The Right of Way


Charley's eyes met Rosalie's with a look the girl had never seen in them before. It gave a glow to his haggard face.

Rosalie turned to Jo and greeted him with a friendlier manner than was her wont towards him. The nearer she was to Charley, the farther away from him, to her mind, was Portugais, and she became magnanimous.

Jo nodded' awkwardly and left the room. Looking after the departing figure, Rosalie said: "I know he has been good to you, but—but do you trust him, Monsieur?"

"Does not everybody in Chaudiere trust him?"

"There is one who does not, though perhaps that's of no consequence."

"Why do you not trust him?"

"I don't know. I never knew him do a bad thing; I never heard of a bad thing he has done; and—he has been good to you."

She paused, flushing as she felt the significance of her words, and continued: "Yet there is—I cannot tell what. I feel something. It is not reasonable to go upon one's feelings; but there it is, and so I do not trust him."

"It is the way he lives, here in these lonely woods—the mystery around him."

A change passed over her. With the first glow of meeting the object of her visit had receded, though since her last interview with the Seigneur she had not rested a moment, in her anxiety to warn him of his danger. "Oh, no," she said, lifting her eyes frankly to his: "oh, no, Monsieur! It is not that. There is mystery about you!" She felt her heart beating hard. It almost choked her, but she kept on bravely. "People say strange and bad things about you. No one knows"—she trembled under the painful inquiry of his eyes. Then she gained courage and went on, for she must make it clear she trusted him, that she took him at his word, before she told him of the peril before him—"No one knows where you came from... and it is nobody's business. Some people do not believe in you. But I believe in you—I should believe in you if every one doubted; for there is no feeling in me that says, 'He has done some wicked thing that stands-between us.' It isn't the same as with Portugais, you see—naturally, it could not be the same."

She seemed not to realise that she was telling more of her own heart than she had ever told. It was a revelation, having its origin in an honesty which impelled a pure outspokenness to himself. Reserve, of course, there had been elsewhere, for did not she hold a secret with him? Had she not hidden things, equivocated else where? Yet it had been at his wish, to protect the name of a dead man, for the repose of whose soul masses were now said, with expensive candles burning. For this she had no repentance; she was without logic where this man's good was at stake.

Charley had before him a problem, which he now knew he never could evade in the future. He could solve it by none of the old intellectual means, but by the use of new faculties, slowly emerging from the unexplored fastnesses of his nature.

"Why should you believe in me?" he asked, forcing himself to smile, yet acutely alive to the fact that a crisis was impending. "You, like all down there in Chaudiere, know nothing of my past, are not sure that I haven't been a hundred times worse than you think poor Jo there. I may have been anything. You may be harbouring a man the law is tracking down."

In all that befell Rosalie Evanturel thereafter, never could come such another great resolute moment. There was nothing to support her in the crisis but her own faith. It needed high courage to tell this man who had first given her dreams, then imagination, hope, and the beauty of doing for another's well-being rather than for her own—to tell this man that he was a suspected criminal. Would he hate her? Would his kindness turn to anger? Would he despise her for even having dared to name the suspicion which was bringing hither an austere Abbe and officers of the law?

"We are harbouring a man the law is tracking down," she said with an infinite appeal in her eyes.

He did not quite understand. He thought that perhaps she meant Jo, and he glanced towards the door; but she kept her eyes on him, and they told him that she meant himself. He chilled, as though ether were being poured through his veins.

Did the world know, then, that Charley Steele was alive? Was the law sending its officers to seize the embezzler, the ruffian who had robbed widow and orphan?

If it were so.... To go back to the world whence he came, with the injury he must do to others, and the punishment also that he must suffer, if he did not tell the truth about Billy! And Chaudiere, which, in spite of all, was beginning to have a real belief in him—where was his contempt for the world now!... And Rosalie, who trusted him—this new element rapidly grew dominant in his thoughts-to be the common criminal in her eyes!

His paleness gave way to a flush as like her own as could be.

"You mean me?" he asked quietly.

She had thought that his flush meant anger, and she was surprised at the quiet tone. She nodded assent. "For what crime?" he asked.

"For stealing."

His heart seemed to stand still. Then, it had come in spite of all it had come. Here was his resurrection, and the old life to face.

"What did I steal?" he asked with dull apathy. "The gold vessels from the Catholic Cathedral of Quebec, after—after trying to blow up Government House with gunpowder."

His despair passed. His face suddenly lighted. He smiled. It was so absurd. "Really!" he said. "When was the place blown up?"

"Two days before you came here last year—it was not blown up; an attempt was made."

"Ah, I did not know. Why was the attempt made to blow it up?"

"Some Frenchman's hatred of the English, they say."

"But I am not French."

"They do not know. You speak French as perfectly as English—ah, Monsieur, Monsieur, I believe you are whatever you say." Pain and appeal rang from her lips.

"I am only an honest tailor," he answered gently. He ruled his face to calmness, for he read the agony in the girl's face, and troubled as he was, he wished to show her that he had no fear.

"It is for what you were they will arrest you," she said helplessly, and as though he needed to have all made clear to him. "Oh, Monsieur," she continued, in a broken voice, "it would shame me so to have you made a prisoner in Chaudiere—before all these silly people, who turn with the wind. I should not lift my head—but yes, I should lift my head!" she added hurriedly. "I should tell them all they lied—every one—the idiots! The Seigneur—"

"Well, what of the Seigneur-Rosalie?"

Her own name on his lips—the sound of it dimmed her eyes.

"Monsieur Rossignol does not know you. He neither believes nor disbelieves. He said to me that if you wanted consideration, to command him, for in Chaudiere he had heard nothing but good of you. If you stayed, he would see that you had justice—not persecution. I saw him two hours ago."

She said the last words shyly, for she was thinking why the Seigneur had spoken as he did—that he had taken her opinion of Monsieur as his guide, and she had not scrupled to impress him with her views. The Seigneur was in danger of becoming prejudiced by his sentiments.

A wave of feeling passed over Charley, a rushing wave of sympathy for this simple girl, who, out of a blind confidence, risked so much for him. Risk there certainly was, if she—if she cared for him. It was cruelty not to reassure her.

Touching his breast, he said gravely: "By this sign here, I am not guilty of the crime for which they come to seek me, Rosalie. Nor of any other crime for which the law might punish me—dear, noble friend."

He did so little to get such rich return. Her eyes leaped up to brighter degrees of light, her face shone with a joy it had never reflected before, her blood rushed to her finger-tips. She abruptly sat down in a chair and buried her face in her hands, trembling. Then, lifting her head slowly, after a moment she spoke in a tone that told him her faith, her gratitude—not for reassurance, but for confidence, which is as water in a thirsty land to a woman.

"Oh, Monsieur, I thank you, I thank you from the depth of my heart; and my heart is deep indeed, very, very deep—I cannot find what lies lowest in it! I thank you, because you trust me, because you make it so easy to—to be your friend; to say 'I know' when any one might doubt you. One has no right to speak for another till—till the other has given confidence, has said you may. Ah, Monsieur, I am so happy!"

In very abandonment of heart she clasped her hands and came a step nearer to him, but abruptly stopped still; for, realising her action, timidity and embarrassment rushed upon her.

Charley understood, and again his impulse was to say what was in his heart and dare all; but resolution possessed him, and he said quickly:

"Once, Rosalie, you saved me—from death perhaps. Once your hands helped my pain—here." He touched his breast. "Your words now, and what you do, they still help me—here... but in a different way. The trouble is in my heart, Rosalie. You are glad of my confidence? Well, I will give you more.... I cannot go back to my old life. To do so would injure others—some who have never injured me and some who have. That is why. That is why I do not wish to be taken to Quebec now on a false charge. That is all I can say. Is it enough?"

She was about to answer, but Jo Portugais entered, exclaiming. "M'sieu'," he cried, "men are coming with the Seigneur and Cure."

Charley nodded at Jo, then turned to Rosalie. "You need not be seen if you go out by the back way, Mademoiselle." He held aside the bear-skin curtain of the door that led into the next room.

There was a frightened look in her face. "Do not fear for me," he continued. "It will come right—somehow. You have done more for me than any one has ever done or ever will do. I will remember till the last moment of my life. Good-bye."

He laid a hand on her shoulder and gently pushed her from the room.

"God protect you! The Blessed Virgin speak for you! I will pray for you," she whispered.

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