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- The Right of Way, Volume 3. - 4/12 -
without the pale. They had a sense of mystery, an air of forbidden imagination.
She put the letter back, went to the door again, and looked out. It was now time to go. Drawing a hood over her head, she stepped out into the night. There was a little frost, though spring was well forward, and the smell of the rich earth and the budding trees was sweet to the sense. The moon had just set, but the stars were shining, and here and there patches of snow on the hillside and in the fields added to the light. Yet it was not bright enough to see far, and as Rosalie moved down the street she did not notice a figure at a little distance behind, walking on the new-springing grass by the roadside. All was quiet at the tavern; there was no light in the Notary's house--as a rule, he sat up late, reading; and even the fiddle of Maximilian Cour, the baker, was silent. The Cure's windows were dark, and the church with its white tin spire stood up sentinel-like above the village.
Rosalie had the fateful cross in her hand as she softly opened the gate of the churchyard and approached the great oak doors. Taking a screw- driver and some screws from her pocket, she felt with a finger for the old screw-holes in the door. Then she began her work, looking fearfully round once or twice at first. Presently, however, because the screws were larger than the old ones, it became much harder; the task called forth more strength, and drove all thought of being seen out of her mind for a space. At last, however, she gave the final turn to the handle, and every screw was in its place, its top level and smooth with the iron of the cross. She stopped and looked round again with an uneasy feeling. She could see no one, hear no one, but she began to tremble, and, overcome, she fell on her knees before the door, and, with her fingers on the foot of the little cross, prayed passionately; for herself, for Monsieur.
Suddenly she heard footsteps inside the church. They were coming towards the doorway, nearer and nearer. At first she was so struck with terror that she could not move. Then with a little cry she sprang to her feet, rushed to the gate, threw it open, ran out into the road, ind wildly on towards home. She did not stop for at least three hundred yards. Turning and looking back she saw at the church door a pale round light. With another cry she sped on, and did not pause till she reached the house. Then, bursting in and locking the door, she hurried to her room, undressed quickly, got into bed without saying her prayers, and buried her face in the pillow, shivering and overwrought.
The footsteps she had heard were those of the Cure and Jo Portugais. The Cure had sent for Jo to do some last work upon a little altar, to be used the next day for the first time. The carpenter and the carver in wood who were responsible for the work had fallen victims to white whiskey on the very last day of their task, and had been driven from the church by the Cure, who then sent for Jo. Rosalie had not seen the light at the shrine, as it was on the side of the church farthest from the village.
Their labour finished, the two came towards the front door, the Cure's lantern in his hand. Opening the door, Jo heard the sound of footsteps and saw a figure flying down the road. As the Cure came out abstractedly, he glanced sorrowfully towards the place where the little cross was used to be. He gave a wondering cry, and almost dropped the lantern.
"See, see, Portugais," he said, "our little cross again!" Jo nodded. "So it seems, Monsieur," he said.
At that instant he saw a hood lying on the ground, and as the Cure held up the lantern, peering at the little cross, he hastily picked it up and thrust it inside his coat.
"Strange--very strange!" said the Cure. "It must have been done while we were inside. It was not there when we entered."
"We entered by the vestry door," said Jo.
"Ah, true-true," responded the Cure.
"It comes as it went," said Jo. "You can't account for some things."
The Cure turned and looked at Jo curiously. "Are you then so superstitious, Jo? Nonsense; it is the work of human hands--very human hands," he added sadly.
"There is nothing to show," said the Cure, seeing Jo's glance round.
"As you see, M'sieu' le Cure."
"Well, it is a mystery which time no doubt will clear up. Meanwhile, let us be thankful to God," said the Cure.
They parted, the Cure going through a side-gate into his own garden, Jo passing out of the churchyard-gate through which Rosalie had gone. He looked down the road towards the village.
"Well!" said a voice in his ear. Paulette Dubois stood before him.
"It was you, then," he said, with a glowering look. "What did you want with it?"
"What do you want with the hood in your coat there?" She threw her head back with a spiteful laugh. "Whose do you think it is?" he said quietly.
"You and the schoolmaster made verses about her once."
"It was Rosalie Evanturel?" he asked, with aggravating composure.
"You have the hood-look at it! You saw her running down the road; I saw her come, watched her, and saw her go. She is a thief--pretty Rosalie-- thief and postmistress! No doubt she takes letters too."
"The ones you wait for, and that never come--eh?" Her face darkened with rage and hatred. "I will tell the world she's a thief," she sneered.
"Who will believe you?"
"You will." She was hard and fierce, and looked him in the eyes squarely. "You'll give evidence quick enough, if I ask you."
"I wouldn't do anything you asked me to-nothing, if it was to save my life."
"I'll prove her a thief without you. She can't deny it."
"If you try it, I'll--" He stopped, husky and shaking.
"You'll kill me, eh? You killed him, and you didn't hang. Oh no, you wouldn't kill me, Jo," she added quickly, in a changed voice. "You've had enough of that kind of thing. If I'd been you, I'd rather have hung --ah, sure!" She suddenly came close to him. "Do you hate me so bad, Jo?" she said anxiously. "It's eight years--do you hate me so bad as then?"
"You keep your tongue off Rosalie Evanturel," he said, and turned on his heel.
She caught his arm. "We're both bad, Jo. Can't we be friends?" she said eagerly, her voice shaking.
He did not reply.
"Don't drive a woman too hard," she said between her teeth.
"Threats! Pah!" he rejoined. "What do you think I'm made of?"
"I'll find that out," she said, and, turning on her heel, ran down the road towards the Manor House. "What had Rosalie to do with the cross?" Jo said to himself. "This is her hood." He took it out and looked at it. "It's her hood--but what did she want with the cross?"
He hurried on, and as he neared the post-office he saw the figure of a woman in the road. At first he thought it might be Rosalie, but as he came nearer he saw it was not. The woman was muttering and crying. She wandered to and fro bewilderedly. He came up, caught her by the arm, and looked into her face.
It was old Margot Patry.
THE WOMAN WHO DID NOT TELL
"Oh, M'sieu', I am afraid."
"Afraid of what, Margot?"
"Of the last moment, M'sieu' le Cure."
"There will be no last moment to your mind--you will not know it when it comes, Margot."
The woman trembled. "I am not sorry to die. But I am afraid; it is so lonely, M'sieu' le Cure."
"God is with us, Margot."
"When we are born we do not know. It is on the shoulders of others. When we die we know, and we have to answer."
"Is the answering so hard, Margot?"
The woman shook her head feebly and sadly, but did not speak.
"You have been a good mother, Margot." She made no sign.
"You have been a good neighbour; you have done unto others as you would be done by."
She scarcely seemed to hear.
"You have been a good servant--doing your duty in season and out of season; honest and just and faithful."
The woman's fingers twitched on the coverlet, and she moved her head restlessly.
The Curb almost smiled, for it seemed as if Margot were finding herself wanting. Yet none in Chaudiere but knew that she had lived a blameless life--faithful, friendly, a loving and devoted mother, whose health had been broken by sleepless attendance at sick-beds by night, while doing her daily work at the house of the late Louis Trudel.
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