The Pomp of the Lavilettes by Gilbert Parker
Twenty men had suddenly disappeared from Bonaventure on the day that Ferrol visited Sophie Farcinelle, and it was only the next morning that the cause of their disappearance was generally known.
There had been many rumours abroad that a detachment of men from the parish were to join Papineau. The Rebellion was to be publicly declared on a certain date near at hand, but nothing definite was known; and because the Cure condemned any revolt against British rule, in spite of the evils the province suffered from bad government, every recruit who joined Nic Lavilette's standard was sworn to secrecy. Louis Lavilette and his wife knew nothing of their son's complicity in the rumoured revolt--one's own people are generally the last to learn of one's misdeeds. Madame would have been sorely frightened and chagrined if she had known the truth, for she was partly English. Besides, if the Rebellion did not succeed, disgrace must come, and then good-bye to the progress of the Lavilettes, and goodbye, maybe, to her son!
In spite of disappointments and rebuffs in many quarters, she still kept faith with her ambitions, and, fortunately for herself, she did not see the abject failure of many of her schemes. Some of the gentry from the neighbouring parishes had called, chiefly, she was aware, because of Mr. Ferrol. She was building the superstructure of her social ambitions on that foundation for the present. She told Louis sometimes, with tears of joy in her eyes, that a special Providence had sent Mr. Ferrol to them, and she did not know how to be grateful enough. He suggested a gift to the church in token of gratitude, but her thanksgiving did not take that form.
Nic was entirely French at heart, and ignored his mother's nationality. He resented the English blood in his veins, and atoned for it by increased loyalty to his French origin. This was probably not so much a principle as a fancy. He had a kind of importance also in the parish, and in his own eyes, because he made as much in three months by buying and selling horses as most people did in a year. The respect of Bonaventure for his ability was considerable; and though it had no marked admiration for his character, it appreciated his drolleries, and was attracted by his high spirits. He had always been erratic, so that when he disappeared for days at a time no one thought anything of it, and when he came home to the Manor at unearthly hours it created no peculiar notice.
He had chosen very good men for his recruits; for, though they talked much among themselves, they drew a cordon of silence round their little society of revolution. They vanished in the night, and Nic with them; but he returned the next afternoon when the fire of excitement was at its height. As he rode through the streets, people stopped him and poured out questions; but he only shrugged his shoulders, and gave no information, and neither denied nor affirmed anything.
Acting under orders, he had marched his company to make conjunction with other companies at a point in the mountains twenty miles away, but had himself returned to get the five thousand dollars gathered by Papineau's agent. Now that the Rebellion was known, Nicolas intended to try and win his father and his father's money and horses over to the cause.
Because Ferrol was an Englishman he made no confidant of him, and because he was a dying man he saw in him no menace to the cause. Besides, was not Ferrol practically dependent upon their hospitality? If he had guessed that his friend knew accurately of his movements since the night he had seen Vanne Castine hand him his commission from Papineau, he would have felt less secure: for, after all, love--or prejudice--of country is a principle in the minds of most men deeper than any other. When all other morals go, this latent tendency to stand by the blood of his clan is the last moral in man that bears the test without treason. If he had known that Ferrol had written to the Commandant at Quebec, telling him of the imminence of the Rebellion, and the secret recruiting and drilling going on in the parishes, his popular comrade might have paid a high price for his disclosure.
That morning at sunrise, Christine, saying she was going upon a visit to the next parish, started away upon her mission to the English province. Ferrol had urged her to let him go, but she had refused. He had not yet fully recovered from his adventure with the bear, she said. Then he said they might go together; but she insisted that she must make the way clear, and have everything ready. They might go and find the minister away, and then--voila, what a chance for cancan! So she went alone.
From his window he watched her depart; and as she drove away in the fresh morning he fell to thinking what it might seem like if he had to look forward to ten, twenty, or forty years with just such a woman as his wife. Now she was at her best (he did not deceive himself), but in ten years or less the effects of her early life would show in many ways. She had once loved Vanne Castine! and now vanity and cowardice, or unscrupulousness, made her lie about it. He would have her at her best --a young, vigorous radiant nature--for his short life, and then, good- bye, my lover, good-bye! Selfish? Of course. But she would rather-- she had said it--have him for the time he had to live than not at all. Position? What was his position? Cast off by his family, forgotten by his old friends, in debt, penniless--let position be hanged! Self- preservation was the first law. What was the difference between this girl and himself? Morals? She was better than himself, anyhow. She had genuine passions, and her sins would be in behalf of those genuine passions. He had kicked over the moral traces many a time from absolute selfishness. She had clean blood in her veins, she was good-looking, she had a quick wit, she was an excellent horse-woman--what then? If she wasn't so "well bred," that was a matter of training and opportunity which had never quite been hers. What was he himself? A loafer, "a deuced unfortunate loafer," but still a loafer. He had no trade and no profession. Confound it! how much better off, and how much better in reality, were these people who had trades and occupations. In the vigour and lithe activity of that girl's body was the force of generations of honest workers. He argued and thought--as every intelligent man in his position would have done--until he had come into the old life again, and into the presence of the old advantages and temptations!
