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- The Right of Way, Volume 3. - 2/12 -
she saw Charley come slowly down the staircase, his face white with misery. She ran and took his arm to help him down.
"No, no, dear Mademoiselle," he said; "I shall be all right presently. You must get help to carry him up stairs. Bring the Notary; he and I can carry him up."
"You, Monsieur! You--it would kill you! You are terribly hurt."
"I must help to carry him, else people will be asking questions," he answered painfully. "He is going to die. It must not be known--you understand!" His eyes searched the floor until they found the cross. Rosalie picked it up with the pincers. "It must not be known what he did to me," Charley said to the muttering and weeping old woman. He caught her shoulder with his hand, for she seemed scarcely to heed.
She nodded. "Yes, yes, M'sieu', I will never speak." Rosalie was standing in the door. "Go quickly, Mademoiselle," he said. She disappeared with the iron cross, and flying across the street, thrust it inside the post-office, then ran to the house of the Notary.
THE RETURN OF THE TAILOR
Twenty minutes later the tailor was lying in his bed, breathing, but still unconscious, the Notary, M'sieu', and the doctor of the next parish, who by chance was in Chaudiere, beside him. Charley's face was drawn and haggard with pain, for he had helped to carry old Louis to bed, though every motion of his arms gave him untold agony. In the doorway stood Rosalie and Margot Patry.
"Will he live?" asked the Notary.
The doctor shook his head. "A few hours, perhaps. He fell downstairs?"
Charley nodded. There was silence for some time, as the doctor went on with his ministrations, and the Notary sat drumming his fingers on the little table beside the bed. The two women stole away to the kitchen, where Rosalie again pressed secrecy on Margot. In the interest of the cause she had even threatened Margot with a charge of complicity. She had heard the phrase "accessory before the fact," and she used it now with good effect.
Then she took some fresh flour and oil, and thrust them inside the bedroom door where Charley now sat clinching his hands and fighting down the pain. Careful as ever of his personal appearance, however, he had brushed every speck of flour from his clothes, and buttoned his coat up to the neck.
Nearly an hour passed, and then the Cure appeared. When he entered the sick man's room, Charley followed, and again Rosalie and old Margot came and stood within the doorway.
"Peace be to this house!" said the Cure. He had a few minutes of whispered conversation with the doctor, and then turned to Charley.
"He fell down-stairs, Monsieur? You saw him fall?"
"I was in my room--I heard him fall, Cure."
"Had he been ill during the day?"
"He appeared to be feeble, and he seemed moody."
"More than usual, Monsieur?" The Cure had heard of the incident of the morning when Filion Lacasse accused Charley of stealing the cross.
"Rather more than usual, Monsieur."
The Cure turned towards the door. "You, Mademoiselle Rosalie, how came you to know?"
"I was in the kitchen with Margot, who was not well."
The Cure looked at Margot, who tearfully nodded. "I was ill," she said, "and Rosalie was here with me. She helped M'sieu' and me. Rosalie is a good girl, and kind to me," she whimpered.
The Cure seemed satisfied, and after looking at the sick man for a moment, he came close to Charley. "I am deeply pained at what happened to-day," he said courteously. "I know you have had nothing to do with the beloved little cross."
The Notary tried to draw near and listen, but the Cure's look held him back. The doctor was busy with his patient.
"You are only just, Monsieur," said Charley in response, wishing that these kind eyes were fixed anywhere than on his face.
All at once the Cure laid a hand upon his arm. "You are ill," he said anxiously. "You look very ill indeed. See, Vaudrey," he added to the doctor, "you have another patient here!"
The friendly, oleaginous doctor came over and peered into Charley's face. "Ill-sure enough!" he said. "Look at this sweat!" he pointed to the drops of perspiration on Charley's forehead. "Where do you suffer?"
"Severe pains all through my body," Charley answered simply, for it seemed easier to tell the truth, as near as might be.
"I must look to you," said the doctor. "Go and lie down, and I will come to you."
