The Lane that had No Turning/Parpon the Dwarf
PARPON THE DWARF
PARPON perched in a room at the top of the mill. He could see every house in the village, and he knew people a long distance off. He was a droll dwarf, and, in his way, had good times in the world. He turned the misery of the world into a game, and grinned at it from his high little eyrie with the dormer window. He had lived with Farette the miller for some years, serving him with a kind of humble insolence.
It was not a joyful day for Farette when he married Julie. She led him a pretty travel. He had started as her master; he ended by being her slave and victim. She was a wilful wife. She had made the Seigneur de la Rivière, of the House with the Tall Porch, to quarrel with his son Armand, so that Armand disappeared from Pontiac for years.
When that happened she had already stopped confessing to the good Curé; so it may be guessed there were things she did not care to tell, and for which she had no repentance. But Parpon knew, and Medallion the auctioneer guessed; and the Little Chemist’s wife hoped that it was not so. When Julie looked at Parpon, as he perched on a chest of drawers, with his head cocked and his eyes blinking, she knew that he read the truth. But she did not know all that was in his head; so she said sharp things to him, as she did to everybody, for she had a very poor opinion of the world, and thought all as flippant as herself. She took nothing seriously; she was too vain. Except that she was sorry Armand was gone, she rather plumed herself on having separated the Seigneur and his son—it was something to have been the pivot in a tragedy. There came others to the village, as, for instance, a series of clerks to the Avocat; but she would not decline from Armand upon them. She merely made them miserable.
But she did not grow prettier as time went on. Even Annette, the sad wife of the drunken Bénoit, kept her fine looks; but then, Annette’s life was a thing for a book, and she had a beautiful child. You cannot keep this from the face of a woman. Nor can you keep the other: when the heart rusts the rust shows.
After a good many years, Armand de la Rivière came back in time to see his father die. Then Julie picked out her smartest ribbons, capered at the mirror, and dusted her face with oatmeal, because she thought that he would ask her to meet him at the Bois Noir, as he had done long ago. The days passed, and he did not come. When she saw Armand at the funeral—a tall man with a dark beard and a grave face, not like the Armand she had known, he seemed a great distance from her, though she could almost have touched him once as he turned from the grave. She would have liked to throw herself into his arms, and cry before them all: "Mon Armand!" and go away with him to the House with the Tall Porch. She did not care about Farette, the mumbling old man who hungered for money, having ceased to hunger for anything else—even for Julie, who laughed and shut her door in his face, and cowed him.
After the funeral Julie had a strange feeling. She had not much brains, but she had some shrewdness, and she felt her romance askew. She stood before the mirror, rubbing her face with oatmeal and frowning hard. Presently a voice behind her said: "Madame Julie, shall I bring another bag of meal?"
She turned quickly, and saw Parpon on a table in the corner, his legs drawn up to his chin, his black eyes twinkling.
"Idiot!" she cried, and threw the meal at him. He had a very long, quick arm. He caught the basin as it came, but the meal covered him. He blew it from his beard, laughing softly, and twirled the basin on a finger-point.
"Like that, there will need two bags!" he said.
"Imbecile!" she cried, standing angry in the centre of the room.
"Ho, ho! what a big word! See what it is to have the tongue of fashion!"
She looked helplessly round the room.
"I will kill you!"
"Let us die together," answered Parpon; "we are both sad."
She snatched the poker from the fire, and ran at him. He caught her wrists with his great hands, big enough for tall Medallion, and held her.
"I said ‘together,’" he chuckled; "not one before the other. We might jump into the flume at the mill, or go over the dam at the Bois Noir; or, there is Farette’s musket which he is cleaning—gracious, but it will kick when it fires, it is so old!"
She sank to the floor. "Why does he clean the musket?" she asked; fear, and something wicked too, in her eye. Her fingers ran forgetfully through the hair on her forehead, pushing it back, and the marks of small-pox showed. The contrast with her smooth cheeks gave her a weird look. Parpon got quickly on the table again and sat like a Turk, with a furtive eye on her.
"Who can tell!" he said at last. "That musket has not been fired for years. It would not kill a bird; the shot would scatter: but it might kill a man—a man is bigger."
"Kill a man!" She showed her white teeth with a savage little smile.
