The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker
Chapter XX. The Return of the Tailor
Twenty minutes later the tailor was lying in his bed, breathing, but still unconscious, the Notary, M'sieu', and the doctor of the next parish, who by chance was in Chaudiere, beside him. Charley's face was drawn and haggard with pain, for he had helped to carry old Louis to bed, though every motion of his arms gave him untold agony. In the doorway stood Rosalie and Margot Patry.
"Will he live?" asked the Notary.
The doctor shook his head. "A few hours, perhaps. He fell downstairs?"
Charley nodded. There was silence for some time, as the doctor went on with his ministrations, and the Notary sat drumming his fingers on the little table beside the bed. The two women stole away to the kitchen, where Rosalie again pressed secrecy on Margot. In the interest of the cause she had even threatened Margot with a charge of complicity. She had heard the phrase "accessory before the fact," and she used it now with good effect.
Then she took some fresh flour and oil, and thrust them inside the bedroom door where Charley now sat clinching his hands and fighting down the pain. Careful as ever of his personal appearance, however, he had brushed every speck of flour from his clothes, and buttoned his coat up to the neck.
Nearly an hour passed, and then the Cure appeared. When he entered the sick man's room, Charley followed, and again Rosalie and old Margot came and stood within the doorway.
"Peace be to this house!" said the Cure. He had a few minutes of whispered conversation with the doctor, and then turned to Charley.
"He fell down-stairs, Monsieur? You saw him fall?"
"I was in my room--I heard him fall, Cure."
"Had he been ill during the day?"
"He appeared to be feeble, and he seemed moody."
"More than usual, Monsieur?" The Cure had heard of the incident of the morning when Filion Lacasse accused Charley of stealing the cross.
"Rather more than usual, Monsieur."
The Cure turned towards the door. "You, Mademoiselle Rosalie, how came you to know?"
"I was in the kitchen with Margot, who was not well."
The Cure looked at Margot, who tearfully nodded. "I was ill," she said, "and Rosalie was here with me. She helped M'sieu' and me. Rosalie is a good girl, and kind to me," she whimpered.
The Cure seemed satisfied, and after looking at the sick man for a moment, he came close to Charley. "I am deeply pained at what happened to-day," he said courteously. "I know you have had nothing to do with the beloved little cross."
The Notary tried to draw near and listen, but the Cure's look held him back. The doctor was busy with his patient.
"You are only just, Monsieur," said Charley in response, wishing that these kind eyes were fixed anywhere than on his face.
All at once the Cure laid a hand upon his arm. "You are ill," he said anxiously. "You look very ill indeed. See, Vaudrey," he added to the doctor, "you have another patient here!"
The friendly, oleaginous doctor came over and peered into Charley's face. "Ill-sure enough!" he said. "Look at this sweat!" he pointed to the drops of perspiration on Charley's forehead. "Where do you suffer?"
"Severe pains all through my body," Charley answered simply, for it seemed easier to tell the truth, as near as might be.
"I must look to you," said the doctor. "Go and lie down, and I will come to you."
Charley bowed, but did not move. Just then two things drew the attention of all: the tailor showed returning consciousness, and there was noise of many voices outside the house and the tramping of feet below-stairs.
"Go and tell them no one must come up," said the doctor to the Notary, and the Cure made ready to say the last offices for the dying.
Presently the noise below-stairs diminished, and the priest's voice rose in the office, vibrating and touching. The two women sank to their knees, the doctor followed, his eyes still fixed on the dying man. Presently, however, Charley did the same; for something penetrating and reasonable in the devotion touched him.
All at once Louis Trudel opened his eyes. Staring round with acute excitement, his eyes fell on the Cure, then upon Charley.
"Stop--stop, M'sieu' le Cure!" he cried. "There's other work to do." He gasped and was convulsed, but the pallor of his face was alive with fire from the distempered eyes. He snatched from his breast the paper Charley had neglected to burn. He thrust it into the Curb's hand.
"See--see!" he croaked. "He is an infidel--black infidel--from hell!" His voice rose in a kind of shriek, piercing to every corner of the house. He pointed at Charley with shaking finger.
"He wrote it there--on that paper. He doesn't--believe in God."
His strength failed him, his hand clutched tremblingly at the air. He laughed, a dry, crackling laugh, and his mouth opened twice or thrice to speak, but gasping breaths only came forth. With a last effort, however- -as the priest, shocked, stretched out his hand and said: "Have done, have done, Trudel!"--he cried, in a voice that quavered shrilly:
"He asked--tailor-man--sign--from--Heaven. Look-look!" He pointed wildly at Charley. "I--gave him--sign of--"
But that was the end. With a shudder the body collapsed in a formless heap, and the tailor-man was gone to tell of the work he had done for his faith on earth.