The Right of Way


Rosalie carried to the hospital that afternoon a lighter heart than she had known for many a day. The sight of Jo Portugais' dogs had roused her out of the apathy which had been growing on her in this patient but hopeless watching beside her father. She had always a smile and a cheerful word for the poor man. A settled sorrow hung upon her face, however, taking away its colour, but giving it a sweet gravity which made her slave more than one young doctor of the hospital, for whom, however, she showed no more than a friendly frankness, free from self-consciousness. For hours she would sit in reverie beside her sleeping father, her heart "over the water to Charley." As in a trance, she could see him sitting at his bench, bent over his work, now and again lifting up his head to look across to the post-office, where another hand than hers sorted letters now.

Day by day her father weakened and faded away. All that was possible to medical skill had been done. As the money left by her mother dwindled, she had no anxiety, for she knew that the life she so tenderly cherished would not outlast the gold which lengthened out the tenuous chain of being. This last illness of her father's had been the salvation of her mind, the saving of her health. Maybe it had been the saving of her soul; for at times a curious contempt of life came upon her—she who had loved it so eagerly and fully. There descended on her then the bitter conviction that never again would she see the man she loved. Then not even Mrs. Flynn could call back "the fun o' the world" to her step and her tongue and her eye. At first there had been a timid shrinking, but soon her father and herself were brighter and better for the old Irishwoman's presence, and she began to take comfort in Mrs. Flynn.

Mrs. Flynn gave hopefulness to whatever life she touched, and Rosalie, buoyant and hopeful enough by nature, responded to the living warmth and the religion of life in the Irishwoman's heart.

"'Tis worth the doin', ivery bit of it, darlin', the bither an' the swate, the hard an' the aisy, the rough an' the smooth, the good an' the bad," said Mrs. Flynn to her this very Easter morning. "Even the avil is worth doin', if so be 'twas not mint, an' the good is in yer heart in the ind, an' ye do be turnip' to the Almoighty, repentin' an' glad to be aloive: provin' to Him 'twas worth while makin' the world an' you, to want, an' worry, an' work, an' play, an' pick the flowers, an' bleed o' the thorns, an' dhrink the sun, an' ate the dust, an' be lovin' all the way! Ah, that's it, darlin'," persisted Mrs. Flynn, "'tis lovin' all the way makes it aisier. There's manny kinds o' love. There's lad an' lass, there's maid an' man. An' that last is spring, an' all the birds singin', an' shtorms now an' thin, an' siparations, an' misthrust, an' God in hivin bein' that aisy wid ye for bein' fools an' children, an' bringin' ye thegither in the ind, if so be ye do be lovin' as man an' maid should love, wid all yer heart. Thin there's the love o' man an' wife. Shure, that's the love that lasts, if it shtarts right. Shure, it doesn't always shtart wid the sun shinin.' 'Will ye marry me?' says Teddy Flynn to me. 'I will,' says I. 'Then I'll come back from Canaday to futch ye,' says he, wid a tear in his eye.

"'For what's a man in ould Ireland that has a head for annything but puttaties! There's land free in Canaday, an' I'm goin' to make a home for ye, Mary,' says he, wavin' a piece of paper in the air. 'Are ye, thin?' says I. He goes away that night, an' the next mornin' I have a lether from him, sayin' he's shtartin' that day for Canaday. He hadn't the heart to tell me to me face. Fwaht do I do thin? I begs, borrers, an' stales, an' I reached that ship wan minnit before she sailed. There was no praste aboord, but we was married six weeks afther at Quebec. And thegither we lived wid ups an' downs—but no ups an' downs to the love of us for twenty years, blessed be God for all His mercies!"

Rosalie had listened with eyes that hungrily watched every expression, ears that weighed eagerly every inflection; for she was hearing the story of another's love, and it did not seem strange to her that a woman, old, red-faced, and fat, should be telling it.

Yet there were times when she wept till she was exhausted; when all her girlhood was drowned in the overflow of her eyes; when there was a sense of irrevocable loss upon her. Then it was, in her fear of soul and pitiful loneliness, that her lover—the man she would have died for—seemed to have deserted her. Then it was that a sudden hatred against him rose up in her—to be swept away as swiftly as it came by the memory of his broken tale of love, his passionate words: "I have never loved any one but you in all my life, Rosalie." And also, there was that letter from Chaudiere, which said that in the hour when the greatest proof of his love must be given he would give it. Reading the letter again, hatred, doubt, even sorrow, passed from her, and her imagination pictured the hour when, disguise and secrecy ended, he would step forward before all the world and say: "I take Rosalie Evanturel to be my wife." Despite the gusts of emotion that swayed her at times, in the deepest part of her being she trusted him completely.

