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- The Right of Way, Volume 6. - 6/10 -
would not be alone.
"I believe every word of yours," he said, shaking her hand, "and we'll see, you and I, that no man marries her who isn't ready to do what you say."
"Would you do it yourself--if it was you?" she asked, flushing for her boldness.
"I would," he answered.
"Then do it," she said, and fled inside the house and shut the door.
"Mrs. Flynn--good Mrs. Flynn!" he said, and went back sadly to his house, and shut himself up with his thoughts. When night drew on he went to bed, but he could not sleep. He got up after a time, and taking pen and paper, wrote for a long time. Having finished, he took what he had written, and placing it with the two packets-of money and pearls--which he had brought from his old home, he addressed it to the Cure, and going to the safe in the wall of the shop, placed them inside and locked the door.
Then he went to bed, and slept soundly--the deep sleep of the just.
A BURNING FIERY FURNACE
Every man within the limits of the parish was in his bed, save one. He was a stranger who, once before, had visited Chaudiere for one brief day, when he had been saved from death at the Red Ravine, and had fled the village that night because, as he thought, he had heard the voice of his old friend's ghost in the trees. Since that time he had travelled in many parishes, healing where he could, entertaining where he might, earning money as the charlatan. He was now on his way back through the parishes to Montreal, and his route lay through Chaudiere. He had hoped to reach Chaudiere before nightfall--he remembered with fear the incident from which he had fled many months before; but his horse had broken its leg on a corduroy bridge, a few miles out from the parish in the hills, and darkness came upon him before he could hide his wagon in the woods and proceed afoot to Chaudiere. He had shot his horse, and rolled it into the swift torrent beneath the bridge.
Travelling the lonely road, he drank freely from the whiskey-horn he carried, to keep his spirits up, so that by the time he came to the outskirts of Chaudiere he was in a state of intoxication, and reeled impudently along with the "Dutch courage" the liquor had given him. Arrived at the first cluster of houses in the place, he paused uncertain. Should he knock here or go on to the tavern? He shivered at thought of the tavern, for it was near it he had heard Charley Steele's voice calling to him out of the trees. If he knocked here, would the people admit him in his present state?--he had sense enough to know that he was very drunk. As he shook his head in owlish gravity, he saw the church on the hill not far away. He chuckled to himself. The carpet in the chancel and the hassocks at the altar would make a good bed. No fear of Charley's ghost coming inside the church--it wouldn't be that kind of a ghost. As he travelled the intervening space, shrugging his shoulders, staggering serenely, he told himself in confidence that he would leave the church at dawn, go to the tavern, purchase a horse as soon as might be, and get back to his wagon.
The church door was unlocked, and he entered and made his way to the chancel, found surplices in the vestry and put a hassock inside one for a pillow. Then he sat down and drew the loose rug of the chancel-floor over him, and took another drink from the whiskey horn. Lighting his pipe, he smoked for a while, but grew drowsy, and his pipe fell into his lap. With eyes nearly shut he struck another match, made to light his pipe again, but threw the match away, still burning. As he did so the pipe dropped again from his mouth, and he fell back on the hassock-pillow he had made.
The lighted match fell on a surplice which had dropped from his arms as he came from the vestry, and set it afire. In five minutes the whole chancel was burning, and the sleeping man waked in the midst of smoke and flame. He staggered to his feet with a terror-stricken cry, stumbled down the aisle, through the front door, and out into the night. Reaching the road, he turned his face again to the hill where his wagon lay hid. If he could reach that, he would be safe; nobody would suspect him. He clutched the whiskey-horn tight and broke into a run. As he passed beyond the village his excited imagination heard Charley Steele's ghost calling after him. He ran harder. The voice kept calling from Chaudiere.
Not Charley's voice, but the voices of many people in Chaudiere were calling. Some wakeful person had seen the glare in the church windows and had given the alarm, and now there rang through the streets the call- "Fire! Fire! Fire!"
