The Right of Way
FACE TO FACE
"If I could only understand!"—this was Rosalie's constant cry in these weeks
wherein she lay ill and prostrate after her father's burial. Once and once only
had she met Charley alone, though she knew that he was keeping watch over her.
She had first seen him the day her father was buried, standing apart from the
people, his face sorrowful, his eyes heavy, his figure bowed.
The occasion of their meeting alone was the first night of her return, when
the Notary and Charley had kept watch beside her father's body.
She had gone into the little hallway, and had looked into the room of death.
The Notary was sound asleep in his arm-chair, but Charley sat silent and
moveless, his eyes gazing straight before him. She murmured his name, and though
it was only to herself, not even a whisper, he got up quickly and came to the
hall, where she stood grief-stricken, yet with a smile of welcome, of
forgiveness, of confidence. As she put out her hand to him, and his swallowed
it, she could not but say to him—so contrary is the heart of woman, so does she
demand a Yes by asserting a No, and hunger for the eternal assurance—she could
not but say:
"You do not love me—now."
It was but a whisper, so faint and breathless that only the heart of love
could hear it. There was no answer in words, for some one was stirring beyond
Rosalie in the dark, and a great figure heaved through the kitchen doorway, but
his hand crushed hers in his own; his heart said to her, "My love is an undying
light; it will not change for time or tears"—the words they had read together in
a little snuff-coloured book on the counter in the shop one summer day a year
ago. The words flashed into his mind, and they were carried to hers. Her fingers
pressed his, and then Charley said, over her shoulder, to the approaching Mrs.
Flynn: "Do not let her come again, Madame. She should get some sleep," and he
put her hand in Mrs. Flynn's. "Be good to her, as you know how, Mrs. Flynn," he
He had won the heart of Mrs. Flynn that moment, and it may be she had a
conviction or an inspiration, for she said, in a softer voice than she was wont
to use to any one save Rosalie:
"I'll do by her as you'd do by your own, sir," and tenderly drew Rosalie to
her own room.
Such had been their first meeting after her return. Afterwards she was taken
ill, and the torture of his heart drove him out into the night, to walk the road
and creep round her house like a sentinel, Mrs. Flynn's words ringing in his
ears to reproach him—"I'll do by her as you would do by your own, sir." Night
after night it was the same, and Rosalie heard his footsteps and listened and
was less sorrowful, because she knew that she was ever in his thoughts. But one
day Mrs. Flynn came to him in his shop.
"She's wantin' a word with ye on business," she said, and gestured towards
the little house across the way. "'Tis few words ye do be shpakin' to annybody,
but if y' have kind words to shpake and good things to say, y' naidn't be bitin'
yer tongue," she added in response to his nod, and left him.
Charley looked after her with a troubled face. On the instant it seemed to
him that Mrs. Flynn knew all. But his second thought told him that it was only
an instinct on her part that there was something between them—the beginning of
In another half-hour he was beside Rosalie's chair. "Perhaps you are angry,"
she said, as he came towards her where she sat in the great arm-chair. She did
not give him time to answer, but hurried on. "I wanted to tell you that I have
heard you every night outside, and that I have been glad, and sorry too—so sorry
for us both."
"Rosalie! Rosalie" he said hoarsely, and dropped on a knee beside her chair,
and took her hand and kissed it. He did not dare do more.
"I wanted to say to you," she said, dropping a hand on his shoulder, "that I
do not blame you for anything—not for anything. Yet I want you to be sorry too.
I want you to feel as sorry for me as I feel sorry for you."
"I am the worst man and you the best woman in the world."
She leaned over him with tears in her eyes. "Hush!" she said. "I want to help
you—Charles. You are wise. You know ten thousand things more than I; but I know
one thing you do not understand."
"You know and do whatever is good," he said brokenly.
"Oh, no, no, no! But I know one thing, because I have been taught, and
because it was born with me. Perhaps much was habit with me in the past, but now
I know that one thing is true. It is God."
She paused. "I have learned so much since—since then."
He looked up with a groan, and put a finger on her lips. "You are feeling
bitterly sorry for me," she said. "But you must let me speak—that is all I ask.
