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- The Right of Way, Volume 3. - 6/12 -
The Seigneur put his large gold-handled glass to his eye and looked interestedly after Charley for a moment, then answered: "Well, Dauphin, what?"
"He's been giving Filion Lacasse advice about the old legacy business, and Filion's taken it; and he's got a thousand dollars; and now there's all that fuss. And four months ago Filion wanted to tar and feather him for being just what he is to-day--an infidel--an infidel!"
He was going to say something else, but he did not like the look the Cure turned on him, and he broke off short.
"Do you regret that he gave Lacasse good advice?" asked the Cure.
"It's taking bread out of other men's mouths."
"It put bread into Filion's mouth. Did you ever give Lacasse advice? The truth now, Dauphin!" said the Seigneur drily.
"Yes, Monsieur, and sound advice too, within the law-precedent and code and every legal fact behind." The Seigneur was a man of laconic speech. "Tut, tut, Dauphin; precedent and code and legal fact are only good when there's brain behind 'em. The tailor yonder has brains."
"Ah, but what does he know about the law?" answered Dauphin, with acrimonious voice but insinuating manner, for he loved to stand well with the Seigneur.
"Enough for the saddler evidently," sharply rejoined the Seigneur.
Dauphin was fighting for his life, as it were. His back was to the wall. If this man was to be allowed to advise the habitants of Chaudiere on their disputes and "going to law," where would his own prestige be? His vanity had been deeply wounded.
"It's guesswork with him. Let him stick to his trade as I stick to mine. That sort of thing only does harm."
"He puts a thousand dollars into the saddler's pocket: that's a positive good. He may or may not take thereby ten dollars out of your pocket: that's a negative injury. In this case there was no injury, for you had already cost Lacasse--how much had you cost him, Dauphin?" continued the Seigneur, with a half-malicious smile. "I've been out of Chaudiere for near a year; I don't know the record--how much, eh, Dauphin?"
The Notary was too offended to answer. He shook his ringlets back angrily, and a scarlet spot showed on each straw-coloured cheek.
"Twenty dollars is what Lacasse paid our dear Dauphin," said the Cure benignly, "and a very proper charge. Lacasse probably gave Monsieur there quite as much, and Monsieur will give it to the first poor man he meets, or send it to the first sick person of whom he hears."
"My own opinion is, he's playing some game here," said the Notary.
"We all play games," said the Seigneur. "His seems to give him hard work and little luxury. Will you bring him to see me at the Manor, my dear Cure?" he added. "He will not go. I have asked him."
"Then I shall visit him at his tailor-shop," said the Seigneur. "I need a new suit."
"But you always had your clothes made in Quebec, Monsieur," said the Notary, still carping.
"We never had such a tailor," answered the Seigneur.
"We'll hear more of him before we're done with him," obstinately urged the Notary.
"It would give Dauphin the greatest pleasure if our tailor proved to be a murderer or a robber. I suppose you believe that he stole our little cross here," the Cure added, turning to the church door, where his eye lingered lovingly on the relic, hanging on a pillar just inside, whither he had had it removed.
"I'm not sure yet he hadn't something to do with it," was the stubborn response.
"If he did, may it bring him peace at last!" said the Cure piously. "I have set my heart on nailing him to our blessed faith as that cross is fixed to the pillar yonder--'I will fasten him like a nail in a sure place,' says the Book. I take it hard that my friend Dauphin will not help me on the way. Suppose the man were evil, then the Church should try to snatch him like a brand from the burning. But suppose that in his past there was no wrong necessary to be hidden in the present--and this I believe with all my heart; suppose that he was wronged, not wronging: then how much more should the Church strive to win him to the light! Why, man, have you no pride in Holy Church? I am ashamed of you, Dauphin, with your great intelligence, your wide reading. With our knowledge of the world we should be broader."
The Seigneur's eyes were turned away, for there was in them at once humour and a suspicious moisture. Of all men in the world he most admired the Cure, for his utter truth and nobility; but he could not help smiling at his enthusiasm--his dear Cure turned evangelist like any "Methody"!--and at the appeal of the Notary on the ground of knowledge of the world. He was wise enough to count himself an old fogy, a provincial, and "a simon-pure habitant," but of the three he only had any knowledge of life. As men of the world the Cure and the Notary were sad failures, though they stood for much in Chaudiere. Yet this detracted nothing from the fine gentlemanliness of the Cure or the melodramatic courtesy of the Notary.
