The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker
Chapter XIX. The Sign From Heaven
The agitation and curiosity possessing Rosalie all day held her in the evening when the wooden shutters of the tailor's shop were closed and only a flickering light showed through the cracks. She was restless and uneasy during supper, and gave more than one unmeaning response to the remarks of her crippled father, who, drawn up for supper in his wheel- chair, was more than usually inclined to gossip.
Damase Evanturel's mind was stirred concerning the loss of the iron cross; the threat made by Filion Lacasse and his companions troubled him. The one person beside the Cure, Jo Portugais, and Louis Trudel, to whom M'sieu' talked much, was the postmaster, who sometimes met him of an evening as he was taking the air. More than once he had walked behind the wheel-chair and pushed it some distance, making the little crippled man gossip of village matters.
As the two sat at supper the postmaster was inclined to take a serious view of M'sieu's position. He railed at Filion Lacasse; he called the suspicious habitants clodhoppers, who didn't know any better--which was a tribute to his own superior birth; and at last, carried away by a feverish curiosity, he suggested that Rosalie should go and look through the cracks in the shutters of the tailor-shop and find out what was going on within. This was indignantly rejected by Rosalie, but the more she thought, the more uneasy she became. She ceased to reply to her father's remarks, and he at last relapsed into gloom, and said that he was tired and would go to bed. Thereupon she wheeled him inside his bedroom, bade him good-night, and left him to his moodiness, which, however, was soon absorbed in a deep sleep, for the mind of the little grey postmaster could no more hold trouble or thought than a sieve.
Left alone, Rosalie began to be tortured. What were they doing in the house opposite?
Go and look through the windows? But she had never spied on people in her life! Yet would it be spying? Would it not be pardonable? In the interest of the man who had been attacked in the morning by the tailor, who had been threatened by the saddler, and concerning whom she had seen a signal pass between old Louis and Filion Lacasse, would it not be a humane thing to do? It might be foolish and feminine to be anxious, but did she not mean well, and was it not, therefore, honourable?
The mystery inflamed her imagination. Charley's passiveness when he was assaulted by old Louis and afterwards threatened by the saddler seemed to her indifference to any sort of danger--the courage of the hopeless life, maybe. Instantly her heart overflowed with sympathy. Monsieur was not a Catholic perhaps? Well, so much the more he should be befriended, for he was so much the more alone and helpless. If a man was born a Protestant --or English--he could not help it, and should not be punished in this world for it, since he was sure to be punished in the next.
Her mind became more and more excited. The postoffice had been long since closed, and her father was asleep--she could hear him snoring. It was ten o'clock, and there was still a light in the tailor's shop. Usually the light went out before nine o'clock. She went to the post- office door and looked out. The streets were empty; there was not a light burning anywhere, save in the house of the Notary. Down towards the river a sleigh was making its way over the thin snow of spring, and screeching on the stones. Some late revellers, moving homewards from the Trois Couronnes, were roaring at the top of their voices the habitant chanson, 'Le Petit Roger Bontemps':
"For I am Roger Bontemps, Gai, gai, gai! With drink I am full and with joy content, Gai, gaiment!"
The chanson died away as she stood there, and still the light was burning in the shop opposite. A thought suddenly came to her. She would go over and see if the old housekeeper, Margot Patry, had gone to bed. Here was the solution to the problem, the satisfaction of modesty and propriety.
She crossed the street quickly, hurried round the corner of the house, and was passing the side-window of the shop, when a crack in the shutters caught her eye. She heard something fall on the floor within. Could it be that the tailor and M'sieu' were working at so late an hour? She had an irresistible impulse, and glued her eye to the crack.
But presently she started back with a smothered cry. There by the great fireplace stood Louis Trudel picking up a red-hot cross with a pair of pincers. Grasping the iron firmly just below the arms of the cross, the tailor held it up again. He looked at it with a wild triumph, yet with a malignancy little in keeping with the object he held--the holy relic he had stolen from the door of the parish church. The girl gave a low cry of dismay.
She saw old Louis advance stealthily towards the door of the shop leading into the house. In bewilderment, she stood still an instant, then, with a sudden impulse, she ran to the kitchen-door and tried it softly. It was not locked. She opened it, entered quickly, and found old Margot standing in the middle of the room in her night-dress.
