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- The Right of Way, Volume 1. - 10/13 -


there is old Sainton. He married a rich woman, he has had the platter of plenty before him always, he wears ribbons and such like baubles given by the Queen, but his son had to flee the country. There's Herring. He doesn't sleep because his daughter is going to marry an Italian count. There's Latouche. His place in the cabinet is begotten in corruption, in the hotbed of faction war. There's Kenealy. His wife has led him a dance of deep damnation. There's the lot of them--every one, not an ounce of peace among them, except with old Casson, who weighs eighteen stone, lives like a pig, grows stuffier in mind and body every day, and drinks half a bottle of whiskey every night. There's no one else--yes, there is!"

He was looking at a small black-robed figure with clean-shaven face, white hair, and shovel-hat, who passed slowly along the wooden walk beneath, with meditative content in his face.

"There's peace," he said with a laugh. "I've known Father Hallon for twenty-five years, and no man ever worked so hard, ever saw more trouble, ever shared other people's bad luck mere than he; ever took the bit in his teeth, when it was a matter of duty, stronger than he; and yet there's peace; he has it; a peace that passes all understanding--mine anyhow. I've never had a minute's real peace. The World, or Nature, or God, or It, whatever the name is, owes me peace. And how is It to give it? Why, by answering my questions. Now it's a curious thing that the only person I ever met who could answer any questions of mine--answer them in the way that satisfies--is Suzon. She works things down to phrases. She has wisdom in the raw, and a real grip on life, and yet all the men she has known have been river-drivers and farmers, and a few men from town who mistook the sort of Suzon she is. Virtuous and straight, she's a born child of Aphrodite too--by nature. She was made for love. A thousand years ago she would have had a thousand loves! And she thinks the world is a magnificent place, and she loves it, and wallows--fairly wallows--in content. Now which is right: Suzon or Father Hallon-- Aphrodite or the Nazarene? Which is peace--as the bird and the beast of the field get it--the fallow futile content, or--"

He suddenly stopped, hiccoughed, then hurriedly drawing paper before him, he sat down. For an hour he wrote. It grew darker. He pushed the table nearer the window, and the singing of the choir in the church came in upon him as his pen seemed to etch words into the paper, firm, eccentric, meaning. What he wrote that evening has been preserved, and the yellow sheets lie loosely in a black despatch-box which contains the few records Charley Steele left behind him. What he wrote that night was the note of his mind, the key to all those strange events through which he began to move two hours after the lines were written:

Over thy face is a veil of white sea-mist, Only thine eyes shine like stars; bless or blight me, I will hold close to the leash at thy wrist, O Aphrodite!

Thou in the East and I here in the West, Under our newer skies purple and pleasant: Who shall decide which is better--attest, Saga or peasant?

Thou with Serapis, Osiris, and Isis, I with Jehovah, in vapours and shadows; Thou with the gods' joy-enhancing devices, Sweet-smelling meadows!

What is there given us?--Food and some raiment, Toiling to reach to some Patmian haven, Giving up all for uncertain repayment, Feeding the raven!

Striving to peer through the infinite azure, Alternate turning to earthward and falling, Measuring life with Damastian measure, Finite, appalling.

What does it matter! They passed who with Homer Poured out the wine at the feet of their idols: Passing, what found they? To-come a misnomer, It and their idols?

Sacristan, acolyte, player, or preacher, Each to his office, but who holds the key? Death, only Death--thou, the ultimate teacher Wilt show it to me.

And when the forts and the barriers fall, Shall we then find One the true, the almighty, Wisely to speak with the worst of us all-- Ah, Aphrodite!

Waiting, I turn from the futile, the human, Gone is the life of me, laughing with youth Steals to learn all in the face of a woman, Mendicant Truth!

Rising with a bitter laugh, and murmuring the last lines, he thrust the papers into a drawer, locked it, and going quickly from the room, he went down-stairs. His horse and cart were waiting for him, and he got in.

The groom looked at him inquiringly. "The Cote Dorion!" he said, and they sped away through the night.

