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- Mrs. Falchion, Volume 2. - 6/25 -


Others might have doubts as to the proper course to pursue under certain circumstances; it was not so with Phil. They might argue a thing out orally, he did so mentally, and gave judgment on it orally. He was final, not oracular. One of his eyes was of glass, and blue; the other had an eccentricity, and was of a deep and meditative grey. It was a wise and knowing eye. It was trained to many things--like one servant in a large family. One side of his face was solemn, because of the gay but unchanging blue eye, the other was gravely humourous, shrewdly playful. His fellow citizens respected him; so much so, that they intended to give him an office in the new-formed corporation; which means that he had courage and downrightness, and that the rough, straightforward gospel of the West was properly interpreted by him.

If a stranger came to the place, Phil was sent first to reconnoitre; if any function was desirable, Phil was requested to arrange it; if justice was to be meted out, Phil's opinion had considerable weight--for he had much greater leisure than other more prosperous men; if a man was taken ill (this was in the days before a doctor came), Phil was asked to declare if he would "shy from the finish."

I heard Roscoe more than once declare that Phil was as good as two curates to him. Not that Phil was at all pious, nor yet possessed of those abstemious qualities in language and appetite by which good men are known; but he had a gift of civic virtue--important in a wicked world, and of unusual importance in Viking. He had neither self-consciousness nor fear; and while not possessed of absolute tact in a social way, he had a knack of doing the right thing bluntly, or the wrong thing with an air of rightness. He envied no man, he coveted nothing; had once or twice made other men's fortunes by prospecting, but was poor himself. And in all he was content, and loved life and Viking.

Immediately after Roscoe had reached the mountains Phil had become his champion, declaring that there was not any reason why a man should not be treated sociably because he was a parson. Phil had been a great traveller, as had many who settled at last in these valleys to the exciting life of the river: salmon-catching or driving logs. He had lived for a time in Lower California and Mexico, and had given Roscoe the name of The Padre: which suited the genius and temper of the rude population. And so it was that Roscoe was called The Padre by every one, though he did not look the character.

As he told his story of Phil's life I could not help but contrast him with most of the clergymen I knew or had seen. He had the admirable ease and tact of a cultured man of the world, and the frankness and warmth of a hearty nature, which had, however, some inherent strain of melancholy. Wherever I had gone with him I had noticed that he was received with good-humoured deference by his rough parishioners and others who were such only in the broadest sense. Perhaps he would not have succeeded so well if he had worn clerical clothes. As it was, of a week day, he could not be distinguished from any respectable layman. The clerical uniform attracts women more than men, who, if they spoke truly, would resent it. Roscoe did not wear it, because he thought more of men than of function, of manliness than clothes; and though this sometimes got him into trouble with his clerical brethren who dearly love Roman collar, and coloured stole, and the range of ritual from a lofty intoning to the eastward position, he managed to live and himself be none the worse, while those who knew him were certainly the better.

When Roscoe had finished his tale, Mrs. Falchion said: "Mr. Boldrick must be a very interesting man;" and her eyes wandered up to the great hole in the mountain-side, and lingered there. "As I said, I must meet him," she added; "men of individuality are rare." Then: "That great 'hole in the wall' is, of course, a natural formation."

"Yes," said Roscoe. "Nature seems to have made it for Boldrick. He uses it as a storehouse."

"Who watches it while he is away?" she said. "There is no door to the place, of course."

Roscoe smiled enigmatically. "Men do not steal up here: that is the unpardonable crime; any other may occur and go unpunished; not it."

The thought seemed to strike Mrs. Falchion. "I might have known!" she said. "It is the same in the South Seas among the natives--Samoans, Tongans, Fijians, and others. You can--as you know, Mr. Roscoe,"--her voice had a subterranean meaning,--" travel from end to end of those places, and, until the white man corrupts them, never meet with a case of stealing; you will find them moral too in other ways until the white man corrupts them. But sometimes the white man pays for it in the end."

Her last words were said with a kind of dreaminess, as though they had no purpose; but though she sat now idly looking into the valley beneath, I could see that her eyes had a peculiar glance, which was presently turned on Roscoe, then withdrawn again. On him the effect was so far disturbing that he became a little pale, but I noticed that he met her glance unflinchingly and then looked at me, as if to see in how far I had been affected by her speech. I think I confessed to nothing in my face.

Justine Caron was lost in the scene before us. She had, I fancy, scarcely heard half that had been said. Roscoe said to her presently: "You like it, do you not?"

"Like it?" she said. "I never saw anything so wonderful."

