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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Money Master - Chapter 24. Jean Jacques Encamped
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The Money Master - Chapter 24. Jean Jacques Encamped Post by :Wukka Category :Long Stories Author :Gilbert Parker Date :May 2012 Read :2357

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The Money Master - Chapter 24. Jean Jacques Encamped

CHAPTER XXIV. JEAN JACQUES ENCAMPED

The Young Doctor of Askatoon had a good heart, and he was exercising it honourably one winter's day near three years after Jean Jacques had left St. Saviour's.

"There are many French Canadians working on the railway now, and a good many habitant farmers live hereabouts, and they have plenty of children--why not stay here and teach school? You are a Catholic, of course, monsieur?"

This is what the Young Doctor said to one who had been under his anxious care for a few, vivid days. The little brown-bearded man with the grey-brown hair nodded in reply, but his gaze was on the billowing waste of snow, which stretched as far as eye could see to the pine-hills in the far distance. He nodded assent, but it was plain to be seen that the Young Doctor's suggestion was not in tune with his thought. His nod only acknowledged the reasonableness of the proposal. In his eyes, however, was the wanderlust which had possessed him for three long years, in which he had been searching for what to him was more than Eldorado, for it was hope and home. Hope was all he had left of the assets which had made him so great a figure--as he once thought--in his native parish of St. Saviour's. It was his fixed idea--une idee fixe, as he himself said. Lands, mills, manor, lime-kilns, factories, store, all were gone, and his wife Carmen also was gone. He had buried her with simple magnificence in Montreal--Mme. Glozel had said to her neighbours afterwards that the funeral cost over seventy-five dollars--and had set up a stone to her memory on which was carved, "Chez nous autrefois, et chez Dieu maintenant"--which was to say, "Our home once, and God's Home now."

That done, with a sorrow which still had the peace of finality in his mind, he had turned his face to the West. His long, long sojourning had brought him to Shilah where a new chapter of his life was closed, and at last to Askatoon, where another chapter still closed an epoch in his life, and gave finality to all. There he had been taken down with congestion of the lungs, and, fainting at the door of a drug-store, had been taken possession of by the Young Doctor, who would not send him to the hospital. He would not send him there because he found inside the waistcoat of this cleanest tramp--if he was a tramp--that he had ever seen, a book of philosophy, the daguerreotype photo of a beautiful foreign-looking woman, and some verses in a child's handwriting. The book of philosophy was underlined and interlined on every page, and every margin had comment which showed a mind of the most singular simplicity, searching wisdom, and hopeless confusion, all in one.

The Young Doctor was a man of decision, and he had whisked the little brown-grey sufferer to his own home, and tended him there like a brother till the danger disappeared; and behold he was rewarded for his humanity by as quaint an experience as he had ever known. He had not succeeded--though he tried hard--in getting at the history of his patient's life; but he did succeed in reading the fascinating story of a mind; for Jean Jacques, if not so voluble as of yore, had still moments when he seemed to hypnotize himself, and his thoughts were alive in an atmosphere of intellectual passion ill in accord with his condition.

Presently the little brown man withdrew his eyes from the window of the Young Doctor's office and the snowy waste beyond. They had a curious red underglow which had first come to them an evening long ago, when they caught from the sky the reflection of a burning mill. There was distance and the far thing in that underglow of his eyes. It had to do with the horizon, not with the place where his feet were. It said, "Out there, beyond, is what I go to seek, what I must find, what will be home to me."

"Well, I must be getting on," he said in a low voice to the Young Doctor, ignoring the question which had been asked.

"If you want work, there's work to be had here, as I said," responded the Young Doctor. "You are a man of education--"

"How do you know that?" asked Jean Jacques.

"I hear you speak," answered the other, and then Jean Jacques drew himself up and threw back his head. He had ever loved appreciation, not to say flattery, and he had had very little of it lately.

"I was at Laval," he remarked with a flash of pride. "No degree, but a year there, and travel abroad--the Grand Tour, and in good style, with plenty to do it with. Oh, certainly, no thought for sous, hardly for francs! It was gold louis abroad and silver dollars at home--that was the standard."

"The dollars are much scarcer now, eh?" asked the Young Doctor quizzically.

"I should think I had just enough to pay you," said the other, bridling up suddenly; for it seemed to him the Young Doctor had become ironical and mocking; and though he had been mocked much in his day, there were times when it was not easy to endure it.

The truth is the Young Doctor was somewhat of an expert in human nature, and he deeply wanted to know the history of this wandering habitant, because he had a great compassionate liking for him. If he could get the little man excited, he might be able to find out what he wanted. During the days in which the wanderer had been in his house, he had been far from silent, for he joked at his own suffering and kept the housekeeper laughing at his whimsical remarks; while he won her heart by the extraordinary cleanliness of his threadbare clothes, and the perfect order of his scantily-furnished knapsack. It had the exactness of one who was set upon a far course and would carry it out on scientific calculation. He had been full of mocking quips and sallies at himself, but from first to last he never talked. The things he said were nothing more than surface sounds, as it were--the ejaculations of a mind, not its language or its meanings.