Charley and Jo were among the last to wake, for both had slept soundly, but Jo was roused by a handful of gravel thrown at his window and a warning cry, and a few moments later he and Charley were in the street with a hurrying crowd. Over all the village was a red glare, lighting up the sky, burnishing the trees. The church was a mass of flames.
Charley was as pale as the rest of the crowd; for he thought of the Cure, he thought of this people to whom their church meant more than home and vastly more than friend and fortune. His heart was with them all: not because it was their church that was burning, but because it was something dear to them.
Reaching the hill, he saw the Cure coming from the vestry of the burning church, bearing some vessels of the altar. Depositing them in the arms of his weeping sister, he turned again towards the door. People clung to him, and would not let him go.
"See, it is all inflames," they cried. "Your cassock is singed. You shall not go."
At that moment Charley and Portugais came up. A hurried question to the Cure from Charley, a key handed over, a nod from Jo, and before the Cure could prevent them the two men had rushed through the smoke and flame into the vestry, Portugais holding Charley's hand.
The crowd outside waited in a terrible anxiety. The timbers of the chancel portion of the building seemed about to fall, and still the two men did not appear. The people called; the Cure clinched his hands at his side--he was too fearful even to pray.
But now the two men appeared, loaded with the few treasures of the church. They were scorched and singed, and the beards of both were burned, but, stumbling and exhausted, they brought their loads to the eager arms of the waiting habitants.
Then from the other end of the church came a cry: "The little cross--the little iron cross!" Then another cry: "Rosalie Evanturel! Rosalie Evanturel!" Some one came running to the Cure.
"Rosalie Evanturel has gone inside for the little cross on the pillar. She is in the flames; the door has fallen in. She can't get out again."
With a hoarse cry, Charley darted back inside the vestry door. A cry of horror went up.
It was only a minute and a half, but it seemed like years, and then a man in flames appeared in the fiery porch--and not alone. He carried a girl in his arms. He wavered even at the threshold with the timbers swaying overhead, but, with a last effort, he plunged forward through the furnace, and was caught by eager hands on the margin of endurable heat. The two were smothered in quilts brought from the Cure's house, and carried swiftly to the cool safety of the grass and trees beyond. The woman had fainted in the flame of the church; the man dropped insensible as they caught her from his arms.
As they tore away Charley's coat muffling his face, and opened his shirt, they stared in awe. The cross which Rosalie had torn from the pillar, Charley had thrust into his bosom, and there it now lay on the red scar made by itself in the hands of Louis Trudel.
M. Loisel waved the people back. He raised Charley's head. The Abbe Rossignol, who had just arrived with the Seigneur, lifted the cross from the insensible man's breast.
He started when he saw the scar. Then he remembered the tale he had heard. He turned away gravely to his brother. "Was it the cross or the woman he went for?" he asked.
"Great God--do you ask!" the Seigneur said indignantly. "And he deserves her," he muttered under his breath.
Charley opened his eyes. "Is she safe?" he asked, starting up.
"Unscathed, my son," the Cure said.
Was this tailor-man not his son? Had he not thirsted for his soul as a hart for the water-brooks?
"I am very sorry for you, Monsieur," said Charley.
"It is God's will," was the reply, in a choking voice. "It will be years before we have another church--many, many years."
The roof gave way with a crash, and the spire shot down into the flaming debris.
The people groaned.
"It will cost sixty thousand dollars to build it up again," said Filion Lacasse.
"We have three thousand dollars from the Passion Play," said the Notary. "That could go towards it."
"We have another two thousand in the bank," said Maximilian Cour.
"But it will take years," said the saddler disconsolately.
Charley looked at the Cure, mournful and broken but calm. He saw the Seigneur, gloomy and silent, standing apart. He saw the people in scattered groups, looking more homeless than if they had no homes. Some groups were silent; others discussed angrily the question, who was the incendiary--that it had been set on fire seemed certain.
"I said no good would come of the play-acting," said the Seigneur's groom, and was flung into the ditch by Filion Lacasse.
Presently Charley staggered to his feet, purpose in his face. These people, from the Cure and Seigneur to the most ignorant habitant, were
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