The Right of Way
THE WOMAN WHO SAW
Up to the moment of her meeting with Charley, Rosalie Evanturel's life had
been governed by habit, which was lightly coloured by temperament. Since the
eventful hour on Vadrome Mountain it had become a life of temperament, in which
habit was involuntary and mechanical. She did her daily duties with a good
heart, but also with a sense superior to the practical action. This grew from
day to day, until, in the tragical days wherein she had secretly played a great
part, she moved as in a dream, but a dream so formal that no one saw any change
taking place in her, or associated her with the events happening across the way.
She had been compelled to answer many questions, for it was known she was in
the tailor's house when Louis Trudel fell down-stairs, but what more was there
to tell than that she had run for the Notary, and sent word to the Cure, and
that she was present when the tailor died, charging M'sieu' with being an
infidel? At first she was ill disposed to answer any questions, but she soon
felt that attitude would only do harm. For the first time in her life she was
face to face with moral problems—the beginning of sorrow, of knowledge, and of
In all secrets there is a kind of guilt, however beautiful or joyful they may
be, or for what good end they may be set to serve. Secrecy means evasion, and
evasion means a problem to the moral mind. To the primitive mind, with its
direct yes and no, there is danger of it becoming a tragical problem ere it is
realised that truth is various and diverse. Perhaps even with that Mary who hid
the matter in her heart—the exquisite tragedy and glory of Christendom—there was
a delicate feeling of guilt, the guilt of the hidden though lofty and beautiful
If secrecy was guilt, then Charley and Rosalie were bound together by a bond
as strong as death: Rosalie held the key to a series of fateful days and doings.
In ordinary course, they might have known each other for five years and not
have come to this sensitive and delicate association. With one great plunge she
had sprung into the river of understanding. In the moment that she had thrust
her scarf into his scorched breast, in that little upper room, the work of years
had been done.
As long as he lived, that mark must remain on M'sieu's breast—the red, smooth
scar of a cross! She had seen the sort of shining scar a bad burn makes, and at
thought of it she flushed, trembled, and turned her head away, as though some
one were watching her. Even in the night she flushed and buried her face in the
pillow when the thought flashed through her mind; though when she had soaked the
scarf in oil and flour and laid it on the angry wound she had not flushed at
all, was determined, quiet, and resourceful.
That incident had made her from a girl into a woman, from a child of the
convent into a child of the world. She no longer thought and felt as she had
done before. What she did think or feel could not easily have been set down, for
her mind was one tremulous confusion of unusual thoughts, her heart was beset by
new feelings, her imagination, suddenly finding itself, was trying its wings
helplessly. The past was full of wonder and event, the present full of
There was M'sieu' established already in Louis Trudel's place, having been
granted a lease of the house and shop by the Curte, on the part of the parish,
to which the property had been left; receiving also a gift of the furniture and
of old Margot, who remained where she had been so many years. She could easily
see Charley at work—pale and suffering still—for the door was generally open in
the sweet April weather, with the birds singing, and the trees bursting into
blossom. Her wilful imagination traced the cross upon his breast—it almost
seemed as if it were outside upon his clothes, exposed to every eye, a shining
thing all fire, not a wound inside, for which old Margot prepared oiled linen
The parish was as perturbed as her own mind, for the mystery of the stolen
cross had never been cleared up, and a few still believed that M'sieu' had taken
it. They were of those who kept hinting at dark things which would yet be worked
upon the infidel in the tailor's shop. These were they to whom the Curb's
beautiful ambition did not appeal. He had said that if the man were an infidel,
then they must pray that he be brought into the fold; but a few were still
suspicious, and they said in Rosalie's presence: "Where is the little cross?
He did know. That was the worst of it. The cross was in her possession. Was
it not necessary, then, to quiet suspicion for his sake? She had locked the
relic away in a cupboard in her bedroom, and she carried the key of it always in
her pocket. Every day she went and looked at it, as at some ghostly token. To
her it was a symbol, not of supernatural things, but of life in its new reality
to her. It was M'sieu', it was herself, it was their secret—she chafed inwardly
that Margot should share a part of that secret. If it were only between their
two selves—between M'sieu' and herself! If Margot—she paused suddenly, for she
was going to say, If Margot would only die! She was not wicked enough to wish
that; yet in the past few weeks she had found herself capable of thinking things
beyond the bounds of any past experience.
She found a solution at last. She would go to-night secretly and nail the
cross again on the church door, and so stop the chatter of evil tongues. The
moon set very early now, and as every one in Chaudiere was supposed to be in bed
by ten o'clock, the chances of not being seen were in her favour. She received
the final impetus to her resolution by a quarrelsome and threatening remark of
Jo Portugais to some sharp-tongued gossip in the post-office. She was glad that
Jo should defend M'sieu', but she was jealous of his friendship for the tailor.