"He's had some strange history, this queer little man," said the housekeeper to the Young Doctor; "and I'd like to know what it is. Why, we don't even know his name."

"So would I," rejoined the Young Doctor, "and I'll have a good try for it."

He had had his try more than once, but it had not succeeded. Perhaps a little torture would do it, he thought; and so he had made the rather tactless remark about the scarcity of dollars. Also his look was incredulous when Jean Jacques protested that he had enough to pay the fee.

"When you searched me you forgot to look in the right place," continued Jean Jacques; and he drew from the lining of the hat he held in his hand a little bundle of ten-dollar bills. "Here--take your pay from them," he said, and held out the roll of bills. "I suppose it won't be more than four dollars a day; and there's enough, I think. I can't pay you for your kindness to me, and I don't want to. I'd like to owe you that; and it's a good thing for a man himself to be owed kindness. He remembers it when he gets older. It helps him to forgive himself more or less for what he's sorry for in life. I've enough in this bunch to pay for board and professional attendance, or else the price has gone up since I had a doctor before."

He laughed now, and the laugh was half-ironical, half-protesting. It seemed to come from the well of a hidden past; and no past that is hidden has ever been a happy past.

The Young Doctor took the bills, looked at them as though they were curios, and then returned them with the remark that they were of a kind and denomination of no use to him. There was a twinkle in his eye as he said it. Then he added:

"I agree with you that it's a good thing for a man to lay up a little credit of kindness here and there for his old age. Well, anything I did for you was meant for kindness and nothing else. You weren't a bit of trouble, and it was simply your good constitution and a warm room and a few fly-blisters that pulled you through. It wasn't any skill of mine. Go and thank my housekeeper if you like. She did it all."

"I did my best to thank her," answered Jean Jacques. "I said she reminded me of Virginie Palass Poucette, and I could say nothing better than that, except one thing; and I'm not saying that to anybody."

The Young Doctor had a thrill. Here was a very unusual man, with mystery and tragedy, and yet something above both, in his eyes.

"Who was Virginie Palass Poucette?" he asked. Jean Jacques threw out a hand as though to say, "Attend--here is a great thing," and he began, "Virginie Poucette--ah, there...!"

Then he paused, for suddenly there spread out before him that past, now so far away, in which he had lived--and died. Strange that when he had mentioned Virginie's name to the housekeeper he had no such feeling as possessed him now. It had been on the surface, and he had used her name without any deep stir of the waters far down in his soul. But the Young Doctor was fingering the doors of his inner life--all at once this conviction came to him--and the past rushed upon him with all its disarray and ignominy, its sorrow, joy, elation and loss. Not since he had left the scene of his defeat, not since the farewell to his dead Carmen, that sweet summer day when he had put the lovely, ruined being away with her words, "Jean Jacques--ah, my beautiful Jean Jacques," ringing in his ears, had he ever told anyone his story. He had had a feeling that, as Carmen had been restored to him without his crying out, or vexing others with his sad history, so would Zoe also come back to him. Patience and silence was his motto.

Yet how was it that here and now there came an overpowering feeling, that he must tell this healer of sick bodies the story of an invalid soul? This man with the piercing dark-blue eyes before him, who looked so resolute, who had the air of one who could say,

"This is the way to go," because he knew and was sure; he was not to be denied.

"Who was Virginie Poucette?" repeated the Young Doctor insistently, yet ever so gently. "Was she such a prize among women? What did she do?"

A flood of feeling passed over Jean Jacques' face. He looked at his hat and his knapsack lying in a chair, with a desire to seize them and fly from the inquisitor; then a sense of fatalism came upon him. As though he had received an order from within his soul, he said helplessly:

"Well, if it must be, it must."

Then he swept the knapsack and his hat from the chair to the floor, and sat down.

"I will begin at the beginning," he said with his eyes fixed on those of the Young Doctor, yet looking beyond him to far-off things. "I will start from the time when I used to watch the gold Cock of Beaugard turning on the mill, when I sat in the doorway of the Manor Cartier in my pinafore. I don't know why I tell you, but maybe it was meant I should. I obey conviction. While you are able to keep logic and conviction hand in hand then everything is all right. I have found that out. Logic, philosophy are the props of life, but still you must obey the impulse of the soul--oh, absolutely! You must--"

He stopped short. "But it will seem strange to you," he added after a moment, in which the Young Doctor gestured to him to proceed, "to hear me talk like this--a wayfarer--a vagabond you may think. But in other days I was in places--"

The Young Doctor interjected with abrupt friendliness that there was no need to say he had been in high places. It would still be apparent, if he were in rags.

"Then, there, I will speak freely," rejoined Jean Jacques, and he took the cherry-brandy which the other offered him, and drank it off with gusto.

"Ah, that--that," he said, "is like the cordials Mere Langlois used to sell at Vilray. She and Virginie Poucette had a place together on the market--none better than Mere Langlois except Virginie Poucette, and she was like a drink of water in the desert.... Well, there, I will begin. Now my father was--"

It was lucky there were no calls for the Young Doctor that particular early morning, else the course of Jean Jacques' life might have been 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.

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