The Right of Way
IT WAS MICHAELMAS DAY
Not a cloud in the sky, and, ruling all, a sweet sun, liberal in warmth and
eager in brightness as its distance from the northern world decreased. As Mrs.
Flynn entered the door of the post-office she sang out to Maximilian Cour, with
a buoyant lilt: "Oh, isn't it the fun o' the world to be alive!"
The tailor over the way heard it, and lifted his head with a smile; Rosalie
Evanturel, behind the postal wicket, heard it, and her face swam with colour.
Rosalie busied herself with the letters and papers for a moment before she
answered Mrs. Flynn's greeting, for there were ringing in her ears the words she
herself had said a few days before: "It is good to live, isn't it?"
To-day it was so good to live that life seemed an endless being and a
tireless happy doing—a gift of labour, an inspiring daytime, and a rejoicing
sleep. Exaltation, a painful joy, and a wide embarrassing wonderment possessed
her. She met Mrs. Flynn's face at the wicket with shining eyes and a timid
"Ah, there y'are, darlin'!" said Mrs. Flynn. "And how's the dear father
"He seems about the same, thank you."
"Ah, that's foine. Shure, if we could always be 'about the same,' we'd do.
True for you, darlin', 'tis as you say. If ould Mary Flynn could be always
''bout the same,' the clods o' the valley would never cover her bones. But there
'tis—we're here to-day, and away tomorrow. Shure, though, I am not complainin'.
Not I—not Mary Flynn. Teddy Flynn used to say to me, says he: 'Niver born to
know distress! Happy as worms in a garden av cucumbers. Seventeen years in this
country, Mary,' says he, 'an' nivir in the pinitintiary yet.' There y'are. Ah,
the birds do be singin' to-day! 'Tis good! 'Tis good, darlin'! You'll not mind
Mary Flynn callin' you darlin', though y'are postmistress, an' 'll be more than
that—more than that wan day—or Mary Flynn's a fool. Aye, more than that y'll be,
darlin', and y're eyes like purty brown topazzes and y're cheeks like
roses-shure, is there anny lether for Mary Flynn, darlin'?" she hastily added as
she saw the Seigneur standing in the doorway. He had evidently been listening.
"Ye didn't hear what y're ould fool of a cook was sayin'," she added to the
Seigneur, as Rosalie shook her head and answered: "No letters, Madame—dear."
Rosalie timidly added the dear, for there was something so great-hearted in Mrs.
Flynn that she longed to clasp her round the neck, longed as she had never done
in her life to lay her head upon some motherly breast and pour out her heart.
But it was not to be now. Secrecy was her duty still.
"Can't ye speak to y're ould fool of a cook, sir?" Mrs. Flynn said again, as
the Seigneur made way for her to leave the shop.
"How did you guess?" he said to her in a low voice, his sharp eyes peering
"By the looks in y're face these past weeks, and the look in hers," she
whispered, and went on her way rejoicing.
"I'll wind thim both round me finger like a wisp o' straw," she said, going
up the road with a light step, despite her weight, till she was stopped by the
malicious grocer-man of the village, whose tongue had been wagging for hours
upon an unwholesome theme.
Meanwhile, in the post-office, the Seigneur and Rosalie were face to face.
"It is Michaelmas day," he said. "May I speak with you, Mademoiselle?"
She looked at the clock. It was on the stroke of noon. The shop always closed
from twelve till half-past twelve.
"Will you step into the parlour, Monsieur?" she said, and coming round the
counter, locked the shop-door. She was trembling and confused, and entered the
little parlour shyly. Yet her eyes met the Seigneur's bravely. "Your father, how
is he?" he said, offering her a chair. The sunlight streaming in the window made
a sort of pathway of light between them, while they were in the shade.
"He seems no worse, and to-day he is wheeling himself about."
"He is stronger, then—that's good. Is there any fear that he must go to the
She inclined her head. "The doctor says he may have to go any moment. It may
be his one chance. The Cure is very kind, and says that, with your permission,
his sister will keep the office here, if—if needed."
The Seigneur nodded briskly. "Of course, of course. But have you not thought
that we might secure another postmistress?"
Her face clouded a little; her heart beat hard. She knew what was coming. She
dreaded it, but it was better to have it over now.
"We could not live without it," she said helplessly.
"What we have saved is not enough. The little my mother had must pay for the
visits to the hospital. I have kept it for that. You see, I need the place
"But you have thought, just the same. Do you not know the day?" he asked
She was silent.
"I have come to ask you to marry me—this is Michaelmas day, Rosalie."
She did not speak. He had hopes from her silence. "If anything happened to
your father, you could not live here alone—but a young girl! Your father may be
in the hospital for a long time. You cannot afford that. If I were to offer you
money, you would refuse. If you marry me, all that I have is yours to dispose of
at your will: to make others happy, to take you now and then from this narrow
place, to see what's going on in the world."
