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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lane That Had No Turning - Chapter 2. When The Red-Coats Came
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The Lane That Had No Turning - Chapter 2. When The Red-Coats Came Post by :Wukka Category :Long Stories Author :Gilbert Parker Date :May 2012 Read :1168

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The Lane That Had No Turning - Chapter 2. When The Red-Coats Came


A month later there was a sale of the household effects, the horses and general possessions of Medallion the auctioneer, who, though a Protestant and an Englishman, had, by his wits and goodness of heart, endeared himself to the parish. Therefore the notables among the habitants had gathered in his empty house for a last drink of good-fellowship--Muroc the charcoalman, Duclosse the mealman, Benoit the ne'er-do-weel, Gingras the one-eyed shoemaker, and a few others. They had drunk the health of Medallion, they had drunk the health of the Cure, and now Duclosse the mealman raised his glass. "Here's to--"

"Wait a minute, porridge-pot," cried Muroc. "The best man here should raise the glass first and say the votre sante. 'Tis M'sieu' Medallion should speak and sip now."

Medallion was half-sitting on the window-sill, abstractedly listening. He had been thinking that his ships were burned behind him, and that in middle-age he was starting out to make another camp for himself in the world, all because of the new Seigneur of Pontiac. Time was when he had been successful here, but Louis Racine had changed all that. His hand was against the English, and he had brought a French auctioneer to Pontiac. Medallion might have divided the parish as to patronage, but he had other views.

So he was going. Madelinette had urged him to stay, but he had replied that it was too late. The harm was not to be undone.

As Muroc spoke, every one turned towards Medallion. He came over and filled a glass at the table, and raised it.

"I drink to Madelinette, daughter of that fine old puffing forgeron Lajeunesse," he added, as the big blacksmith now entered the room. Lajeunesse grinned and ducked his head. "I knew Madelinette, as did you all, when I could take her on my knee and tell her English stories, and listen to her sing French chansons--the best in the world. She has gone on; we stay where we were. But she proves her love to us, by taking her husband from Pontiac and coming back to us. May she never find a spot so good to come to and so hard to leave as Pontiac!"

He drank, and they all did the same. Draining his glass, Medallion let it fall on the stone floor. It broke into a score of pieces.

He came and shook hands with Lajeunesse. "Give her my love," he said. "Tell her the highest bidder on earth could not buy one of the kisses she gave me when she was five and I was twenty."

Then he shook hands with them all and went into the next room.

"Why did he drop his glass?" asked Gingras the shoemaker.

"That's the way of the aristocrats when it's the damnedest toast that ever was," said Duclosse the mealman. "Eh, Lajeunesse, that's so, isn't it?"

"What the devil do I know about aristocrats!" said Lajeunesse.

"You're among the best of the land, now that Madelinette's married to the Seigneur. You ought to wear a collar every day."

"Bah!" answered the blacksmith. "I'm only old Lajeunesse the blacksmith, though she's my girl, dear lads. I was Joe Lajeunesse yesterday, and I'll be Joe Lajeunesse to-morrow, and I'll die Joe Lajeunesse the forgeron--bagosh! So you take me as you find me. M'sieu' Racine doesn't marry me. And Madelinette doesn't take me to Paris and lead me round the stage and say, 'This is M'sieu' Lajeunesse, my father.' No. I'm myself, and a damn good blacksmith and nothing else am I!"

"Tut, tut, old leather-belly," said Gingras the shoemaker, whose liquor had mounted high, "you'll not need to work now. Madelinette's got double fortune. She gets thousands for a song, and she's lady of the Manor here. What's too good for you, tell me that, my forgeron?"

"Not working between meals--that's too good for me, Gingras. I'm here to earn my bread with the hands I was born with, and to eat what they earn, and live by it. Let a man live according to his gifts--bagosh! Till I'm sent for, that's what I'll do; and when time's up I'll take my hand off the bellows, and my leather apron can go to you, Gingras, for boots for a bigger fool than me."

"There's only one," said Benolt, the ne'er-do-weel, who had been to college as a boy.

"Who's that?" said Muroc.

"You wouldn't know his name. He's trying to find eggs in last year's nest," answered Benolt with a leer.

"He means the Seigneur," said Muroc. "Look to your son-in-law, Lajeunesse. He's kicking up a dust that'll choke Pontiac yet. It's as if there was an imp in him driving him on."

