The Pomp of the Lavilettes by Gilbert Parker
That night, while gaiety and feasting went on at the Lavilettes', there was another sort of feasting under way at the house of Shangois, the notary.
On one side of a tiny fire in the chimney, over which hung a little black kettle, sat Shangois and Vanne Castine. Castine was blowing clouds of smoke from his pipe, and Shangois was pouring some tea leaves into a little tin pot, humming to himself snatches of an old song as he did so:
"What shall we do when the King comes home? What shall we do when he rides along With his slaves of Greece and his serfs of Rome? What shall we sing for a song-- When the King comes home? "What shall we do when the King comes home? What shall we do when he speaks so fair? Shall we give him the house with the silver dome And the maid with the crimson hair When the King comes home?"
A long, heavy sigh filled the room, but it was not the breath of Vanne Castine. The sound came from the corner where the huge brown bear huddled in savage ease. When it stirred, as if in response to Shangois's song, the chains rattled. He was fastened by two chains to a staple driven into the foundation timbers of the house. Castine's bear might easily be allowed too much liberty!
Once he had killed a man in the open street of the City of Quebec, and once also he had nearly killed Castine. They had had a fight and struggle, out of which the man came with a lacerated chest; but since that time he had become the master of the bear. It feared him; yet, as he travelled with it, he scarcely ever took his eyes off it, and he never trusted it. That was why, although Michael was always near him, sleeping or waking, he kept him chained at night.
As Shangois sang, Castine's brow knotted and twitched and his hand clinched on his pipe with a sudden ferocity.
"Name of a black cat, what do you sing that song for, notary?" he broke out peevishly. "Nose of a little god, are you making fun of me?"
Shangois handed him some tea. "There's no one to laugh--why should I make fun of you?" he asked, jeeringly, in English, for his English was almost as good as his French, save in the turn of certain idioms. "Come, my little punchinello, tell me, now, why have you come back?"
Castine laughed bitterly.
"Ha, ha, why do I come back? I'll tell you." He sucked at his pipe. "Bon'venture is a good place to come to-yes. I have been to Quebec, to St. John, to Fort Garry, to Detroit, up in Maine and down to New York. I have ride a horse in a circus, I have drive a horse and sleigh in a shanty, I have play in a brass band, I have drink whiskey every night for a month--enough whiskey. I have drink water every night for a year--it is not enough. I have learn how to speak English; I have lose all my money when I go to play a game of cards. I go back to de circus; de circus smash; I have no pay. I take dat damn bear Michael as my share-- yes. I walk trough de State of New York, all trough de State of Maine to Quebec, all de leetla village, all de big city--yes. I learn dat damn funny song to sing to Michael. Ha, why do I come to Bon'venture? What is there to Bon'venture? Ha! you ask that? I know and you know, M'sieu' Shangois. There is nosing like Bon'venture in all de worl'.
"What is it you would have? Do you want nice warm house in winter, plenty pork, molass', patat, leetla drop whiskey 'hind de door in de morning? Ha! you come to Bon'venture. Where else you fin' it? You want people say: 'How you do, Vanne Castine--how you are? Adieu, Vanne Castine; to see you again ver' happy, Vanne Castine.' Ha, that is what you get in Bon'venture. Who say 'God bless you' in New York! They say 'Damn you!'--yes, I know.
"Where have you a church so warm, so ver' nice, and everybody say him mass and God-have-mercy? Where you fin' it like that leetla place on de hill in Bon'venture? Yes. There is anoser place in Bon'venture, ver' nice place--yes, ha! On de side of de hill. You have small-pox, scarlet fev', difthere; you get smash your head, you get break your leg, you fall down, you go to die. Ha, who is there in all de worl' like M'sieu' Vallier, the Cure? Who will say to you like him: 'Vanne Castine, you have break all de commandments: you have swear, you have steal, you have kill, you have drink. Ver' well, now, you will be sorry for dat, and say your prayer. Perhaps, after hunder fifty tousen' years of purgator', you will be forgive and go to Heaven. But first, when you die, we will put you way down in de leetla warm house in de ground, on de side of de hill, in de Parish of Bon'venture, because it is de only place for a gipsy like Vanne Castine.'
