The Pomp of the Lavilettes by Gilbert Parker
On Sunday morning Ferrol lay resting on a sofa in a little room off the saloon. He had suffered somewhat from the bruise on his head, and while the Lavilettes, including Christine, were at mass, he remained behind, alone in the house, save for two servants in the kitchen. From where he lay he could look down into the village. He was thinking of the tangle into which things had got. Feeling was bitter against him, and against the Lavilettes also, now that the patriots were defeated. It had gone about that he had warned the Governor. The habitants, in their blind way, blamed him for the consequences of their own misdoing. They blamed Nicolas Lavilette. They blamed the Lavilettes for their friend ship with Ferrol. They talked and blustered, yet they did not interfere with the two soldiers who kept guard at the home of the Regimental Surgeon. It was expected that the Cure would speak of the Rebellion from the altar this morning. It was also rumoured that he would have something to say about the Lavilettes; and Christine had insisted upon going. He laughed to think of her fury when he suggested that the Cure would probably have something unpleasant to say about himself. She would go and see to that herself, she said. He was amused, and yet he was not in high spirits, for he had coughed a great deal since the incident of the day before, and his strength was much weakened.
Presently he heard a footstep in the room, and turned over so that he might see. It was Sophie Farcinelle.
Before he had time to speak or to sit up, she had dropped a hand on his shoulder. Her face was aflame.
"You have been badly hurt, and I'm very sorry," she said. "Why haven't you been to see me? I looked for you. I looked every day, and you didn't come, and--and I thought you had forgotten. Have you? Have you, Mr. Ferrol?"
He had raised himself on his elbow, and his face was near hers. It was not in him to resist the appealing of a pretty woman, and he had scarcely grasped the fact that he was a married man, his clandestine meetings with his wife having had, to this point, rather an air of adventure and irresponsibility. It is hard to say what he might have done or left undone; but, as Sophie's face was within an inch of his own, the door of the room suddenly opened, and Christine appeared. The indignation that had sent her back from mass to Ferrol was turned into another indignation now.
Sophie, frightened, turned round and met her infuriated look. She did not move, however.
"Leave this room at once. What do you want here?" Christine said, between gasps of anger.
"The room is as much mine as yours," answered Sophie, sullenly.
"The man isn't," retorted Christine, with a vicious snap of her teeth.
"Come, come," said Ferrol, in a soothing tone, rising from the sofa and advancing.
"What's he to you?" said Sophie, scornfully.
"My husband: that's all!" answered Christine. "And now, if you please, will you go to yours? You'll find him at mass. He'll have plenty of praying to do if he prays for you both--voila!"
"Your husband!" said Sophie, in a husky voice, dumfounded and miserable. "Is that so?" she added to Ferrol. "Is she-your wife?"
"That's the case," he answered, "and, of course," he added in a mollifying tone, "being my sister as well as Christine's, there's no reason why you shouldn't be alone with me in the room a few moments. Is there now?" he added to Christine.
The acting was clever enough, but not quite convincing, and Christine was too excited to respond to his blarney.
"He can't be your real husband," said Sophie, hardly above a whisper. "The Cure didn't marry you, did he?" She looked at Ferrol doubtfully.
"Well, no," he said; "we were married over in Upper Canada."
"By a Protestant?" asked Sophie.
Christine interrrupted. "What's that to you? I hope I'll never see your face again while I live. I want to be alone with my husband, and your husband wants to be alone with his wife: won't you oblige us and him-- Hein?"
Sophie gave Ferrol a look which haunted him while he lived. One idle afternoon he had sowed the seeds of a little storm in the heart of a woman, and a whirlwind was driving through her life to parch and make desolate the green fields of her youth and womanhood. He had loitered and dallied without motive; but the idle and unmeaning sinner is the most dangerous to others and to himself, and he realised it at that moment, so far as it was in him to realise anything of the kind.
Sophie's figure as it left the room had that drooping, beaten look which only comes to the stricken and the incurably humiliated.
"What have you said to her?" asked Christine of Ferrol, "what have you done to her?"
"I didn't do a thing, upon my soul. I didn't say a thing. She'd only just come in."
"What did she say to you?"