"Of course it is all guess. I asked Farette what he would shoot, and he said, ‘Nothing good to eat.’ I said I would eat what he killed. Then he got pretty mad, and said I couldn’t eat my own head. Holy! that was funny for Farette. Then I told him there was no good going to the Bois Noir, for there would be nothing to shoot. Well, did I speak true, Madame Julie?"
She was conscious of something new in Parpon. She could not define it. Presently she got to her feet and said: "I don’t believe you—you’re a monkey."
"A monkey can climb a tree quick; a man has to take the shot as it comes." He stretched up his powerful arms, with a swift motion as of climbing, laughed, and added: "Madame Julie, Farette has poor eyes; he could not see a hole in a ladder. But he has a kink in his head about the Bois Noir. People have talked——"
"Pshaw!" Julie said, crumpling her apron and throwing it out; "he is a child and a coward. He should not play with a gun; it might go off and hit him."
Parpon hopped down and trotted to the door. Then he turned and said, with a sly gurgle: "Farette keeps at that gun. What is the good! There will be nobody at the Bois Noir any more. I will go and tell him."
She rushed at him with fury, but seeing Annette Bénoit in the road, she stood still and beat her foot angrily on the doorstep. She was ripe for a quarrel, and she would say something hateful to Annette; for she never forgot that Farette had asked Annette to be his wife before herself was considered. She smoothed out her wrinkled apron and waited.
"Good day, Annette," she said loftily.
"Good day, Julie," was the quiet reply.
"Will you come in?"
"I am going to the mill for flax-seed. Bénoit has rheumatism."
"Poor Bénoit!" said Julie, with a meaning toss of her head.
"Poor Bénoit," responded Annette gently. Her voice was always sweet. One would never have known that Bénoit was a drunken idler.
"Come in. I will give you the meal from my own. Then it will cost you nothing," said Julie, with an air.
"Thank you, Julie, but I would rather pay."
"I do not sell my meal," answered Julie. "What’s a few pounds of meal to the wife of Farette? I will get it for you. Come in, Annette."
She turned towards the door, then stopped all at once. There was the oatmeal which she had thrown at Parpon, the basin, and the poker. She wished she had not asked Annette in. But in some things she had a quick wit, and she hurried to say: "It was that yellow cat of Parpon’s. It spilt the meal, and I went at it with the poker."
Perhaps Annette believed her. She did not think about it one way or the other; her mind was with the sick Bénoit. She nodded and said nothing, hoping that the flax-seed would be got at once. But when she saw that Julie expected an answer, she said: "Cecilia, my little girl, has a black cat—so handsome. It came from the house of the poor Seigneur de la Rivière a year ago. We took it back, but it would not stay."
Annette spoke simply and frankly, but her words cut like a knife.
Julie responded, with a click of malice: "Look out that the black cat doesn’t kill the dear Cecilia."
Annette started, but she did not believe that cats sucked the life from children’s lungs, and she replied calmly: "I am not afraid; the good God keeps my child." She then got up and came to Julie, and said: "It is a pity, Julie, that you have not a child. A child makes all right."
Julie was wild to say a fierce thing, for it seemed that Annette was setting off Bénoit against Farette; but the next moment she grew hot, her eyes smarted, and there was a hint of trouble at her throat. She had lived very fast in the last few hours, and it was telling on her. She could not rule herself—she could not play a part so well as she wished. She had not before felt the thing that gave a new pulse to her body and a joyful pain at her breasts. Her eyes got thickly blurred so that she could not see Annette, and, without a word, she hurried to get the meal. She was silent when she came back. She put the meal into Annette’s hands. She felt that she would like to talk of Armand. She knew now there was no evil thought in Annette. She did not like her more for that, but she felt she must talk, and Annette was safe. So she took her arm. "Sit down, Annette," she said. "You come so seldom."
"But there is Benoit, and the child——"
"The child has the black cat from the House!" There was again a sly ring to Julie’s voice, and she almost pressed Annette into a chair.
"Well, it must only be a minute."
"Were you at the funeral to-day?" Julie began.
"No; I was nursing Bénoit. But the poor Seigneur! They say he died without confession. No one was there except M’sieu’ Medallion, the Little Chemist, Old Sylvie, and M’sieu’ Armand. But, of course, you have heard everything."