"We've had enough of the devil's dust here," said Lajeunesse. "Has he been talking to you, Muroc?"

Muroc nodded. "Treason, or thereabouts. Once, with him that's dead in the graveyard yonder, it was France we were to save and bring back the Napoleons--I have my sword yet. Now it's save Quebec. It's stand alone and have our own flag, and shout, and fight, maybe, to be free of England. Independence--that's it! One by one the English have had to go from Pontiac. Now it's M'sieu' Medallion."

"There's Shandon the Irishman gone too. M'sieu' sold him up and shipped him off," said Gingras the shoemaker.

"Tiens! the Seigneur gave him fifty dollars when he left, to help him along. He smacks and then kisses, does M'sieu' Racine."

"We've to pay tribute to the Seigneur every year, as they did in the days of Vaudreuil and Louis the Saint," said Duclosse. "I've got my notice--a bag of meal under the big tree at the Manor door."

"I've to bring a pullet and a bag of charcoal," said Muroc. "'Tis the rights of the Seigneur as of old."

"Tiens! it is my mind," said Benoit, "that a man that nature twists in back, or leg, or body anywhere, gets a twist in's brain too. There's Parpon the dwarf--God knows, Parpon is a nut to crack!"

"But Parpon isn't married to the greatest singer in the world, though she's only the daughter of old leather-belly there," said Gingras.

"Something doesn't come of nothing, snub-nose," said Lajeunesse. "Mark you, I was born a man of fame, walking bloody paths to glory; but, by the grace of Heaven and my baptism, I became a forgeron. Let others ride to glory, I'll shoe their horses for the gallop."

"You'll be in Parliament yet, Lajeunesse," said Duclosse the mealman, who had been dozing on a pile of untired cart-wheels.

"I'll be hanged first, comrade."

"One in the family at a time," said Muroc. "There's the Seigneur. He's going into Parliament."

"He's a magistrate--that's enough," said Duclosse. "He's started the court under the big tree, as the Seigneurs did two hundred years ago. He'll want a gibbet and a gallows next."

"I should think he'd stay at home and not take more on his shoulders!" said the one-eyed shoemaker. Without a word, Lajeunesse threw a dish of water in Gingras's face. This reference to the Seigneur's deformity was unpalatable.

Gingras had not recovered from his discomfiture when all were startled by the distant blare of a bugle. They rushed to the door, and were met by Parpon the dwarf, who announced that a regiment of soldiers was marching on the village.

"'Tis what I expected after that meeting, and the Governor's visit, and the lily-flag of France on the Manor, and the body-guard and the carbines," said Muroc nervously.

"We're all in trouble again-sure," said Benoit, and drained his glass to the last drop. "Some of us will go to gaol."

The coming of the militia had been wholly unexpected by the people of Pontiac, but the cause was not far to seek. Ever since the Governor's visit there had been sinister rumours abroad concerning Louis Racine, which the Cure and the Avocat and others had taken pains to contradict. It was known that the Seigneur had been requested to disband his so-called company of soldiers with their ancient livery and their modern arms, and to give them up. He had disbanded the corps, but he had not given up the arms, and, for reasons unknown, the Government had not pressed the point, so far as the world knew. But it had decided to hold a district drill in this far-off portion of the Province; and this summer morning two thousand men marched 'upon the town and through it, horse, foot, and commissariat, and Pontiac was roused out of the last-century romance the Seigneur had sought to continue, to face the actual presence of modern force and the machinery of war. Twice before had British soldiers marched into the town, the last time but a few years agone, when blood had been shed on the stones in front of the parish church. But here were large numbers of well-armed men from the Eastern parishes, English and French, with four hundred regulars to leaven the mass. Lajeunesse knew only too well what this demonstration meant.

Before the last soldier had passed through the street, he was on his way to the Seigneury.

He found Madelinette alone in the great dining-room, mending a rent in the British flag, which she was preparing for a flag-staff. When she saw him, she dropped the flag, as if startled, came quickly to him, took both his hands in hers, and kissed his cheek.

"Wonder of wonders!" she said.

"It's these soldiers," he replied shortly. "What of them?" she asked brightly.

"Do you mean to say you don't know what their coming here means?" he asked.

"They must drill somewhere, and they are honouring Pontiac," she replied gaily, but her face flushed as she bent over the flag again.