"I am happy here," she said falteringly.
"Chaudiere is the finest place in the world," he replied proudly, and as a
matter of fact. "But, for the sake of knowledge, you should see what the rest of
the world is. It helps you to understand Chaudiere better. I ask you to be my
She shook her head sorrowfully.
"You said before, it was not because I am old, not because I am rich, not
because I am Seigneur, not because I am I, that you refused me."
She smiled at him now. "That is true," she said.
"Then what reason can you have? None, none. 'Pon honour, I believe you are
afraid of marriage because it's marriage. By my life, there's naught to dread. A
little giving here and taking there, and it's easy. And when a woman is all
that's good, to a man, it can be done without fear or trembling. Even the Cure
would tell you that."
"Ah, I know, I know," she said, in a voice half painful, half joyous. "I know
that it is so. But, oh, dear Monsieur, I cannot marry you—never—never."
He hung on bravely. "I want to make life easy and happy for you. I want the
right to do so. When trouble comes upon you—"
"When it does I will turn to you—ah, yes, I would turn to you without fear,
dear Monsieur," she said, and her heart ached within her, for a premonition of
sorrow came upon her and filled her eyes, and made her heart like lead within
her breast. "I know how true a gentleman you are," she added. "I could give you
everything but that which is life to me, which is being, and soul, and the
beginning and the end."
The weight of the revealing hour of her life, its wonder, its agony, its
irrevocability, was upon her. It was giving new meanings to existence-primitive
woman, child of nature as she was. All morning she had longed to go out into the
woods and bury herself among the ferns and bracken, and laugh and weep for very
excess of feeling, downright joy and vague woe possessing her at once. She
looked the Seigneur in the eyes with consuming earnestness.
"Oh, it is not because I am young," she said, in a low voice, "for I am
old—indeed, I am very old. It is because I cannot love you, and never can love
you in the one great way; and I will not marry without love. My heart is fixed
on that. When I marry, it will be when I love a man so much that I cannot live
without him. If he is so poor that each meal is a miracle, it will make no
difference. Oh, can't you see, can't you feel, what I mean, Monsieur—you who are
so wise and learned, and know the world so well?"
"Wise and learned!" he said, a little roughly, for his voice was husky with
emotion. "'Pon honour, I think I am a fool! A bewildered fool, that knows no
more of woman than my cook knows Sanscrit. Faith, a hundred times less! For Mary
Flynn's got an eye to see, and, without telling, she knew I had a mind set on
you. But Mary Flynn thought more than that, for she has an idea that you've a
mind set on some one, Rosalie. She thought it might be me."
"A woman is not so easily read as a man," she replied, half smiling, but with
her eyes turned to the street. A few people were gathering in front of the
house—she wondered why.
"There is some one else—that is it, Rosalie. There is some one else. You
shall tell me who it is. You shall—"
He stopped short, for there was a loud knocking at the shop-door, and the
voice of M. Evanturel calling: "Rosalie! Rosalie! Rosalie! Ah, come quickly—ah,
Without a look at the Seigneur, Rosalie rushed into the shop and opened the
front door. Her father was deathly pale, and was trembling violently.
"Rosalie, my bird," he cried indignantly, "they're saying you stole the cross
from the church door."
He was now wheeled inside the shop, and people gathered round, looking at him
and Rosalie, some covertly, some as friends, some in a half-frightened way, as
though strange things were about to happen.
"Shure, 'tis a lie, or me name's not Mary Flynn—the darlin'!" said the
Seigneur's cook, with blazing face. "Who makes this charge?" roared an angry
voice. No one had seen the Seigneur enter from the little room beside the shop,
and at the sound of the sharp voice the people fell back, for he was as free
with his stick as his tongue.
"I do," said the grocer, to whom Paulette Dubois had told her story.
"Ye shall be tarred and feathered before y'are a day older," said Mary Flynn.
Rosalie was very pale.
The Seigneur was struck by this and by the strangeness of her look.
"Clear the room," he said to Filion Lacasse, who was now a constable of the
"Not yet!" said a voice at the doorway. "What is the trouble?" It was the
Cure, who had already heard rumours of the scandal, and had come at once to
Rosalie. M. Evanturel tried to speak, and could not. But Mary Flynn did, with a
face like a piece of scarlet bunting. Having finished with a flourish, she could
scarce keep her hands off the cowardly grocer.
The Cure turned to Rosalie. "It is absurd," he said. "Forgive me," he added
to the Seigneur. "It is better that Rosalie should answer this charge. If she
gives her word of honour, I will deny communion to whoever slanders her
"She did it," said the grocer stubbornly. "She can't deny it."
"Answer, Rosalie," said the Cure firmly.
"Excuse me; I will answer," said a voice at the door. The tailor of Chaudiere
made his way into the shop, through the fast-gathering crowd.