Christine pulled up for a moment on a little hill, and waved her whip. He shook his handkerchief from the window. That was their prearranged signal. He shook it until she had driven away beyond the hill and was lost to sight, and still stood there at the window looking out.
Presently Madame Lavilette appeared in the garden below, and he was sure, from the way she glanced up at the window, and from her position in the shrubbery, that she had seen the signal. Madame did not look displeased. On the contrary, though an alliance with Christine now seemed unlikely, because of the state of Ferrol's health and his religion and nationality, it pleased her to think that it might have been.
When she had passed into the house, Ferrol sat down on the broad window- sill, and looked out the way Christine had gone. He was thinking of the humiliation of his position, and how it would be more humiliating when he married Christine, should the Lavilettes turn against them--which was quite possible. And from outside: the whole parish--a few excepted-- sympathised with the Rebellion, and once the current of hatred of the English set in, he would be swept down by it. There were only three English people in the place. Then, if it became known that he had given information to the authorities, his life would be less uncertain than it was just now. Yet, confound the dirty lot of little rebels, it served them right! He couldn't sit by and see a revolt against British rule without raising a hand. Warn Nic? To what good? The result would be just the same. But if harm came to this intended brother-in-law-well, why borrow trouble? He was not the Lord in Heaven, that he could have everything as he wanted it! It was a toss-up, and he would see the sport out. "Have to cough your way through, my boy!" he said, as he swayed back and forth, the hard cough hacking in his throat.
As he had said yesterday, there was only one thing to do: he must have that five thousand dollars which was to be handed over by the old seigneur. This time he did not attempt to find excuses; he called the thing by its proper name.
"Well, it's stealing, or it's highway robbery, no matter how one looks at it," he said to himself. "I wonder what's the matter with me. I must have got started wrong somehow. Money to spend, playing at soldiering, made to believe I'd have a pot of money and an estate, and then told one fine day that a son and heir, with health in form and feature, was come, and Esau must go. No profession, except soldiering, debt staring me in the face, and a nasty mess of it all round. I wonder why it is that I didn't pull myself together, be honest to a hair, and fight my way through? I suppose I hadn't it in me. I wasn't the right metal at the start. There's always been a black sheep in our family, a gentleman or a lady, born without morals, and I happen to be the gentleman this generation. I always knew what was right, and liked it, and I always did what was wrong, and liked it--nearly always. But I suppose I was fated. I was bound to get into a hole, and I'm in it now, with one lung, and a wife in prospect to support. I suppose if I were to write down all the decent things I've thought in my life, and put them beside the indecent things I've done, nobody would believe the same man was responsible for them. I'm one of the men who ought to be put above temptation; be well bridled, well fed, and the mere cost of comfortable living provided, and then I'd do big things. But that isn't the way of the world; and so I feel that a morning like this, and the love of a girl like that" (he nodded towards the horizon into which Christine had gone) "ought to make a man sing a Te Deum. And yet this evening, or to-morrow evening, or the next, I'll steal five thousand dollars, if it can be done, and risk my neck in doing it--to say nothing of family honour, and what not."
He got up from the window, went to his trunk, opened it, and, taking out a pistol, examined it carefully, cocking and uncorking it, and after loading it, and again trying the trigger, put it back again. There came a tap at the door, and to his call a servant entered with a glass of milk and whiskey, with which he always began the day.
The taste of the liquid brought back the afternoon of the day before, and he suddenly stopped drinking, threw back his head, and laughed softly.
"By Jingo, but that liqueur was stunning--and so was-Sophie . . . Sophie! That sounds compromisingly familiar this morning, and very improper also! But Sophie is a very nice person, and I ought to be well ashamed of myself. I needed the bit and curb both yesterday. It'll never do at all. If I'm going to marry Christine, we must have no family complications. 'Must have'!" he exclaimed. "But what if Sophie already?--good Lord!"
It was a strange sport altogether, in which some people were bound to get a bad fall, himself probably among the rest. He intended to rob the brother, he had set the government going against the brother's revolutionary cause, he was going to marry one sister, and the other --the less thought and said about that matter the better.
The afternoon brought Nic, who seemed perplexed and excited, but was most friendly. It seemed to Ferrol as if Nic wished to disclose something; but he gave him no opportunity. What he knew he knew, and he could make use of; but he wanted no further confidences. Ever since the night of the fight with the bear there had been nothing said on matters concerning the Rebellion. If Nicolas disclosed any secret now, it must surely be about the money, and that must not be if he could prevent it. But he watched his friend, nevertheless.
Night came, and Christine did not return; eight o'clock, nine o'clock. Lavilette and his wife were a little anxious; but Ferrol and Nicolas made excuses for her, and, in the wild talk and gossip about the Rebellion, attention was easily shifted from her. Besides, Christine was well used to taking care of herself.
Lavilette flatly refused to give Nic a penny for "the cause," and stormed at his connection with it; but at last became pacified, and agreed it was best that Madame Lavilette should know nothing about Nic's complicity just yet. At half past nine o'clock Nic left the house and took the road towards the Seigneury.