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- The Right of Way, Volume 5. - 4/10 -
loose his grip.' 'He was a smart man, an' he would make you all sit up, if he come back,' I hanswer. 'If he come back!' The man laugh queer at that. 'If he comeback, there would be hell.' 'How is that?' I say. 'Look across the street,' he whisper. 'That was his wife.'"
Charley choked back a cry in his throat. Jo had no intention of cutting his story short. He had an end in view.
"I look across the street. There she is--' Ah, that is a fine woman to see! I have never seen but one more finer to look at--here in Chaudiere.' The man say: 'She marry first for money, and break her heart; now she marry for love. If Beauty Steele come back-eh! sacra! that would be a mess. But he is at the bottom of the St Lawrence--the courts say so, and the Church say so--and ghosts don't walk here.' 'But if that Beauty Steele come back alive, what would happen it?' I speak. 'His wife is marry, blockhead!' he say.
"'But the woman is his,' I hanswer. 'Do you think she would go back to a thief she never love from the man she love?' he speak back. 'She is not marry to the other man,' I say, 'if Beauty Steele is . . .' 'He is dead as a door,' he swear. 'You see that?' he go on, nodding down the street. 'Well, that is Billy.' 'Who is Billy?' I ask. 'The brother of her,' he say. 'Charley, he spoil Billy. Billy, he has not been the same since Charley's death-he is so ashame of Charley. When he get drunk he talk of nothing else. We all remember that Charley spoil him, and that make us sorry for him.' 'Excuse me,' I say. 'I think that Billy is a dam smart man. He is smart as Charley Steele.' 'Charley was the smartes' man in the country,' he say again. 'I've got his practice now, but this town will never be the same without him. Thief or no thief, I wish he is alive here. By the Lord, I'd get drunk with him!' He was all right, that man," Jo added finally.
Charley's agitation was hidden. His eyes were fixed on Jo intently. "That was Larry Rockwell. Go on," he said, in a hard metallic voice.
"I see--her, the next night again. It is in the white stone house on the hill. All the windows are open, an' I can hear her to sing. I not know that song. It begin, 'Oft in the stilly night'--like that."
Charley stiffened. It was the song Kathleen sang for him the night they became engaged.
"It is a good voice-that. I see her face, for there is a candle on the piano. I come close and closter to the house. There is big maple-trees --I am well hid. A man is beside her. He lean hover her an' put his hand on her shoulder. 'Sing it again, Kat'leen,' he say. 'I cannot to get enough.'"
"Stop!" said Charley, in a strained, harsh voice. "Not yet, M'sieu'," said Portugais. "It is good for you to hear what I say."
"'Come, Kat'leen!' the man say, an' he blow hout the candle. I hear them walk away, an' the door shut behin' them. Then I hear anudder voice--ah, that is a baby--very young baby!"
Charley quickly got to his feet. "Not another word!" he said.
"Yes, yes, but there is one word more, M'sieu'," said Jo, standing up and facing him firmly. "You must go back. You are not a thief. The woman is yours. You throw your life away. What is the man to you--or the man's brat of a child? It is all waiting for you. You mus' go back. You not steal the money, but that Billy--it is that Billy, I know. You can forgive your wife, and take her back, or you can say to both, Go! You can put heverything right and begin again."
Anger, wild words, seemed about to break from Charley's lips, but he conquered himself.
The old life had been brought back to him with painful acuteness and vividness. The streets of the town, the people in the street, Billy, the mean scoundrel, who could not leave him alone in the grave of obscurity, Kathleen--Fairing. The voice of the child--with her voice--was in his ears. A child! If he had had a child, perhaps----He stopped short in his thinking, his face all at once flooding with colour. For a moment he stood looking out of the window down towards the village. He could see the post-office like a toy house among toy houses. At last he turned to Jo.
"Never again while I live, speak of this to me: of the past, of going back, or of--of anything else," he said. "I cannot go back. I am dead and shamed. Let the dust of forgetfulness come and cover the past. I've begun life again here, and here I stay, and see it out. I shall work out the problem here." He dropped a hand on the other's shoulder. "Jo," said he, "we are both shipwrecks. Let us see how long we can float."
"M'sieu', is it worth it?" said Portugais, remembering his confession to the Abbe, and seeing the end of it all to himself.
"I don't know, Jo. Let us wait and see how Fate will play us."
"Or God, M'sieu'?"
