A wastrel, this Barbeau, but still capable of making his beau geste
BARBEAU, the village drunkard, walked unsteadily down the front steps of Simard's hotel with Alcide Simard's nightly, bilingual curfew ringing in his ears: "Dix heure,' messieur'; ten o’cluck, clos’ up, gentlemens!”
"Well, what if it is ten o’clock,” Barbeau muttered querulously; “can't fool me with that. I’ve a pint of 'high wine’ in mv room, and a quart bottle of beer in my pocket. I'n go home and drink.”
It had been snowing all night. The first snow of winter, but no breeze stirred the poplars that bordered the street.
Slowly, lightly, like dainty white moths the snowflakes floated earthward. They touched Barbeau’s thin shoulders gently and melted upon his hot, unshaven face. They covered everything with a white film.
''Snowing." Barbeau mumbled, and turned up his coat collar to keep the snow out of his neck. It was not cold and the falling flakes did not make him quicken his footsteps, but with the fatality of inebriates he marched homeward, along the deserted village street, indifferent to everything but his thoughts.
His thoughts were monetary, for Barbeau knew that his right hand trousers pocket held one small, worn Canadian five cent piece. That, and the quart bottle of beer, and the pint of whiskey blanc in his room, and his saddler's tools were the sum total of his assets.
He had no other clothes but those on his back, and his s tie pair of shoes were on his feet. The clothes were patched and worn, too threadbare to withstand the assaults of the approaching Quebec winter; but the shoes were good. He had just repaired them with new soles and new rubber heels and they should take care of his feet through the winter. He was not hard on shoes, he
His rent he didn’t have to worry about. He ate and
slept in his one room workshop, a dusty, disorderly place, littered with bits of leather and old shoes and smelling of hides, in the rear of Gaston Minard’s house.
Gaston never bothered him for the monthly rent of four dollars. He was several months in arrears now, three or four, had forgotten which. Good friend of his, Gaston!
The faint glimmer of a smile flitted about the thin, blue lips. It was always there, that amused, cynical smile when he thought of the little Frenchman from old France.
“Fool, Gaston Minard, leaving Marseilles for this Godforsaken North Country,” he had told his cronies at the hotel only that night. “Madame’s health is poor, and they want to go back but haven’t the money. Minard wrote an uncle for passage money, but that was three months ago, and he’s heard nothing-from him!”
Barbeau walked through the falling snow, a curtain of dotted Swiss, with that erect, soldierly carriage that was his natural gait. Occasionally he lurched and then halted an instant to recovei; his equilibrium like a slackwire performer, after which he continued his correct, dignified march.
A tall, slim, ducal figure despite penury and patches, with graying hair about the temples and Caesar’s ascetic profile. Only the weak mouth and shifty blue eyes revealed his vacillating nature and self-indulgence.
A curious combination, Barbeau, though there must have been good blood in his veins from back somewhere in the past.
The fellow had an air, you know!
But it seemed beyond his capacity to stick for long at any one thing. On the wrong side of forty he had settled down for the time being to the humble trade of saddler and shoemaker on account of an innate contempt for hard, physical labor.
Here was work, he argued, that one could sit down to indifferent to the vagaries of temperature and weather, with a spare moment or two for gossip.
BARBEAU’S conversation, and his French showed his classical education; and, though he never mentioned his antecedents, it was generally known in the village of Val Barrette that he had studied for the priesthood in his youth, that he had worked at many trades, lived in many places, and had been married and deserted by his wife.
Though his standard of living was low, and he was singularly devoid of decent pride, the man’s quiet dignity was so much a part of his temperament that drunkenness failed to debauch this side of him. He was never boisterous or vulgar.
There were moments, too, when Barbeau was capable of a generous gesture, of an aristocratic largesse that lifted him above the petty, sordid souls of the tradespeople who affected to despise him.
His personality, his ducal bearing, brought memories of ancient regimes, of characters in romances, as though he had stepped out of an oil painting of an ancestor in armor, the illegal descendant of some noble Seigneur of the seventeenth century when the Grand Monarch had ruled Europe, and the Bourbon lilies had flourished in. New France.