He came and stood in front of her. "I don't know what's in your mind; I don't know what you mean to do; but I do know that M'sieu' Racine is making trouble here, and out of it you'll come more hurt than anybody."

"What has Louis done?"

"What has he done! He's been stirring up feeling against the British. What has he done!--Look at the silly customs he's got out of old coffins, to make us believe they're alive. Why did he ever try to marry you? Why did you ever marry him? You are the great singer of the world. He's a mad hunchback habitant seigneur!"

She stamped her foot indignantly, but presently she ruled herself to composure, and said quietly: "He is my husband. He is a brave man, with foolish dreams." Then with a sudden burst of tender feeling, she said: "Oh, father, father, can't you see, I loved him--that is why I married him. You ask me what I am going to do? I am going to give the rest of my life to him. I am going to stay with him, and be to him all that he may never have in this world, never--never. I am going to be to him what my mother was to you, a slave to the end--a slave who loved you, and who gave you a daughter who will do the same for her husband--"

"No matter what he does or is--eh?"

"No matter what he is."

Lajeunesse gasped. "You will give up singing! Not sing again before kings and courts, and not earn ten thousand dollars a month--more than I've earned in twenty years? You don't mean that, Madelinette."

He was hoarse with feeling, and he held out his hand pleadingly. To him it seemed that his daughter was mad; that she was throwing her life away.

"I mean that, father," she answered quietly. "There are things worth more than money."

"You don't mean to say that you can love him as he is. It isn't natural. But no, it isn't."

"What would you have said, if any one had asked you if you loved my mother that last year of her life, when she was a cripple, and we wheeled her about in a chair you made for her?"

"Don't say any more," he said slowly, and took up his hat, and kept turning it round in his hand. "But you'll prevent him getting into trouble with the Gover'ment?" he urged at last.

"I have done what I could," she answered. Then with a little gasp: "They came to arrest him a fortnight ago, but I said they should not enter the house. Havel and I prevented them--refused to let them enter. The men did not know what to do, and so they went back. And now this--!" she pointed to where the soldiers were pitching their tents in the valley below. "Since then Louis has done nothing to give trouble. He only writes and dreams. If he would but dream and no more--!" she added, half under her breath.

"We've dreamt too much in Pontiac already," said Lajeunesse, shaking his head.

Madelinette reached up her hand and laid it on his shaggy black hair. "You are a good little father, big smithy-man," she said lovingly. "You make me think of the strong men in the Niebelungen legends. It must be a big horse that will take you to Walhalla with the heroes," she added.

"Such notions--there in your head," he laughed. "Try to frighten me with your big names-hein?" There was a new look in the face of father and of daughter. No mist or cloud was between them. The things they had long wished to say were uttered at last. A new faith was established between them. Since her return they had laughed and talked as of old when they had met, though her own heart was aching, and he was bitter against the Seigneur. She had kept him and the whole parish in good humour by her unconventional ways, as though people were not beginning to make pilgrimages to Pontiac to see her--people who stared at the name over the blacksmith's door, and eyed her curiously, or lay in wait about the Seigneury, that they might get a glimpse of Madame and her deformed husband. Out in the world where she was now so important, the newspapers told strange romantic tales of the great singer, wove wild and wonderful legends of her life. To her it did not matter. If she knew, she did not heed. If she heeded it--even in her heart--she showed nothing of it before the world. She knew that soon there would be wilder tales still when it was announced that she was bidding farewell to the great working world, and would live on in retirement. She had made up her mind quite how the announcement should read, and, once it was given out, nothing would induce her to change her mind. Her life was now the life of the Seigneur.

A struggle in her heart went on, but she fought it down. The lure of a great temptation from that far-off outside world was before her, but she had resolved her heart against it. In his rough but tender way her father now understood, and that was a comfort to her. He felt what he could not reason upon or put into adequate words. But the confidence made him happy, and his eyes said so to her now.

"See, big smithy-man," she said gaily, "soon will be the fete of St. Jean Baptiste, and we shall all be happy then. Louis has promised me to make a speech that will not be against the English, but only words which will tell how dear the old land is to us."

"Ten to one against it!" said Lajeunesse anxiously. Then he brightened as he saw a shadow cross her face. "But you can make him do anything--as you always made me," he added, shaking his tousled head and taking with a droll eagerness the glass of wine she offered him.

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