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- The Right of Way, Volume 6. - 3/10 -
"It is good for me to know the whole truth. What hurts you may give me will pass--for life must end, and my life cannot be long enough to pay the price of the hurts I have given you. I could bear a thousand--one for every hour--if they could bring back the light to your eye, the joy to your heart. Could prayer, do you think, make me sorrier than I am? I have hurt what I would have spared from hurt at the cost of my life-- and all the lives in all the world!" he added fiercely.
"Forgive me--oh, forgive your Rosalie!" she pleaded. "I did not know what I was saying--I was mad."
"It was all so sane and true," he said, like one who, on the brink of death, finds a satisfaction in speaking the perfect truth. "I am glad to hear the truth--I have been such a liar."
She looked up startled, her tears blinding her. "You have not deceived me?" she asked bitterly. "Oh, you have not deceived me--you have loved me, have you not?" It was that which mattered, that only. Moveless and eager, she looked--looked at him, waiting, as it were, for sentence.
"I never lied to you, Rosalie--never!" he answered, and he touched her hand.
She gave a moan of relief at his words. "Oh, then, oh, then . . . " she said, in a low voice, and the tears in her eyes dried away.
"I meant that until I knew you, I kept deceiving myself and others all my life--"
"But without knowing it?" she said eagerly.
"Perhaps, without quite knowing it."
"Until you knew me?" she asked, in quick, quivering tones.
"Till I knew you," he answered.
"Then I have done you good--not ill?" she asked, with painful breathlessness.
"The only good there may be in me is you, and you only," he said, and he choked something rising in his throat, seeing the greatness of her heart, her dear desire to have entered into his life to his own good. He would have said that there was no good in him at all, but that he wished to comfort her.
A little cry of joy broke from her lips. "Oh, that--that!" she cried, with happy tears. "Won't you kiss me now?" she added softly.
He clasped her in his arms, and though his eyes were dry, his heart wept tears of blood.
THE COMING OF BILLY
Chaudiere had made--and lost--a reputation. The Passion Play in the valley had become known to a whole country--to the Cure's and the Seigneur's unavailing regret. They had meant to revive the great story for their own people and the Indians--a homely, beautiful object-lesson, in an Eden--like innocence and quiet and repose; but behold the world had invaded them! The vanity of the Notary had undone them. He had written to the great papers of the province, telling of the advent of the play, and pilgrimages had been organised, and excursions had been made to the spot, where a simple people had achieved a crude but noble picture of the life and death of the Hero of Christendom. The Cure viewed with consternation the invasion of their quiet. It was no longer his own Chaudiere; and when, on a Sunday, his dear people were jostled from the church to make room for strangers, his gentle eloquence seemed to forsake him, he spoke haltingly, and his intoning of the Mass lacked the old soothing simplicity.
"Ah, my dear Seigneur!" he said, on the Sunday before the playing was to end, "we have overshot the mark."
The Seigneur nodded and turned his head away. "There is an English play which says, 'I have shot mine arrow o'er the house and hurt my brother.' That's it--that's it! We began with religion, and we end with greed, and pride, and notoriety."
"What do we want of fame! The price is too high, Maurice. Fame is not good for the hearts and minds of simple folk."
"It will soon be over."
"I dread a sordid reaction."
The Seigneur stood thinking for a moment. "I have an idea," he said at last. "Let us have these last days to ourselves. The mission ends next Saturday at five o'clock. We will announce that all strangers must leave the valley by Wednesday night. Then, during those last three days, while yet the influence of the play is on them, you can lead your own people back to the old quiet feelings."
"My dear Maurice--it is worthy of you! It is the way. We will announce it to-day. And see now. . . . For those three days we will change the principals; lest those who have taken the parts so long have lost the pious awe which should be upon them. We will put new people in their places. I will announce it at vespers presently. I have in my mind who should play the Christ, and St. John, and St. Peter--the men are not hard to find; but for Mary the Mother and Mary Magdalene--"
The eyes of the two men suddenly met, a look of understanding passed between them.
"Will she do it?" said the Seigneur.
The Cure nodded. "Paulette Dubois has heard the word, 'Go and sin no more'; she will obey."
Walking through the village as they talked, the Cure shrank back painfully several times, for voices of strangers, singing festive songs, rolled out upon the road. "Who can they be?" he said distressfully.
Without a word the Seigneur went to the door of the inn whence the sounds proceeded, and, without knocking, entered. A moment afterwards the voices stopped, but broke out again, quieted, then once more broke out, and presently the Seigneur issued from the door, white with anger, three strangers behind him. All were intoxicated.
One was violent. It was Billy Wantage, whom the years had not improved. He had arrived that day with two companions--an excursion of curiosity as an excuse for a "spree."
"What's the matter with you, old stick-in-the-mud?" he shouted. "Mass is over, isn't it? Can't we have a little guzzle between prayers?"
By this time a crowd had gathered, among them Filion Lacasse. At a motion from the Seigneur, and a whisper that went round quickly, a dozen habitants swiftly sprang on the three men, pinioned their arms, and carrying them bodily to the pump by the tavern, held them under it, one by one, till each was soaked and sober. Then their horses and wagon were brought, and they were given five minutes to leave the village.
With a devilish look in his eye, and drenched and furious, Billy was disposed to resist the command, but the faces around him were determined, and, muttering curses, the three drove away towards the next parish.
THE SEIGNEUR AND THE CURE HAVE A SUSPICION
Presently the Seigneur and the Cure stood before the door of the tailor- shop. The Cure was about to knock, when the Seigneur laid a hand upon his arm.
"There is no use; he has been gone several days," he said.
"Gone--gone!" said the Cure.
"I came to see him yesterday, and not finding him, I asked at the post- office." M. Rossignol's voice lowered. "He told Mrs. Flynn he was going into the hills, so Rosalie says."
The Cure's face fell. "He went away also just before the play began. I almost fear that--that we get no nearer. His mind prompts him to do good and not evil, and yet--and yet. . . . I have dreamed a good dream, Maurice, but I sometimes fear I have dreamed in vain."
M. Loisel looked towards the post-office musingly. "I have thought sometimes that what man's prayers may not accomplish a woman's love might do. If--but, alas, what do we know of his past! Nothing. What do we know of his future? Nothing. What do we know of the human heart? Nothing--nothing!"
The Seigneur was astounded. The Cure's meaning was plain. "What do you mean?" he asked, almost gruffly.
"She--Rosalie--has changed--changed." In his heart he dwelt sorrowfully upon the fact that she had not been to confession to him for many, many months.
"Since her father's death--since her illness?"
"Since she went to Montreal seven months ago. Even while she was so ill these past weeks, she never asked for me; and when I came . . . Ah, if it is that her heart has gone out to the man, and his does not respond!"
"A good thing, too!" said the other gloomily. "We don't know where he came from, and we do know that he is a pagan."
"Yet there she sits now, hour after hour, day after day--so changed."
"She has lost her father," urged M. Rossignol anxiously.
"I know the grief of children--this is not such a grief. There is something more. But I cannot ask. If she were a sinner--but she is without fault. Have we not watched her grow up here, mirthful, brave, pure-souled--"
"Fitted for any station," interposed the Seigneur huskily. Presently he
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