"As near as I can remember, she said: 'You have been hurt, and I'm very sorry. Why haven't you been to see me? I looked for you; but you didn't come, and I thought you had forgotten me.'"
"What did she mean by that? How dared she!"
"See here, Christine," he said, laying his hand on her quivering shoulder, "I didn't say much to her. I was over there one afternoon, the afternoon I asked you to marry me. I drank a lot of liqueur; she looked very pretty, and before she had a chance to say yes or no about it I kissed her. Now that's a fact. I've never spent five minutes with her alone since; I haven't even seen her since, until this morning. Now that's the honest truth. I know it was scampish; but I never pretended to be good. It is nothing for you to make a fuss about, because, whatever I am--and it isn't much one way or another--I am all yours, straight as a die, Christine. I suppose, if we lived together fifty years, I'd probably kiss fifty women--once a year isn't a high average; but those kisses wouldn't mean anything; and you, you, my girl"--he bent his head down to her "why, you mean everything to me, and I wouldn't give one kiss of yours for a hundred thousand of any other woman's in the world! What you've done for me, and what you'd do for me--"
There was a strange pathos in his voice, an uncommon thing, because his usual eloquence was, as a rule, more pleasing than touching. A quick change of feeling passed over her, and her eyes filled with tears. He ran his arm round her shoulder.
"Ah, come, come!" he said, with a touch of insinuating brogue, and kissed her. "Come, it's all right. I didn't mean anything, and she didn't mean anything; and let's start fresh again."
She looked up at him with quick intelligence. "That's just what we'll have to do," she said. "The Cure this morning at mass scolded the people about the Rebellion, and said that Nic and you had brought all this trouble upon Bonaventure; and everybody looked at our pew and snickered. Oh, how I hate them all! Then I jumped up--"
"Well?" asked Ferrol, "and what then?"
"I told them that my brother wasn't a coward, and that you were my husband."
"And then--then what happened?"
"Oh, then there was a great fuss in the church, and the Cure said ugly things, and I left and came home quick. And now--"
"Well, and now?" Ferrol interrupted.
"Well, now we'll have to do something."
"You mean, to go away?" he asked, with a little shrug of his shoulder. She nodded her head.
He was depressed: he had had a hemorrhage that morning, and the road seemed to close in on him on all sides.
"How are we to live?" he asked, with a pitiful sort of smile.
She looked up at him steadily for a moment, without speaking. He did not understand the look in her eyes, until she said:
"You have that five thousand dollars!"
He drew back a step from her, and met her unwavering look a little fearfully. She knew that--she--! "When did you find it out?" he asked.
"The morning we were married," she replied.
"And you--you, Christine, you married me, a thief!" She nodded again.
"What difference could it make?" she asked. "I wouldn't have been happy if I hadn't married you. And I loved you!"
"Look here, Christine," he said, "that five thousand dollars is not for you or for me. You will be safe enough if anything should happen to me; your people would look after you, and you have some money in your own right. But I've a sister, and she's lame. She never had to do a stroke of work in her life, and she can't do it now. I have shared with her anything I have had since times went wrong with us and our family. I needed money badly enough, but I didn't care very much whether I got it for myself or not--only for her. I wanted that five thousand dollars for her, and to her it shall go; not one penny to you, or to me, or to any other human being. The Rebellion is over: that money wouldn't have altered things one way or another. It's mine, and if anything happens to me--"
He suddenly stooped down and caught her hands, looking her in the eyes steadily.
"Christine," he said, "I want you never to ask me to spend a penny of that money; and I want you to promise me, by the name of the Virgin Mary, that you'll see my sister gets it, and that you'll never let her or any one else know where it came from. Come, Christine, will you do it for me? I know it's very little indeed I give you, and you're giving me everything; but some people are born to be debtors in this world, and some to be creditors, and some give all and get little, because--"
She interrupted him.
"Because they love as I love you," she said, throwing her arms round his neck. "Show me where the money is, and I'll do all you say, if--"
"Yes, if anything happens to me," he said, and dropped his hand caressingly upon her head. He loved her in that moment.
She raised her eyes to his. He stooped and kissed her. She was still in his arms as the door opened and Monsieur and Madame Lavilette entered, pale and angry.