The Right of Way
THE COMING OF MAXIMILIAN COUR AND ANOTHER
"It is good to live, isn't it?" In the autumn weather when the air drank like
wine, it seemed so indeed, even to Charley, who worked all day in his shop, his
door wide open to the sunlight, and sat up half the night with Narcisse Dauphin,
sometimes even taking a turn at the cradle of the twins, while madame sat beside
her husband's bed.
To Charley the answer to Rosalie's question lay in the fact that his eyes had
never been so keen, his face so alive, or his step so buoyant as in this week of
double duty. His mind was more hopeful than it had ever been since the day he
awoke with memory restored in the silence of a mountain hut.
He had found the antidote to his great temptation, to the lurking, relentless
habit which had almost killed him the night John Brown had sung Champagne
Charlie from behind the flaring lights. From a determination to fight his own
fight with no material aids, he had never once used the antidote sent him by the
On St. Jean Baptiste's day his proud will had failed him; intellectual force,
native power of mind, had broken like reeds under the weight of a cruel
temptation. But now a new force had entered into him. As his fingers were about
to reach for the spirit-bottle in the house of the Notary, and he had, for the
first time in his life, made an appeal for help, a woman's voice had said, "It
is good to live, isn't it?" and his hand was stayed. A woman's look had stilled
the strife. Never before in his life had he relied on a moral or a spiritual
impulse in him. What of these existed in him were in unseen quantities—for which
there was neither multiple nor measure—had been primitive and hereditary,
flowing in him like a feeble tincture diluted to inefficacy.
Rosalie had resolved him back to the original elements. The quiet days he had
spent in Chaudiere, the self-sacrifice he had been compelled to make, the human
sins, such as those of Jo Portugais and Louis Trudel, with which he had had to
do, the simplicity of the life around him—the uncomplicated lie and the
unvarnished truth, the obvious sorrow and the patent joy, the childish faith,
and the rude wickedness so pardonable because so frankly brutal—had worked upon
him. The elemental spirit of it all had so invaded his nature, breaking through
the crust of old habit to the new man, that, when he fell before his temptation,
and his body became saturated with liquor, the healthy natural being and the
growing natural mind were overpowered by the coarse onslaught, and death had
It was his first appeal to a force outside himself, to an active principle
unfamiliar to the voluntary working of his nature, and the answer had been
immediate and adequate. Yet what was it? He did not ask; he had not got beyond
the mere experience, and the old questioning habit was in abeyance. Each new and
great emotion has its dominating moment, its supreme occasion, before taking its
place in the modulated moral mechanism. He was touched with helplessness.
As he sat beside Narcisse Dauphin's bedside, one evening, the sick man on his
way to recovery, there came to him the text of a sermon he had once heard John
Brown preach: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life
for his friend." He had been thinking of Rosalie and that day at Vadrome
Mountain. She would not only have died with him, but she would have died for
him, if need had been. What might he give in return for what she gave?
The Notary interrupted his thoughts. He had lain watching Charley for a long
time, his brow drawn down with thought. At last he said:
"Monsieur, you have been good to me." Charley laid a hand on the sick man's
"I don't see that. But if you won't talk, I'll believe you think so."
The Notary shook his head. "I've not been talking for an hour, I've no fever,
and I want to say some things. When I've said them, I'll feel better—voila! I
want to make the amende honorable. I once thought you were this and that—I won't
say what I thought you. I said you interfered—giving advice to people, as you
did to Filion Lacasse, and taking the bread out of my mouth. I said that!"
He paused, raised himself on his elbow, smoothed back his grizzled hair
behind his ears, looked at himself in the mirror opposite with satisfaction, and
added oracularly: "But how prone is the mind of man to judge amiss! You have put
bread into my mouth—no, no, Monsieur, you shall hear me! As well as doing your
own work, you have done my business since my accident as well as a lawyer could
do it; and you've given every penny to my wife."
"As for the work I've done," answered Charley, "it was nothing—you notaries
have easy times. You may take your turn with my shears and needle one day."
With a dash of patronage true to his nature, "You are wonderful for a
tailor," the Notary rejoined. Charley laughed—seldom, if ever, had he laughed
since coming to Chaudiere. It was, however, a curious fact that he took a real
pleasure in the work he did with his hands. In making clothes for habitant
farmers, and their sons and their sons' sons, and jackets for their wives and
daughters, he had had the keenest pleasure of his life.
He had taken his earnings with pride, if not with exultation. He knew the
Notary did not mean that he was wonderful as a tailor, but he answered to the
"You liked that last coat I made for you, then," he said drily; "I believe
you wore it when you were shot. It was the thing for your figure, man."
