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- Mrs. Falchion, Volume 2. - 20/25 -
"You mean when she was old,"--Mrs. Falchion shrank a little at the sound of her own words. Now her careless abandon was gone; she seemed to be following her emotions. "When she was old," she continued, "and came to die? It is horrible to grow old, except one has been a saint--and a mother. . . . And even then--have you ever seen them, the women of that Egypt of which we spoke--powdered, smirking over their champagne, because they feel for an instant a false pulse of their past?--See how eloquent your mountains make me!--I think that would make one hard and cruel; and one would need the prayers of a churchful of good women, even as good--as you."
She could not resist a touch of irony in the last words, and Ruth, who had been ready to take her hand impulsively, was stung. But she replied nothing; and the other, after waiting, added, with a sudden and wonderful kindness: "I say what is quite true. Women might dislike you--many of them would--though you could not understand why; but you are good, and that, I suppose, is the best thing in the world. Yes, you are good," she said musingly, and then she leaned forward and quickly kissed the girl's cheek. "Good-bye," she said, and then she turned her head resolutely away.
They stood there both in the sunlight, both very quiet, but their hearts were throbbing with new sensations. Ruth knew that she had conquered, and, with her eyes all tearful, she looked steadily, yearningly at the woman before her; but she knew it was better she should say little now, and, with a motion of the hand in good-bye,--she could do no more,--she slowly went to the door. There she paused and looked back, but the other was still turned away.
For a minute Mrs. Falchion stood looking at the door through which the girl had passed, then she caught close the curtains of the window, and threw herself upon the sofa with a sobbing laugh.
"To her--I played the game of mercy to her!" she cried. "And she has his love, the love which I rejected once, and which I want now--to my shame! A hateful and terrible love. I, who ought to say to him, as I so long determined: 'You shall be destroyed. You killed my sister, poor Alo; if not with a knife yourself you killed her heart, and that is just the same.' I never knew until now what a heart is when killed."
She caught her breast as though it hurt her, and, after a moment, continued: "Do hearts always ache so when they love? I was the wife of a good man oh! he WAS a good man, who sinned for me. I see it now!--and I let him die--die alone!" She shuddered. "Oh, now I see, and I know what love such as his can be! I am punished--punished! for my love is impossible, horrible."
There was a long silence, in which she sat looking at the floor, her face all grey with pain. At last the door of the room softly opened, and Justine entered.
"May I come in, madame?" she said.
"Yes, come, Justine." The voice was subdued, and there was in it what drew the girl swiftly to the side of Mrs. Falchion. She spoke no word, but gently undid the other's hair, and smoothed and brushed it softly.
At last Mrs. Falchion said: "Justine, on Monday we will leave here."
The girl was surprised, but she replied without comment: "Yes, madame; where do we go?"
There was a pause; then: "I do not know. I want to go where I shall get rested. A village in Italy or--" she paused.
"Or France, madame?" Justine was eager.
Mrs. Falchion made a gesture of helplessness. "Yes, France will do. . . . The way around the world is long, and I am tired." Minutes passed, and then she slowly said: "Justine, we will go to-morrow night."
"Yes, madame, to-morrow night--and not next Monday."
There was a strange only half-veiled melancholy in Mrs. Falchion's next words: "Do you think, Justine, that I could be happy anywhere?"
"I think anywhere but here, madame."
Mrs. Falchion rose to a sitting posture, and looked at the girl fixedly, almost fiercely. A crisis was at hand. The pity, gentleness, and honest solicitude of Justine's face conquered her, and her look changed to one of understanding and longing for companionship: sorrow swiftly welded their friendship.
Before Mrs. Falchion slept that night, she said again: "We will leave here to-morrow, Justine, for ever."
And Justine replied: "Yes, madame, for ever."
The next morning Roscoe was quiet and calm, but he looked ten years older than when I had first seen him. After breakfast he said to me: "I have to go to the valley to pay Phil Boldrick's friend the money, and to see Mr. Devlin. I shall be back, perhaps, by lunchtime. Will you go with me, or stay here?"