"Is that all you know?" queried Julie.
"Not much more. I go out little, and no one comes to me except the Little Chemist’s wife—she is a good woman."
"What did she say?"
"Only something of the night the Seigneur died. He was sitting in his chair, not afraid, but very sad, we can guess. By-and-by he raised his head quickly. ‘I hear a voice in the Tall Porch,’ he said. They thought he was dreaming. But he said other things, and cried again that he heard his son’s voice in the Porch. They went and found M’sieu’ Armand. Then a great supper was got ready, and he sat very grand at the head of the table, but died quickly, when making a grand speech. It was strange he was so happy, for he did not confess-he hadn’t absolution!"
This was more than Julie had heard. She showed excitement.
"The Seigneur and M’sieu’ Armand were good friends when he died?" she asked.
All at once Annette remembered the old talk about Armand and Julie. She was confused. She wished she could get up and run away; but haste would look strange.
"You were at the funeral?" she added, after a minute.
"Everybody was there."
"I suppose M’sieu’ Armand looks very fine and strange after his long travel," said Annette shyly, rising to go.
"He was always the grandest gentleman in the province," answered Julie, in her old vain manner. "You should have seen the women look at him to-day! But they are nothing to him—he is not easy to please."
"Good day," said Annette, shocked and sad, moving from the door. Suddenly she turned, and laid a hand on Julie’s arm. "Come and see my sweet Cecilia," she said. "She is gay; she will amuse you."
She was thinking again what a pity it was that Julie had no child.
"To see Cecilia and the black cat? Very well—some day."
You could not have told what she meant. But, as Annette turned away again, she glanced at the mill; and there, high up in the dormer window, sat Parpon, his yellow cat on his shoulder, grinning down at her.
She wheeled and went into the house.
Parpon sat in the dormer window for a long time, the cat purring against his head, and not seeming the least afraid of falling, though its master was well out on the window-ledge. He kept mumbling to himself:
"Ho! ho! Farette is below there with the gun, rubbing and rubbing at the rust! Holy mother, how it will kick! But he will only meddle. If she set her eye at him and come up bold and said: ‘Farette, go and have your whiskey-wine, and then to bed,’ he would sneak away. But he has heard something. Some fool, perhaps that Bénoit—no, he is sick—perhaps the herb-woman has been talking, and he thinks he will make a fuss. But it will be nothing. And M’sieu’ Armand, will he look at her?" He chuckled at the cat, which set its head back and hissed in reply. Then he sang something to himself.
Parpon was a poor little dwarf with a big head, but he had one thing which made up for all, though no one knew it—or, at least, he thought so. The Curé himself did not know. He had a beautiful voice. Even in speaking it was pleasant to hear, though he roughened it in a way. It pleased him that he had something of which the finest man or woman would be glad. He had said to himself many times that even Armand de la Rivière would envy him.
Sometimes Parpon went off away into the Bois Noir, and, perched there in a tree, sang away—a man, shaped something like an animal, with a voice like a muffled silver bell.
Some of his songs he had made himself: wild things, broken thoughts, not altogether human; the language of a world between man and the spirits. But it was all pleasant to hear, even when, at times, there ran a weird, dark thread through the woof. No one in the valley had ever heard the thing he sang softly as he sat looking down at Julie:
"The little white smoke blows there, blows here,
The little blue wolf comes down—
And the hill-dwarf laughs in the young wife’s ear,
When the devil comes back to town—
It was crooned quietly, but it was distinct and melodious, and the cat purred an accompaniment, its head thrust into his thick black hair. From where Parpon sat he could see the House with the Tall Porch, and, as he sang, his eyes ran from the miller’s doorway to it.
Off in the grounds of the dead Seigneur’s manor he could see a man push the pebbles with his foot, or twist the branch of a shrub thoughtfully as he walked. At last another man entered the garden. The two greeted warmly, and passed up and down together.
"My good friend," said the Curé, "it is too late to mourn for those lost years. Nothing can give them back. As Parpon the dwarf said—you remember him, a wise little man, that Parpon—as he said one day, ‘For everything you lose you get something, if only how to laugh at yourself.’"