The Notary looked in the large mirror opposite with sad content. "Ah, it was
a good figure, the first time I went to that hut at Four Mountains!"
"We can't always be young. You have a waist yet, and your chest-barrel gives
form to a waistcoat. Tut, tut! Think of the twins in the way of vainglory and
"'Twins' and 'hypocrisy'; there you have struck the nail on the head, tailor.
There is the thing I'm going to tell you about."
After a cautious glance at the door and the window, Dauphin continued in
quick, broken sentences: "It wasn't an accident at Four Mountains—not quite. It
was Paulette Dubois—you know the woman that lives at the Seigneur's gate? Twelve
years ago she was a handsome girl. I fell in love with her, but she left here.
There were two other men. There was a timber-merchant,—and there was a lawyer
after. The timber-merchant was married; the lawyer wasn't. She lived at first
with the timber-merchant. He was killed—murdered in the woods."
"What was the timber-merchant's name?" interrupted Charley in an even voice.
"Turley—but that doesn't matter!" continued the Notary. "He was murdered, and
then the lawyer came on the scene. He lived with her for a year. She had a child
by him. One day he sent the child away to a safe place and told her he was going
to turn over a new leaf—he was going to stand for Parliament, and she must go.
She wouldn't go without the child. At last he said the child was dead; and
showed her the certificate of death. Then she came back here, and for a while,
alas! she disgraced the parish. But all at once she changed—she got a message
that her child was alive. To her it was like being born again. It was at this
time they were going to drive her from the parish. But the Seigneur and then the
Cure spoke for her, and so did I—at last."
He paused and plaintively admired himself in the mirror. He was grateful that
he had been clean-shaved that morning, and he was content to catch the citrine
odour of the bergamot upon his hair.
New phases of the most interesting case Charley had ever defended spread out
before him—the case which had given him his friend Jo Portugais, which had
turned his own destiny. Yet he could not quite trace in it the vital association
of this vain Notary now in the confessional mood.
"You behaved very well," said Charley tentatively.
"Ah, you say that, knowing so little! What will you say when you know all—ah!
That I should take a stand also was important. Neither the Seigneur nor the Cure
was married; I was. I have been long-suffering for a cause. My marital felicity
has been bruised—bruised—but not broken."
"There are the twins," said Charley, with a half-closed eye.
"Could woman ask greater proof?" urged the Notary seriously, for the other's
voice had been so well masked that he did not catch its satire. "But see my
peril, and mark the ground of my interest in this poor wanton! Yet a woman—a
woman-frail creatures, as we know, and to be pitied, not made more pitiable by
the stronger sex.... But, see now! Why should I have perilled mine own conjugal
peace, given ground for suspicion even—for I am unfortunate, unfortunate in the
exterior with which Dame Nature has honoured me!" Again he looked in the mirror
with sad complacency.
On these words his listener offered no comment, and he continued:
"For this reason I lifted my voice for the poor wanton. It was I who wrote
the letter to her that her child was alive. I did it with high purpose—I foresaw
that she would change her ways if she thought her child was living. Was I
mistaken? No. I am an observer of human nature. Intellect conquered. 'Io
triumphe'. The poor fly-away changed, led a new life. Ever since then she has
tried to get the man—the lawyer—to tell her where her child is. He has not done
so. He has said the child is dead—always. When she seemed to give up belief,
then would come another letter to her, telling her the child was living—but not
where. So she would keep on writing to the man, and sometimes she would go away
searching—searching. To what end? Nothing! She had a letter some months ago, for
she had got restless, and a young kinsman of the Seigneur had come to visit at
the seigneury for a week, and took much notice of her. There was danger. Voila,
"Monsieur, of course! Will you keep a secret—on your sacred honour?"
"I can keep a secret without sacred honour."
"Ah, yes, of course! You have a secret of your own—pardon me, I am only
saying what every one says. Well, this is the secret of the woman Paulette
Dubois. My cousin, Robespierre Dauphin, a notary in Quebec, is the agent of the
lawyer, the father of the child. He pities the poor woman. But he is bound in
professional honour to the lawyer fellow, not to betray. When visiting
Robespierre once I found out the truth-by accident.
"I told him what I intended. He gave permission to tell the woman her child
was alive; and, if need be for her good, to affirm it over and over again—no
"And this?" said Charley, pointing to the injured leg, for he now associated
the accident with the secret just disclosed.
"Ah, you apprehend! You have an avocat's mind—almost. It was at Four
Mountains. Paulette is superstitious; so not long ago she went to live there
alone with an old half-breed woman who has second-sight. Monsieur, it is a gift
unmistakably. For as soon as the hag clapped eyes on me in the hut, she said:
'There is the man that wrote you the letters.' Well—what! Paulette Dubois came
down on me like an avalanche—Monsieur, like an avalanche! She believed the old
witch; and there was I lying with an unconvincing manner"—he sighed—"lying
requires practice, alas! She saw I was lying, and in a rage snatched up my gun.
