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- The Right of Way, Volume 2. - 10/13 -


"How much of this paper have you?" he asked. The girl looked under the counter. "Six packets," she said. "Six, and a few sheets over."

"I will take it all. But keep it for me, for a week, or perhaps a fortnight, will you?" He did not need all this paper to write letters upon, yet he meant to buy all the paper of this sort that the shop contained. But he must get money from Louis Trudel--he would speak about it to-morrow.

"Monsieur does not want me to sell even the loose sheets?"

"No. I like the paper, and I will take it all."

"Very good, Monsieur."

Her heart was beating hard. All this man did had peculiar significance to her. His look seemed to say: "Do not fear. I will tell you things."

She gave him the parcel and the change, and he turned to go. "You read much?" he asked, almost casually, yet deeply interested in the charm and intelligence of her face.

"Why, yes, Monsieur," she answered quickly. "I am always reading."

He did not speak at once. He was wondering whether, in this primitive place, such a mind and nature would be the wiser for reading; whether it were not better to be without a mental aspiration, which might set up false standards.

"What are you reading now?" he asked, with his hand on the door.

"Antony and Cleopatra, also Enoch Arden," she answered, in good English, and without accent.

His head turned quickly towards her, but he did not speak.

"Enoch Arden is terrible," she added eagerly. "Don't you think so, Monsieur?"

"It is very painful," he answered. "Good-night." He opened the door and went out.

She ran to the door and watched him go down the street. For a little she stood thinking, then, turning to the counter, and snatching up a sheet of the paper he had bought, held it up to the light. She gave a cry of amazement.

"Kathleen!" she exclaimed.

She thought of the start he gave when he looked at the water-mark; she thought of the look on his face when he said he would buy all this paper she had.

"Who was Kathleen?" she whispered, as though she was afraid some one would hear. "Who was Kathleen!" she said again resentfully.

CHAPTER XVI

MADAME DAUPHIN HAS A MISSION

One day Charley began to know the gossip of the village about him from a source less friendly than Jo Portugais. The Notary's wife, bringing her boy to be measured for a suit of broadcloth, asked Charley if the things Jo had told about him were true, and if it was also true that he was a Protestant, and perhaps an Englishman. As yet, Charley had been asked no direct questions, for the people of Chaudiere had the consideration of their temperament; but the Notary's wife was half English, and being a figure in the place, she took to herself more privileges than did old Madame Dugal, the Cure's sister.

To her ill-disguised impertinence in English, as bad as her French and as fluent, Charley listened with quiet interest. When she had finished her voluble statement she said, with a simper and a sneer-for, after all, a Notary's wife must keep her position--"And now, what is the truth about it? And are you a Protestant?"

There was a sinister look in old Trudel's eyes as, cross-legged on his table, he listened to Madame Dauphin. He remembered the time, twenty- five years ago, when he had proposed to this babbling woman, and had been rejected with scorn--to his subsequent satisfaction; for there was no visible reason why any one should envy the Notary, in his house or out of it. Already Trudel had a respect for the tongue of M'sieu'. He had not talked much the few days he had been in the shop, but, as the old man had said to Filion Lacasse the saddler, his brain was like a pair of shears-- it went clip, clip, clip right through everything. He now hoped that his new apprentice, with the hand of a master-workman, would go clip, clip through madame's inquisitiveness. He was not disappointed, for he heard Charley say:

"One person in the witness-box at a time, Madame. Till Jo Portugais is cross-examined and steps down, I don't see what I can do!"

"But you are a Protestant!" said the woman snappishly. This man was only a tailor, dressed in fulled cloth, and no doubt his past life would not bear inspection; and she was the Notary's wife, and had said to people in the village that she would find out the man's history from himself.

"That is one good reason why I should not go to confession," he replied casually, and turned to a table where he had been cutting a waistcoat-- for the first time in his life.

"Do you think I'm going to stand your impertinence? Do you know who I am?"

Charley calmly put up his monocle. He looked at the foolish little woman with so cruel a flash of the eye that she shrank back.

"I should know you anywhere," he said.

"Come, Stephan," she said nervously to her boy, and pulled him towards the door.

On the instant Charley's feeling changed. Was he then going to carry the old life into the new, and rebuke a silly garish woman whose faults were generic more than personal? He hurried forward to the door and courteously opened it for her.

"Permit me, Madame," he said.

She saw that there was nothing ironical in this politeness. She had a sudden apprehension of an unusual quality called "the genteel," for no storekeeper in Chaudiere ever opened or shut a shop-door for anybody. She smiled a vacuous smile; she played "the lady" terribly, as, with a curious conception of dignity, she held her body stiff as a ramrod, and with a prim merci sailed into the street.

This gorgeous exit changed her opinion of the man she had been unable to catechise. Undoubtedly he had snubbed her--that was the word she used in her mind--but his last act had enabled her, in the sight of several habitants and even of Madame Dugal, "to put on airs," as the charming Madame Dugal said afterwards.

Thinking it better to give the impression that she had had a successful interview, she shook her head mysteriously when asked about M'sieu', and murmured, "He is quite the gentleman!" which she thought a socially distinguished remark.

When she had gone, Charley turned to old Louis.

"I don't want to turn your customers away," he said quietly, "but there it is! I don't need to answer questions as a part of the business, do I?"

There was a sour grin on the face of old Trudel. He grunted some inaudible answer, then, after a pause, added: "I'd have been hung for murder, if she'd answered the question I asked her once as I wanted her to."

He opened and shut his shears with a sardonic gesture.

Charley smiled, and went to the window. For a minute he stood watching Madame Dauphin and Rosalie at the post-office door. The memory of his talk with Rosalie was vivid to him at the moment. He was thinking also that he had not a penny in the world to pay for the rest of the paper he had bought. He turned round and put on his coat slowly.

"What are you doing that for?" asked the old man, with a kind of snarl, yet with trepidation.

"I don't think I'll work any more to-day."

"Not work! Smoke of the devil, isn't Sunday enough to play in? You're not put out by that fool wife of Dauphin's?"

"Oh no--not that! I want an understanding about wages."

To Louis the dread crisis had come. He turned a little green, for he was very miserly-for the love of God.

He had scarcely realised what was happening when Charley first sat down on the bench beside him. He had been taken by surprise. Apart from the excitement of the new experience, he had profited by the curiosity of the public, for he had orders enough to keep him busy until summer, and he had had to give out work to two extra women in the parish, though he had never before had more than one working for him. But his ruling passion was strong in him. He always remembered with satisfaction that once when the Cure was absent and he was supposed to be dying, a priest from another parish came, and, the ministrations over, he had made an offering of a gold piece. When the young priest hesitated, his fingers had crept back to the gold piece, closed on it, and drawn it back beneath the coverlet again. He had then peacefully fallen asleep. It was a gracious memory.

"I don't need much, I don't want a great deal," continued Charley when the tailor did not answer, "but I have to pay for my bed and board, and I can't do it on nothing."

"How have you done it so far?" peevishly replied the tailor.

"By working after hours at carpentering up there"--he made a gesture towards Vadrome Mountain. "But I can't go on doing that all the time, or I'll be like you too soon."

"Be like me!" The voice of the tailor rose shrilly.

"Be like me! What's the matter with me?"


The Right of Way, Volume 2. - 10/13

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