CHAPTER 7: Cain the Farmer
“Bernadette, can I tell you a secret?”
“A good secret?”
The two were sitting alone on the wall where the thief had passed by four years ago on his way to his appointment with Marie’s father.
They were sitting shoulder to shoulder, Marie’s red hair mingling with Bernadette’s blonde, something now possible since Bernadette and her odour had parted company some years back.
“So what’s the secret?” said Bernadette.
“I think I’m evil.” said Marie quietly.
“Really.” said Bernadette “What’d you do?”
“Do you remember when they told us that Monsieur Nogaret was dead?”
“When I found out, I was glad. I was happy he was dead.”
“Were you happy he was stabbed?”
“What?” said Marie, surprised by the question.
“Well, I just want to know how bad it was. I mean, being happy someone is dead is one thing. Being happy that someone broke into their house and cut them up and turned all the walls red and made it so they still haven’t cleaned it up and it’s probably going to be haunted forever…“
“That’s what happened?”
“You didn’t know?”
“No, I just heard he died!”
“So, how do you feel now that you know how he died?”
“I dunno. Kind of bad, I suppose.”
“Well, there you go. Not so evil.”
There was a brief pause. Bernadette kicked air.
“So why were you happy when you heard?”
“I hated him.”
Marie kicked herself mentally and realised that she had talked herself into a corner. To tell Bernadette about her encounter with Nogaret all those years ago she would have to explain why Nogaret had visited her father’s house. Then she would have to explain why her father was in Nogaret’s employment and not only would her father’s identity be exposed and his life at risk, but she would be exhausted from more explaining than any human being should have to endure. This would take some brilliant excuse, something to completely throw Bernadette off the scent.
Disaster narrowly averted.
“What do you think happens to you when you die?”
“Well.” said Bernadette “First they dress you up like a doll, put you in a coffin, and then they bury you.”
“No. I mean, after.”
“Oh, you mean Heaven and Hell and all that?”
“Do you think there really is a Hell?”
“Olivia says that it’s just something your parents make up to scare you into being good, so yes, it’s probably real.”
Marie snorted. She could count the times Olivia had been right in the last five years on the fingers of one hand, and still be able to pick her nose.
“Why do you want to know about Hell, anyway?”
“Are you worried that you’re going to go there?”
“What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“Are you going to have a baby?”
Marie looked at her as if she had started speaking Hebrew.
“Mama says that’s what happens to girls who have babies too young.”
“I’m not having a baby.” said Marie curtly. Was she? Nine years old was far too young. Dear God, she hoped she wasn’t. How did you know?
“So if it’s not that…did you kill someone?” said Bernadette, only half-joking.
“No!” said Marie, who had forgotten that Bernadette sometimes had a habit of holding onto a conversation long after everyone else had gotten bored with it. Then a thought struck her.
“But if I did kill someone, do you think I would go to Hell?” she asked. Would her father?
Bernadette was staring at her, wide eyed.
“Who was it?” she whispered.
“Look what I found when I was cleaning the house today.” said Luke.
“What?” said Marie, looking up from her soup.
Luke slid his great hand over the table to her. When he lifted it up, there was a small, white bone comb glinting in the firelight.
Mare picked it up and examined it, running her finger over the teeth. There was an angel carved into the spine, wings spread, blowing a trumpet. She could just about make out the worn form. She looked up at her father, eyes questioning silently
“It was your mother’s.” he explained “I thought I’d lost it.”
“It’s nice.” she said, laying it down on the table again.
“Bring it over here.” he said, gesturing with his hand.
Without a word she picked up the comb and went over to where he was seated. He took it from her, his large hands handling it with great delicacy. “You know” he said, as he began to run it through her hair “Your mother used to stand in front of the mirror for five minutes every morning, combing her hair. She had hair like yours, Marie, long and soft and red. And I always thought, she was always more beautiful during those five minutes than at any other time. It was like, she wasn’t thinking about anything, she was completely…content.” he said, after searching for the right word.
“I don’t remember her.” said Marie quietly.
“I know you don’t.” said Luke, as the comb passed through her russet mane, glowing amber in the firelight.
“Don’t be. She wouldn’t want you to miss her, anyway. She’d want you to be happy.”
“Do you miss her?”
“Not as much as I did. It goes away in time.”
“I thought when you lost someone you loved…“
“You miss them forever?”
“No. Eventually the pain goes away.”
“And you forget about them?”
“Let’s just say, you don’t think about them everyday. Maybe even every week. And then one day, you’ll find a piece of clothing, or a flower they liked or a comb. And you remember again. But it doesn’t hurt as much.”
“I’d never forget you.”
“Yes you would. It’s the way of the world. It’s the only way people can carry on.”
“I wouldn’t.” and the tone of her voice let her father know that it would be best not to pursue the point.
“Well. I’ll make you a deal.” said Luke “You hold onto that. And every time I see you combing your hair you’ll remind me of her. How’s that?”
“Good.” said Marie, as if he had redeemed himself after a shoddy performance first time around. He gave her back the comb, and kissed her goodnight as she went to bed, and she lay asleep with the small white comb reassuringly cool and firm in her grip, and she dreamt steady and soft.