At least, that’s what he was to Gaston Minard.
It was this myth that the little, dusty, watch-maker from Marseilles had created around Barbeau, that was the foundation of his friendship and loyalty. It was be-
hind those invitations to an occasional meal, and his wish not to press him for rent long overdue.
Barbeau had been reborn, transformed in his imagination into a tradition, a prototype of those gallant times when French adventurers had come to the shores of Canada and settled it; and with rapiers and ruffles made its glamor and its history.
The saddler’s drunkenness he condoned as an inherited failing come to him from a past when gentlemen adventurers and coureurs-de-bois were given to alcoholic
Gaston Minard had never outgrown wholly the romantic imaginings and strivings of adolescence. Back in Marseilles, Canada had been a land of adventure, a new world of unlimited natural resources where one had but to stretch forth a hand to gain a fortune.
His room in the old country was cluttered with pamphlets, maps, prospectuses and time-tables sent him at his request by the various governing bodies of the Dominion.
He believed everything, and more, that he read in the stimulating word pictures descriptive of the wonderful opportunities available to the right type of industrious pioneer, issued by the immigration bureaus of the steamship companies.
And Gaston, short-armed, short-legged, rotund and soft would draw himself to his full height convinced that no man quite fitted the requirements for success as well as he.
His sleep was ravished by dreams of shining mountains of gold, he saw visions of timber-forests minted into new coin at his touch. He lived in an imposing chateau surrounded by servants, while his wife wore costly furs and a tiara of lustrous stones and rode around in a luxurious car attended by a footman and chauffeur resplendent in gorgeous livery.
His credulity was enormous.
For months before sailing he thought of nothing, spoke of nothing, but Canada.
He could hardly wait for the steamer to dock, so anxious was he to touch with his feet the golden dust of this northern Eldorado.
Then one day, he woke up!
The business of locksmith and watch repairing that he had bought at Val Barrette with his scant savings, proved a poor investment.
He had been badly stuck there!
A thorough, skilled artisan, who could manufacture a watch, and open any lock with a bit of wire, his talent was wasted in that poor place.
The transient glory of Val Barrette had departed, years ago, in the shape of logs and lumber. The saw-mills had been dismantled and the machinery moved to more profitable sections leaving only charred stumps and a dense jungle of underbrush as evidence of boasted resources.
The winters, long and severe, with snow waist deep on the ground, five months of the year, undermined his morale.
His house was cheaply constructed and he and his wife were always cold.
Madame Minard, a frail, helpless creature, not built to withstand the rigorous northern climate, and with no character to face adversity, complained continually and developed, or assumed for sympathy, a chronic cough. All day long she went about the house in a soiled wrapper, sniffling and mopping her red eyes with a small handkerchief that she carried crumpled in her grasp, like a wet sponge.
And because he loved this untidy, whining female unreasonably, with all his soul, he lived in a state of constant dread about her health.
How different was all this to their balmy Mediterranean winters, with roses, begonias and wistaria giving off their fragrance and the acacia in milk-white blossom. Tears came to his eyes at the thought.
But money was scarce and he could not save a sou towards the purchase of steamer tickets. In desperation, he had written an uncle in Marseilles, requesting the loan of passage money, but had received no reply. His uncle Philippe had warned him against emigrating, and was probably satisfied
to let him shift for himself, Gaston Minard concluded with a shrug and a sigh.
He could expect no help from his neighbors. There could be no fraternal spirit between him and these sardonic, northwoods peasants and villagers who classed him as a foreigner.
Barbeau, alone, preserved for him the ideals and illusions that he once held for these people and this land which had so cruelly disappointed him.
Together, they spent many long winter evenings sitting beside the stove in Minard’s kitchen drinking cheap sherry and conversing.
Their talk ambled along well-worn, familiar paths, in the main historical. Great names of early explorers and soldiers of New France; Frontenac, Montcalm, Cartier, Champlain and La Salle fell reverently from Gaston Minard’s lips.
When he was discussing these historical personages and times, Canada was holy land, and he would forget the cold, even his wife’s cough, to revel in the pride of race, the prowess and genius of France.
