The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker
Chapter XLII. A Trial and a Verdict
"What right have you to answer for mademoiselle?" said the Seigneur, with a sudden rush of jealousy. Was not he alone the protector of Rosalie Evanturel? Yet here was mystery, and it was clear the tailor had something important to say. M. Rossignol offered the Cure a chair, seated himself on a small bench, and gently drew Rosalie down beside him.
"I will make this a court," said he. "Advance, grocer."
The grocer came forward smugly.
"On what information do you make this charge against mademoiselle?"
The grocer volubly related all that Paulette Dubois had said. As he told his tale the Cure's face was a study, for the night the cross was restored came back to him, and the events, so far as he knew them, were in keeping with the grocer's narrative. He looked at Rosalie anxiously. Monsieur Evanturel moaned, for he remembered he had heard Rosalie come in very late that night. Yet he fixed his eyes on her in dog-like faith.
"Mademoiselle will admit that this is true, I presume," said Charley.
Rosalie looked at him intently, as though to read his very heart. It was clear that he wished her to say yes; and what he wished was law.
"It is quite true," answered Rosalie calmly, and all fear passed from her.
"But she did not steal the cross," continued Charley, in a louder voice, that all might hear, for people were gathering fast.
"If she didn't steal it, why was she putting it back on the church door in the dark?" said the grocer. "Ah, hould y'r head, ould sand-in-the- sugar!" said Mrs. Flynn, her fingers aching to get into his hair. "Silence!" said the Seigneur severely, and looked inquiringly at Rosalie. Rosalie looked at Charley.
"It is not a question of why mademoiselle put the cross back," he said. "It is a question of who took the cross away, is it not? Suppose it was not a theft. Suppose that the person who took the relic thought to do a pious act--for your Church, Monsieur?"
"I do not see," the Cure answered helplessly. "It was a secret act, therefore suspicious at least."
"'Let your good gifts be in secret, and your Heavenly Father who seeth in secret will reward you openly,"' answered Charley. "That, I believe, is a principle you teach, Monsieur."
"At one time Monsieur the tailor was thought to have taken the cross," said the Seigneur suggestively. "Perhaps Monsieur was secretly doing good with it?" he added. It vexed him that there should be a secret between Rosalie and this man.
"It had to do with me, not I with it," he answered evenly. He must travel wide at first to convince their narrow brains. "Mademoiselle did a kind act when she nailed that cross on the church door again--to make a dead man rest easier in his grave."
A hush fell upon the crowd.
Rosalie looked at Charley in surprise; but she saw his meaning presently --that what she did for him must seem to have been done for the dead tailor only. Her heart beat hot with indignation, for she would, if she but might, cry her love gladly from the hill-tops of the world.
Alight began to break upon the Cure's mind. "Will Monsieur speak plainly?" he said.
"I did not see Louis Trudel take the cross, but I know that he did."
"Louis Trudel! Louis Trudel!" interposed the Seigneur anxiously. "What does this mean?"
"Monsieur speaks the truth," interposed Rosalie. The Cure recalled the death-bed of Louis Trudel, and the dying man's strange agitation. He also recalled old Margot's death, and her wish to confess some one else's wrong-doing. He was convinced that Charley was speaking the truth.
"It is true," added Charley slowly; "but you may think none the worse of him when you know all. He took the cross for temporary use, and before he could replace it he died."
"How do you know what he meant, or did not mean?" said the Seigneur in perplexity. "Did he take you into his confidence?"
"The very closest," answered Charley grimly.
"Yet he looked upon you as an infidel, and said hard things of you on his death-bed," urged the Cure anxiously. He could not see the end of the tale, and he was troubled for both the dead man and the living.
"That was why he took me into his confidence. I will explain. I have not the honour to have the fulness of your Christian faith, Monsieur le Cure. I had asked him to show me a sign from heaven, and he showed it by the little iron cross."
"I can't make anything of that," said the Seigneur peevishly.
Rosalie sprang to her feet. "He will not tell the whole truth, Messieurs, but I will. With that little cross Louis Trudel would have killed Monsieur, had it not been for me."