Armand nodded thoughtfully and answered: "You are right—you and Parpon. But I cannot forgive myself; he was so fine a man: tall, with a grand look, and a tongue like a book. Yes, yes, I can laugh at myself—for a fool."
He thrust his hands into his pockets, and tapped the ground nervously with his foot, shrugging his shoulders a little. The priest took off his hat and made the sacred gesture, his lips moving. Armand caught off his hat also, and said: "You pray—for him?"
"For the peace of a good man’s soul."
"He did not confess; he had no rites of the Church; he had refused you many years."
"My son, he had a confessor."
Armand raised his eyebrows. "They told me of no one."
"It was the Angel of Patience."
They walked on again for a time without a word. At last the Curé said: "You will remain here?"
"I cannot tell. This ‘here’ is a small world, and the little life may fret me. Nor do I know what I have of this,"—he waved his hands towards the house,—"or of my father’s property. I may need to be a wanderer again."
"God forbid! Have you not seen the will?"
"I have got no farther than his grave," was the sombre reply.
The priest sighed. They paced the walk again in silence. At last the Curé said: "You will make the place cheerful, as it once was."
"You are persistent," replied the young man, smiling. "Whoever lives here should make it less gloomy."
"We shall soon know who is to live here. See, there is Monsieur Garon, and Monsieur Medallion also."
"The Avocat to tell secrets, the auctioneer to sell them—eh?" Armand went forward to the gate. Like most people, he found Medallion interesting, and the Avocat and he were old friends.
"You did not send for me, monsieur," said the Avocat timidly, "but I thought it well to come, that you might know how things are; and Monsieur Medallion came because he is a witness to the will, and, in a case"—here the little man coughed nervously—"joint executor with monsieur le Curé."
They entered the house. In a business-like way Armand motioned them to chairs, opened the curtains, and rang the bell. The old housekeeper appeared, a sorrowful joy in her face, and Armand said: "Give us a bottle of the white-top, Sylvie, if there is any left."
"There is plenty, monsieur," she said; "none has been drunk these twelve years."
The Avocat coughed, and said hesitatingly to Armand: "I asked Parpon the dwarf to come, monsieur. There is a reason."
Armand raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Very good," he said. "When will he be here?"
"He is waiting at the Louis Quinze hotel."
"I will send for him," said Armand, and gave the message to Sylvie, who was entering the room.
After they had drunk the wine placed before them, there was silence for a moment, for all were wondering why Parpon should be remembered in the Seigneur’s Will.
"Well," said Medallion at last, "a strange little dog is Parpon. I could surprise you about him—and there isn’t any reason why I should keep the thing to myself. One day I was up among the rocks, looking for a strayed horse. I got tired, and lay down in the shade of the Rock of Red Pigeons—you know it. I fell asleep. Something waked me. I got up and heard the finest singing you can guess: not like any I ever heard; a wild, beautiful, shivery sort of thing. I listened for a long time. At last it stopped. Then something slid down the rock. I peeped out, and saw Parpon toddling away."
The Curé stared incredulously, the Avocat took off his glasses and tapped his lips musingly, Armand whistled softly.
"So," said Armand at last, "we have the jewel in the toad’s head. The clever imp hid it all these years—even from you, monsieur le Curé."
"Even from me," said the Curé, smiling. Then, gravely: "It is strange, the angel in the stunted body."
"Are you sure it’s an angel?" said Armand.
"Whoever knew Parpon do any harm?" queried the Curé.
"He has always been kind to the poor," put in the Avocat.
"With the miller’s flour," laughed Medallion: "a pardonable sin." He sent a quizzical look at the Curé.
"Do you remember the words of Parpon’s song?" asked Armand.
"Only a few lines; and those not easy to understand, unless one had an inkling."
"Had you the inkling?"
"Perhaps, monsieur," replied Medallion seriously.
They eyed each other.
"We will have Parpon in after the will is read," said Armand suddenly, looking at the Avocat. The Avocat drew the deed from his pocket. He looked up hesitatingly, and then said to Armand: "You insist on it being read now?"
Armand nodded coolly, after a quick glance at Medallion. Then the Avocat began, and read to that point where the Seigneur bequeathed all his property to his son, should he return—on a condition. When the Avocat came to the condition Armand stopped him.
