The Right of Way


Rosalie came to her feet, gasping with pleasure. She had been unhappy ever since she had returned from Quebec, for though she had sometimes been brought in contact with Charley in the Notary's house since the day of the operation, nothing had passed between them save the necessary commonplaces of a sick-room, given a little extra colour, perhaps, by the sense of responsibility which fell upon them both, and by that importance which hidden sentiment gives to every motion. The twins had been troublesome and ill, and Madame Dauphin had begged Rosalie to come in for a couple of hours every evening. Thus the tailor and the girl who, by every rule of wisdom, should have been kept as far apart as the poles, were played into each other's hands by human kindness and damnable propinquity. The man, manlike, felt no real danger, because nothing was said—after everything had been said for all time at the hut on Vadrome Mountain. He had not realised the true situation, because of late her voice, like his, had been even and her hand cool and steady. He had not noticed that her eyes were like hungry fires, eating up her face—eating away its roundness, and leaving a pathetic beauty behind.

It seemed to him that because there was silence—neither the written word nor the speaking look—that all was well. He was hugging the chain of denial to his bosom, as though to say, "This way is safety"; he was hiding his face from the beacon-lights of her eyes, which said: "This way is home."

Home? Pictures of home, of a home such as Maximilian Cour painted in his music, had passed before him now and then since that great day on Vadrome Mountain. A simple fireside, with frugal but comfortable fare; a few books; the study of the fields and woods; the daily humble task over which he could meditate as his hands worked mechanically; the happy face of a happy woman near—he had thought of home; and he had put it from him. No matter what the temptation, his must be, perhaps for ever, the bed and board unshared. He had had his chance in the old days, and he had thrown it away with insolent indifference, and an unpardonable contempt for the opinion of the world.

Now, with a blind fatuousness which had nothing to do with his old intellectual power, but was evidence of a primitive life of feeling, had vaguely imagined that because there were no clinging hands, or stolen looks, or any vow or promise, that all might go on as at present—upon the surface. With a curious absence of his old accuracy of observation he was treating the immediate past—his and Rosalie's past—as if it did not actually exist; as if only the other and farther past was a tragedy, and this nearer one a dream.

But the film fell from his eyes as Maximilian Cour played his 'Baffled Quest', with its quaint, searching pathos; and as he saw the figure of the girl alone in the shade of the great rose-bushes, past and present became one, and the whole man was lost in that one word "Rosalie!" which called her to her feet with outstretched hands.

The tears sprang to her eyes; her face upturned to his was a mute appeal, a speechless 'Viens ici'.

Past, present, future, duty, apprehension, consequences, suddenly fell away from Charley's mind like a garment slipping from the shoulders, and the new man, swept off his feet by the onrush of unused and ungoverned emotions, caught the girl to his arms with a desperate joy.

"Oh, do you care, then—for me?" wept the girl, and hid her face in his breast.

A voice came from inside the house: "Monsieur, Monsieur—ah, come, if you please, tailor!"

The girl drew back quickly, looked up at him for one instant with a triumphant happy daring, then, suddenly covered with confusion, turned, ran to the gate, opened it, passed swiftly out, and was swallowed up in the dusk.

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