Charley bowed, but did not move. Just then two things drew the attention of all: the tailor showed returning consciousness, and there was noise of many voices outside the house and the tramping of feet below-stairs.
"Go and tell them no one must come up," said the doctor to the Notary, and the Cure made ready to say the last offices for the dying.
Presently the noise below-stairs diminished, and the priest's voice rose in the office, vibrating and touching. The two women sank to their knees, the doctor followed, his eyes still fixed on the dying man. Presently, however, Charley did the same; for something penetrating and reasonable in the devotion touched him.
All at once Louis Trudel opened his eyes. Staring round with acute excitement, his eyes fell on the Cure, then upon Charley.
"Stop--stop, M'sieu' le Cure!" he cried. "There's other work to do." He gasped and was convulsed, but the pallor of his face was alive with fire from the distempered eyes. He snatched from his breast the paper Charley had neglected to burn. He thrust it into the Curb's hand.
"See--see!" he croaked. "He is an infidel--black infidel--from hell!" His voice rose in a kind of shriek, piercing to every corner of the house. He pointed at Charley with shaking finger.
"He wrote it there--on that paper. He doesn't--believe in God."
His strength failed him, his hand clutched tremblingly at the air. He laughed, a dry, crackling laugh, and his mouth opened twice or thrice to speak, but gasping breaths only came forth. With a last effort, however- -as the priest, shocked, stretched out his hand and said: "Have done, have done, Trudel!"--he cried, in a voice that quavered shrilly:
"He asked--tailor-man--sign--from--Heaven. Look-look!" He pointed wildly at Charley. "I--gave him--sign of--"
But that was the end. With a shudder the body collapsed in a formless heap, and the tailor-man was gone to tell of the work he had done for his faith on earth.
THE CURE HAS AN INSPIRATION
White and malicious faces peered through the doorway. There was an ugly murmur coming up the staircase. Many habitants had heard Louis Trudel's last words, and had passed them on with vehement exaggeration.
Chaudiere had been touched in its most superstitious corner. Protestantism was a sin, but atheism was a crime against humanity. The Protestant might be the victim of a mistake, but the atheist was the deliberate son of darkness, the source of fearful dangers. An atheist in their midst was like a scorpion in a flower-bed--no one could tell when and where he would sting. Rough misdemeanours among them had been many, there had once been a murder in the parish, but the undefined horrors of infidelity were more shameful than crimes the eye could see.
To the minds of these excited people the tailor-man's death was due to the infidel before them. They were ready to do all that might become a Catholic intent to avenge the profaned honour of the Church and the faith. Bodily harm was the natural form for their passion to take.
"Bring him out--let us have him!" they cried with fierce gestures, to which Rosalie Evanturel turned a pained, indignant face.
As the Curb stood with the paper in his hand, his face set and bitter, Rosalie made a step forward. She meant to tell the truth about Louis Trudel, and show how good this man was, who stood charged with an imaginary crime. But she met the warning eye of the man himself, calm and resolute, she saw the suffering in the face, endured with what composure! and she felt instantly that she must obey him, and that--who could tell?--his plan might be the best in the end. She looked at the Cure anxiously. What would he say and do? In the Cure's heart and mind a great struggle was going on. All his inherent prejudice, the hereditary predisposition of centuries, the ingrain hatred of atheism, were alive in him, hardening his mind against the man before him. His first impulse was to let Charley take his fate at the hands of the people of Chaudiere, whatever it might be. But as he looked at the man, as he recalled their first meeting, and remembered the simple, quiet life he had lived among them--charitable, and unselfish--the barriers of creed and habit fell down, and tears unbidden rushed into his eyes.
The Cure had, all at once, the one great inspiration of his life--its one beautiful and supreme imagining. For thus he reasoned swiftly:
Here he was, a priest who had shepherded a flock of the faithful passed on to him by another priest before him, who again had received them from a guardian of the fold--a family of faithful Catholics whose thoughts never strayed into forbidden realms. He had done no more than keep them faithful and prevent them from wandering--counselling, admonishing,
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