The Right of Way
WITH HIS BACK TO THE WALL
In four days ten thousand dollars in notes and gold had been brought to the
office of the Notary by the faithful people of Chaudiere. All day in turn M.
Loisel and M. Rossignol sat in the office and received that which represented
one-fortieth of the value of each man's goods, estate, and wealth—the fortieth
value of a woodsawyer's cottage, or a widow's garden. They did it impartially
for all, as the Cure and three of the best-to-do habitants had done for the
Seigneur, whose four thousand dollars had been paid in first of all.
Charley had been confined to his room for three days, because of his injuries
and a feverish cold he had caught, and the habitants did not disturb his quiet.
But Mrs. Flynn took him broth made by Rosalie's hands, and Rosalie fought with
her desire to go to him and nurse him. She was not, however, the Rosalie of the
old impulse and impetuous resolve—the arrow had gone too deep; she waited till
she could see his face again and look into his eyes. Not apathy, but a sense of
the inevitable was upon her, and pale and fragile, but with a calm spirit, she
waited for she knew not what.
She felt that the day of fate was closing down. She must hold herself ready
for the hour when he would need her most. At first, when the conviction had come
to her that the end of all was near, she had revolted. She had had impulse to go
to him at all hazards, to say to him: "Come away—anywhere, anywhere!" But that
had given place to the deeper thing in her, and something of Charley's spirit of
stoic waiting had come upon her.
She watched the people going to the Notary's office with their tributes and
free-will offerings, and they seemed like people in a play—these days she lived
no life which was theirs. It was a dream, unimportant and temporary. She was
feeling what was behind all life, and permanent. It could not last, but there it
was; and she could not return to the transitory till this cloud of fate was
lifted. She was much too young to suffer so, but the young ever suffer most.
On the fourth day she saw Charley. He came from his shop and went to the
Notary's office. At first she was startled, for he was clean-shaven—the fire had
burned his beard to the skin. She saw a different man, far removed from this
life about them both—individual, singular. He was pale, and his eye-glass, with
the cleanshaven face, gave an impression of refined separateness. She did not
know that the same look was in both their faces. She watched him till he entered
the Notary's shop, then she was called away to her duties.
Charley had come to give his one-fortieth with the rest. When he entered the
Notary's office, the Seigneur and M. Dauphin stood up to greet him. They
congratulated him on his recovery, while feeling also that the change in his
personal appearance somehow affected their relations. A crowd gathered round the
door of the shop. When Charley made his offering, with a statement of his goods
and income, the Seigneur and Notary did not know what to do. They were disposed
to decline it, for since Monsieur was no Catholic, it was not his duty to help.
At this moment of delicate anxiety M. Loisel entered. With a swift bright flush
to his cheek he saw the difficulty, and at once accepted freely.
"God bless you," he said, as he took the money, and Charley left. "It shall
build the doorway of my church."
Later in the day the Cure sent for Charley. There were grave matters to
consider, and his counsel was greatly needed. They had all come to depend on the
soundness of his judgment. It had never gone astray in Chaudiere, they said.
They owed to him this extraordinary scheme, which would be an example to all
modern Christianity. They told him so. He said nothing in reply.
In an hour he had planned for them a scheme for the consideration of
contractors; had drawn, with the help of M. Loisel, an architect's rough plan of
the new church, and, his old professional instincts keenly alive, had lucidly
suggested the terms and safeguards of the contracts.
Then came the question of the money contributed. The day before, M. Dauphin
and the Seigneur's steward had arrived in safety from Quebec with twenty
thousand dollars in bank-bills. These M. Rossignol had exchanged for the notes
of hand of such of the habitants as had not ready cash to give. All of this
twenty thousand dollars had been paid over. They had now thirty thousand dollars
in cash, besides three thousand which the Cure had at his house, the proceeds of
the Passion Play. It was proposed to send this large sum to the bank in Quebec
in another two days, when the whole contributions should be complete.