"God or Fate--who knows"
"WHO WAS KATHLEEN?"
The painful incidents of the morning weighed heavily upon Rosalie, and she was glad when Madame Dugal came to talk with her father, who was ailing and irritable, and when Mrs. Flynn drove her away with a kiss on either cheek, saying: "Don't come back, darlin', till there's roses in both cheeks, for y'r eyes are 'atin' up yer face!"
She had seen Charley take the path to Vadrome Mountain, and to the Rest of the Flax-beaters she betook herself, in the blind hope that, returning, he might pass that way. Under the influence of the fresh air and the quiet of the woods her spirits rose, her pulse beat faster, though a sense of foreboding and sorrow hovered round her. The two-miles walk to her beloved retreat seemed a matter of minutes only, so busy were her thoughts.
Her mind was one luxurious confusion, through which travelled a ghostly little sprite, who kept tumbling her thoughts about, sneering, smirking, whispering--"You dare not go to confession--dare not go to confession. You will never be the same again--never feel the same again--never think the same again; your dreams are done! You can only love. And what will this love do for you? What do you expect to happen--you dare not go to confession!"
Her reply had been the one iteration: "I love him--I love him--I love him. We shall be together all our lives, till we are old and grey. I shall watch him at his work, and listen to his voice. I shall read with him and walk with him, and I shall grow to think like him a little --in everything except religion. In everything except that. One day he will come to think like me--to believe in God."
In the dreamy happiness of these thoughts the colour came to her cheeks, the roses of light gathered in her eyes. In her tremulous ardour she scarcely realised how time passed, and her reverie deepened as the afternoon shadows grew and the sun made to its covert behind the hills. She was roused by a man's voice singing, just under the bluff where she sat. To her this voice represented the battle-call, the home-call, the life call of the universe. The song it sang was known to her. It was as old as Rizzio. It had come from old France with Mary, had been merged into English words and English music, and had voyaged to New France. There it had been sung by lovers in fair vales, on wide rivers, and in deep forests:
"What is not mine I may not hold, (Ah, hark the hunter's horn!), And what is thine may not be sold, (My love comes through the corn!); And none shall buy And none shall sell What Love works well?"
In the walk back from Vadrome Mountain, a change--a fleeting change-- had passed over Charley's mind and mood. The quiet of the woodland, the song of the birds, the tumbling brook, the smell of the rich earth, replenishing its strength from the gorgeous falling leaves, had soothed him. Thoughts of Rosalie took a new form. Her image possessed him, excluding the future, the perils that surrounded them. He had gone through so much within the past twenty-four hours that the capacity for suffering had almost exhausted itself, and in the reaction endearing thoughts of Rosalie had dominion over him. It was the reassertion of primitive man, the demands of the first element. The great problem was still in the background. The picture of Kathleen and the other man was pushed into the distance; thoughts of Billy and his infamy were thrust under foot--how futile to think of them! There was Rosalie to be thought of, the to-day and to-morrow of the new life.
Rosalie was of to-day. How strong and womanly she had been this morning, the girl whose life had been bounded by this Chaudiere, with a metropolitan convent and hospital as her only glimpses of the busy world. She would fit in anywhere--in the highest places, with her grace, and her nobleness of mind, arcadian, passionate and beautiful. There came upon him again the feeling of the evening before, when he saw her standing in his doorway, the night about them, jealous affection, undying love, in her eyes. It quickened his steps imperceptibly. He passed a stream, and glanced down into a dark pool involuntarily. It reflected himself clearly. He stopped short. "Is this you, Beauty Steele?" he said, and he caught his brown beard in his hand. "Beauty Steele had brains and no heart. You have heart, and your wits have gone wool-gathering. No matter!
What is not mine I may not hold, (Ah, hark the hunter's horn!)'"
he sang, and came quickly along the stream where the flax-beaters worked in harvest-time, then up the hill, then--Rosalie.
She started to her feet. "I knew you would come--I knew you would!" she said.
"You have been waiting here for me?" he asked breathless, taking her hand.
"I felt you would come. I made you," she added smiling, and, eagerly answering the look in his eyes, threw her arms round his neck. In that moment's joy a fresh realisation of their fate came upon him with dire force, and a bitter protest went up from his heart, that he and she should be sacrificed.
Yet the impasse was there, and what could remove it--what clear the way?
He looked down at the girl whose head was buried in happy peace on his
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