie sat with the doctor beside the bed of her dear mistress, and in another room, George Fournel, with the Avocat, kept watch beside the body of the Seigneur of Pontiac. The face of the dead man was as peaceful as that of a little child.

.........................

At ninety years of age, the present Seigneur of Pontiac, one Baron Fournel, lives in the Manor House left him by Madelinette Lajeunesse the great singer, when she died a quarter of a century ago. For thirty years he followed her from capital to capital of Europe and America to hear her sing; and to this day he talks of her in language more French than English in its ardour. Perhaps that is because his heart beats in sympathy with the Frenchmen he once disdained.


(THE END)
Gilbert Parker's Book: Lane That Had No Turning

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