The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker
Chapter XL. As it Was in the Beginning
The kitchen was empty, but light fell through the door of the shop opening upon the little hall between. Rosalie crossed the hall and stood in the doorway of the shop, a figure of concentrated indignation, despair, and shame. Leaning on his elbow Charley was bending over a book in the light of a candle on the bench be side him. He was reading aloud, translating into English the German text of the narrative the Cure had given him:
Charley had not heard Rosalie enter, nor her footsteps in the hall. But now there ran through his reading a thread of something not of himself or of it. He had thrilled to the archaic but clear-hearted style of the old German chronicler, and the warmth he felt had passed into his voice, so that it became louder.
As Rosalie listened to his reading, a hundred thoughts rushed through her mind. Paulette Dubois, the wanton woman, had just left his doorway secretly, yet there he was, instantly after, calmly reading a pious book! Her mind was in tumult. She could not reason, she could not rule her judgment. She only knew that the woman had come from this house, and hurried guiltily away into the dark. She only knew that the man the woman had left here was the man she loved--loved more than her life, for he embodied all her past; all her present--she knew that she could not live without him; all her future--for where he went she would go, whatever the fate.
Her judgment had been swept from its moorings. She had been carried on the wave of her heart's fever into this room, not daring to think this or that, not planning this or that, not accusing, not reproaching, not shaming herself and him by black suspicion, but blindly, madly demanding to see him, to look into his eyes, to hear his voice, to know him, whatever he was--man, lover, or devil. She was a child-woman--a child in her primitive feelings that threw aside all convention, because there was no wrong in her heart; a woman, because she was possessed by a jealousy which shamed and angered her, because its very existence put him on trial, condemned him. Her soul was the sport of emotions and passions stronger than herself, because the heritage, the instinct, of all the race of women, the eternal predisposition. At the moment her will was not sufficient to rule them to obedience. She was in the first subservience to that power which feeds the streams of human history.
As she now listened to Charley reading, a sudden revulsion of feeling came over her. Some note in his voice reassured her heart--if it needed reassuring. The quiet force of his presence stilled the tumult in her, so that her eyes could see without mist, her heart beat without agony; but every pulse in her was throbbing, every instinct was alive. Presently there rushed upon her the words that had rung in her ears and chimed in her heart at the Rest of the Flax-beaters:
"Take all, dear love! thou art my life's defender; Speak to my soul! Take life and love; take all."
Feelings lying beneath the mad conflict of emotion which had sent her into this room in such unmaidenly fashion--feelings that were her deepest self-welled up. Her breath came hard and broken.
As Charley read on, a breathing seemed to answer his own. It became quicker than his own, it pierced the stillness, it filled the room with feeling, it came calling to him out of the silence. He swung round, and saw the girl in the doorway.
"Rosalie!" he cried, and sprang to his feet.
With a piteously pathetic cry, she flung herself on her knees beside the tailor's bench where he worked every day, and, burying her face in her arms as they rested on the bench, wept bitterly.
"Rosalie!" he said anxiously, leaning over her. "What is the matter? What has happened?"
She wept more bitterly still; she made a despairing gesture. His hand touched her hair; he dropped on a knee beside her.
"Oh, I am so ashamed, ashamed! I have been so wicked," she murmured.
"Rosalie, what has happened?" he urged gently. His own heart was beating hard, his own eyes were responding to hers. The new feelings alive in him, the forces his love had awakened, which, last night, had kept him sleepless, and had been upon him like a dream all day--they were at height in him now. He knew not how to command them.
"Rosalie, dearest, tell me all!" he persisted.
"I shall never--I have been--oh--you will never forgive me!" she said brokenly. "I knew it wasn't true, but I couldn't help it. I saw her-- the woman--come from your house, and--"
"Hush! For God's sake, hush!" he broke in almost harshly. Then a better understanding came upon him, and it made him gentle with her.
"Ah, Rosalie, you did not think! But--but it was natural you should wish to see me. . . ."
"But, as soon as I saw you, I knew that--that--" She broke down again and wept.
"I will tell you about her, Rosalie--" His fingers stroked her hair, and, bending over her, his face was near her hands.
"No, no, tell me nothing--oh, if you tell me!--"
"She came to hear from me what she ought to have heard from the Notary. She has had great trouble--the man--her child--and I have helped her, told her--" His face was so near now that his breath was on her hair. She suddenly raised her head and clasped his face in her hands.
"I knew--oh, I knew, I knew . . . !" she wept, and her eyes drank his.
"Rosalie, my life!" he cried, clasping her in his arms.
The love that was in him, new-born and but half understood, poured itself out in broken words like her own. For him there was no outside world; no past, no Kathleen, no Billy; no suspicion, or infidelity, or unfaith; no fear of disaster; no terrors of the future. Life was Now to him and to her: nothing brooded behind, nothing lay before. The candle spluttered and burnt low in the socket.