"Oh, Rosalie, Rosalie!" cried the old woman, "something's going to happen. M'sieu' Trudel has been queer all evening. I peeped in the key- hole of the shop just now, and--"
"Yes, yes, I've seen too. Come!" said Rosalie, and going quickly to the door, opened it, and passed through to another room. Here she opened another door, leading into the hall between the shop and the house. Entering the hall, she saw a glimmer of light above. It was the reddish glow of the iron cross held by old Louis. She crept softly up the stone steps. She heard a door open very quietly. She hurried now, and came to the landing. She saw the door of Charley's room open--all the village knew what room he slept in--and the moonlight was streaming in at the window.
She saw the sleeping man on the bed, and the tailor standing over him. Charley was lying with one arm thrown above his head; the other lay over the side of the bed.
As she rushed forward, divining old Louis' purpose, the fiery cross descended, and a voice cried: "'Show me a sign from Heaven, tailor-man!'"
This voice was drowned by that of another, which, gasping with agony out of a deep sleep, as the body sprang upright, cried: "God-oh God!" Rosalie's hand grasped old Louis' arm too late. The tailor sprang back with a horrible laugh, striking her aside, and rushed out to the landing.
"Oh, Monsieur, Monsieur!" cried Rosalie, and, snatching a scarf from her bosom, thrust it in upon the excoriated breast, as Charley, hardly realising what had happened, choked back moans of pain.
"What did he do?" he gasped.
"The iron cross from the church door!" she answered. "A minute, one minute, Monsieur!"
She rushed out upon the landing in time to see the tailor stumble on the stairs and fall head forwards to the bottom, at the feet of Margot Patry.
Rosalie paid no heed to the fallen man. "Oil! flour! Quick!" she cried. "Quick! Quick!" She stepped over the body of the tailor, snatched at Margot's arm, and dragged her into the kitchen. "Quick-oil and flour!"
The old woman showed her where they were, moaning and whining.
"He tried to kill Monsieur," cried Rosalie, "burned him on the breast with the holy cross!"
With oil and flour she hurried back, over the body of the tailor, up the stairs, and into Charley's room. Charley was now out of bed and half dressed, though choking with pain, and preserving consciousness only by a great effort.
"Good Mademoiselle!" he said.
She took the scarf off gently, soaked it in oil and splashed it with flour, and laid it quickly back on the burnt flesh.
Margot came staggering into the room.
"I cannot rouse him. I cannot rouse him. He is dead! He is dead!" she whimpered.
Charley swayed forward towards the woman, recovered himself, and said:
"Now not a word of what he did to me, remember. Not one word, or you will go to jail with him. If you keep quiet, I'll say nothing. He didn't know what he was doing." He turned to Rosalie. "Not a word of this, please," he moaned. "Hide the cross."
He moved towards the door. Rosalie saw his purpose, and ran out ahead of him and down the stairs to where the tailor lay prone on his face, one hand still holding the pincers. The little iron cross lay in a dark corner. Stooping, she lifted up the tailor's head, then felt his heart.
"He is not dead," she cried. "Quick, Margot, some water," she added, to the whimpering woman. Margot tottered away, and came again presently with the water.
"I will go for some one to help," Rosalie said, rising to her feet, as she saw Charley come slowly down the staircase, his face white with misery. She ran and took his arm to help him down.
"No, no, dear Mademoiselle," he said; "I shall be all right presently. You must get help to carry him up stairs. Bring the Notary; he and I can carry him up."
"You, Monsieur! You--it would kill you! You are terribly hurt."
"I must help to carry him, else people will be asking questions," he answered painfully. "He is going to die. It must not be known--you understand!" His eyes searched the floor until they found the cross. Rosalie picked it up with the pincers. "It must not be known what he did to me," Charley said to the muttering and weeping old woman. He caught her shoulder with his hand, for she seemed scarcely to heed.
She nodded. "Yes, yes, M'sieu', I will never speak." Rosalie was standing in the door. "Go quickly, Mademoiselle," he said. She disappeared with the iron cross, and flying across the street, thrust it inside the post-office, then ran to the house of the Notary.