As to the safety of the money, the timid M. Dauphin did not care to take
responsibility. Strangers were still arriving, ignorant of the fact that the
Passion Play had ceased, and some of them must be aware that this large sum of
money was in the parish—no doubt also knew that it was in his house. It was
therefore better, he urged, that M. Rossignol or the Cure should take charge of
it. M. Loisel urged that secrecy as to the resting-place of the money was
important. It was better that it should be deposited in the most unlikely place,
and with some unofficial person who might not be supposed to have it in charge.
"I have it!" said the Seigneur. "The money shall be placed in old Louis
Trudel's safe in the wall of the tailor-shop."
It was so arranged, after Charley's protests of unwillingness, and
counter-appeals from the others. That evening at sundown thirty-three thousand
dollars was deposited in the safe in the old stone wall of the tailorshop, and
the lock was sealed with the parish seal.
But the Notary's wife had wormed the secret from her husband, and she found
it hard to keep. She told it to Maximilian Cour, and he kept it. She told it to
her cousin, the wife of Filion Lacasse, and she did not keep it. Before
twenty-four hours went round, a dozen people knew it.
The evening of the second day, another two thousand dollars was added to the
treasure, and the lock was again sealed—with the utmost secrecy. Charley and Jo
Portugais, the infidel and the murderer, were thus the sentries to the peace of
a parish, the bankers of its gifts, the security for the future of the church of
Chaudiere. Their weapons of defence were two old pistols belonging to the
"Money is the master of the unexpected," the Seigneur had said as he handed
them over. He chuckled for hours afterwards as he thought of his epigram. That
night, as he turned over in bed for the third time, as was his custom before
going to sleep, another epigram came to him—"Money is the only fox hunted night
and day." He kept repeating it over and over again with vain pride.
The truth of M. Rossignol's aphorisms had been demonstrated several days
before. On his return from Quebec with the twenty thousand dollars of the
Seigneur's money, M. Dauphin had dwelt with great pride on the discretion and
energy he and the steward had shown; had told dramatically of the skill which
had enabled them to make a journey of such importance so secretly and safely;
had covered himself with blushes for his own coolness and intrepidity. Fortune
had, however, favoured his reputation and his intrepidity, for he had been
pursued from the hour he and his companion left Quebec. A taste for the
picturesque had impelled him to arrange for two relays of horses, and this fact
saved him and the twenty thousand dollars he carried. Two hours after he had
left Quebec, four determined men had got upon his trail, and had only been
prevented from overtaking him by the freshness of the horses which his dramatic
foresight had provided.
The leader of these four pursuers was Billy Wantage, who had come to know of
the curious action of the Seigneur of Chaudiere from an intimate friend, a clerk
in the bank. Billy's fortunes were now in a bad way, and, in desperate straits
for money, he had planned this bold attempt at the highwayman's art with two
gamblers, to whom he owed money, and a certain notorious horse-trader of whom he
had made a companion of late. Having escaped punishment for a crime once before,
through Charley's supposed death, the immunity nerved him to this later and more
dangerous enterprise. The four rode as hard as their horses would permit, but M.
Dauphin and his companion kept always an hour or more ahead, and, from the high
hills overlooking the village, Billy and his friends saw the two enter it safely
in the light of evening.
His three friends urged Billy to turn back, since they were out of provisions
and had no shelter. It was unwise to go to a tavern or a farmer's house, where
they must certainly be suspected. Billy, however, determined to make an effort
to find the banking-place of the money, and refused to turn back without a
trial. He therefore proposed that they should separate, going different
directions, secure accommodation for the night, rest the following day, and meet
the next night at a point indicated. This was agreed upon, and they separated.
When the four met again, Billy had nothing to communicate, as he had been
taken ill during the night before, and had been unable to go secretly into
Chaudiere village. They separated once more. When they met the next night Billy
was accompanied by an old confederate. As he was entering Chaudiere the previous
evening, he had met John Brown, with his painted wagon and a new mottled horse.
John Brown had news of importance to give; for, in the stable-yard of the
village tavern, he had heard one habitant confide to another that the money for
the new church was kept in the safe of the tailor-shop. John Brown was as ready
to share in Billy's second enterprise as he had been to incite him to his first
So it was that as the Seigneur made his epigram and gloated over it, the five
men, with horses at a convenient distance, armed to the teeth, broke stealthily
into Charley's house.
