The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker
Chapter XXIII. The Woman Who Did Not Tell
"Oh, M'sieu', I am afraid."
"Afraid of what, Margot?"
"Of the last moment, M'sieu' le Cure."
"There will be no last moment to your mind--you will not know it when it comes, Margot."
The woman trembled. "I am not sorry to die. But I am afraid; it is so lonely, M'sieu' le Cure."
"God is with us, Margot."
"When we are born we do not know. It is on the shoulders of others. When we die we know, and we have to answer."
"Is the answering so hard, Margot?"
The woman shook her head feebly and sadly, but did not speak.
"You have been a good mother, Margot." She made no sign.
"You have been a good neighbour; you have done unto others as you would be done by."
She scarcely seemed to hear.
"You have been a good servant--doing your duty in season and out of season; honest and just and faithful."
The woman's fingers twitched on the coverlet, and she moved her head restlessly.
The Curb almost smiled, for it seemed as if Margot were finding herself wanting. Yet none in Chaudiere but knew that she had lived a blameless life--faithful, friendly, a loving and devoted mother, whose health had been broken by sleepless attendance at sick-beds by night, while doing her daily work at the house of the late Louis Trudel.
"I will answer for the way you have done your duty, Margot," said the Cure. "You have been a good daughter of the Church."
He paused a minute, and in the pause some one rose from a chair by the window and looked out on the sunset sky. It was Charley. The woman heard, and turned her eyes towards him. "Do you wish him to go?" asked the Cure.
"No, no--oh no, M'sieu'!" she said eagerly. She had asked all day that either Rosalie or M'sieu' should be in the room with her. It would seem as though she were afraid she had not courage enough to keep the secret of the cross without their presence. Charley had yielded to her request, while he shrank from granting it. Yet, as he said to himself, the woman was keeping his secret--his and Rosalie's--and she had some right to make demand.
When the Cure asked the question of old Margot, he turned expectantly, and with a sense of relief. He thought it strange that the Cure should wish him to remain. The Cure, on his part, was well pleased to have him in the influence of a Christian death-bed. A time must come when the last confidences of the dying woman could be given to no ears but his own, but meanwhile it was good that M'sieu' should be there.
"M'sieu' le Cure," said the dying woman, "must I tell all?"
"All what, Margot?"
"All that is sin?"
"There is no must, Margot."
"If you should ask me, M'sieu'--"
She paused, and the man at the window turned and looked curiously at her. He saw the problem in the woman's mind: had she the right to die with the secret of another's crime upon her mind?
"The priest does not ask, Margot: it is you who confess your sins. That is between you and God."
The Cure spoke firmly, for he wanted the man at the window to clearly understand.
"But if there are the sins of others, and you know, and they trouble your soul, M'sieu'?"
"You have nothing to do with the sins of others; it is enough to repent of your own sins. The priest has nothing to do with any sins but those confessed by the sinner to himself. Your own sins are your sole concern to-night, Margot."
The woman's face seemed to clear a little, and her eyes wandered to the man at the window with less anxiety. Charley was wondering whether, after all, she would have the courage to keep her word, whether spiritual terror would surmount the moral attitude of honour. He was also wondering how much right he had to put the strain upon the woman in her desperate hour. "How long did the doctor say I could live?" the woman asked presently.
"Till morning, perhaps, Margot."
"I should like to live till sunrise," she answered, "till after breakfast. Rosalie makes good tea," she added musingly.
The Cure almost smiled. "There is the Living Bread, my daughter."
She nodded. "But I should like to see the sunrise and have Rosalie bring me tea," she persisted.
"Very well, Margot. We will ask God for that."
Her mind flew back again to the old question.
"Is it wrong to keep a secret?" she asked, her face turned away from the man at the window.
"If it is the secret of a sin, and the sin is your own--yes, Margot."
"And if the sin is not your own?"
"If you share the sin, and if the secret means injury to others, and a wrong is being done, and the law can right that wrong, then you must go to the law, not to your priest."
The Cure's look was grave, even anxious, for he saw that the old woman's mind was greatly disturbed. But her face cleared now, and stayed so. "It has all been a mix and a muddle," she answered; "and it hurt my poor head, M'sieu' le Cure, but now I think I under stand. I am not afraid; I will confess."
The Cure had made it clear to her that she could carry to her grave the secret of the little cross and the work it had done, and so keep her word and still not injure her chances of salvation. She was content. She no longer needed the helpful presence of M'sieu' or Rosalie. Charley instinctively felt what was in her mind, and came towards the bed.
"I will tell Mademoiselle Rosalie about the tea," he said to her.
She looked up at him, almost smiling. "Thank you, good M'sieu'," she said.
"I will confess now, M'sieu' le Cure" she continued. Charley left the room.
Towards morning Margot waked out of a brief sleep, and found the Cure and his sister and others about her bed.
"Is it near sunrise?" she whispered.
"It is just sunrise. See; God has been good," answered the Cure, drawing open the blind and letting in the first golden rays.
Rosalie entered the room with a cup of tea, and came towards the bed.
Old Margot looked at the girl, at the tea, and then at the Cure.
"Drink the tea for me, Rosalie," she whispered. Rosalie did as she was asked.
She looked round feebly; her eyes were growing filmy. "I never gave--so much--trouble--before," she managed to say. "I never had--so much-- attention.... I can keep--a secret too," she said, setting her lips feebly with pride. "But I--never--had--so much--attention--before; have I--Rosalie?"
Rosalie did not need to answer, for the woman was gone. The crowning interest of her life had come all at the last moment, as it were, and she had gone away almost gladly and with a kind of pride.
Rosalie also had a hidden pride: the secret was now her very own--hers and M'sieu's.