The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker
Chapter XV. The Mark in the Paper
Chaudiere was nearing the last of its nine-days' wonder. It had filed past the doorway of the tailor-shop; it had loitered on the other side of the street; it had been measured for more clothes than in three months past--that it might see Charley at work in the shop, cross-legged on a bench, or wielding the goose, his eye glass in his eye. Here was sensation indeed, for though old M. Rossignol, the Seigneur, had an eye- glass, it was held to his eye--a large bone-bound thing with a little gold handle; but no one in Chaudiere had ever worn a glass in his eye like that. Also, no one in Chaudiere had ever looked quite like "M'sieu'"--for so it was that, after the first few days (a real tribute to his importance and sign of the interest he created) Charley came to be called "M'sieu'," and the Mallard was at last entirely dropped.
Presently people came and stood at the tailor's door and talked, or listened to Louis Trudel and M'sieu' talking. And it came to be noised abroad that the stranger talked as well as the Cure and better than the Notary. By-and-by they associated his eye-glass with his talent, so that it seemed, as it were, to be the cause of it. Yet their talk was ever of simple subjects, of everyday life about them, now and then of politics, occasionally of the events of the world filtered to them through vast tracts of country. There was one subject which, however, was barred; perhaps because there was knowledge abroad that M'sieu' was not a Catholic, perhaps because Charley himself adroitly changed the conversation when it veered that way.
Though the parish had not quite made up its mind about him, there were a number of things in his favour. In the first place, the Cure seemed satisfied; secondly, he minded his own business. Also, he was working for Louis Trudel for nothing. These things Jo Portugais diligently impressed on the minds of all who would listen.
From above the frosted part of the windows of the post-office, in the corner where she sorted letters, Rosalie could look over at the tailor's shop at an angle; could sometimes even see M'sieu' standing at the long table with a piece of chalk, a pair of shears, or a measure. She watched the tailor-shop herself, but it annoyed her when she saw any one else do so. She resented--she was a woman and loved monopoly--all inquiry regarding M'sieu', so frequently addressed to her.
One afternoon, as Charley came out, on his way to the house on Vadrome Mountain, she happened to be outside. He saw her, paused, lifted his fur cap, and crossed the street to her.
"Have you, perhaps, paper, pens, and ink for sale, Mademoiselle?"
"Yes, oh yes; come in, Monsieur Mallard."
"Ah, it is nice of you to remember me," he answered. "I see you every day--often," she answered.
"Of course, we are neighbours," he responded. "The man--the horse- trainer--is quite well again?"
"He has gone home almost well," she answered. She placed pens, paper, and ink before him. "Will these do?"
"Perfectly," he answered mechanically, and laid a few pens and a bottle of ink beside the paper.
"You were very brave that day," he said--they had not talked together since, though seeing each other so often.
"Oh, no; I knew he would make friends with me--the hound."
"Of course," he rejoined.
"We should show animals that we trust them," she said, in some confusion, for being near him made her heart throb painfully.
He did not answer. Presently his eye glanced at the paper again, and was arrested. He ran his fingers over it, and a curious look flashed across his face. He held the paper up to the light quickly, and looked through it. It was thin, half-foreign paper, without lines, and there was a water-mark in it-large, shadowy, filmy--Kathleen.
It was paper made in the mills which had belonged to Kathleen's uncle. This water-mark was made to celebrate their marriage-day. Only for one year had this paper been made, and then the trade in it was stopped. It had gone its ways down the channels of commerce, and here it was in his hand, a reminder, not only of the old life, but, as it were, the parchment for the new. There it was, a piece of plain good paper, ready for pen and ink and his letter to the Cure's brother in Paris--the only letter he would ever write, ever again until he died, so he told himself; but hold it up to the light and there was the name over which his letter must be written--Kathleen, invisible but permanent, obscured, but brought to life by the raising of a hand.
The girl caught the flash of feeling in his face, saw him holding the paper up to the light, and then, with an abstracted air, calmly lay it down.
"That will do, thank you," he said. "Give me the whole packet." She wrapped it up for him without a word, and he laid down a two-dollar note, the last he had in the world.
"How much of this paper have you?" he asked. The girl looked under the counter. "Six packets," she said. "Six, and a few sheets over."
"I will take it all. But keep it for me, for a week, or perhaps a fortnight, will you?" He did not need all this paper to write letters upon, yet he meant to buy all the paper of this sort that the shop contained. But he must get money from Louis Trudel--he would speak about it to-morrow.
"Monsieur does not want me to sell even the loose sheets?"
"No. I like the paper, and I will take it all."
"Very good, Monsieur."
Her heart was beating hard. All this man did had peculiar significance to her. His look seemed to say: "Do not fear. I will tell you things."
She gave him the parcel and the change, and he turned to go. "You read much?" he asked, almost casually, yet deeply interested in the charm and intelligence of her face.
"Why, yes, Monsieur," she answered quickly. "I am always reading."
He did not speak at once. He was wondering whether, in this primitive place, such a mind and nature would be the wiser for reading; whether it were not better to be without a mental aspiration, which might set up false standards.
"What are you reading now?" he asked, with his hand on the door.
"Antony and Cleopatra, also Enoch Arden," she answered, in good English, and without accent.
His head turned quickly towards her, but he did not speak.
"Enoch Arden is terrible," she added eagerly. "Don't you think so, Monsieur?"
"It is very painful," he answered. "Good-night." He opened the door and went out.
She ran to the door and watched him go down the street. For a little she stood thinking, then, turning to the counter, and snatching up a sheet of the paper he had bought, held it up to the light. She gave a cry of amazement.
"Kathleen!" she exclaimed.
She thought of the start he gave when he looked at the water-mark; she thought of the look on his face when he said he would buy all this paper she had.
"Who was Kathleen?" she whispered, as though she was afraid some one would hear. "Who was Kathleen!" she said again resentfully.