The Right of Way
THE COLONEL TELLS HIS STORY
The Colonel had lunched very well indeed. He had done justice to every dish
set before him; he had made a little speech, congratulating himself on having
such a well-trained body of men to command, and felicitating Chaudiere from many
points of view. He was in great good-humour with himself, and when the Notary
asked him—it was at the Manor, with the soldiers resting on the grass
without—about the tale of bravery he had promised them, he brought his fist down
on the table with great intensity but little noise, and said:
"Chaudiere may well be proud of it. I shall refer to it in the Legislature on
the question of roads and bridges—there ought to be a stone fence on that
dangerous road by the Red Ravine—Have I your attention?"
He stood up, for he was an excitable and voluble Colonel, and he loved
oration as a cat does milk. With a knife he drew a picture of the locale on the
table cloth. "Here I was riding on my sorrel, all my noble fellows behind, the
fife and drums going as at Louisburg—that day! Martial ardour united to
manliness and local pride—follow me? Here we were, Red Ravine left, stump fences
and waving fields of grain right. From military point of view, bad
position—ravine, stump fence, brave soldiers in the middle, food for
He emptied his glass, drew a long breath, and again began, the carving-knife
cutting a rhetorical path before him. "I was engaged upon the military
problem—demonstration in force, no scouts ahead, no rearguard, ravine on the
right, stump fence on the left, red coats, fife-and-drum band, concealed
enemy—follow me? Observant mind always sees problems everywhere—unresting
military genius accustoms intelligence to all possible contingencies—'stand what
The Seigneur took a pinch of snuff, and the Cure, whose mind was benevolent,
listened with the gravest interest.
"At the juncture when, in my mind's eye, I saw my gallant fellows enfiladed
with a terrible fire, caught in a trap, and I, despairing, spurring on to die at
their head—have I your attention?—just at that moment there appeared between the
ravine and the road ahead a man. He wore an eye-glass; he seemed an unconcerned
spectator of our movements—so does the untrained, unthinking eye look out upon
destiny! Not far away was a wagon, in it a man. Wagon bisecting our course from
He drew a line on the table-cloth with the carvingknife, and the Notary said:
"Yes, yes, the concession road."
"So, Messieurs. There were we, a battalion and a fife-and-drum band; there
was the man with the eyeglass, the indifferent spectator, yet the engine of
fate; there was the wagon, a mottled horse, and a man driving—catch it? The
mottled horse took fright at our band, which at that instant strikes up 'The
Chevalier Drew his Sabre'. He shies from the road with a leap, the man falls
backwards into the wagon, and the reins drop. The horse dashes from the road
into the open, and rushes on to the ravine. What good now to stop the fifes and
drums-follow me? What can we, an armed force, bandoleered, knapsacked, sworded,
rifled, impetuous, brave, what can we do before this tragedy? The man in the
wagon senseless, the flying horse, the ravine, death! How futile the power of
man—'stand what I mean?"
"Why didn't your battalion shoot the horse?" said the Seigneur drily, taking
a pinch of snuff. "Monsieur," said the Colonel, "see the irony, the implacable
irony of fate—we had only blank cartridge! But see you, here was this one
despised man with an eye-glass, a tailor—takes nine tailors to make a
man!—between the ravine and the galloping tragedy. His spirit arrayed itself
like an army with banners, prepared to wrestle with death as Jacob wrestled with
his shadow all the night 'sieur le Cure!"
The Cure bowed; the Notary shook back his oiled locks in excitement.
"Awoke a whole man—nine-ninths, as in Adam—in the obscure soul of the tailor,
and, rushing forward, he seized the mottled horse by the bridle as he galloped
upon the chasm: The horse dragged him on—dragged him on—on—on. We, an army, so
to speak, stood and watched the Tailor and the Tragedy! All seemed lost, but, by
the decree of fate—"
"The will of God," said the Cure softly.
"By the great decree, the man was able to stop the horse, not a half-dozen
feet from the ravine. The horse and the insensible driver were spared
death—death. So, Messieurs, does bravery come from unexpected places—see?"
The Seigneur, the Cure, and even the Notary clapped their hands, and murmured
praises of the tailor-man. But the Colonel did not yet take his seat.
"But now, mark the sequel," he said. "As I galloped over, I saw the tailor
look into the wagon, and turn away quickly. He waited by the horse till I came
near, and then walked off without a word. I rode up, and tapped him with my
sword upon the shoulder. 'A noble deed, my good man,' said I. 'I approve of your
conduct, and I will remember it in the Legislature when I address the committee
of the whole house on roads and bridges.' What do you think was his reply to my
affable words? When I tapped him approvingly on the shoulder a second time, he
screwed his eye-glass in his eye, and, with no emotion, though my own eyes were
full of tears, he said, in a tone of affront, 'Look after the man there,
constable,' and pointed to the wagon. Constable—mon Dieu! Gross manners even for
"I had not thought his manners bad," said the Cure, as the Colonel sat down,
gulped a glass of brandy-and-water, and mopped his forehead.
"A most remarkable tailor," said the Seigneur, peering into his snuff-box.
"And the driver of the mottled horse?" asked the Notary.
"Knocked senseless. One of my captains soon restored him. He followed us into
the village. He is a quack-doctor. I suppose he is now selling tinctures,
pulling teeth, and driving away rheumatics. He gave me his card. I told him he
should leave one on the tailor."
With a flourish he threw a professional card upon the table, before the Cure.
The Cure picked it up and read:
JOHN BROWN, B.A., M.D.,
Healer of Ailments that Defy the Ordinary Skill of Ordinary
Medical Men. Rheumatism, Sciatica, Headache, Toothache,
Asthma, Ague, Pleurisy, Gout, and all Chronic Diseases Yield
Instantly to the Power of his Medicines.
JOHN BROWN, B.A., M.D.,
Specialist in Chronic Diseases and General Practitioner.
Dr. Brown will publicly treat the most stubborn cases, laying
himself open to the derision of mankind if he does not instantly
give relief and benefit. His whole career has been a blessing to
his fellows, and his journey now through this country, fresh from
his studies in the Orient, is to introduce his remedies to a
suffering world, for the conquest of malady, not for personal