"I do not know in the least what it may be," he said, "but there is only one by which I could feel bound. I will tell you. My father and I quarrelled"—here he paused for a moment, clinching his hands before him on the table—"about a woman; and years of misery came. I was to blame in not obeying him. I ought not to have given any cause for gossip. Whatever the condition as to that matter may be, I will fulfil it. My father is more to me than any woman in the world; his love of me was greater than that of any woman. I know the world—and women."
There was a silence. He waved his hand to the Avocat to go on, and as he did so the Curé caught his arm with a quick, affectionate gesture. Then Monsieur Garon read the conditions: "That Farette the miller should have a deed of the land on which his mill was built, with the dam of the mill—provided that Armand should never so much as by a word again address Julie, the miller’s wife. If he agreed to the condition, with solemn oath before the Curé, his blessing would rest upon his dear son, whom he still hoped to see before he died."
When the reading ceased there was silence for a moment, then Armand stood up, and took the will from the Avocat; but instantly, without looking at it, handed it back. "The reading is not finished," he said. "And if I do not accept the condition, what then?"
Again Monsieur Garon read, his voice trembling a little. The words of the will ran: "But if this condition be not satisfied, I bequeath to my son Armand the house known as the House with the Tall Porch, and the land, according to the deed thereof; and the residue of my property—with the exception of two thousand dollars, which I leave to the Curé of the parish, the good Monsieur Fabre—I bequeath to Parpon the dwarf."
Then followed a clause providing that, in any case, Parpon should have in fee simple the land known as the Bois Noir, and the hut thereon.
Armand sprang to his feet in surprise, blurting out something, then sat down, quietly took the will, and read it through carefully. When he had finished he looked inquiringly, first at Monsieur Garon, then at the Curé.
"Why Parpon?" he said searchingly.
The Curé, amazed, spread out his hands in a helpless way. At that moment Sylvie announced Parpon. Armand asked that he should be sent in. "We’ll talk of the will afterwards," he added.
Parpon trotted in, the door closed, and he stood blinking at them. Armand put a stool on the table. "Sit here, Parpon," he said. Medallion caught the dwarf under the arms and lifted him on the table.
Parpon looked at Armand furtively. "The wild hawk comes back to its nest," he said. "Well, well, what is it you want with the poor Parpon?"
He sat down and dropped his chin in his hands, looking round keenly. Armand nodded to Medallion, and Medallion to the priest, but the priest nodded back again. Then Medallion said: "You and I know the Rock of Red Pigeons, Parpon. It is a good place to perch. One’s voice is all to one’s self there, as you know. Well, sing us the song of the little brown diver."
Parpon’s hands twitched in his beard. He looked fixedly at Medallion. Presently he turned towards the Curé, and shrank so that he looked smaller still.
"It’s all right, little son," said the Curé kindly.
Turning sharply on Medallion, Parpon said: "When was it you heard?"
Medallion told him. He nodded, then sat very still. They said nothing, but watched him. They saw his eyes grow distant and absorbed, and his face took on a shining look, so that its ugliness was almost beautiful. All at once he slid from the stool and crouched on his knees. Then he sent out a low long note, like the toll of the bell-bird. From that time no one stirred as he sang, but sat and watched him. They did not even hear Sylvie steal in gently and stand in the curtains at the door.
The song was weird, with a strange thrilling charm; it had the slow dignity of a chant, the roll of an epic, the delight of wild beauty. It told of the little good Folk of the Scarlet Hills, in vague allusive phrases: their noiseless wanderings; their sojourning with the eagle, the wolf, and the deer; their triumph over the winds, the whirlpools, and the spirits of evil fame. It filled the room with the cry of the west wind; it called out of the frozen seas ghosts of forgotten worlds; it coaxed the soft breezes out of the South; it made them all to be at the whistle of the Scarlet Hunter who ruled the North.
Then, passing through veil after veil of mystery, it told of a grand Seigneur whose boat was overturned in a whirlpool, and was saved by a little brown diver. And the end of it all, and the heart of it all, was in the last few lines, clear of allegory:
"And the wheel goes round in the village mill,
And the little brown diver he tells the grain …
And the grand Seigneur he has gone to meet
The little good Folk of the Scarlet Hills!"