It was often Luke’s custom after his daughter had gone to sleep, to amble down to the village tavern for a few drinks. Tonight, as he stepped through the door into the thick, laughter-shook air of the inn he noted that Toureil was sitting at the usual table, along with a few of the merry regulars. Luke recognised Monsieurs D’Arbe and Provais, the blacksmith and grocer respectively, who were clearly matching Toureil pint for pint tonight to judge by their crimson faces. By Toureil’s side sat a young man with a drink he did not seem to have touched. Luke did not recognise him, and guessed that he was a traveller passing through St Anne on the way to more noteworthy locations. Judging by his sallow skin and black hair, he was a Southerner, perhaps an Italian. He was incredibly lean, his fingers long and agile, and he wore his hat with the rim just cutting over his eyes. Upon seeing Luke, Toureil bellowed joyously at him to join them, and he gestured that he would as soon as he had acquired a drink to call his own.
Drink in hand, he nestled himself amongst the men who were camped in a tight ring around the small round table listening to Toureil as he made his way rather unsteadily through a long and winding story.
“…she says “Father.” she says “Why are you staring at the child like that?”, and the good father says “Child? Well praise God, I thought that was the goose!”
The assembled men brayed appreciatively, and even Luke, who was neither aware of what the story was about, nor drunk enough to fully appreciate it, joined in. The young man by Toureil’s side also laughed, and for the life of him Luke couldn’t think what it was that seemed so off about it. It was as if he was making the right sound, and his mouth was the right shape, but the eyes did not laugh with the rest of the face. They were as cold and grey as a headstone, and occasionally they would dart down to gaze upon his own left hand. Luke noticed with a wince that the little finger was missing over the knuckle.
“Ah…Luke, allow me to introduce my young friend here” Toureil said slurring “…this is Marcel…“
“Hello Marcel.” said Luke, proffering a large hand amicably. “Welcome to St Anne.”
“Thank you.” said the young man “And it’s Thomas.”
“Marcel…Thomas.” muttered Toureil, and launched into another story involving a drunk magistrate and a herd of amorous pigs that Luke would spend the remainder of his life wishing he’d never heard.
“What brings you to our little village?” Luke asked the young stranger.
“Just passing through.” said the youth He was not at all as cold as his eyes would have suggested. His voice was pleasant and clear, his grin wide, his manner easy-going. You felt you could trust him.
“So.” said Thomas “What do you do sir? How do you make your bread?”
“Oh, Luke’s a farmer!” bellowed Toureil “Isn’t that right, Luke? A farmer!” and he laughed until he was red and aching, much to the bafflement of the other men seated at the table who knew full well that Luke was a farmer.
“A farmer.” said Thomas “There’s no better profession. It is an honourable way to make a living. One of the oldest. Isn’t that right, Doctor?” said the young man, turning to address the sloshed physician.
“Quite right!” said the Doctor emphatically “Listen to this young man! Wise beyond his years! A most old profession! A most venerable institution! As old as the stones, agriculture is. Not as old as medicine of course.”
“How do you reason that, Lawrence?” said one man from across the table, who unlike Luke was actually a farmer.
“Ignorant ass!” roared Toureil joyously “Don’t you read your Holy Bible, are you an ignorant pagan from the wilderness? Didn’t our most high God remove a rib from Adam in the garden of Eden? Did he not?”
“He did.” said Luke, merely to move the conversation along.
“Well there you go!” said Toureil triumphantly “A surgery performed, and the world not much more than a week old! The oldest profession by far. But farming, that’s old too. You should be proud you toilers of the soil! You should be proud Luke!”
“I am.” said Luke uncomfortably.
“I said you should be proud!” boomed Toureil, not hearing Luke’s reply.
“I am!” said Luke, and his voice sounded tense and angry.
“It was Adam’s son.” said Toureil, gesturing grandly to the assembled listeners “The young Cain. The first farmer. A crop farmer if I recall, much like yourself, Luke. I said, much like yourself Luke!”
“I heard.” said Luke. The conversation had begun to deeply irritate him.
“Wasn’t he the one who killed his brother?” asked Monsieur Provais, his brow furrowing “Am I right? Wasn’t he the killer?”
The question was addressed to Toureil, but it was not he who answered.
“Yes.” said Thomas, who was staring straight at Luke, and his mouth had suddenly drained of all affability “Yes, he was.”
The night wound on and Luke began to become more and more weary of Toureil’s drunken ramblings, and began to think of the warm soft bed waiting for him at home.
“Where do you live Monsieur?” said Thomas, once Luke had announced his plan to retire for the night.
“Just outside the village, over the stone bridge by the forge.”
“Would you mind if I accompanied you?” asked the dark youth “My lodgings are in that direction.”
“Absolutely.” said Luke “It’s not far.”
The Hangman took a minute to make Toureil understand that he was retiring early and was informed that he was an ass. Then, Luke and Thomas strode out through the door of the inn, down the road to the Hangman’s cottage, on the last road that Luke would ever walk.