So long as Gaston supplied the wine and tobacco, he had an appreciative audience in Barbeau. That astute fellow had plumbed Minard’s psychology, his romantic imagination, and was secretly amused, and encouraged him in the myth of his noble descent.
Very subtly, when the conversational trend permitted he would claim a lineal relationship with some great name, and observe his host’s delight when he casually remarked that Talon, the King’s Intendant, was an ancestor on his mother’s side. Or, if the colonial wars between the French and the English were under discussion, he would allude indifferently to the exploits of Contrecoeur, a paternal ancestor, commander of Fort Duquesne in the west, who routed and killed General Braddock.
One day he was greatly amused at overhearing the enthusiastic, little Frenchman say to his wife:
“That chap Barbeau, he drinks and all that, but seme of the best blood of Old France flow's in his veins! He’s descended from the noblesse! His ancestor was Chevalier de Fontaine, admiral of the Royal Fleet, during the reign of Louis Quatorze1.”
Consciously, in a spirit of mischief, Barbeau accepted the accolade and the obligation of noblesse oblige which it imposed. In Minard’s house, his natural dignity expanded to a grand air which became him well. He cleaned up a bit, ran a dirty comb through his grizzled, curly locks occasionally and shaved twice a week, where formerly a fortnight went by w'ithout the scrape of steel to his beard.
His speech became more polished, his manners more polite. He was particularly gallant towards madame; whenever she entered the kitchen in the evening, he would rise to his feet and with a gracious gesture, offer her a chair, and murmur a gentle compliment; “How charming madame looks to-night?” Or, if the occasion permitted, he would bow low over her hand and touch her grimy fingers with his lips.
Alone in his room, however, or guzzling beer in the tap-room of the village hotel with uncouth companions, he was his old self, and would chuckle merrily at the little harmless comedy he was playing.
BUT for all Gaston Minard’s futility and nonsense, he would go far to do the Marseillais a service. Gaston’s gift for friendship, his naïveté, his lack of capacity outside his trade, the little Frenchman’s very faults and weaknesses attracted Barbeau to him—such characteristics were novel and appealing in his capable, sordid world.
He hoped Gaston’s uncle would relent and send him the passage money, though his friend’s departure would mean something to him, he reflected to-night, as his tracks in the new snow dogged his footsteps homeward.
He would never again find a landlord so lenient, a friend so trusting. He would miss, too, the Frenchman’s quiet adula-
Ition—there had been little of that in his life.
A sudden, fierce impulse to go away, also, seized him; to quit the North, to fly south like the winged battalions of migratory fowls and birds already departed.
In a fit of alcoholic depression, his life spread out before him like a scroll and unfurled all its wretchedness. A fine mess he had made of things. Not one decent episode in his career of past regrets to look back to. He, who had been a seminarian at St. Sulpice, had degenerated to a drunken, village shoemaker, companion of cowherds, lumberjacks and such low fellows.
He slipped in the snow and his hand struck sharply the bottle of beer in his pocket. His grip closed over the slim neck of the bottle, his lips compressed, the jaws locked. A fierce hatred for alcohol surged into his soul. He would break the cursed bettle into bits against a stone.
Then he relaxed. His hand strayed away from the bottle and fell nervelessly to his side. A cynical twist played upon the thin blue lips. He couldn't do it! Couldn't quit the stuff! He knew it, and had nothing but contempt for his weakness.
But he could go away. He had control over his actions: and by Heaven, he was leaving Val Barrette, he flared. With money, first-class; without it, riding the trucks of the southbound freight.
He was passing the village bank, at that moment, and looked up to regard the darkened house. It was a habit of his, when passing the bank to stare at it unconsciously.
To-night he looked longer and more keenly than usual. If only he could get his hands on the money in that safe, he wouldn’t have to ride the bumpers, he soliloquized.
The bank was in the residence of notary Robidoux, who managed its finances as well as his regular profession of drawing up and witnessing legal documents.