When she reached the hospital this Sunday afternoon her step was quick, her smile bright—though she had not been to confession as was her duty on Easter day. The impulse towards it had been great, but her secret was not her own, and the passionate desire to give relief to her full heart was overborne by thought of the man. Her soul was her own, but this secret of their love was his as well as hers. She knew that she was the only just judge between.

Soon after she entered the ward, the chief surgeon said that all that could be done for her father had now been done, and that as M. Evanturel constantly asked to be taken back to Chaudiere (he never said to die, though they knew what was in his mind), he might now make the journey, partly by river, partly by land. It seemed to the delighted and excited Rosalie that Jo Portugais had been sent to her as a surprise, and that his team of dogs was to take her father back.

She sat by her father's bed this beautiful, wonderful Sunday afternoon, and talked cheerfully, and laughed a little, and told M. Evanturel of the dogs, and together they looked out of the window to the far-off hills, in their golden purple, beyond which, in the valley of the Chaudiere, was their little home. With her father's hand in hers the girl dreamed dreams again, and it seemed to her that she was the very Rosalie Evanturel of old, whose thoughts were bounded by a river and a hill, a post-office and a church, a catechism and a few score of books. Here in the crowded city she had come to be a woman who, bitterly shaken in soul, knew life's sufferings; who had, during the past few months, read with avidity history, poetry, romance, fiction, and the drama, English and French; for in every one she found something that said: "You have felt that." In these long months she had learned more than she had known or learned in all her previous life.

As she sat looking out into the eastern sky she became conscious of voices, and of a group of people who came slowly down the ward, sometimes speaking to the sick and crippled. It was not a general visitors' day, but one reserved for the few to come and say a kindly word to the suffering, to bring some flowers and distribute books. Rosalie had always been absent at this hour before, for she shrank from strangers; but to-day she had stayed on unthinking. It mattered nothing to her who came and went. Her heart was over the hills, and the only tie she had here was with this poor cripple whose hand she held. If she did not resent the visit of these kindly strangers, she resolutely held herself apart from the object of their visit with a sense of distance and cold dignity. If she had given Charley something of herself, she had in turn taken something from him, something unlike her old self, delicately non-intime. Knowledge of life had rationalised her emotions to a definite degree, had given her the pride of self-repression. She had had need of it in these surroundings, where her beauty drew not a little dangerous attention, which she had held at arm's-length—her great love for one man made her invulnerable.

Now, as the visitors came near, she did not turn towards them, but still sat, her chin on her hand, looking out across the hills, in resolute abstraction. She felt her father's fingers press hers, as if to draw her attention, for he, weak man, was ever ready to open his hand and heart to any friendly soul. She took no notice, but held his hand firmly, as though to say that she had no wish to see.

She was conscious now that they were beside her father's bed. She hoped that they would pass. But no, the feet stopped, there was whispering, and then she heard a voice say, "Rather rude!" then another, "Not wanted, that's plain!"—the first a woman's, the second a man's. Then another voice, clear and cold, and well modulated, said to her father: "They tell me you have been here a long time, and have had much pain. You will be glad to go, I am sure."

Something in the voice startled her. Some familiar sound or inflection struck upon her ear with a far-off note, some lost tone she knew. Of what, of whom, did this voice remind her? She turned round quickly and caught two cold blue eyes looking at her. The face was older than her own, handsome and still, and happy in a placid sort of way. Few gusts of passion or of pain had passed across that face. The figure was shapely to the newest fashion, the bonnet was perfect, the hand which held two books was prettily gloved. Polite charity was written in her manner and consecrated every motion. On the instant, Rosalie resented this fine epitome of convention, this dutiful charity-monger, herself the centre of an admiring quartet. She saw the whispering, she noted the well-bred disguise of interest, and she met the visitor's gaze with cold courtesy. The other read the look in her face, and a slightly pacifying smile gathered at her lips.

"We are glad to hear that your father is better. He has been ill a long time?"

Rosalie started again, for the voice perplexed her—rather, not the voice, but the inflection, the deliberation.

She bowed, and set her lips, but, chancing to glance at her father, she saw that he was troubled by her manner. Flashing a look of love at him, she adjusted the pillow under his head, and said to her questioner in a low voice: "He is better now, thank you."

