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The Pomp of the Lavilettes (Chapter4)

2006-08-28 14:27

  Volume 1 Chapter IV

  The day of the wedding there was a gay procession through the parish of the friends and constituents of Magon Farcinelle. When they came to his home he joined them, and marched at the head of the procession as had done many a forefather of his, with ribbons on his hat and others at his button-hole. After stopping for exchange of courtesies at several houses in the parish, the procession came to the homestead of the Lavilettes, and the crowd were now enough excited to forget the pride which had repelled and offended them for many years.

  Monsieur Lavilette made a polite speech, sending round cider and "white wine" (as native whiskey was called) when he had finished. Later, Nicolas furnished some good brandy, and Farcinelle sent more. A good number of people had come out of curiosity to see what manner of man the Englishman was, well prepared to resent his overbearing snobbishness—— they were inclined to believe every Englishman snobbish. But Ferrol was so entirely affable, and he drank so freely with everyone that came to say "A votre sante, M'sieu' le Baron," and kept such a steady head in spite of all those quantities of white wine, brandy and cider, that they were almost ready to carry him on their shoulders; though, with their racial prejudice, they would probably have repented of that indiscretion on the morrow.

  Presently, dancing began in a paddock just across the road from the house; and when Madame Lavilette saw that Mr. Ferrol gave such undisguised countenance to the primitive rejoicings, she encouraged the revellers and enlarged her hospitality, sending down hampers of eatables. She preened with pleasure when she saw Ferrol walking up and down in very confidential conversation with Christine. If she had been really observant she would have seen that Ferrol's tendency was towards an appearance of confidential friendliness with almost everybody. Great ideas had entered Madame's head, but they were vaguely defining themselves in Christine's mind also. Where might not this friendship with Ferrol lead her?

  Something occurred in the midst of the dancing which gave a new turn to affairs. In one of the pauses a song came monotonously lilting down the street; yet it was not a song, it was only a sort of humming or chanting. Immediately there was a clapping of hands, a flutter of female voices, and delighted exclamations of children.

  "Oh, it's a dancing bear, it's a dancing bear!" they cried.

  "Is it Pito?" asked one.

  "Is it Adrienne?" cried another.

  "But no; I'll bet it's Victor!" exclaimed a third. As the man and the bear came nearer, they saw it was neither of these. The man's voice was not unpleasant; it had a rolling, crooning sort of sound, a little weird, as though he had lived where men see few of their kind and have much to do with animals.

  He was bearded, but young; his hair grew low on his forehead, and, although it was summer time, a fur cap was set far back, like a fez, upon his black curly hair. His forehead was corrugated, like that of a man of sixty who had lived a hard life; his eyes were small, black and piercing. He wore a thick, short coat, a red sash about his waist, a blue flannel shirt, and a loose red scarf, like a handkerchief, at his throat. His feet were bare, and his trousers were rolled half way up to his knee. In one hand he carried a short pole with a steel pike in it, in the other a rope fastened to a ring in the bear's nose.

  The bear, a huge brown animal, upright on his hind legs, was dancing sideways along the road, keeping time to the lazy notes of his leader's voice.

  In front of the Hotel France they halted, and the bear danced round and round in a ring, his eyes rolling savagely, his head shaking from side to side in a bad-tempered way.

  Suddenly some one cried out: "It's Vanne Castine! It's Vanne!"

  People crowded nearer: there was a flurry of exclamations, and then Christine took a few steps forward where she could see the man's face, and as swiftly drew back into the crowd, pale and distraite.

  The man watched her until she drew away behind a group, which was composed of Ferrol, her brother and her sister Sophie. He dropped no note of his song, and the bear kept jigging on. Children and elders threw coppers, which he picked up, with a little nod of his head, a malicious sort of smile on his lips. He kept a vigilant eye on the bear, however, and his pole was pointed constantly towards it. After about five minutes of this entertainment he moved along up the road. He spoke no word to anybody though there were some cries of greeting, but passed on, still singing the monotonous song, followed by a crowd of children. Presently he turned a corner, and was lost to sight. For a moment longer the lullaby floated across the garden and the green fields, then the cornet and the concertina began again, and Ferrol turned towards Christine.

  He had seen her paleness and her look of consternation, had observed the sulky, penetrating look of the bear-leader's eye, and he knew that he was stumbling upon a story. Her eye met his, then swiftly turned away. When her look came to his face again it was filled with defiant laughter, and a hot brilliancy showed where the paleness had been.

  "Will you dance with me?" Ferrol asked.

  "Dance with you here?" she responded incredulously.

  "Yes, just here," he said, with a dry little laugh, as he ran his arm round her waist and drew her out upon the green.

  "And who is Vanne Castine?" he asked as they swung away in time with the music.

  The rest stopped dancing when they saw these two appear in the ring- through curiosity or through courtesy.

  She did not answer immediately. They danced a little longer, then he said:

  "An old friend, eh?"

  After a moment, with a masked defiance still, and a hard laugh, she answered in English, though his question had been in French:

  "De frien' of an ol frien'."

  "You seem to be strangers now," he suggested. She did not answer at all, but suddenly stopped dancing, saying: "I'm tired."

  The dance went on without them. Sophie and Farcinelle presently withdrew also. In five minutes the crowd had scattered, and the Lavilettes and Mr. Ferrol returned to the house.

  Meanwhile, as they passed up the street, the droning, vibrating voice of the bear-leader came floating along the air and through the voices of the crowd like the thread of motive in the movement of an opera.

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