After all, it was not a very great financial institution, this local bank. It was not even the regular branch of the Banque Canadienne Xaliónale for that district, merely a sub-branch. The great Montreal banking house had its regular branch at Mont Laurier, ten miles distant.
wh«r« ali the dis.vuntiug business was transacted. The lub-branch at Val Barrette was operated merely for local accommodation. and to keep banking opposition out of the territory.
A cash balance of about a thousand dollars reposed in the old-fashioned iron safe and was not allowed to exceed this modest figure.
And though the amount was small, it was ample for Barbeau’s present needs, as he stood gazing into the window of the banking room, where customers’ checks were cashed by petite Madame Robidoux. A cold, capable woman who constituted in her frail femininity the whole local banking staff, acting in the protean roles of teller, bookkeeper, cashier and watchman.
There was no shade on the window of the small banking room, twelve by fourteen, and Barbeau who was perfectly familiar with the interior could discern dimly the scant furnishings. A roll-top desk for the use of patrons stood against the side wall, opposite the door leading from the entrance hall. A tongue and groove partition surmounted by iron grille work divided the room. Back of this, a wide counter and in the back. ground against the rear wall stood the safe, though he couldn’t see it from his position at the window.
Not much of a safe, Barbeau reflected; any mechanic, a saddler even, given the opportunity, could force it with brace and bits and a charge of dynamite.
Suddenly he was startled by a sound from behind the partition, a sound like the tumblers of a safe dropping in place as chough someone was turning the dial.
Then it came to him in a flash that the Robidoux had been called suddenly away and the house was empty.
They had left hurriedly by motor, that evening, upon receiving a telegram notifying them that their only child, their daughter, Marguerite, had sustained serious injuries from a fall in the gymnasium at the Ecole Normale at St. Jerome.
A splendid chance to rob the bank,
Barbeau growled. The idea excited him, but was not new. Often when disgusted over the abject condition of bis exchequer, the bank’s slim resources tempted him—it was back of his unconscious stare when passing the place. He had been content to leave bad enough alone up till now, unwilling to risk the chance, lacking the ambition and energy for such a desperate adventure.
Now, he might be too late. Perhaps someone was ahead of him. This frustration seemed to urge him to a stronger, more decisive desire to rob the bank. He even felt aggrieved as though some thoroughly selfish person was depriving him of his just deserts.
He held his breath at the window and listened intently.
No sound reached his ears, except the quick beating of his heart. The interior of the dark house was as quiet as a deserted trapper's shack.
But that metallic clink of dropping tumblers, indicating deft fingers at the safe's combination, could that have been a hallucination, a fantasy suggested by his own predatory designs and induced by jumpy nerves and alcoholism!
Probably, he admitted with a sigh, the ‘whiskee’ was killing him with its slow poison. His stomach wTas malade, his nervous system a wreck! If he didn’t take heed, he’d have a break-down again. He shuddered and passed a shaking hand over his eyes.
He pulled himself out of the nightmare of nerves and forced his thoughts upon the bank’s cash. The idea of reaping by one bold, determined effort, a quick, rich, monetary harvest appealed to his unstable, irresponsible nature.
The excitement of the adventure finally stirred his sluggish blood; he left the window and hurried along the street and brushed up the alley to the rear of Minard’s house, stepped into his room and lit the lamp with hasty, trembling fingers.
Casting a glance over the disorderly room, he spied a scrap of paper on his work-bench.
He picked it up. It was from Gaston, notifying him that he had taken his shoes as he needed them, and thanked him for mending them.
Barbeau crumpled the paper and threw it in a corner. He was glad he had finished the shoes, had put new soles and new rubber heels on them, that evening, before adjourning to the tap-room of the hotel. Had kept the patient Gaston waiting long enough for them, he muttered.
He dragged his heavy tool box out on the floor under the lamp-light, and began rummaging among its topsy-
turvy contents for the different steel bits to fit the brace he found there, while he planned the details of his burglary.
Never another chance like this one, he argued, with the Robidoux, excited and fearful, their thoughts only for their daughter speeding towards St. Jerome, a hundred miles distant, and the bank unguarded.
The dynamite he would get dut of the railroad tool shed. He knew there was some explosive there, and fuse and caps; had seen them only yesterday, at train time, when talking to Joe Chartier, the section foreman.
