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- Mrs. Falchion, Volume 2. - 4/25 -
marvellous: "You are something more than the chorus to the play this time, Dr. Marmion."
A minute after, and Justine was dragged into our boat, and was followed by Mrs. Falchion, whose first words to Roscoe were: "It is not such a meeting as one would plan."
And he replied: "I am glad no harm has come to you."
The man was duly helped in. A poor creature he was, to pass from this tale as he entered it, ignominiously and finally here. I even hide his nationality, for his race are generally more gallant. But he was wealthy, had an intense admiration for Mrs. Falchion, and had managed to secure her in his boat, to separate from the rest of the picnic party-- chiefly through his inefficient rowing.
Dripping with water as Mrs. Falchion was, she did not, strange to say, appear at serious disadvantage. Almost any other woman would have done so. She was a little pale, she must have felt miserable, but she accepted Ruth Devlin's good offices--as did Justine Caron those of Mrs. Revel--with much self-possession, scanning her face and form critically the while, and occasionally turning a glance on Roscoe, who was now cold and impassive. I never knew a man who could so banish expression from his countenance when necessary. Speaking to Belle Treherne long afterwards of Mrs. Falchion's self-possessed manner on this occasion, and of how she rose superior to the situation, I was told that I must have regarded the thing poetically and dramatically, for no woman could possibly look self-possessed in draggled skirts. She said that I always magnified certain of Mrs. Falchion's qualities.
That may be so, and yet it must be remembered that I was not predisposed towards her, and that I wished her well away from where Roscoe was.
As for Justine Caron, she lay with her head on Mrs. Revel's lap, and looked from beneath heavy eyelids at Roscoe with such gratitude and--but, no, she is only a subordinate in the story, and not a chief factor, and what she said or did here is of no vital consequence at this moment! We rowed to a point near the confluence of the two rivers, where we could leave our boats to be poled back through the rapids or portaged past them.
On the way Mrs. Falchion said to Roscoe: "I knew you were somewhere in the Rockies; and at Vancouver, when I came from San Francisco, I heard of your being here. I had intended spending a month somewhere in the mountains, so I came to Viking, and on to the summer hotel: but really this is too exciting for recreation."
This was spoken with almost gay outward manner, but there was a note in her words which I did not like, nor did I think that her eye was very kind, especially when she looked at Ruth Devlin and afterwards at Roscoe.
We had several miles to go, and it was nightfall--for which Mrs. Falchion expressed herself as profoundly grateful--when we arrived at the hotel. Our parting words were as brief as, of necessity, they had been on our journey through the mountains, for the ladies had ridden the horses which we had sent over for ourselves from Viking, and we men walked in front. Besides, the thoughts of some of us were not at all free from misgiving. The spirit possessing Roscoe the night before seemed to enter into all of us, even into Mrs. Falchion, who had lost, somewhat, the aplomb with which she had held the situation in the boat. But at the door of the hotel she said cheerfully: "Of course, Dr. Marmion will find it necessary to call on his patients to-morrow--and the clergyman also on his new parishoners."
The reply was left to me. I said gravely: "Let us be thankful that both doctor and clergyman are called upon to use their functions; it might easily have been only the latter."
"Oh, do not be funereal!" she replied. "I knew that we were not to drown at the Devil's Slide. The drama is not ended yet, and the chief actors cannot go until 'the curtain.'--Though I am afraid that is not quite orthodox, is it, Mr. Roscoe?"
Roscoe looked at her gravely. "It may not be orthodox as it is said, but it is orthodox, I fancy, if we exchange God for fate, and Providence for chance. . . . Good-night."
He said this wearily. She looked up at him with an ironical look, then held out her hand, and quickly bade him good-night. Partings all round were made, and, after some injunctions to Mrs. Falchion and Justine Caron from myself as to preventives against illness, the rest of us started for Sunburst.
As we went, I could not help but contrast Ruth and Amy Devlin, these two gentle yet strong mountain girls, with the woman we had left. Their lives were far from that dolorous tide which, sweeping through a selfish world, leaves behind it the stain of corroding passions; of cruelties, ingratitude, hate, and catastrophe. We are all ambitious, in one way or another. We climb mountains over scoria that frays and lava that burns. We try to call down the stars, and when, now and then, our conjuring succeeds, we find that our stars are only blasting meteors. One moral mishap lames character for ever. A false start robs us of our natural strength, and a misplaced or unrighteous love deadens the soul and shipwrecks just conceptions of life.
