The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker
Chapter XXXIV. In Ambush
Weeks went by. Summer was done, autumn was upon the land. Harvest-home had gone, and the "fall" ploughing was forward. The smell of the burning stubble, of decaying plant and fibre, was mingling with the odours of the orchards and the balsams of the forest. The leafy hill-sides, far and near, were resplendent in scarlet and saffron and tawny red. Over the decline of the year flickered the ruined fires of energy.
It had been a prosperous summer in the valley. Harvests had been reaped such as the country had not known for years--and for years there had been great harvests. There had not been a death in the parish all summer, and births had occurred out of all usual proportion.
When Filion Lacasse commented thereon, and mentioned the fact that even the Notary's wife had had the gift of twins as the crowning fulness of the year, Maximilian Cour, who was essentially superstitious, tapped on the table three times, to prevent a turn in the luck.
The baker was too late, however, for the very next day the Notary was brought home with a nasty gunshot wound in his leg. He had been lured into duck-hunting on a lake twenty miles away, in the hills, and had been accidentally shot on an Indian reservation, called Four Mountains, where the Church sometimes held a mission and presented a primitive sort of passion-play. From there he had been brought home by his comrades, and the doctor from the next parish summoned. The Cure assisted the doctor at first, but the task was difficult to him. At the instant when the case was most critical the tailor of Chaudiere set his foot inside the Notary's door. A moment later he relieved the Cure and helped to probe for shot, and care for an ugly wound.
Charley had no knowledge of surgery, but his fingers were skilful, his eye was true, and he had intuition. The long operation over, the rural physician and surgeon washed his hands and then studied Charley with curious admiration.
"Thank you, Monsieur," he said, as he dried his hands on a towel. "I couldn't have done it without you. It's a pretty good job; and you share the credit."
Charley bowed. "It's a good thing not to halloo till you're out of the woods," he said. "Our friend there has a bad time before him--hein?"
"I take you. It is so." The man of knives and tinctures pulled his side-whiskers with smug satisfaction as he looked into a small mirror on the wall. "Do you chance to know if madame has any cordials or spirits?" he added, straightening his waistcoat and adjusting his cravat.
"It is likely," answered Charley, and moved away to the window looking upon the street.
The doctor turned in surprise. He was used to being waited on, and he had expected the tailor to follow the tradition.
"We might--eh?" he said suggestively. "It is usually the custom to provide refreshment, but the poor woman, madame, has been greatly occupied with her husband, and--"
"And the twins," Charley put in drily--" and a house full of work, and only one old crone in the kitchen to help. Still, I have no doubt she has thought of the cordials too. Women are the slaves of custom--ah, here they are, as I said, and--"
He stopped short, for in the doorway, with a tray, stood Rosalie Evanturel. The surgeon was so intent upon at once fortifying himself that he did not see the look which passed between Rosalie and the tailor.
Rosalie had been absent for two months. Her father had been taken seriously ill the day after the critical episode in the but at Vadrome Mountain, and she had gone with him to the hospital at Quebec, for an operation. The Abbe Rossignol had undertaken to see them safely to the hospital, and Jo Portugais, at his own request, was permitted to go in attendance upon M. Evanturel.
There had been a hasty leave-taking between Charley and Rosalie, but it was in the presence of others, and they had never spoken a word privately together since the day she had said to him that where he went she would go, in life or out of it.
"You have been gone two months," Charley said now, after their touch of hands and voiceless greeting. "Two months yesterday," she answered.
"At sundown," he replied, in an even voice.
"The Angelus was ringing," she answered calmly, though her heart was leaping and her hands were trembling. The doctor, instantly busy with the cordial, had not noticed what they said.
"Won't you join me?" he asked, offering a glass to Charley.
"Spirits do not suit me," answered Charley. "Matter of constitution," rejoined the doctor, and buttoned up his coat, preparing to depart. He came close to Charley. "Now, I don't want to put upon you, Monsieur," he said, "but this sick man is valuable in the parish--you take me? Well, it's a difficult, delicate case, and I'd be glad if I could rely on you for a few days. The Cure would do, but you are young, you have a sense of things--take me? Half the fees are yours if you'll keep a sharp eye on him--three times a day, and be with him at night a while. Fever is the thing I'm afraid of--temperature--this way, please!" He went to the window, and for a minute engaged Charley in whispered conversation. "You take me?" he said cheerily at last, as he turned again towards Rosalie.
"Quite, Monsieur," answered Charley, and drew away, for he caught the odour of the doctor's breath, and a cold perspiration broke out over him. He felt the old desire for drink sweeping through him. "I will do what I can," he said.
"Come, my dear," the doctor said to Rosalie. "We will go and see your father."
Charley's eyes had fastened on the bottles avidly. As Rosalie turned to bid him good-bye, he said to her, almost hoarsely: "Take the tray back to Madame Dauphin--please."
She flashed a glance of inquiry at him. She was puzzled by the fire in his eyes. With her soul in her face as she lifted the tray, out of the warm-beating life in her, she said in a low tone:
"It is good to live, isn't it?"
He nodded and smiled, and the trouble slowly passed from his eyes. The woman in her had conquered his enemy.