"And yet it would not be so wonderful without humanity there," rejoined Mrs. Falchion. "Nature is never complete without man. All that would be splendid without the mills and the machinery and Boldrick's cable, but it would not be perfect: it needs man--Phil Boldrick and Company in the foreground. Nature is not happy by itself: it is only brooding and sorrowful. You remember the mountain of Talili in Samoa, Mr. Roscoe, and the valley about it: how entrancing yet how melancholy it is. It always seems to be haunted, for the natives never live in the valley. There is a tradition that once one of the white gods came down from heaven, and built an altar, and sacrificed a Samoan girl--though no one ever knew quite why: for there the tradition ends."

I felt again that there was a hidden meaning in her words; but Roscoe remained perfectly still. It seemed to me that I was little by little getting the threads of his story. That there was a native girl; that the girl had died or been killed; that Roscoe was in some way--innocently I dared hope--connected with it; and that Mrs. Falchion held the key to the mystery, I was certain. That it was in her mind to use the mystery, I was also certain. But for what end I could not tell. What had passed between them in London the previous winter I did not know: but it seemed evident that she had influenced him there as she did on the 'Fulvia', had again lost her influence, and was now resenting the loss, out of pique or anger, or because she really cared for him. It might be that she cared.

She added after a moment: "Add man to nature, and it stops sulking: which goes to show that fallen humanity is better than no company at all."

She had an inherent strain of mockery, of playful satire, and she told me once, when I knew her better, that her own suffering always set her laughing at herself, even when it was greatest. It was this characteristic which made her conversation very striking, it was so sharply contrasted in its parts; a heartless kind of satire set against the most serious and acute statements. One never knew when she would turn her own or her interlocutor's gravity into mirth.

Now no one replied immediately to her remarks, and she continued: "If I were an artist I should wish to paint that scene, given that the lights were not so bright and that mill machinery not so sharply defined. There is almost too much limelight, as it were; too much earnestness in the thing. Either there should be some side-action of mirth to make it less intense, or of tragedy to render it less photographic; and unless, Dr. Marmion, you would consent to be solemn, which would indeed be droll; or that The Padre there--how amusing they should call him that!--should cease to be serious, which, being so very unusual, would be tragic, I do not know how we are to tell the artist that he has missed a chance of immortalising himself."

Roscoe said nothing, but smiled at her vivacity, while he deprecated her words by a wave of his hand. I also was silent for a moment; for there had come to my mind, while she was speaking and I was watching the scene, something that Hungerford had said to me once on board the 'Fulvia'. "Marmion," said he, "when everything at sea appears so absolutely beautiful and honest that it thrills you, and you're itching to write poetry, look out. There's trouble ahead. It's only the pretty pause in the happy scene of the play before the villain comes in and tumbles things about. When I've been on the bridge," he continued, "of a night that set my heart thumping, I knew, by Jingo! it was the devil playing his silent overture. Don't you take in the twaddle about God sending thunderbolts; it's that old war-horse down below.--And then I've kept a sharp lookout, for I knew as right as rain that a company of waterspouts would be walking down on us, or a hurricane racing to catch us broadsides. And what's gospel for sea is good for land, and you'll find it so, my son."

I was possessed of the same feeling now as I looked at the scene before us, and I suppose I seemed moody, for immediately Mrs. Falchion said: "Why, now my words have come true; the scene can be made perfect. Pray step down to the valley, Dr. Marmion, and complete the situation, for you are trying to seem serious, and it is irresistibly amusing--and professional, I suppose; one must not forget that you teach the young 'sawbones' how to saw."

I was piqued, annoyed. I said, though I admit it was not cleverly said: "Mrs. Falchion, I am willing to go and complete that situation, if you will go with me; for you would provide the tragedy--plenty of it; there would be the full perihelion of elements; your smile is the incarnation of the serious."

She looked at me full in the eyes. "Now that," she said, "is a very good 'quid pro quo'--is that right?--and I have no doubt that it is more or less true; and for a doctor to speak truth and a professor to be under stood is a matter for angels. And I actually believe that, in time, you will be free from priggishness, and become a brilliant conversationalist; and--suppose we wander on to our proper places in the scene. . . . Besides, I want to see that strange man, Mr. Boldrick."

CHAPTER XIV

THE PATH OF THE EAGLE

We travelled slowly down the hillside into the village, and were about to turn towards the big mill when we saw Mr. Devlin and Ruth riding towards us. We halted and waited for them. Mr. Devlin was introduced to Mrs. Falchion by his daughter, who was sweetly solicitous concerning Mrs. Falchion and Justine Caron, and seemed surprised at finding them abroad after the accident of the day before. Ruth said that her father and herself had just come from the summer hotel, where they had gone to call upon Mrs. Falchion. Mrs. Falchion heartily acknowledged the courtesy. She seemed to be playing no part, but was apparently grateful all round; yet I believe that even already Ruth had caught at something in her presence threatening Roscoe's peace; whilst she, from the beginning, had, with her more trained instincts, seen the relations between the clergyman


Mrs. Falchion, Volume 2. - 6/25

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