"You ask me-ah! I see you look at me, M'sieu' le Notaire, you look at me like a leetla dev'. You t'ink I come for somet'ing else"--his black eyes flashed under his brow, he shook his head, and his hands clinched--"You ask me why I come back? I come back because there is one thing I care for mos' in all de worl'. You t'ink I am happy to go about with a damn brown bear and dance trough de village? Moi?--no, no, no! What a Jack I look when I sing--ah, that fool's song all down de street! I come back for one thing only, M'sieu' Shangois.
"You know that night--ah, four, five years ago? You remember, M'sieu' Shangois? Ah! she was so beautiful, so sweet; her hair it fall down about her face, her eyes all black, her cheeks like the snow, her lips, her lips!--You rememb' her father curse me, tell me to go. Why? Because I have kill a man! Eh bien, what if I kill a man! He would have kill me: I do it to save myself. I say I am not guilty; but her father say I am a sc'undrel, and turn me out de house.
"De girl, Christine, she love me. Yes, she love Vanne Castine. She say to me, 'I will go with you. Go anywhere, and I will go!'
"It is night and it is all dark. I wait at de place, an' she come. We start to walk to Montreal. Ah! dat night, it is like fire in my heart. Well, a great storm come down, and we have to come back. We come to your house here, light a fire, and sit just in de spot where I am, one hour, two hour, three hour. Saprie, how I love her! She is in me like fire, like de wind and de sea. Well, I am happy like no other man. I sit here and look at her, and t'ink of to-morrow-for ever. She look at me; oh, de love of God, she look at me! So I kneel down on de floor here beside her and say, 'Who shall take you from me, Christine, my leetla Christine?'
"She look at me and say: 'Who shall take you from me, my big Vanne?'
"All at once the door open, and--"
"And a little black notary take her from you," said Shangois, dryly, and with a touch of malice also. "You, yes, you lawyer dev', you take her from me! You say to her it is wicked. You tell her how her father will weep and her mother's heart will break. You tell her how she will be ashame', and a curse will fall on her. Then she begin to cry, for she is afraid. Ah, where is de wrong? I love her; I would go to marry her--but no, what is that to you! She turn on me and say, 'I will go back to my father.' And she go back. After that I try to see her; but she will not see me. Then I go away, and I am gone five years; yes."
Shangois came over, and with his thin beautiful hand (for despite the ill-kept finger nails, it was the one fine feature of his body-long, shapely, artistic) tapped Castine's knee.
"I did right to save Christine. She hates you now. If she had gone with you that night, do you suppose she would have been happy as your wife? No, she is not for Vanne Castine."
Suddenly Shangois's manner changed; he laid his hand upon the other's shoulder.
"My poor, wicked, good-for-nothing Vanne Castine, Christine Lavilette was not made for you. You are a poor vaurien, always a poor vaurien. I knew your father and your two grandfathers. They were all vauriens; all as handsome as you can think, and all died, not in their beds. Your grandfather killed a man, your father drank and killed a man. Your grandfather drove his wife to her grave, your father broke your mother's heart. Why should you break the heart of any girl in the world? Leave her alone. Is it love to a woman when you break all the commandments, and shame her and bring her down to where you are--a bad vaurien? When a man loves a woman with the true love, he will try to do good for her sake. Go back to that crazy New York--it is the place for you. Ma'm'selle Christine is not for you."
"Who is she for, m'sieu' le dev'?"
"Perhaps for the English Irishman," answered Shangois, in a low suggestive tone, as he dropped a little brandy in his tea with light fingers.
"Ah, sacre! we shall see. There is vaurien in her too," was the half- triumphant reply.
"There is more woman," retorted Shangois; "much more."
"We'll see about that, m'sieu'!" exclaimed Castine, as he turned towards the bear, which was clawing at his chain.
An hour later, a scene quite as important occurred at Lavilette's great farmhouse.