At first, all were so impressed by the strange power of Parpon’s voice, that they were hardly conscious of the story he was telling. But when he sang of the Seigneur they began to read his parable. Their hearts throbbed painfully.
As the last notes died away Armand got up, and standing by the table, said: "Parpon, you saved my father’s life once?"
Parpon did not answer.
"Will you not tell him, my son?" said the Curé, rising. Still Parpon was silent.
"The son of your grand Seigneur asks you a question, Parpon," said Medallion soothingly.
"Oh, my grand Seigneur!" said Parpon, throwing up his hands. "Once he said to me, ‘Come, my brown diver, and live with me.’ But I said, ‘No, I am not fit. I will never go to you at the House with the Tall Porch.’ And I made him promise that he would never tell of it. And so I have lived sometimes with old Farette." Then he laughed strangely again, and sent a furtive look at Armand.
"Parpon," said Armand gently, "our grand Seigneur has left you the Bois Noir for your own. So the hills and the Rock of Red Pigeons are for you—and the little good people, if you like."
Parpon, with fiery eyes, gathered himself up with a quick movement, then broke out: "Oh, my grand Seigneur—my grand Seigneur!" and fell forward, his head in his arms, laughing and sobbing together.
Armand touched his shoulder. "Parpon!" But Parpon shrank away.
Armand turned to the rest. "I do not understand it, gentlemen. Parpon does not like the young Seigneur as he liked the old."
Medallion, sitting in the shadow, smiled. He understood. Armand continued: "As for this testament, gentlemen, I will fulfil its conditions; though I swear, were I otherwise minded regarding the woman"—here Parpon raised his head swiftly—"I would not hang my hat for an hour in the Tall Porch."
They rose and shook hands, then the wine was poured out, and they drank it off in silence. Parpon, however, sat with his head in his hands.
"Come, little comrade, drink," said Medallion, offering him a glass.
Parpon made no reply, but caught up the will, kissed it, put it into Armand’s hand, and then, jumping down from the table, ran to the door and disappeared through it.
The next afternoon the Avocat visited old Farette. Farette was polishing a gun, mumbling the while. Sitting on some bags of meal was Parpon, with a fierce twinkle in his eye. Monsieur Garon told Farette briefly what the Seigneur had left him. With a quick, greedy chuckle Farette threw the gun away.
"Man alive!" said he; "tell me all about it. Ah, the good news!"
"There is nothing to tell: he left it; that is all."
"Oh, the good Seigneur," cried Farette, "the grand Seigneur!"
Some one laughed scornfully in the doorway. It was Julie.
"Look there," she cried; "he gets the land, and throws away the gun! Brag and coward, miller! It is for me to say ‘the grand Seigneur!’"
She tossed her head: she thought the old Seigneur had relented towards her. She turned away to the house with a flaunting air, and got her hat. At first she thought she would go to the House with the Tall Porch, but she changed her mind, and went to the Bois Noir instead. Parpon followed her a distance off. Behind, in the mill, Farette was chuckling and rubbing his hands.
Meanwhile, Armand was making his way towards the Bois Noir. All at once, in the shade of a great pine, he stopped. He looked about him astonished.
"This is the old place. What a fool I was, then!" he said.
At that moment Julie came quickly, and lifted her hands towards him. "Armand—beloved Armand!" she said.
Armand looked at her sternly, from her feet to her pitted forehead, then wheeled, and left her without a word.
She sank in a heap on the ground. There was a sudden burst of tears, and then she clinched her hands with fury.
Some one laughed in the trees above her—a shrill, wild laugh. She looked up frightened. Parpon presently dropped down beside her.
"It was as I said," whispered the dwarf, and he touched her shoulder. This was the full cup of shame. She was silent.
"There are others," he whispered again. She could not see his strange smile; but she noticed that his voice was not as usual. "Listen," he urged, and he sang softly over her shoulder for quite a minute. She was amazed.
"Sing again," she said.
"I have wanted to sing to you like that for many years," he replied; and he sang a little more. "He cannot sing like that," he wheedled, and he stretched his arm around her shoulder.
She hung her head, then flung it back again as she thought of Armand.
"I hate him!" she cried; "I hate him!"