A man may be forgiven for a sin, but the effect remains; it has found its place in his constitution, and it cannot be displaced by mere penitence, nor yet forgiveness. A man errs, and he must suffer; his father erred, and he must endure; or some one sinned against the man, and he hid the sin--But here a hand touched my shoulder! I was startled, for my thoughts had been far away. Roscoe's voice spoke in my ear: "It is as she said; the actors come together for 'the curtain.'"
Then his eyes met those of Ruth Devlin turned to him earnestly and inquiringly. And I felt for a moment hard against Roscoe, that he should even indirectly and involuntarily, bring suffering into her life. In youth, in early manhood, we do wrong. At the time we seem to be injuring no one but ourselves; but, as we live on, we find that we were wronging whomsoever should come into our lives in the future. At the instant I said angrily to myself: "What right has he to love a girl like that, when he has anything in his life that might make her unhappy, or endanger her in ever so little!"
But I bit my tongue, for it seemed to me that I was pharisaical; and I wondered rather scornfully if I should have been so indignant were the girl not so beautiful, young, and ingenuous. I tried not to think further of the matter, and talked much to Ruth,--Gait Roscoe walked with Mrs. Revel and Amy Devlin,--but I found I could not drive it from my mind. This was not unnatural, for was not I the "chorus to the play"?
THE SONG OF THE SAW
There was still a subdued note to Roscoe's manner the next morning. He was pale. He talked freely however of the affairs of Viking and Sunburst, and spoke of business which called him to Mr. Devlin's great saw mill that day. A few moments after breakfast we were standing in the doorway. "Well," he said, "shall we go?"
I was not quite sure where he meant to go, but I took my hat and joined him. I wondered if it would be to the summer hotel or the great mill. My duty lay in the direction of the hotel. When we stepped out, he added: "Let us take the bridle-path along the edge of the ravine to the hotel."
The morning was beautiful. The atmosphere of the woods was of soft, diffusive green--the sunlight filtering through the transparent leaves. Bowers of delicate ferns and vines flanked the path, and an occasional clump of giant cedars invited us: the world was eloquent.
Several tourists upon the verandah of the hotel remarked us with curiosity as we entered. A servant said that Mrs. Falchion would be glad to see us; and we were ushered into her sitting-room. She carried no trace of yesterday's misadventure. She appeared superbly well. And yet, when I looked again, when I had time to think upon and observe detail, I saw signs of change. There was excitement in the eyes, and a slight nervous darkness beneath them, which added to their charm. She rose, smiling, and said: "I fear I am hardly entitled to this visit, for I am beyond convalescence, and Justine is not in need of shrift or diagnosis, as you see."
I was not so sure of Justine Caron as she was, and when I had paid my respects to her, I said a little priggishly (for I was young), still not too solemnly: "I cannot allow you to pronounce for me upon my patients, Mrs. Falchion; I must make my own inquiries."
But Mrs. Falchion was right. Justine Caron was not suffering much from her immersion; though, speaking professionally, her temperature was higher than the normal. But that might be from some impulse of the moment, for Justine was naturally a little excitable.
We walked aside, and, looking at me with a flush of happiness in her face, she said: "You remember one day on the 'Fulvia' when I told you that money was everything to me; that I would do all I honourably could to get it?"
I nodded. She continued: "It was that I might pay a debt--you know it. Well, money is my god no longer, for I can pay all I owe. That is, I can pay the money, but not the goodness, the noble kindness. He is most good, is he not? The world is better that such men as Captain Galt Roscoe live--ah, you see I cannot quite think of him as a clergyman. I wonder if I ever shall!" She grew suddenly silent and abstracted, and, in the moment's pause, some ironical words in Mrs. Falchion's voice floated across the room to me: "It is so strange to see you so. And you preach, and baptise; and marry, and bury, and care for the poor and--ah, what is it?--'all those who, in this transitory life, are in sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity'? . . . And do you never long for the flesh-pots of Egypt? Never long for"--here her voice was not quite so clear--"for the past?"
I was sure that, whatever she was doing, he had been trying to keep the talk, as it were, on the surface. I was equally sure that, to her last question, he would make no reply. Though I was now speaking to Justine Caron, I heard him say quite calmly and firmly: "Yes, I preach, baptise, marry, and bury, and do all I can for those who need help."
"The people about here say that you are good and charitable. You have won the hearts of the mountaineers. But you always had a gift that way."--I did not like her tone.--"One would almost think you had founded a new dispensation. And if I had drowned yesterday, you would, I suppose, have buried me, and have preached a little sermon about me. --You could have done that better than any one else! . . . What would you have said in such a case?"
There was an earnest, almost a bitter, protest in the reply.
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