For his ‘get-away,’ he would take a car out of Simard’s garage. No night-watchman was employed there or elsewhere in the village, no policeman patrolled the streets. He anticipated no trouble in appropriating Simard’s car, after he had the bank’s cash safely in his clothes.
A mouse scurried across the dirty floor and startled him.
He hoped Gaston Minard and his wife were in bed. No time for romancing—at grips with stern reality now! He projected his hearing into the room above, no sound came to him and he decided that the Minards were asleep.
He took a stiff drink and turned up his coat collar, and with the brace and bits and a short wrecking bar of iron wrapped in an old gray sweater, and a flash-light in his pocket, he stepped outside and closed the door cautiously behind him.
TTHAD stopped snowing and as he retraced his foot-
steps along the silent street, he observed with a start, his fresh tracks in the snow. He bent down and examined them1 closely and saw clearly in the snow, the print of the star trade-mark on his new rubber heels.
The discovery excited him momentarily, but upon reflection, he decided to ignore their tell-tale significance.
Suppose they did trace him through the tracks in the snow, what of it! He would be suspected, anyway, as soon as his unexplained departure from the village was notéd. In any event, he planned to be many miles away before the burglary was discovered.
He would drive all night and be in Montreal by daybreak long before banking hours. He was not known there and could easily lose himself in its populous activity. After the excitement had died down and the chase lost interest, he would leave the province, probably go West or to the States.
Lots of risk in the venture, though, he remarked to himself as he marched swiftly on his errand to the tool shed. Robidoux would wire the manager at Mt. Laurier, and Jean Fortier would motor to Val Barrette and open up the bank in the morning and discover everything! The telegraph wires would hum with the news! Well, if he was caught, what of it? They couldn’t hang him. Two or three years at Bordeaux! Not much worse than his present slavery! Give him a chance to break the ‘whiskee’ habit. Two or three years en prison. He smiled grimly.
He had reached the end of the village street and out into an open space in the rear of the railroad station; he crossed the tracks to a small red-painted out-house.
Producing the wrecking bar from among the tools in the folds of the gray wool, he deftly pried off the hinge
which held the spring lock to the hasp and entered the shed.
He knew just where to lay hands on the dynamite, and lost no time in shoving several sticks into his coat pocket, after which he cut himself a generous allowance of fuse and emerged with a dozen caps in his hand.
Once more his double-quick march took him in the direction of Notary Robidoux’ house. All around him the village slept.
Barbeau halted in front of the bank and peered cautiously up and down the long, wide street. He found himself alone, in absolute possession of the night; he caught his breath sharply and walked with resolute step to the window.
It offered little resistance to his strong, bony hands and steely wrists as he forced it with his wrecking bar. Without hesitation he pulled himself through the window and stood within the privacy of the counting room.
He was quite sober, now, the excitement of his adventure having neutralized the intoxicating effect of the alcohol in his system. As he set foot within the house a feeling of trepidation came over him. A bank to him had something of the sanctity of a church, and he felt that his ruthless, forced entrance had desecrated a holy place and that the cold, inquiring gaze of its high priestess was fixed accusingly upon him.
His hand shook nervously as he pulled out his flash-light and examined the interior, directing the beam of light back of the grilled partition where Madame Robidoux reigned with the inscrutable calm of a sphinx.
Finding himself alone and the house quiet, Barbeau’s courage returned, he grew bolder and remembered that he hated this thin-lipped, bloodless, young-old woman who had a week ago casually dismissed his application for a small loan to lift a C.O.D. on some leather at the railroad station.
“It’s my turn now, chere dame; I’ll •pay you back with usury,” he muttered.
He stepped to the partition door and attacked it with the assurance of a man whose hands are trained in the use of tools.
The door was stiffer, more Secure than its appearance. It resisted him and cracked and strained under his efforts. He withdrew his iron bar and examined the door under his flash-light, wishing for some of Gaston Minard’s skill in opening locks. Forcing an entry by sheer strength is a crude, noisy method; guess he’d wake up the whole village when he dynamited the safe, he told himself.