It is all love asks. I cannot bear that you should not share my thoughts. That
is the thing that has hurt—hurt so all these months, these long hard months,
when I could not see you, and did not know why I could not. Don't shake so,
please! Hear me to the end, and we shall both be the better after. I felt it all
so cruelly, because I did not—and I do not—understand. I rebelled, but not
against you. I rebelled against myself, against what you called Fate. Fate is
one's self, what one brings on one's self. But I had faith in you—always—always,
even when I thought I hated you."
"Ah, hate me! Hate me! It is your loving that cuts me to the quick," he said.
"You have the magnanimity of God."
Her eyes leapt up. "'Of God'—you believe in God!" she said eagerly. "God is
God to you? He is the one thing that has come out of all this to me." She
reached out her hand and took her Bible from a table. "Read that to yourself,"
she said, and, opening the Book, pointed to a passage. He read it:
And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in
the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the
presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.
And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art
And he said, I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid,
because I was naked; and I hid myself.
And He said, Who told thee that thou wart naked? Hast thou eaten of
the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?
Closing the Book, Charley said: "I understand—I see."
"Will you say a prayer with me?" she urged. "It is all I ask. It is the
only—the only thing I want to hurt you, because it may make you happier in the
end. What keeps us apart, I do not know. But if you will say one prayer with me,
I will keep on trusting, I will never complain, and I will wait—wait."
He kissed both her hands, but the look in his eyes was that of a man being
broken on the wheel. She slipped to the floor, her rosary in her fingers. "Let
us pray," she said simply, and in a voice as clear as a child's, but with the
anguish of a woman's struggling heart behind.
He did not move. She looked at him, caught his hands in both of hers, and
cried: "But you will not deny me this! Haven't I the right to ask it? Haven't I
a right to ask of you a thousand times as much?"
"You have the right to ask all that is mine to give life, honour, my body in
pieces inch by inch, the last that I can call my own. But, Rosalie, this is not
mine to give! How can I pray, unless I believe!"
"You do—oh, you do believe in God," she cried passionately.
"Rosalie—my life," he urged, hoarse misery in his voice, "the only thing I
have to give you is the bare soul of a truthful man—I am that now at least. You
have made me so. If I deceived the whole world, if I was as the thief upon the
cross, I should still be truthful to you. You open your heart to me—let me open
mine to you, to see it as it is. Once my soul was like a watch, cased and
carried in the pocket of life, uncertain, untrue, because it was a soul made,
not born. I must look at the hands to know the time, and because it varied,
because the working did not answer to the absolute, I said: 'The soul is a lie.'
You—you have changed all that, Rosalie. My soul now is like a dial to the sun.
But the clouds are there above, and I do not know what time it is in life. When
the clouds break—if they ever break—and the sun shines, the dial will speak the
truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—"
He paused, confused, for he had repeated the words of a witness taking the
oath in court.
"'So help me God!"' she finished the oath for him. Then, with a sudden change
of manner, she came to her feet with a spring. She did not quite understand. She
was, however, dimly conscious of the power she had over his chivalrous mind: the
power of the weak over the strong—the tyranny of the defended over the defender.
She was a woman tortured beyond bearing; and she was fighting for her very life,
mad with anguish as she struggled.
"I do not understand you," she cried, with flashing eyes. "One minute you say
you do not believe in anything, and the next you say, 'So help me God!'"
"Ah, no, you said that, Rosalie," he interposed gently.
"You said I was as magnanimous as God. You were laughing at me then, mocking
me, whose only fault is that I loved and trusted you. In the wickedness of your
heart you robbed me of happiness, you—"
"Don't—don't! Rosalie! Rosalie!" he exclaimed in shrinking protest.
That she had spoken to him as her deepest heart abhorred only increased her
agitated denunciation. "Yes, yes, in your mad selfishness, you did not care for
the poor girl who forgot all, lost all, and now—" She stopped short at the sight
of his white, awe stricken face. His eye-glass seemed like a frost of death over
an eye that looked upon some shocking scene of woe. Yet he appeared not to see,
for his fingers fumbled on his waistcoat for the monocle—fumbled—vaguely,
helplessly. It was the realisation of a soul cast into the outer darkness. Her
abrupt silence came upon him like the last engulfing wave to a drowning man—the
final assurance of the end, in which there is quiet and the deadly smother.