Encouraged, the other rejoined: "May I leave one or two books for him to read—or for you to read to him?" Then added hastily, for she saw a curious look in Rosalie's eyes: "We can have mutual friends in books, though we cannot be friends with each other. Books are the go-betweens of humanity."

Rosalie's heart leapt, she flushed, then grew slightly pale, for it was not tone or inflection alone that disturbed her now, but words themselves. A voice from over the hills seemed to say these things to her. A haunting voice from over the hills had said them to her—these very words.

"Friends need no go-betweens," she said quietly, "and enemies should not use them."

She heard a voice say, "By Jove!" in a tone of surprise, as though it were wonderful the girl from Chaudiere should have her wits about her. So Rosalie interpreted it.

"Have you many friends here?" asked the cold voice, meant to be kindly and pacific. It was schooled to composure, because it gave advantage in life's intercourse, not from any inner urbanity.

"Some need many friends, some but a few. I come from a country where one only needs a few."

"Where is your country, I wonder?" said the cold echo of another voice.

Charley had passed out of Kathleen's life—he was dead to her, his memory scorned and buried. She loved the man to whom she supposed she was married; she was only too glad to let the dust of death and time cover every trace of Charley from her gaze; she would have rooted out every particle of association: yet his influence on her had been so great that she had unconsciously absorbed some of his idiosyncrasies—in the tone of his voice, in his manner of speaking. To-day she had even repeated phrases he had used.

"Beyond the hills," said Rosalie, turning away.

"Is it not strange?" said the voice. "That is the title of one of the books I have just brought—'Beyond the Hills'. It is by an English writer. This other book is French. May I leave them?"

Rosalie inclined her head. It would make her own position less dignified if she refused them. "Books are always welcome to my father," she said.

There was an instant's pause, as though the fashionable lady would offer her hand; but their eyes met, and they only bowed. The lady moved on with a smile, leaving a perfume of heliotrope behind her.

"Where is your country, I wonder?"—the voice of the lady rang in Rosalie's ears. As she sat at the window again, long after the visitors had disappeared, the words, "I wonder—I wonder—I wonder!" kept beating in her brain. It was absurd that this woman should remind her of the tailor of Chaudiere.

Suddenly she was roused by her father's voice. "This is beautiful—ah, but beautiful, Rosalie!"

She turned towards him. He was reading the book in his hand—'Beyond the Hills'. "Listen," he said, and he read, in English: "'Compensation is the other name for God. How often is it that those whom disease or accident has robbed of active life find greater inner rejoicing and a larger spiritual itinerary! It would seem that withdrawal from the ruder activities gives a clearer seeing. Also for these, so often, is granted a greater love, which comes of the consecration of other lives to theirs. And these too have their reward, for they are less encompassed by the vanities of the world, having the joy of self-sacrifice.'" He looked at Rosalie with an unnatural brightness in his eyes, and she smiled at him now and stroked his hand.

"It has been all compensation to me," he said, after a moment. "You have been a good daughter to me, Rosalie."

She shook her head and smiled. "Good fathers think they have good daughters," she answered, choking back a sob.

He closed the book and let it lie upon the coverlet. "I will sleep now," he said, and turned on his side. She arranged his pillow, and adjusted the bedclothes to his comfort.

"Good-night," he said, as, with a faint hand, he drew her head down and kissed her. "Good girl! Goodnight!"

She patted his hand. "It is not night yet, father."

He was already half asleep. "Good-night!" he said again, and fell into a deep sleep.

She sat down by the window, in her hand the book he had laid down. A hundred thoughts were busy in her brain—of her father; of the woman who had just left; of her lover over the hills. The woman's voice came to her again—a far-off mockery. She opened the book mechanically and turned over the pages. Presently her eyes were riveted to a page. On it was written the word Kathleen.

For a moment she sat transfixed. The word Kathleen and the haunting voice became one, and her mind ran back to the day when she had said to Charley: "Who is Kathleen?"

She sprang to her feet. What should she do? Follow the woman? Find out who and what she was? Go to the young surgeon who had accompanied them, ask him who she was, and so learn the clue to the mystery concerning her lover?

In the midst of her confusion she became sharply conscious of two things: the approach of Mrs. Flynn, and her father's heavy breathing. Dropping the book, she leaned over her father's bed and looked closely at him. Then she turned to the frightened and anxious Mrs. Flynn.

"Go for the priest," she said. "He is dying."

"I'll send some one. I'm stayin' here by you, darlin'," said the old woman, and hurried to the room of the young surgeon for a messenger.

As the sun went down, the cripple went out upon a long journey alone.

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