He worked on industriously, and finally jimmied his way through the door, and breathing hard he entered the cashier’s cage and threw the light upon the iron safe.
What he saw there, however, made him doubt the evidence of his vision. A muffled exclamation broke through his lips.
“Dieu, it’s open, it’s open, the safe’s open!” He reiterated the words over and' over, unable, unwilling to accept the hard facts of the situation.
The heavy, outer door of the safe hung ajar, the inner one was open also. Someone had been there before him and rifled the safe.
He was undone, foiled, his hopes gone, his work and risk for naught.
Despair caught him in the vitals. He went weak and sick.
He fell on his knees before the yawning safe and searched for some neglected crumbs of the burglary among the scattered debris on the floor, running trembling, blunted shoe-maker’s fingers through the litter of papers, casting aside heavy ledgers, groping on hands and knees, cursing and growling, like some strange quadruped grubbing in the earth for food.
He gathered nothing for his pains, and scrambling to his feet he plunged out of the dark house and reeled homeward like a man suddenly stricken blind.
HE next morning Barbeau slept late.
He was still in bed at nine when Narcisse Marin, the village bailiff, broke into his room after vainly knocking on the door for five minutes.
At the bailiff’s heels came all the village, headed by Jean Fortier, manager of the bank at Mt. Laurier, and all the petty, village officialdom—the mayor, the squire, the secretary, the game warden, the fire-ranger and the provincial land agent.
Everybody in the village knew that the bank had been robbed. Everybody swarmed into Barbeau’s poor room with eager eyes, parted lips and dirty, animated faces.
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They pushed and squeezed and fought at the door to see the free show.
The saddler, in a drunken stupor, was lying on his bunk fully clothed, shoes and all, and heard nothing of the commotion going on about him.
Narcisse Marin strode to the bunk and raised one foot and then the other, examining the soles of Barbeau’s boots like a blacksmith a horse’s hoofs.
Apparently satisfied with what he found there, he turned to the bank manager, and holding up one of Barbeau’s feet for inspection said:
“It’s him, m’s’ieur, new rubber heels with a star on them! Same tracks we followed here from the bank!”
Immediately, the room was filled with a babble of voices, “It’s Barbeau! Barbeau robbed the bank!”
Monsieur Fortier took a step closer and scrutinized the heels of Barbeau’s boots. The mayor, the squire and all the petty authorities and all the villagers craned and scrutinized with wide staring eyes those damning rubber heels.
The officials exchanged knowing looks, nodded heads and whispered confidentially:
“Same tracks, it’s him certain!”
Sitting on the edge of the low bunk, Barbeau mumbled and protested incoherently, and looked at the crowd with dumb, wondering half-opened eyes.
Marin and the squire, burly village baker, lifted him to his feet and at either shoulder they pushed him through the throng, shouting in loud voices:
“Dorme le chemin! Donne le chemin!”
The bank manager’s sedan was at the curb and Barbeau was hustled into the rear seat between Jean Fortier and the bailiff. A friend of Fortier’s was at the wheel, and the short run to Mont Laurier, the county seat, was made without incident Barbeau maintaining an apathetic silence, despite Fortier’s anxiety concerning the bank’s assets.
“What did you do with the cash you got last night from the safe! Give back the money and it’ll go lots easier with you!” he murmured in Barbeau’s ear.
But this assurance failed to rouse any enthusiasm in the saddler and he made no reply.
The sedan pulled up in front of the county court-house, but before being confined to a cell Barbeau was searched, and stripped of his shoes to be used as evidence against him at the trial.
Then he was brought before the crown prosecutor, a fussy, sallow, little man wearing an air of napoleonic importance, sitting at a desk and inhaling cigarettes furiously.
“You are charged with burglarizing the safe of the branch bank at Val Barrette, what have you to say for yourself?” he demanded briskly as he blew a stream of white smoke into the air.
Barbeau maintained his dogged silence and made no defence. The prosecutor proceeded with his examination.
“Thought it was a good chance to rob
the bank with the Robidoux away, eh! But you should have changed your boots, my friend. Your boots betrayed you,” he said ironically.