"I shall try to get some fishing this morning, I fancy," I said. "And possibly I shall idle a good deal, for my time with you here is shortening, and I want to have a great store of laziness behind me for memory, when I've got my nose to the grindstone."
He turned to the door, and said: "Marmion, I wish you weren't going. I wish that we might be comrades under the same roof till--" He paused and smiled strangely.
"Till the finish," I added, "when we should amble grey-headed, sans everything, out of the mad old world? I imagine Miss Belle Treherne would scarcely fancy that. . . . Still, we can be friends just the same. Our wives won't object to an occasional bout of loafing together, will they?"
I was determined not to take him too seriously. He said nothing, and in a moment he was gone.
I passed the morning idly enough, yet thinking, too, very much about my friend. I was anxiously hoping that the telegram from Winnipeg would come. About noon it came. It was not known quite in what part of the North-west, Madras (under his new name) was, for the corps of mounted police had been changed about recently. My letter had, however, been forwarded into the wilds.
I saw no immediate way but to go to Mrs. Falchion and make a bold bid for his peace. I had promised Madras never to let her know that he was alive, but I would break the promise if Madras himself did not come. After considerable hesitation I started. It must be remembered that the events of the preceding chapter were only known to me afterwards.
Justine Caron was passing through the hall of the hotel when I arrived. After greetings, she said that Mrs. Falchion might see me, but that they were very busy; they were leaving in the evening for the coast. Here was a pleasant revelation! I was so confused with delight at the information, that I could think of nothing more sensible to say than that the unexpected always happens. By this time we were within Mrs. Falchion's sitting-room. And to my remark, Justine replied "Yes, it is so. One has to reckon most with the accidents of life. The expected is either pleasant or unpleasant; there is no middle place."
"You are growing philosophic," said I playfully. "Monsieur," she said gravely, "I hope as I live and travel, I grow a little wiser." Still she lingered, her hand upon the door.
"I had thought that you were always wise."
"Oh no, no! How can you say so? I have been very foolish sometimes." . . . She came back towards me. "If I am wiser I am also happier," she added.
In that moment we understood each other; that is, I read how unselfish this girl could be, and she knew thoroughly the source of my anxiety, and was glad that she could remove it.
"I would not speak to any one save you," she said, "but do you not also think that it is good we go?"
"I have been thinking so, but I hesitated to say so," was my reply.
"You need not hesitate," she said earnestly. "We have both understood, and I know that you are to be trusted."
"Not always," I said, remembering that one experience of mine with Mrs. Falchion on the 'Fulvia'. Holding the back of a chair, and looking earnestly at me, she continued: "Once, on the vessel, you remember, in a hint so very little, I made it appear that madame was selfish. . . . I am sorry. Her heart was asleep. Now, it is awake. She is unselfish. The accident of our going away is hers. She goes to leave peace behind." "I am most glad," said I. "And you think there will be peace?"
"Surely, since this has come, that will come also."
"And you--Mademoiselle?" I should not have asked that question had I known more of the world. It was tactless and unkind.
"For me it is no matter at all. I do not come in anywhere. As I said, I am happy."
And turning quickly, yet not so quickly but that I saw her cheeks were flushed, she passed out of the room. In a moment Mrs. Falchion entered. There was something new in her carriage, in her person. She came towards me, held out her hand, and said, with the same old half-quizzical tone: "Have you, with your unerring instinct, guessed that I was leaving, and so come to say good-bye?"
"You credit me too highly. No, I came to see you because I had an inclination. I did not guess that you were going until Miss Caron told me."
"An inclination to see me is not your usual instinct, is it? Was it some special impulse, based on a scientific calculation--at which, I suppose, you are an adeptor curiosity? Or had it a purpose? Or were you bored, and therefore sought the most startling experience you could conceive?" She deftly rearranged some flowers in a jar.
"I can plead innocence of all directly; I am guilty of all indirectly: I was impelled to come. I reasoned--if that is scientific--on what I
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