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- The Right of Way, Volume 3. - 5/12 -
"I will answer for the way you have done your duty, Margot," said the Cure. "You have been a good daughter of the Church."
He paused a minute, and in the pause some one rose from a chair by the window and looked out on the sunset sky. It was Charley. The woman heard, and turned her eyes towards him. "Do you wish him to go?" asked the Cure.
"No, no--oh no, M'sieu'!" she said eagerly. She had asked all day that either Rosalie or M'sieu' should be in the room with her. It would seem as though she were afraid she had not courage enough to keep the secret of the cross without their presence. Charley had yielded to her request, while he shrank from granting it. Yet, as he said to himself, the woman was keeping his secret--his and Rosalie's--and she had some right to make demand.
When the Cure asked the question of old Margot, he turned expectantly, and with a sense of relief. He thought it strange that the Cure should wish him to remain. The Cure, on his part, was well pleased to have him in the influence of a Christian death-bed. A time must come when the last confidences of the dying woman could be given to no ears but his own, but meanwhile it was good that M'sieu' should be there.
"M'sieu' le Cure," said the dying woman, "must I tell all?"
"All what, Margot?"
"All that is sin?"
"There is no must, Margot."
"If you should ask me, M'sieu'--"
She paused, and the man at the window turned and looked curiously at her. He saw the problem in the woman's mind: had she the right to die with the secret of another's crime upon her mind?
"The priest does not ask, Margot: it is you who confess your sins. That is between you and God."
The Cure spoke firmly, for he wanted the man at the window to clearly understand.
"But if there are the sins of others, and you know, and they trouble your soul, M'sieu'?"
"You have nothing to do with the sins of others; it is enough to repent of your own sins. The priest has nothing to do with any sins but those confessed by the sinner to himself. Your own sins are your sole concern to-night, Margot."
The woman's face seemed to clear a little, and her eyes wandered to the man at the window with less anxiety. Charley was wondering whether, after all, she would have the courage to keep her word, whether spiritual terror would surmount the moral attitude of honour. He was also wondering how much right he had to put the strain upon the woman in her desperate hour. "How long did the doctor say I could live?" the woman asked presently.
"Till morning, perhaps, Margot."
"I should like to live till sunrise," she answered, "till after breakfast. Rosalie makes good tea," she added musingly.
The Cure almost smiled. "There is the Living Bread, my daughter."
She nodded. "But I should like to see the sunrise and have Rosalie bring me tea," she persisted.
"Very well, Margot. We will ask God for that."
Her mind flew back again to the old question.
"Is it wrong to keep a secret?" she asked, her face turned away from the man at the window.
"If it is the secret of a sin, and the sin is your own--yes, Margot."
"And if the sin is not your own?"
"If you share the sin, and if the secret means injury to others, and a wrong is being done, and the law can right that wrong, then you must go to the law, not to your priest."
The Cure's look was grave, even anxious, for he saw that the old woman's mind was greatly disturbed. But her face cleared now, and stayed so. "It has all been a mix and a muddle," she answered; "and it hurt my poor head, M'sieu' le Cure, but now I think I under stand. I am not afraid; I will confess."
The Cure had made it clear to her that she could carry to her grave the secret of the little cross and the work it had done, and so keep her word and still not injure her chances of salvation. She was content. She no longer needed the helpful presence of M'sieu' or Rosalie. Charley instinctively felt what was in her mind, and came towards the bed.
"I will tell Mademoiselle Rosalie about the tea," he said to her.
She looked up at him, almost smiling. "Thank you, good M'sieu'," she said.
"I will confess now, M'sieu' le Cure" she continued. Charley left the room.
Towards morning Margot waked out of a brief sleep, and found the Cure and his sister and others about her bed.
"Is it near sunrise?" she whispered.
"It is just sunrise. See; God has been good," answered the Cure, drawing open the blind and letting in the first golden rays.
Rosalie entered the room with a cup of tea, and came towards the bed.
Old Margot looked at the girl, at the tea, and then at the Cure.
"Drink the tea for me, Rosalie," she whispered. Rosalie did as she was asked.
She looked round feebly; her eyes were growing filmy. "I never gave--so much--trouble--before," she managed to say. "I never had--so much-- attention.... I can keep--a secret too," she said, setting her lips feebly with pride. "But I--never--had--so much--attention--before; have I--Rosalie?"
Rosalie did not need to answer, for the woman was gone. The crowning interest of her life had come all at the last moment, as it were, and she had gone away almost gladly and with a kind of pride.
Rosalie also had a hidden pride: the secret was now her very own--hers and M'sieu's.
THE SEIGNEUR TAKES A HAND IN THE GAME
It was St. Jean Baptiste's day, and French Canada was en fete. Every seigneur, every cure, every doctor, every notary--the chief figures in a parish--and every habitant was bent for a happy holiday, dressed in his best clothes, moved in his best spirits, in the sweet summer weather.
Bells were ringing, flags were flying, every road and lane was filled with caleches and wagons, and every dog that could draw a cart pulled big and little people, the old and the blind and the mendicant, the happy and the sour, to the village, where there were to be sports and speeches, races upon the river, and a review of the militia, arranged by the member of the Legislature for the Chaudiere-half of the county. French soldiers in English red coats and carrying British flags were straggling along the roads to join the battalion at the volunteers' camp three miles from the town, and singing:
"Brigadier, respondez Pandore-- Brigadier, vous avez raison."
It was not less incongruous and curious when one group presently broke out into 'God save the Queen', and another into the 'Marseillaise', and another still into 'Malbrouck s'en va t'en guerre'. At last songs and soldiers were absorbed in the battalion at the rendezvous, and 1the long dusty march to the village gave a disciplined note to the gaiety of the militant habitant.
At high noon Chaudiere was filled to overflowing. There were booths and tents everywhere--all sorts of cheap-jacks vaunted their wares, merry-go- rounds and swings and shooting-galleries filled the usual spaces in the perspective. The Cure, M. Rossignol the Seigneur, and the Notary stood on the church steps viewing the scene and awaiting the approach of the soldier-citizens. The Seigneur and the Cure had ceased listening to the babble of M. Dauphin, who seemed not to know that his audience closed its ears and found refuge in a "Well, well!" or "Think of that!" or an abstracted "You surprise me!"
The Notary talked on with eager gesture and wreathing smile, shaking back his oiled ringlets as though they trespassed on his smooth, somewhat jaundiced cheeks, until it began to dawn upon him that there was no coin of real applause to be got at this mint. Fortune favoured him at the critical juncture, for the tailor walked slowly past them, looking neither to right nor to left, his eyes cast upon the ground, apparently oblivious to all round him. Almost opposite the church door, however, Charley was suddenly stopped by Filion Lacasse, who ran out from a group before the tavern, and, standing in front of him with outstretched hand, said loudly:
"M'sieu', it's all right. What you said done it, sure! I'm a thousand dollars richer to-day. You may be an infidel, but you have a head, and you save me money, and you give away your own, and that's good enough for me,"--he wrung Charley's hand,--"and I don't care who knows it--sacre!"
Charley did not answer him, but calmly withdrew his hand, smiled, raised his hat at the lonely cheer the saddler raised, and passed on, scarce conscious of what had happened. Indeed he was indifferent to it, for he had a matter on his mind this day which bitterly absorbed him.
But the Notary was not indifferent. "Look there, what do you think of that?" he asked querulously. "I am glad to see that Lacasse treats Monsieur well," said the Cure.
"What do you think of that, Monsieur?" repeated the Notary excitedly to
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