Besides, did there not appear to be a secret between Jo and M'sieu'? Was it not
possible that Jo knew where M'sieu' came from, and all about him? Of late Jo had
come in and gone out of the shop oftener than in the past, had even brought her
bunches of mosses for her flower-pots, the first budding lilacs, and some
maple-sugar made from the trees on Vadrome Mountain. She remembered that when
she was a girl at school, years ago—ten years ago—Jo Portugais, then scarcely
out of his teens, a cheerful, pleasant, quick-tempered lad, had brought her
bunches of the mountain-ash berry; that once he had mended the broken runner of
her sled; and yet another time had sent her a birch-bark valentine at the
convent, where it was confiscated by the Mother Superior. Since those days he
had become a dark morose figure, living apart from men, never going to
confession, seldom going to Mass, unloving and unlovable.
There was only one other person in the parish more unloved. That was the
woman called Paulette Dubois, who lived in the little house at the outer gate of
the Manor. Paulette Dubois had a bad name in the parish—so bad that all women
shunned her, and few men noticed her. Yet no one could say that at the present
time she did not live a careful life, justifying, so far as eye could see, the
protection of the Seigneur, M. Rossignol, a man of queer habits and queerer
dress, a dabbler in physical science, a devout Catholic, and a constant friend
of the Cure. He it was who, when an effort was made to drive Paulette out of the
parish, had said that she should not go unless she wished; that, having been
born in Chaudiere, she had a right to live there and die there; and if she had
sinned there, the parish was in some sense to blame. Though he had no
lodge-gates, and though the seigneury was but a great wide low-roofed farmhouse,
with an observatory, and a chimney-piece dating from the time of Louis the
Fourteenth, the Seigneur gave Paulette Dubois a little hut at his outer gate,
which had been there since the great Count Frontenac visited Chaudiere. Probably
Rosalie spoke to Paulette Dubois more often than did any one else in the parish,
but that was because the woman came for little things at the shop, and asked for
letters, and every week sent one—to a man living in Montreal. She sent these
letters, but not more than once in six months did she get a reply, and she had
not had one in a whole year. Yet every week she asked, and Rosalie found it hard
to answer her politely, and sometimes showed it.
So it was that the two disliked each other without good cause, save that they
were separated by a chasm as wide as a sea. The one disliked the other because
she must recognise her; the other chafed because she could be recognised by
Rosalie officially only.
The late afternoon of the day in which Rosalie decided to nail the cross on
the church door again, Paulette arrived to ask for letters at the moment that
the office wicket was closed, and Rosalie had answered that it was after office
hours, and had almost closed the door in her face. As she turned away Jo
Portugais came out of the tailor-shop opposite. He saw Paulette, and stood still
an instant. She did the same. A strange look passed across the face of each,
then they turned and went in opposite directions.
Never in her life had time gone so slowly with Rosalie. She watched the
clock. A dozen times she went to the front door and looked out. She tried to
read—it was no use; she tried to spin-her fingers trembled; she sorted the
letters in the office again, and rearranged every letter and parcel and paper in
its little pigeonhole—then did it all over again. She took out again the letter
Paulette had dropped in the letter-box; it was addressed in the name of the man
at Montreal. She looked at it in a kind of awe, as she had ever done the letters
of this woman who was without the pale. They had a sense of mystery, an air of
She put the letter back, went to the door again, and looked out. It was now
time to go. Drawing a hood over her head, she stepped out into the night. There
was a little frost, though spring was well forward, and the smell of the rich
earth and the budding trees was sweet to the sense. The moon had just set, but
the stars were shining, and here and there patches of snow on the hillside and
in the fields added to the light. Yet it was not bright enough to see far, and
as Rosalie moved down the street she did not notice a figure at a little
distance behind, walking on the new-springing grass by the roadside. All was
quiet at the tavern; there was no light in the Notary's house—as a rule, he sat
up late, reading; and even the fiddle of Maximilian Cour, the baker, was silent.
The Cure's windows were dark, and the church with its white tin spire stood up
sentinel-like above the village.
Rosalie had the fateful cross in her hand as she softly opened the gate of
the churchyard and approached the great oak doors. Taking a screw-driver and
some screws from her pocket, she felt with a finger for the old screw-holes in
the door. Then she began her work, looking fearfully round once or twice at
first. Presently, however, because the screws were larger than the old ones, it
became much harder; the task called forth more strength, and drove all thought
of being seen out of her mind for a space. At last, however, she gave the final
turn to the handle, and every screw was in its place, its top level and smooth
with the iron of the cross. She stopped and looked round again with an uneasy
feeling. She could see no one, hear no one, but she began to tremble, and,
overcome, she fell on her knees before the door, and, with her fingers on the
foot of the little cross, prayed passionately; for herself, for Monsieur.