Amused and touched as the Seigneur had been at the Cure's words, he turned now and said: "Always on the weaker side, Cure; always hoping the best from the worst of us."
"I am only following an example at my door--you taught us all charity and justice," answered M. Loisel, looking meaningly at the Seigneur. There was silence a little while, for all three were thinking of the woman of the hut, at the gate of the Seigneur's manor.
On this topic M. Dauphin was not voluble. His original kindness to the woman had given him many troubled hours at home, for Madame Dauphin had construed his human sympathy into the dark and carnal desires of the heart, and his truthful eloquence had made his case the worse. A miserable sentimentalist, the Notary was likely to be misunderstood for ever, and one or two indiscretions of his extreme youth had been a weapon against him through the long years of a blameless married life.
He heaved a sigh of sympathy with the Cure now. "She has not come back yet?" he said to the Seigneur. "No sign of her. She locked up and stepped out, so my housekeeper says, about the time--"
"The day of old Margot's funeral," interposed the Notary. "She'd had a letter that day, a letter she'd been waiting for, and abroad she went-- alas! the flyaway--from bad to worse, I fear--ah me!"
The Seigneur turned sharply on him. "Who told you she had a letter that day, for which she had been waiting?" he said.
The Seigneur's face became sterner still. "What business had he to know that she received a letter that day?"
"He is postmaster," innocently replied the Notary. "He is the devil!" said the Seigneur tartly. "I beg your pardon, Cure; but it is Evanturel's business not to know what letters go to and fro in that office. He should be blind and dumb, so far as we all are concerned."
"Remember that Evanturel is a cripple," the Cure answered gently. "I am glad, very glad it was not Rosalie."
"Rosalie has more than usual sense for her sex," gruffly but kindly answered the Seigneur, a look of friendliness in his eyes. "I shall talk to her about her father; I can't trust myself to speak to the man."
"Rosalie is down there with Madame Dauphin," said the Notary, pointing. "Shall I ask her to come?"
The Seigneur nodded. He was magistrate and magnate, and he was the guarantor of the post-office, and of Rosalie and her father. His eyes fixed in reverie on Rosalie; he and the Cure passively waited her approach.
She came over, pale and a little anxious, but with a courageous look. She had a vague sense of trouble, and she feared it might be the little cross, that haunting thing of all these months.
When she came near, the Cure greeted her courteously, and then, taking the Notary by the arm, led him away.
The Seigneur and Rosalie being left alone, the girl said: "You wish to speak with me, Monsieur?"
The Seigneur scrutinised her sharply. Though her colour came and went, her look was frank and fearless. She had had many dark hours since that fateful month of April. At night, trying to sleep, she had heard the ghostly footsteps in the church, which had sent her flying homeward. Then, there was the hood. She had waited on and on, fearing word would come that it had been found in the churchyard, and that she had been seen putting the cross back upon the church door. As day after day passed she had come at length to realise that, whatever had happened to the hood, she was not suspected. Yet the whole train of circumstances had a supernatural air, for the Cure and Jo Portugais had not made public their experience on the eventful night; she had been educated in a land of legend and superstition, and a deep impression had been made upon her mind, giving to her other new emotions a touch of pathos, of imagination, and adding character to her face. The old Seigneur stroked his chin as he looked at her. He realised that a change had come upon her, that she had developed in some surprising way.
"What has happened--who has happened, Mademoiselle Rosalie?" he asked. He had suddenly made up his mind about that look in her face--he thought it the woman in her which answers to the call of man, not perhaps any particular man, but man the attractive influence, the complement.
Her eyes dropped, then raised frankly to his. "I don't know,"--adding, with a quick humour, for he had been very friendly with her, and joked with her in his dry way all her life; "do you, Monsieur?"
He pulled his nose with a quick gesture habitual to him, and answered slowly and meaningly: "The government's a good husband and pays regular wages, Mademoiselle. I'd stick to government."
"I am not asking for a divorce, Monsieur."
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