The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker
Chapter XLIV. "Who Was Kathleen?"
The painful incidents of the morning weighed heavily upon Rosalie, and she was glad when Madame Dugal came to talk with her father, who was ailing and irritable, and when Mrs. Flynn drove her away with a kiss on either cheek, saying: "Don't come back, darlin', till there's roses in both cheeks, for y'r eyes are 'atin' up yer face!"
She had seen Charley take the path to Vadrome Mountain, and to the Rest of the Flax-beaters she betook herself, in the blind hope that, returning, he might pass that way. Under the influence of the fresh air and the quiet of the woods her spirits rose, her pulse beat faster, though a sense of foreboding and sorrow hovered round her. The two-miles walk to her beloved retreat seemed a matter of minutes only, so busy were her thoughts.
Her mind was one luxurious confusion, through which travelled a ghostly little sprite, who kept tumbling her thoughts about, sneering, smirking, whispering--"You dare not go to confession--dare not go to confession. You will never be the same again--never feel the same again--never think the same again; your dreams are done! You can only love. And what will this love do for you? What do you expect to happen--you dare not go to confession!"
Her reply had been the one iteration: "I love him--I love him--I love him. We shall be together all our lives, till we are old and grey. I shall watch him at his work, and listen to his voice. I shall read with him and walk with him, and I shall grow to think like him a little --in everything except religion. In everything except that. One day he will come to think like me--to believe in God."
In the dreamy happiness of these thoughts the colour came to her cheeks, the roses of light gathered in her eyes. In her tremulous ardour she scarcely realised how time passed, and her reverie deepened as the afternoon shadows grew and the sun made to its covert behind the hills. She was roused by a man's voice singing, just under the bluff where she sat. To her this voice represented the battle-call, the home-call, the life call of the universe. The song it sang was known to her. It was as old as Rizzio. It had come from old France with Mary, had been merged into English words and English music, and had voyaged to New France. There it had been sung by lovers in fair vales, on wide rivers, and in deep forests:
"What is not mine I may not hold, (Ah, hark the hunter's horn!), And what is thine may not be sold, (My love comes through the corn!); And none shall buy And none shall sell What Love works well?"
In the walk back from Vadrome Mountain, a change--a fleeting change-- had passed over Charley's mind and mood. The quiet of the woodland, the song of the birds, the tumbling brook, the smell of the rich earth, replenishing its strength from the gorgeous falling leaves, had soothed him. Thoughts of Rosalie took a new form. Her image possessed him, excluding the future, the perils that surrounded them. He had gone through so much within the past twenty-four hours that the capacity for suffering had almost exhausted itself, and in the reaction endearing thoughts of Rosalie had dominion over him. It was the reassertion of primitive man, the demands of the first element. The great problem was still in the background. The picture of Kathleen and the other man was pushed into the distance; thoughts of Billy and his infamy were thrust under foot--how futile to think of them! There was Rosalie to be thought of, the to-day and to-morrow of the new life.
Rosalie was of to-day. How strong and womanly she had been this morning, the girl whose life had been bounded by this Chaudiere, with a metropolitan convent and hospital as her only glimpses of the busy world. She would fit in anywhere--in the highest places, with her grace, and her nobleness of mind, arcadian, passionate and beautiful. There came upon him again the feeling of the evening before, when he saw her standing in his doorway, the night about them, jealous affection, undying love, in her eyes. It quickened his steps imperceptibly. He passed a stream, and glanced down into a dark pool involuntarily. It reflected himself clearly. He stopped short. "Is this you, Beauty Steele?" he said, and he caught his brown beard in his hand. "Beauty Steele had brains and no heart. You have heart, and your wits have gone wool-gathering. No matter!
What is not mine I may not hold, (Ah, hark the hunter's horn!)'"
he sang, and came quickly along the stream where the flax-beaters worked in harvest-time, then up the hill, then--Rosalie.
She started to her feet. "I knew you would come--I knew you would!" she said.
"You have been waiting here for me?" he asked breathless, taking her hand.
"I felt you would come. I made you," she added smiling, and, eagerly answering the look in his eyes, threw her arms round his neck. In that moment's joy a fresh realisation of their fate came upon him with dire force, and a bitter protest went up from his heart, that he and she should be sacrificed.
Yet the impasse was there, and what could remove it--what clear the way?
He looked down at the girl whose head was buried in happy peace on his shoulder. She clung to him, as though in him was everlasting protection from the sprite that kept whispering: "You dare not go to confession-- your dreams are done--you can only love." But she had no fear now.
As he looked down at her a swift change passed over him, and, almost for the first time since he was a little child, his eyes filled with tears. He hastily brushed them away, and drew her down on the seat beside him. He was wondering how he should tell her that they must not meet like this, that they must be apart. No matter what had happened, no matter what love there was, it was better that they should die--that he should die--than that they should meet like this. There was only one end to secret meetings, and discovery was inevitable. Then, with discovery, shame to her. For he must either marry her--how could he marry her? --or die. For him to die would but increase her misery.
The time had passed when it could be of any use. It passed that day in the hut on Vadrome Mountain when she said that if he died, she would die with him--"Where you are going you will be alone. There will be no one to care for you, no one but me." Last night it passed for ever. She had put her life into his hands; henceforth, there could never be a question of giving or taking, of withdrawing or advancing, for all was irrevocable, sealed with the great seal. Yet she must be saved. But how?
She suddenly looked up at him. "I can ask you anything I want now, can't I?" she said.
"You know that when I ask, it is because I want to know what you know, so that I may feel as you feel. You know that, don't you?
"I know it when you tell me, wonderful Rosalie." What a revelation it was, this transmuting power, which could change mortal dross into the coin of immortal wealth!
"I want to ask you," she said, "who was Kathleen?" His blood seemed to go cold in his veins, and he sat without answering, shocked and dismayed. What could she know of Kathleen?
"Can't you tell me?" she asked anxiously yet fearfully. He looked so strange that she thought she had offended him. "Please don't mind telling me. I should understand everything--everything. Was it some one you loved--once?" It was hard for her to say it, but she said it bravely.
"No. I never loved any one in all the world, Rosalie--not till I loved you."
She gave a happy sigh. "Oh, it is wonderful!" she said. "It is wonderful and good! Did you--did you love me from the very first?"
"I think I did, though I didn't know it from the very first," he answered slowly. His heart beat hard, for he could not guess how she should know of Kathleen. It was absurdly impossible that she should know. "But many have loved you!" she said proudly. "They have not shown it," he answered grimly; then added quickly, and with aching anxiety: "When did you hear of--of Kathleen?"
"Oh, you are such a blind huntsman!" she laughed. "Don't you know where my little fox was hiding? Why, in the shop, when you held the note-paper up to the light, and looked startled, and bought all the paper we had that was water-marked Kathleen. Do you think that was clever of me? I don't."
"I think it was very clever," he said.
"Then she-Kathleen--doesn't really matter?" she asked eagerly. "Of course she can't, if you don't love her. But does she love you? Did she ever love you?" "Never in her life."
"So of course it doesn't matter," she rejoined. "Hush!" she added rapidly. "I see some one coming in the trees yonder. It may be some one for me. Father knows I come here sometimes. Go quickly and hide behind the rocks, please. I'll stay and see who it is. Please go--dearest."
He kissed her, and, keeping out of sight, got to a place of safety a few hundred feet away.
He saw the new-comer run to Rosalie, speak to her, saw Rosalie half turn in his own direction, then go hastily down the hillside with the messenger.
"It is her father!" he exclaimed, and followed at a distance. At the village he learned that M. Evanturel had had another seizure.