They entered silently through the kitchen window, and made their way into the
little hall. Two stood guard at the foot of the stairs, and three crept into the
This night Jo Portugais was sleeping up-stairs, while Charley lay upon the
bench in the tailor-shop. Charley heard the door open, heard unfamiliar steps,
seized his pistol, and, springing up, with his back to the safe, called out
loudly to Jo. As he dimly saw men rush at him, he fired. The bullet reached its
mark, and one man fell dead. At that moment a dark-lantern was turned full on
Charley, and a pistol was fired pointblank at him.
As he fell, shot through the breast, the man who had fired dropped the
lantern with a shriek of terror. He had seen the ghost of his
With a quaking cry of warning to the others, Billy bolted from the house,
followed by his companions, two of whom were struggling with Jo Portugais on the
stairway. These now also broke and ran.
Jo rushed into the shop, and saw, as he thought, Charley lying dead—saw the
robber dead upon the floor. His master and friend gone, the conviction seized
him that his own time had come. He would give himself to justice now—but to
God's justice, not to man's. The robbers were four to one, and he would avenge
his master's death and give his own life to do it! It was all the thought of a
second. He rushed out after the robbers, shouting as he ran, to awake the
villagers. He heard the marauders ahead of him, and, fleet of foot, rushed on.
Reaching them as they mounted, he fired, and brought down his man—a shivering
quack-doctor, who, like his leader, had seen a sight in the tailor-shop that
struck terror to his soul. Two of the others then fired at Jo, who had caught a
horse by the head. He fell without a sound, and lay upon his face—he did not
hear the hoofs of the escaping horses nor any other sound. He had fallen without
a pang beside the quackdoctor, whose medicines would never again quicken a pulse
in his own body or any other.
Behind, in the village, frightened people flocked about the tailor-shop.
Within, Mrs. Flynn and the Notary crudely but tenderly bound up the dreadful
wound in Charley's side, while Rosalie pillowed his head on her bosom.
With a strange quietness Rosalie gave orders to the Notary and Mrs. Flynn.
There was a light in her eyes—an unnatural light—of strength and presence of
mind. Her hand was steady, and as gently as a mother with a child she wiped the
moist forehead, and poured a little brandy between the set teeth.
"Stand back—give him air," she said, in a voice of authority to those who
People fell back in awe, for, amid tears and excitement and fear, this girl
had a strange convincing calm. By the time Charley's wound was stopped,
messengers were on the way to the Cure and the Seigneur. By Rosalie's
instructions the dead body of the robber was removed, Charley's bed up-stairs
was prepared for him, a fire was lighted, and twenty hands were ready to do
accurately her will. Now and again she felt his pulse, and she watched his face
intently. In her bitter sorrow her heart had a sort of thankfulness, for his
head was on her breast, he was in her arms. It had been given her once more to
come first to his rescue, and with one wild cry, unheard by any one, to call out
his beloved name.
The world of Chaudiere, roused by the shooting, had then burst in upon them;
but that one moment had been hers, no matter what came after. She had no
illusions—she knew that the end was near: the end of all for him and for them
The Cure entered and hurried forward. There was the seal of the parish intact
on the door of the safe, but at what cost!
"He has given his life for the church," he said, then commanded all to leave,
save those needed to carry the wounded man up-stairs.
Still it was Rosalie that directed the removal. She held his hand; she saw
that he was carefully laid down; she raised his head to a proper height; she
moistened his lips and fanned him. Meanwhile the Cure fell upon his knees, and
the noise of talk and whispering ceased in the house.
But presently there was loud murmuring and shuffling of feet outside again,
and Rosalie left the room hurriedly and went below to stop it. She met the men
who were bringing the body of Jo Portugais into the shop.
Up-stairs the Cure's voice prayed: "Of Thy mercy, O Lord, hear our prayer.
Grant that he be brought into Thy Church ere his last hour come. Forgive, O
Charley stirred and opened his eyes. He saw the Cure bowed in prayer; he
heard the trembling voice. He touched the white head with his hand.