"Now—I know-the truth!" he said, in a curious even tone, different from any
she had ever heard from him. It was the old Charley Steele who spoke, the
Charley Steele in whom the intellect was supreme once more. The judicial spirit,
the inveterate intelligence which put justice before all, was alive in him,
almost rejoicing in its regained governance. The new Charley was as dead as the
old had been of late, and this clarifying moment left the grim impression behind
that the old law was not obsolete. He felt that in the abandonment of her
indignation she had mercilessly told the truth; and the irreducible quality of
mind in him which in the old days made for justice, approved. There was a new
element now, however—that conscience which never possessed him fully until the
day he saw Rosalie go travelling over the hills with her crippled father. That
picture of the girl against the twilight, her figure silhouetted in the clear
air, had come to him in sleeping and waking dreams, the type and sign of an
everlasting melancholy. As he looked at her blindly now, he saw, not herself,
but that melancholy figure. Out of the distance his own voice said again:
"Now—I know-the truth!"
She had struck with a violence she did not intend, which, she knew, must rend
her own heart in the future, which put in the dice-box the last hopes she had.
But she could not have helped it—she could not have stayed the words, though a
suspended sword were to fall with the saying. It was the cry of tradition and
religion, and every home-bred, convent-nurtured habit, the instinct of heredity,
the wail of woman, for whom destiny, or man, or nature, has arranged the
disproportionate share of life's penalties. It was the impotent rebellion
against the first curse, that man in his punishment should earn his bread by the
sweat of his brow—which he might do with joy—while the woman must work out her
ordained sentence "in sorrow all the days of her life."
In her bitter words was the inherent revolt of the race of woman. But now she
suddenly felt that she had flung him an infinite distance from her; that she had
struck at the thing she most cherished—his belief that she loved him; that even
if she had told the truth—and she felt she had not—it was not the truth she
wished him most to feel.
For an instant she stood looking at him, shocked and confounded, then her
changeless love rushed back on her, the maternal and protective spirit welled
up, and with a passionate cry she threw herself in the chair again in very
weakness, with outstretched hands, saying:
"Forgive me—oh, forgive me! I did not mean it—oh, forgive your Rosalie!"
Stooping over her, he answered:
"It is good for me to know the whole truth. What hurts you may give me will
pass—for life must end, and my life cannot be long enough to pay the price of
the hurts I have given you. I could bear a thousand—one for every hour—if they
could bring back the light to your eye, the joy to your heart. Could prayer, do
you think, make me sorrier than I am? I have hurt what I would have spared from
hurt at the cost of my life—and all the lives in all the world!" he added
"Forgive me—oh, forgive your Rosalie!" she pleaded. "I did not know what I
was saying—I was mad."
"It was all so sane and true," he said, like one who, on the brink of death,
finds a satisfaction in speaking the perfect truth. "I am glad to hear the
truth—I have been such a liar."
She looked up startled, her tears blinding her. "You have not deceived me?"
she asked bitterly. "Oh, you have not deceived me—you have loved me, have you
not?" It was that which mattered, that only. Moveless and eager, she
looked—looked at him, waiting, as it were, for sentence.
"I never lied to you, Rosalie—never!" he answered, and he touched her hand.
She gave a moan of relief at his words. "Oh, then, oh, then... " she said, in
a low voice, and the tears in her eyes dried away.
"I meant that until I knew you, I kept deceiving myself and others all my
"But without knowing it?" she said eagerly.
"Perhaps, without quite knowing it."
"Until you knew me?" she asked, in quick, quivering tones.
"Till I knew you," he answered.
"Then I have done you good—not ill?" she asked, with painful breathlessness.
"The only good there may be in me is you, and you only," he said, and he
choked something rising in his throat, seeing the greatness of her heart, her
dear desire to have entered into his life to his own good. He would have said
that there was no good in him at all, but that he wished to comfort her.
A little cry of joy broke from her lips. "Oh, that—that!" she cried, with
happy tears. "Won't you kiss me now?" she added softly.
He clasped her in his arms, and though his eyes were dry, his heart wept
tears of blood.