The Pomp of the Lavilettes by Gilbert Parker
"I saw you coming," Ferrol said, as Christine stopped the buggy.
"You have been to see Magon and Sophie?" she asked.
"Yes, for a minute," he answered. "Where are you going?"
"Just for a drive," she replied. "Come, won't you?" He got in, and she drove on.
"Where were you going?" she asked.
"Why, to the old mill," was his reply. "I wanted a little walk, then a rest."
Ten minutes later they were looking from a window of the mill, out upon the great wheel which had done all the work the past generations had given it to do, and was now dropping into decay as it had long dropped into disuse. Moss had gathered on the great paddles; many of them were broken, and the debris had been carried away by the freshets of spring and the floods of autumn.
They were silent for a time. Presently she looked up at him.
"You're much better to-day, "she said; "better than you've been since-- since that night!"
"Oh, I'm all right," he answered; "right as can be." He suddenly turned on her, put his hand upon her arm, and said:
"Come, now, tell me what there was between you and Vanne Castine--once upon a time.
"He was in love with me five years ago," she said.
"And five years ago you were in love with him, eh?" "How dare you say that to me!" she answered. "I never was. I always hated him."
She told her lie with unscrupulous directness. He did not believe her; but what did that matter! It was no reason why he should put her at a disadvantage, and, strangely enough, he did not feel any contempt for her because she told the lie, nor because she had once cared for Castine. Probably in those days she had never known anybody who was very much superior to Castine. She was in love with himself now; that was enough, or nearly enough, and there was no particular reason why he should demand more from her than she demanded from him. She was lying to him now because--well, because she loved him. Like the majority of men, when women who love them have lied to them so, they have seen in it a compliment as strong as the act was weak. It was more to him now that this girl should love him than that she should be upright, or moral, or truthful. Such is the egotism and vanity of such men.
"Well, he owes me several years of life. I put in a bad hour that night."
He knew that "several years of life" was a misstatement; but, then, they were both sinners.
Her eyes flashed, she stamped her foot, and her fingers clinched.
"I wish I'd killed him when I killed his bear!" she said.
Then excitedly she described the scene exactly as it occurred. He admired the dramatic force of it. He thrilled at the direct simplicity of the tale. He saw Vanne Castine in the forearms of the huge beast, with his eyes bulging from his head, his face becoming black, and he saw blind justice in that death grip; Christine's pistol at the bear's head, and the shoulder in the teeth of the beast, and then!
"By the Lord Harry," he said, as she stood panting, with her hands fixed in the last little dramatic gesture, "what a little spitfire and brick you are!"
All at once he caught her away from the open window and drew her to him. Whether what he said that moment, and what he did then, would have been said and done if it were not for the liqueur he had drunk at Sophie's house would be hard to tell; but the sum of it was that she was his and he was hers. She was to be his until the end of all, no matter what the end might be. She looked up at him, her face glowing, her bosom beating --beating, every pulse in her tingling.
"You mean that you love me, and that--that you want-to marry me?" she said; and then, with a fervent impulse, she threw her arms round his neck and kissed him again and again.
The directness of her question dumfounded him for the moment; but what she suggested (though it might be selfish in him to agree to it) would be the best thing that could happen to him. So he lied to her, and said:
"Yes, that's what I meant. But, then, to tell you the sober truth, I'm as poor as a church mouse."
He paused. She looked up at him with a sudden fear in her face.
"You're not married?" she asked, "you're not married?" then, breaking off suddenly: "I don't care if you are, I don't! I love you--love you! Nobody would look after you as I would. I don't; no, I don't care."
She drew up closer and closer to him.
"No, I don't mean that I was married," he said. "I meant--what you know --that my life isn't worth, perhaps, a ten-days' purchase."
Her face became pale again.
"You can have my life," she said; "have it just as long as you live, and I'll make you live a year--yes, I'll make you live ten years. Love can do anything; it can do everything. We'll be married to-morrow."
"That's rather difficult," he answered. "You see, you're a Catholic, and I'm a Protestant, and they wouldn't marry us here, I'm afraid; at least not at once, perhaps not at all. You see, I--I've only one lung."
He had never spoken so frankly of his illness before. "Well, we can go over the border into the English province--into Upper Canada," she answered. "Don't you see? It's only a few miles' drive to a village. I can go over one day, get the licence; then, a couple of days after, we can go over together and be married. And then, then--"
He smiled. "Well, then it won't make much difference, will it? We'll have to fit in one way or another, eh?"
"We could be married afterwards by the Cure, if everybody made a fuss. The bishop would give us a dispensation. It's a great sin to marry a heretic, but--"
"But love--eh, ma cigale!" Then he took her eagerly, tenderly into his arms; and probably he had then the best moment in his life.
Sophie Farcinelle saw them driving back together. She was sitting at early supper with Magon, when, raising her head at the sound of wheels, she saw Christine laughing and Ferrol leaning affectionately towards her. Ferrol had forgotten herself and the incident of the afternoon. It meant nothing to him. With her, however, it was vital: it marked a change in her life. Her face flushed, her hands trembled, and she arose hurriedly and went to get something from the kitchen, that Magon might not see her face.