A gasp of excitement went out from those who stood by.
"But for you, Rosalie?" asked the Cure.
"But for me. I saw Louis Trudel raise an iron against Monsieur that day in the shop. It made me nervous--I thought he was mad. So I watched. That night I saw a light in the tailor-shop late. I thought it strange. I went over and peeped through the cracks of the shutters. I saw old Louis at the fire with the little cross, red-hot. I knew he meant trouble. I ran into the house. Old Margot was beside herself with fear --she had seen also. I ran through the hall and saw old Louis upstairs with the burning cross. I followed. He went into Monsieur's room. When I got to the door"--she paused, trembling, for she saw Charley's reproving eyes upon her--"I saw him with the cross--with the cross raised over Monsieur."
"He meant to threaten me," interposed Charley quickly.
"We will have the truth!" said the Seigneur, in a husky voice.
"The cross came down on Monsieur's bare breast." The grocer laughed vindictively.
"Silence!" growled the Seigneur.
"Silence!" said Filion Lacasse, and dropped his hand on the grocer's shoulder. "I'll baste you with a stirrup-strap."
"The rest is well known," quickly interposed Charley. "The poor man was mad. He thought it a pious act to mark an infidel with the cross."
Every eye was fixed upon him. The Cure remembered Louis Trudel's last words: "Look--look--I gave--him--the sign--of . . . !" Old Margot's words also kept ringing in his ears. He turned to the Seigneur. "Monsieur," said he, "we have heard the truth. That act of Louis Trudel was cruel and murderous. May God forgive him! I will not say that mademoiselle did well in keeping silent--"
"God bless the darlin'!" cried Mrs. Flynn.
"--but I will say that she meant to do a kind act for a man's mortal memory--perhaps at the expense of his soul."
"For Monsieur to take his injury in silence, to keep it secret, was kind," said the Seigneur. "It is what our Cure here might call bearing his cross manfully."
"Seigneur," said the Cure reproachfully, "Seigneur, it is no subject for jest."
"Cure, our tailor here has treated it as a jest."
"Let him show his breast, if it's true," said the grocer, who, beneath his smirking, was a malignant soul.
The Cure turned on him sharply. Seldom had any one seen the Cure roused.
"Who are you, Ba'tiste Maxime, that your base curiosity should be satisfied--you, whose shameless tongue clattered, whose foolish soul rejoiced over the scandal? Must we all wear the facts of our lives--our joys, our sorrows, and our sins--for such eyes as yours to read? Bethink you of the evil things that you would hide--aye, every one here!" he added loudly. "Know, all of you, what goodness of heart towards a wicked man lay behind the secret these two have kept, that old Margot carried to her grave. When you go to your homes, pray for as much human kindness in you as a man of no Church or faith can show. For this child"--he turned to Rosalie-"honour her! Go now--go in peace!"
"One moment," said the Seigneur. "I fine Ba'tiste Maxime twenty dollars for defamation of character. The money to go for the poor."
"You hear that, ould sand-in-the-sugar!" said Mrs. Flynn. "Will you let me kiss ye, darlin'?" she added to Rosalie, and, waddling over, reached out her hands.
Rosalie's eyes were wet as she warmly kissed the old Irishwoman, and thereupon they entered into a friendship which was without end.
The Seigneur drove the crowd from the shop, and shut the door.
The Cure came to Charley. "Monsieur," said he, "I have no words. When I remember what agonies you suffered in those hours, how bravely you endured them--ah, Monsieur!" he added, with moist eyes, "I shall always feel that--that you are not far from the kingdom of God."
A silence fell upon them, for the Cure, the Seigneur, and Rosalie, as they looked at Charley, thought of the scar like a red cross on his breast.
It touched Charley with a kind of awe. He smiled painfully. "Shall I give you proof?" he said, making a motion to undo his waistcoat.
"Monsieur!" said the Seigneur reprovingly, and holding out his hand. "Monsieur! We are all gentlemen!"