"You will not throw meal on me any more, or call me idiot?" he pleaded.
"No, Parpon," she said.
He kissed her on the cheek. She did not resent it. But now he drew away, smiled wickedly at her, and said: "See, we are even now, poor Julie!" Then he laughed, holding his little sides with huge hands. "Imbecile!" he added, and, turning, trotted away towards the Rock of Red Pigeons.
She threw herself, face forward, in the dusty needles of the pines.
When she rose from her humiliation, her face was as one who has seen the rags of harlequinade stripped from that mummer Life, leaving only naked being. She had touched the limits of the endurable; her sordid little hopes had split into fragments. But when a human soul faces upon its past, and sees a gargoyle at every milestone where an angel should be, and in one flash of illumination—the touch of genius to the smallest mind—understands the pitiless comedy, there comes the still stoic outlook.
Julie was transformed. All the possible years of her life were gathered into the force of one dreadful moment—dreadful and wonderful. Her mean vanity was lost behind the pale sincerity of her face—she was sincere at last. The trivial commonness was gone from her coquetting shoulders and drooping eyelids; and from her body had passed its flexuous softness. She was a woman; suffering, human, paying the price.
She walked slowly the way that Parpon had gone. Looking neither to right nor left, she climbed the long hillside, and at last reached the summit, where, bundled in a steep corner, was the Rock of Red Pigeons. As she emerged from the pines, she stood for a moment, and leaned with outstretched hand against a tree, looking into the sunlight. Slowly her eyes shifted from the Rock to the great ravine, to whose farther side the sun was giving bastions of gold. She was quiet. Presently she stepped into the light and came softly to the Rock. She walked slowly round it as though looking for some one. At the lowest side of the Rock, rude narrow hollows were cut for the feet. With a singular ease she climbed to the top of it. It had a kind of hollow, in which was a rude seat, carved out of the stone. Seeing this, a set look came to her face: she was thinking of Parpon, the master of this place. Her business was with him.
She got down slowly, and came over to the edge of the precipice. Steadying herself against a sapling, she looked over. Down below was a whirlpool, rising and falling—a hungry funnel of death. She drew back. Presently she peered again, and once more withdrew. She gazed round, and then made another tour of the hill, searching. She returned to the precipice. As she did so she heard a voice. She looked and saw Parpon seated upon a ledge of rock not far below. A mocking laugh floated up to her. But there was trouble in the laugh too—a bitter sickness. She did not notice that. She looked about her. Not far away was a stone, too heavy to carry but perhaps not too heavy to roll!
Foot by foot she rolled it over. She looked. He was still there. She stepped back. As she did so a few pebbles crumbled away from her feet and fell where Parpon perched. She did not see or hear them fall. He looked up, and saw the stone creeping upon the edge. Like a flash he was on his feet, and, springing into the air to the right, caught a tree steadfast in the rock. The stone fell upon the ledge, and bounded off again. The look of the woman did not follow the stone. She ran to the spot above the whirlpool, and sprang out and down.
From Parpon there came a wail such as the hills of the north never heard before. Dropping upon a ledge beneath, and from that to a jutting tree, which gave way, he shot down into the whirlpool. He caught Julie’s body as it was churned from life to death: and then he fought. There was a demon in the whirlpool, but God and demon were working in the man. Nothing on earth could have unloosed that long, brown arm from Julie’s drenched body. The sun lifted an eyelid over the yellow bastions of rock, and saw the fight. Once, twice, the shaggy head was caught beneath the surface—but at last the man conquered!
Inch by inch, foot by foot, Parpon, with the lifeless Julie clamped in one arm, climbed the rough wall, on, on, up to the Rock of Red Pigeons. He bore her to the top of it. Then he laid her down, and pillowed her head on his wet coat.
The huge hands came slowly down Julie’s soaked hair, along her blanched cheek and shoulders, caught her arms and held them. He peered into her face. The eyes had the film which veils Here from Hereafter. On the lips was a mocking smile. He stooped as if to kiss her. The smile stopped him. He drew back for a time, then he leaned forward, shut his eyes, and her cold lips were his.
Twilight—dusk—night came upon Parpon and his dead—the woman whom an impish fate had put into his heart with mockery and futile pain.