CHAPTER VIII

THE COST OF THE ORNAMENT

One, two, three, four, five, six miles. The sharp click of the iron hoofs on the road; the strong rush of the river; the sweet smell of the maple and the pungent balsam; the dank rich odour of the cedar swamp; the cry of the loon from the water; the flaming crane in the fishing-boat; the fisherman, spear in hand, staring into the dark waters tinged with sombre red; the voice of a lonely settler keeping time to the ping of the axe as, lengthening out his day to nightly weariness, he felled a tree; river-drivers' camps spotted along the shore; huge cribs or rafts which had swung down the great stream for scores of miles, the immense oars motionless, the little houses on the timbers blinking with light; and from cheerful raftsmen coming the old familiar song of the rivers:

"En roulant, ma boule roulant, En roulant ma boule!"

Not once had Charley Steele turned his head as the horse sped on. His face was kept straight along the line of the road; he seemed not to see or to hear, to be unresponsive to sound or scene. The monocle at his eye was like a veil to hide the soul, a defence against inquiry, itself the unceasing question, a sort of battery thrown forward, a kind of field- casemate for a lonely besieged spirit.

It was full of suggestion. It might have been the glass behind which showed some mediaeval relic, the body of some ancient Egyptian king whose life had been spent in doing wonders and making signs--the primitive, anthropomorphic being. He might have been a stone man, for any motion that he made. Yet looking at him closely you would have seen discontent in the eye, a kind of glaze of the sardonic over the whole face.

What is the good! the face asked. What is there worth doing? it said. What a limitless futility! it urged, fain to be contradicted too, as the grim melancholy of the figure suggested.

"To be an animal and soak in the world," he thought to himself--" that is natural; and the unnatural is civilisation, and the cheap adventure of the mind into fields of baffling speculation, lighted by the flickering intelligences of dead speculators, whose seats we have bought in the stock-exchange of mortality, and exhaust our lives in paying for. To eat, to drink, to lie fallow, indifferent to what comes after, to roam like the deer, and to fight like the tiger--"

He came to a dead stop in his thinking. "To fight like the tiger!" He turned his head quickly now to where upon a raft some river-drivers were singing:

"And when a man in the fight goes down, Why, we will carry him home!"

"To fight like the tiger!" Ravage--the struggle to possess from all the world what one wished for one's self, and to do it without mercy and without fear-that was the clear plan in the primitive world, where action was more than speech and dominance than knowledge. Was not civilisation a mistake, and religion the insinuating delusion designed to cover it up; or, if not designed, accepted by the original few who saw that humanity could not turn back, and must even go forward with illusions, lest in mere despair all men died and the world died with them?

His eyes wandered to the raft where the men were singing, and he remembered the threat made: that if he came again to the Cote Dorion he "would get what for!" He remembered the warning of Rouge Gosselin conveyed by Jolicoeur, and a sinister smile crossed over his face. The contradictions of his own thoughts came home to him suddenly, for was it not the case that his physical strength alone, no matter what his skill, would be of small service to him in a dark corner of contest? Primitive ideas could only hold in a primitive world. His real weapon was his brain, that which civilisation had given him in lieu of primitive prowess and the giant's strength.

They had come to a long piece of corduroy-road, and the horse's hoofs struck rumbling hollow sounds from the floor of cedar logs. There was a swamp on one side where fire-flies were flickering, and there flashed into Charley Steele's mind some verses he had once learned at school:

"They made her a grave too cold and damp For a soul so warm and true--"

It kept repeating itself in his brain in a strange dreary monotone.

"Stop the horse. I'll walk the rest of the way," he said presently to the groom. "You needn't come for me, Finn; I'll walk back as far as the Marochal Tavern. At twelve sharp I'll be there. Give yourself a drink and some supper"--he put a dollar into the man's hand--"and no white whiskey, mind: a bottle of beer and a leg of mutton, that's the thing." He nodded his head, and by the light of the moon walked away smartly down the corduroy-road through the shadows of the swamp. Finn the groom looked after him.

"Well, if he ain't a queer dick! A reg'lar 'centric--but a reg'lar brick, cutting a wide swathe as he goes. He's a tip-topper; and he's a sort of tough too--a sort of a kind of a tough. Well, it's none of my business. Get up!" he added to the horse, and turning round in the road with difficulty, he drove back a mile to the Tavern Marochal for his beer and mutton--and white whiskey.

Charley stepped on briskly, his shining leather shoes, straw hat, and


The Right of Way, Volume 1. - 10/13

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