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- The Right of Way, Volume 5. - 3/10 -
words also kept ringing in his ears. He turned to the Seigneur. "Monsieur," said he, "we have heard the truth. That act of Louis Trudel was cruel and murderous. May God forgive him! I will not say that mademoiselle did well in keeping silent--"
"God bless the darlin'!" cried Mrs. Flynn.
"--but I will say that she meant to do a kind act for a man's mortal memory--perhaps at the expense of his soul."
"For Monsieur to take his injury in silence, to keep it secret, was kind," said the Seigneur. "It is what our Cure here might call bearing his cross manfully."
"Seigneur," said the Cure reproachfully, "Seigneur, it is no subject for jest."
"Cure, our tailor here has treated it as a jest."
"Let him show his breast, if it's true," said the grocer, who, beneath his smirking, was a malignant soul.
The Cure turned on him sharply. Seldom had any one seen the Cure roused.
"Who are you, Ba'tiste Maxime, that your base curiosity should be satisfied--you, whose shameless tongue clattered, whose foolish soul rejoiced over the scandal? Must we all wear the facts of our lives--our joys, our sorrows, and our sins--for such eyes as yours to read? Bethink you of the evil things that you would hide--aye, every one here!" he added loudly. "Know, all of you, what goodness of heart towards a wicked man lay behind the secret these two have kept, that old Margot carried to her grave. When you go to your homes, pray for as much human kindness in you as a man of no Church or faith can show. For this child"--he turned to Rosalie-"honour her! Go now--go in peace!"
"One moment," said the Seigneur. "I fine Ba'tiste Maxime twenty dollars for defamation of character. The money to go for the poor."
"You hear that, ould sand-in-the-sugar!" said Mrs. Flynn. "Will you let me kiss ye, darlin'?" she added to Rosalie, and, waddling over, reached out her hands.
Rosalie's eyes were wet as she warmly kissed the old Irishwoman, and thereupon they entered into a friendship which was without end.
The Seigneur drove the crowd from the shop, and shut the door.
The Cure came to Charley. "Monsieur," said he, "I have no words. When I remember what agonies you suffered in those hours, how bravely you endured them--ah, Monsieur!" he added, with moist eyes, "I shall always feel that--that you are not far from the kingdom of God."
A silence fell upon them, for the Cure, the Seigneur, and Rosalie, as they looked at Charley, thought of the scar like a red cross on his breast.
It touched Charley with a kind of awe. He smiled painfully. "Shall I give you proof?" he said, making a motion to undo his waistcoat.
"Monsieur!" said the Seigneur reprovingly, and holding out his hand. "Monsieur! We are all gentlemen!"
JO PORTUGAIS TELLS A STORY
Walking slowly, head bent, eyes unseeing, Charley was on his way to Vadrome Mountain, with the knowledge that Jo Portugais had returned.
The hunger for companionship was on him: to touch some mind that could understand the deep loneliness which had settled on him since that scene in the postoffice. It was the loneliness of a new and great separation. He had wakened to it to-day.
Once before, in the hut on Vadrome Mountain, he had wakened from a grave, had been born again. Last night had come still another birth, had come, as with Rosalie herself, knowledge, revelation, understanding. To Rosalie the new vision had come with a vague pain of heart, without shame, and with a wonderful happiness. Pain, shame, knowledge, and a happiness that passed suddenly into a despairing sorrow, had come to him.
In finding love he had found conscience, and in finding conscience he was on his way to another great discovery.
Looking to where Jo Portugais' house was set among the pines, Charley remembered the day--he saw the scene in his mind's eye--when Rosalie entered with the letter addressed "To the sick man at the house of Jo Portugais, at Vadrome Mountain," and he saw again her clear, unsoiled soul in the deep inquiring eyes.