It went off by accident, and brought me down. Did she relent? Not so. She helped
to bind me up, and the last words she said to me were: 'You will suffer; you
will have time to think. I am glad. You have kept me on the rack. I shall only
be sorry if you die, for then I shall not be able to torture you till you tell
me where my child is!' Monsieur, I lied to the last, lest she should come here
and make a noise; but I'm not sure it wouldn't have been better to break faith
with Robespierre, and tell the poor wanton where her child is. What would you
do, Monsieur? I cannot ask the Cure or the Seigneur—I have reasons. But you have
the head of a lawyer—almost—and you have no local feelings, no personal
"I should tell the truth."
"Your reasons, Monsieur?"
"Because the lawyer is a scoundrel. Your betrayal of his secret is not a
thousandth part so bad as one lie told to this woman, whose very life is her
child. Is it a boy or a girl?"
"Good! What harm can be done? A left-handed boy is all right in the world.
Your wife has twins—then think of the woman, the one ewe lamb of 'the poor
wanton.' If you do not tell her, you will have her here making a noise, as you
say. I wonder she has not been here on your door-step."
"I had a letter from her to-day. She is coming-ah, mon dieu!"
There was a tap at the window. The Notary started. "Ah, Heaven, here she is!"
he gasped, and drew over to the wall.
A voice came from outside. "Shall I play for you, Dauphin? It is as good as
The Notary recovered himself at once. His volatile nature sprang back to its
pose. He could forget Paulette Dubois for the moment.
"It is Maximilian Cour in the garden," he said happily. Then he raised his
voice. "Play on, baker; but something for convalescence—the return of spring,
the sweet assonance of memory."
"A September air, and a gush of spring," said the baker, trying to crane his
long neck through the window. "Ah, there you are, Dauphin! I shall give you a
sleep to-night like a balmy eve." He nodded to the tailor. "M'sieu', you shall
judge if sentiment be dead.
"I have racked my heart to play this time. I have called it, 'The Baffled
Quest of Love'. I have taken the music of the song of Alsace, 'Le Jardin
d'Amour', and I have made variations on it, keeping the last verse of the song
in my mind. You know the song, M'sieu':
"'Quand je vais au jardin, Jardin d'amour,
Je crois entendu des pas,
Je veux fuir, et n'ose pas.
Voici la fin du jour...
Je crains et j'hesite,
Mon coeur bat plus vite
En ce sejour...
Quand je vais an jardin, jardin d'amour.'"
The baker sat down on a stool he had brought, and began to tune his fiddle.
From inside came the voice of the Notary.
"Play 'The Woods are Green' first," he said. "Then the other."
The Notary possessed the one high-walled garden in the village, and though
folk gathered outside and said that the baker was playing for the sick man,
there was no one in the garden save the fiddler himself. Once or twice a lad
appeared on the top of the wall, looking over, but vanished at once when he saw
Charley's face at the window. Long ere the baker had finished, the song was
caught up from outside, and before the last notes of the violin had died away,
twenty voices were singing it in the street, and forty feet marched away with it
into the dusk.
Darkness comes quickly in this land of brief twilight. Presently out of the
soft shadowed stillness, broken by the note of a vagrant whippoorwill, crept out
from Maximilian Cour's old violin the music of 'The Baffled Quest of Love'.
The baker was not a great musician, but he had a talent, a rare gift of
pathos, and an imagination untrammelled by rigorous rules of harmony and
construction. Whatever there was in his sentimental bosom he poured into this
one achievement of his life. It brought tears to the eyes of Narcisse Dauphin.
It opened a gate of the garden wall, and drew inside a girl's face, shining with
Maximilian Cour spoke for more than himself that night. His philandering
spirit had, at middle age, begotten a desire to house itself in a quiet place,
where the blinds could be drawn close, and the room of life made ready with all
the furniture of love. So he had spoken to his violin, and it had answered as it
had never done before. The soul of the lean baker touched the heart of a man
whose life had been but a baffled quest, and the spirit of a girl whose love was
her sun by day, her moon by night, and the starlight of her dreams.
From the shade of the window the man the girl loved watched her as she sank
upon the ground and clasped her hands before her in abandonment to the music. He
watched her when the baker, at last, overcome by his own feelings—and ashamed of
them—got up and stole swiftly out of the garden. He watched her till he saw her
drop her face in her hands; then, opening the door and stealing out, he came and
laid a hand upon her shoulder, and she heard him say: