The Right of Way
Weeks went by. Summer was done, autumn was upon the land. Harvest-home had
gone, and the "fall" ploughing was forward. The smell of the burning stubble, of
decaying plant and fibre, was mingling with the odours of the orchards and the
balsams of the forest. The leafy hill-sides, far and near, were resplendent in
scarlet and saffron and tawny red. Over the decline of the year flickered the
ruined fires of energy.
It had been a prosperous summer in the valley. Harvests had been reaped such
as the country had not known for years—and for years there had been great
harvests. There had not been a death in the parish all summer, and births had
occurred out of all usual proportion.
When Filion Lacasse commented thereon, and mentioned the fact that even the
Notary's wife had had the gift of twins as the crowning fulness of the year,
Maximilian Cour, who was essentially superstitious, tapped on the table three
times, to prevent a turn in the luck.
The baker was too late, however, for the very next day the Notary was brought
home with a nasty gunshot wound in his leg. He had been lured into duck-hunting
on a lake twenty miles away, in the hills, and had been accidentally shot on an
Indian reservation, called Four Mountains, where the Church sometimes held a
mission and presented a primitive sort of passion-play. From there he had been
brought home by his comrades, and the doctor from the next parish summoned. The
Cure assisted the doctor at first, but the task was difficult to him. At the
instant when the case was most critical the tailor of Chaudiere set his foot
inside the Notary's door. A moment later he relieved the Cure and helped to
probe for shot, and care for an ugly wound.
Charley had no knowledge of surgery, but his fingers were skilful, his eye
was true, and he had intuition. The long operation over, the rural physician and
surgeon washed his hands and then studied Charley with curious admiration.
"Thank you, Monsieur," he said, as he dried his hands on a towel. "I couldn't
have done it without you. It's a pretty good job; and you share the credit."
Charley bowed. "It's a good thing not to halloo till you're out of the
woods," he said. "Our friend there has a bad time before him—hein?"
"I take you. It is so." The man of knives and tinctures pulled his
side-whiskers with smug satisfaction as he looked into a small mirror on the
wall. "Do you chance to know if madame has any cordials or spirits?" he added,
straightening his waistcoat and adjusting his cravat.
"It is likely," answered Charley, and moved away to the window looking upon
The doctor turned in surprise. He was used to being waited on, and he had
expected the tailor to follow the tradition.
"We might—eh?" he said suggestively. "It is usually the custom to provide
refreshment, but the poor woman, madame, has been greatly occupied with her
"And the twins," Charley put in drily—"and a house full of work, and only one
old crone in the kitchen to help. Still, I have no doubt she has thought of the
cordials too. Women are the slaves of custom—ah, here they are, as I said, and—"
He stopped short, for in the doorway, with a tray, stood Rosalie Evanturel.
The surgeon was so intent upon at once fortifying himself that he did not see
the look which passed between Rosalie and the tailor.
Rosalie had been absent for two months. Her father had been taken seriously
ill the day after the critical episode in the but at Vadrome Mountain, and she
had gone with him to the hospital at Quebec, for an operation. The Abbe
Rossignol had undertaken to see them safely to the hospital, and Jo Portugais,
at his own request, was permitted to go in attendance upon M. Evanturel.
There had been a hasty leave-taking between Charley and Rosalie, but it was
in the presence of others, and they had never spoken a word privately together
since the day she had said to him that where he went she would go, in life or
out of it.
"You have been gone two months," Charley said now, after their touch of hands
and voiceless greeting. "Two months yesterday," she answered.
"At sundown," he replied, in an even voice.
"The Angelus was ringing," she answered calmly, though her heart was leaping
and her hands were trembling. The doctor, instantly busy with the cordial, had
not noticed what they said.
"Won't you join me?" he asked, offering a glass to Charley.
"Spirits do not suit me," answered Charley. "Matter of constitution,"
rejoined the doctor, and buttoned up his coat, preparing to depart. He came
close to Charley. "Now, I don't want to put upon you, Monsieur," he said, "but
this sick man is valuable in the parish—you take me? Well, it's a difficult,
delicate case, and I'd be glad if I could rely on you for a few days. The Cure
would do, but you are young, you have a sense of things—take me? Half the fees
are yours if you'll keep a sharp eye on him—three times a day, and be with him
at night a while. Fever is the thing I'm afraid of—temperature—this way,
please!" He went to the window, and for a minute engaged Charley in whispered
conversation. "You take me?" he said cheerily at last, as he turned again
"Quite, Monsieur," answered Charley, and drew away, for he caught the odour
of the doctor's breath, and a cold perspiration broke out over him. He felt the
old desire for drink sweeping through him. "I will do what I can," he said.
"Come, my dear," the doctor said to Rosalie. "We will go and see your
Charley's eyes had fastened on the bottles avidly. As Rosalie turned to bid
him good-bye, he said to her, almost hoarsely: "Take the tray back to Madame
She flashed a glance of inquiry at him. She was puzzled by the fire in his
eyes. With her soul in her face as she lifted the tray, out of the warm-beating
life in her, she said in a low tone:
"It is good to live, isn't it?"
He nodded and smiled, and the trouble slowly passed from his eyes. The woman
in her had conquered his enemy.