He laid his cigarette carefully on the edge of the desk, stooped and picked up one of the prisoner’s shoes and pointed dramatically to the heel.
“The tracks in the snow around the bank were made by a man wearing rubber heels with the star trade-mark on them, same as these, and they led to your room,” he said. “Your guilt is conclusive; it wouldn’t take a trapper to follow those tracks made in the new snow last night. You may as well confess, and return the bank’s money.”
The honorable attorney for the crown let the shoe fall to the floor and dusted his fingers. Before continuing he resumed his cigarette, filling his lungs with smoke and exhaling as he spoke.
“Now tell us where you’ve cached this money. Eight hundred and sixteen dollars,” he turned to the bank manager standing beside him, “Is that the correct amount, M'sieur Fortier?”
“Oui M'sieur," Fortier testified.
The prosecutor fixed a stern eye on the grim, dishevelled figure opposite him.
“What have you done with this money, Barbeau? Didn’t have time to drink up eight hundred and sixteen dollars, did you?” he mocked. A snicker ran around the room. A pause awaiting the prisoner’s reply.
“Won’t tell us, eh!” the prosecutor cried severely. “So much the worse for you. I’ll see that the judge gives you the maximum sentence. Lock him up, officer!” he ordered curtly, and turning to the bank manager began, immediately, an animated conversation on the coming political campaign.
Marin, the sheriff’s underling, advanced upon his quarry and as he was about to lead him away Barbeau’s parched lips moved and for the first time he broke his silence. His voice was husky, but it held the assurance of a man who had thought everything out and is satisfied with the course of action he is to pursue.
“Give me a drink of ‘whiskee’ and I’ll tell everything,” he said.
They brought him the whiskey and saw him metamorphose under its magical touch into a new man.
His abjectness disappeared and there was resolve and confidence in his eyes. The narrow shoulders straightened and something of his old dignity and cynicism came into his manner.
And he confessed everything.
More than that, he signed and swore to a typed statement, duly witnessed that he had broken into and robbed the branch bank at Val Barrette, alone and without accomplices.
But two things he never told them and they never found out—what he had done with the money, and how it was possible for him to open the safe not knowing the combination and without using explosives.
Barbeau steadfastly refused to admit • anything on these points, despite the crown prosecutor’s threats and during the three years he served behind the steelbarred windows of St. Vincent de Paul penitentiary and afterwards he never revealed the secrets of the burglary.
With Barbeau’s signature on his confession, the prosecutor turned him over to the jailer, and as he was led to a cell, word was brought in that a friend of the prisoner was outside and wished to speak with him.
They admitted Gaston Minard, pale, nervous and subdued and permitted the friends to talk for several minutes out of ear-shot of the officials.
The Marseillais deplored Barbeau’s plight, advised him that he had come to aid him if possible, that he had received that very morning the long looked for letter from his dear, kind uncle, Phillippe, sending his passage money!
They were leaving in the afternoon, he and madame, he explained, but before departing, he wanted to see his friend Barbeau in his trouble, to give him a sum of money! He would need it to engage counsel for his defence, and for the little comforts money can buy even in jail!
Barbeau said nothing, seemed not to be listening.
He stood before Gaston, gray and silent, with his head bowed, his eyes fixed on the floor, his eyes fixed on Minard’s shoes, the same shoes with new soles and new rubber heels that the Marseillais had taken from his workshop, the previous evening.
The little Frenchman’s flow of talk ran on, despite the other’s abstraction, avowing belief in his innocence, hoping for acquittal. Then he attempted to thrust a thick wad of bills into Barbeau’s hand.
“For lawyers, you’ll need it!” he urged.
But Barbeau refused to accept the gift and gently put the hand of generosity from him. Gaston would have tried to force the cash on him again, but just then the turn-key approached them saying:
“Time’s up, come along!”
He grasped his prisoner by the arm, but before Barbeau was led away, he whispered hoarsely into Gaston Minard’s startled ear:
“Your shoes, take them off, throw them into the fire! It’s a long way from St. Vincent de Paul, Quebec, to Marseilles, France!”