Suddenly she heard footsteps inside the church. They were coming towards the
doorway, nearer and nearer. At first she was so struck with terror that she
could not move. Then with a little cry she sprang to her feet, rushed to the
gate, threw it open, ran out into the road, ind wildly on towards home. She did
not stop for at least three hundred yards. Turning and looking back she saw at
the church door a pale round light. With another cry she sped on, and did not
pause till she reached the house. Then, bursting in and locking the door, she
hurried to her room, undressed quickly, got into bed without saying her prayers,
and buried her face in the pillow, shivering and overwrought.
The footsteps she had heard were those of the Cure and Jo Portugais. The Cure
had sent for Jo to do some last work upon a little altar, to be used the next
day for the first time. The carpenter and the carver in wood who were
responsible for the work had fallen victims to white whiskey on the very last
day of their task, and had been driven from the church by the Cure, who then
sent for Jo. Rosalie had not seen the light at the shrine, as it was on the side
of the church farthest from the village.
Their labour finished, the two came towards the front door, the Cure's
lantern in his hand. Opening the door, Jo heard the sound of footsteps and saw a
figure flying down the road. As the Cure came out abstractedly, he glanced
sorrowfully towards the place where the little cross was used to be. He gave a
wondering cry, and almost dropped the lantern.
"See, see, Portugais," he said, "our little cross again!" Jo nodded. "So it
seems, Monsieur," he said.
At that instant he saw a hood lying on the ground, and as the Cure held up
the lantern, peering at the little cross, he hastily picked it up and thrust it
inside his coat.
"Strange—very strange!" said the Cure. "It must have been done while we were
inside. It was not there when we entered."
"We entered by the vestry door," said Jo.
"Ah, true-true," responded the Cure.
"It comes as it went," said Jo. "You can't account for some things."
The Cure turned and looked at Jo curiously. "Are you then so superstitious,
Jo? Nonsense; it is the work of human hands—very human hands," he added sadly.
"There is nothing to show," said the Cure, seeing Jo's glance round.
"As you see, M'sieu' le Cure."
"Well, it is a mystery which time no doubt will clear up. Meanwhile, let us
be thankful to God," said the Cure.
They parted, the Cure going through a side-gate into his own garden, Jo
passing out of the churchyard-gate through which Rosalie had gone. He looked
down the road towards the village.
"Well!" said a voice in his ear. Paulette Dubois stood before him.
"It was you, then," he said, with a glowering look. "What did you want with
"What do you want with the hood in your coat there?" She threw her head back
with a spiteful laugh. "Whose do you think it is?" he said quietly.
"You and the schoolmaster made verses about her once."
"It was Rosalie Evanturel?" he asked, with aggravating composure.
"You have the hood-look at it! You saw her running down the road; I saw her
come, watched her, and saw her go. She is a thief—pretty Rosalie—thief and
postmistress! No doubt she takes letters too."
"The ones you wait for, and that never come—eh?" Her face darkened with rage
and hatred. "I will tell the world she's a thief," she sneered.
"Who will believe you?"
"You will." She was hard and fierce, and looked him in the eyes squarely.
"You'll give evidence quick enough, if I ask you."
"I wouldn't do anything you asked me to-nothing, if it was to save my life."
"I'll prove her a thief without you. She can't deny it."
"If you try it, I'll—" He stopped, husky and shaking.
"You'll kill me, eh? You killed him, and you didn't hang. Oh no, you wouldn't
kill me, Jo," she added quickly, in a changed voice. "You've had enough of that
kind of thing. If I'd been you, I'd rather have hung—ah, sure!" She suddenly
came close to him. "Do you hate me so bad, Jo?" she said anxiously. "It's eight
years—do you hate me so bad as then?"
"You keep your tongue off Rosalie Evanturel," he said, and turned on his
She caught his arm. "We're both bad, Jo. Can't we be friends?" she said
eagerly, her voice shaking.
He did not reply.
"Don't drive a woman too hard," she said between her teeth.
"Threats! Pah!" he rejoined. "What do you think I'm made of?"
"I'll find that out," she said, and, turning on her heel, ran down the road
towards the Manor House. "What had Rosalie to do with the cross?" Jo said to
himself. "This is her hood." He took it out and looked at it. "It's her hood—but
what did she want with the cross?"
He hurried on, and as he neared the post-office he saw the figure of a woman
in the road. At first he thought it might be Rosalie, but as he came nearer he
saw it was not. The woman was muttering and crying. She wandered to and fro
bewilderedly. He came up, caught her by the arm, and looked into her face.
It was old Margot Patry.