"If you but knew"--he turned and looked down at the village below-- "if you but knew!" he said, as though to all the world. "I have the sign from heaven--I know it now. To-day I wake to know what life means, and I see--Rosalie! I know now--but how? In taking all she had to give. What does she get in return? Nothing--nothing. Because I love her, because the whole world is nothing beside her, nor life, nor twenty lives, if I had them to give, I must say to her now: 'Rosalie, it was love that brought you to my arms, it is love that says, Thus far and no farther. Never again--never--never--never!' Yesterday I could have left her--died or vanished, without real hurt to her. She would have mourned and broken her heart and mended it again; and I should have been only a memory--of mystery, of tenderness. Then, one day she would have married, and no sting from my going would have remained. She would have had happiness, and I neither shame nor despair. . . . To-day it is all too late. We have drunk too deep-alas! too deep. She cannot marry another man, for ghosts will not lie for asking, and what is mine may not be another's. She cannot marry me, for what once was mine is mine still by ring and by book, and I should always be haunted by a torturing shadow. Kathleen has the right of way, not Rosalie. Ah, Rosalie, I dare not wrong you further. Yet to marry you, even as things are, if that might be! To live on here unrecognised? I am little like my old self, and year after year I should grow less and less like Charley Steele. . . . But, no, it is not possible!"
He stopped short in his thoughts, and his lips tightened in bitterness.
"God in heaven, what an impasse!" he said aloud.
There was a sudden crackling of twigs as a man rose up from a log by the wayside ahead of him. It was Jo Portugais, who had seen him coming, and had waited for him. He had heard Charley's words.
"Do you call me an impasse, M'sieu'?" Charley grasped Portugais' hand.
"What has happened, M'sieu'?" Jo asked anxiously. There was a brief silence, and then Charley told him of the events of the morning.
"You know of the mark-here?" he asked, touching his breast.
Jo nodded. "I saw, when you were ill."
"Yet you never asked!"
"I studied it out--I knew old Louis Trudel. Also, I saw ma'm'selle nail the cross to the church door. Two and two together in my mind did it. I didn't think Paulette Dubois would tell. I warned her."
"She quarrelled with mademoiselle. It was revenge.
"She might have been less vindictive. She had had good luck herself lately."
"What good luck had she, M'sieu'?"
Charley told Jo the story of the Notary, the woman, and the child.
Jo made no comment. They relapsed into silence. Arriving at the house, they entered. Jo lighted his pipe, and smoked steadily for a time without speaking. Buried in thought, Charley stood in the doorway looking down at the village. At last he turned.
"Where have you been these weeks past, Jo?"
"To Quebec first, M'sieu'."
Charley looked curiously at Jo, for there was meaning in his tone. "And where last?"
Charley's face became paler, his hands suddenly clinched, for he read the look in Jo's eyes. He knew that Jo had been looking at people and places once so familiar; that he had seen--Kathleen.
"Go on. Tell me all," he said heavily.
Portugais spoke in English. The foreign language seemed to make the truth less naked and staring to himself. He had a hard story to tell.
"It is not to say why I go to Montreal," he began. "But I go. I have my ears open; my eyes, she is not close. No one knows me--I am no account of. Every one is forgot the man, Joseph Nadeau, who was try for his life. Perhaps it is every one is forget the lawyer who save his neck-- perhaps? So I stand by the streetside. I say to a man as I look up at sign-boards,' 'Where is that writing "M'sieu' Charles Steele," and all the res'?' 'He is dead long ago,' say the man to me. 'A good thing too, for he was the very devil.' 'I not understan',' I say. 'I tink that M'sieu' Steele is a dam smart man back time.' 'He was the smartes' man in the country, that Beauty Steele,' the man say. 'He bamboozle the jury hevery time. He cut up bad though.'"
Charley raised his hand with a nervous gesture of misery and impatience.
"'Where have you been,' that man say--'where have you been all these times not to know 'bout Charley Steele, hein?' 'In the backwoods,' I say. 'What bring you here now?' he ask. 'I have a case,' I say. 'What is it?' he ask. 'It is a case of a man who is punish for another man,' I say. 'That's the thing for Charley Steele,' he laugh. 'He was great man to root things out. Can't fool Charley Steele, we use to say here. But he die a bad death.' 'What was the matter with him?' I say. 'He drink too much, he spend too much, he run after a girl at Cote Dorion, and the river-drivers do for him one night. They say it was acciden', but is there any green on my eye? But he die trump--jus' like him. He have no fear of devil or man,' so the man say. 'But fear of God?' I ask. 'He was hinfidel,' he say. 'That was behin' all. He was crooked all roun'. He rob the widow and horphan?' 'I think he too smart for that,' I speak quick. 'I suppose it was the drink,' he say. 'He
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