The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker
Chapter LIX. In Which Charley Meets a Stranger
The Cure came to his feet with a joyful cry. "Monsieur--my son," he said, bending over him.
"Is it all over?" Charley asked calmly, almost cheerfully. Death now was the only solution of life's problems, and he welcomed it from the void.
The Cure went to the door and locked it. The deepest desire of his life must here be uttered, his great aspiration be realised.
"My son," he said, as he came softly to the bedside again, "you have given to us all you had--your charity, your wisdom, your skill. You have "--it was hard, but the man's wound was mortal, and it must be said "you have consecrated our new church with your blood. You have given all to us; we will give all to you--"
There was a soft knocking at the door. He went and opened it a very little. "He is conscious, Rosalie," he whispered. "Wait--wait--one moment."
Then came the Seigneur's voice saying that Jo was gone, and that all the robbers had escaped, save the two disposed of by Charley and Jo.
The Cure turned to the bed once more. "What did he say about Jo?" Charley asked.
"He is dead, my son, and the quack-doctor also. The others have escaped."
Charley turned his face away. "Au revoir, Jo," he said into the great distance.
Then there was silence for a moment, while outside the door a girl prayed, with an old woman's arm around her.
The Cure leaned over Charley again. "Shall not the sacraments of the Church comfort you in your last hours?" he said. "It is the way, the truth, and the life. It is the Voice that says: 'Peace' to the vexed mind. Human intellect is vanity; only the soul survives. Will you not hear the Voice? Will you not give us who love and honour you the right to make you ours for ever? Will you not come to the bosom of that Church for which you have given all?"
"Tell them so," Charley said, and he motioned towards the window, under which the people were gathered.
With a glad exclamation the Cure hastened to the window, and, in a voice of sorrowful exultation, spoke to the people below.
Charley reckoned swiftly with his fate. What was there now to do? If his wound was not mortal, what tragedy might now come! For Billy's hand --the hand of Kathleen's brother--had brought him low. If the robbers and murderers were captured, he must be dragged into the old life, and to what an issue--all the old problems carried into more terrible conditions. And Rosalie--in his half-consciousness he had felt her near him; he felt her near him now. Rosalie--in any case, what could there be for her? Nothing. He had heard the Cure whisper her name at the door. She was outside-praying for him. He stretched out a hand as though he saw her, and his lips framed her name. In his weakness and fading life he had no anguish in the thought of her. Life and Love were growing distant though he loved her as few love and live. She would be removed from want by him--there were the pearls and the money in the safe with the money of the Church; there was the letter to the Cure, his last testament, leaving all to her. He, sleeping, would fear no foe; she, awake in the living world, would hold him in dear remembrance. Death were the better thing for all. Then Kathleen in her happiness would be at peace; and even Billy might go unmolested, for, who was there to recognise Billy, now that Portugais was dead?
He heard the Cure's voice at the window--"Oh, my dear people, God has given him to us at last. I go now to prepare him for his long journey, to--"
Charley realised and shuddered. Receive the sacraments of the Church? Be made ready by the priest for his going hence--end all the soul's interrogations, with the solving of his own mortal problems? Say "I believe," confess his sins, and, receiving absolution, lie down in peace.
He suddenly raised himself on his elbow, flinging his body over. The bandage of his wound was displaced, and blood gushed out upon the white clothes of the bed. "Rosalie!" he gasped. "Rosalie, my love! God keep . . . "
As he sank back he heard the priest's anguished voice above him, calling for help. He smiled.
"Rosalie--" he whispered. The priest ran and unlocked the door, and Rosalie entered, followed by the Seigneur and Mrs. Flynn.
"Quick! Quick!" said the priest. "The bandage slipped."
The bandage slipped--or was it slipped? Who knows!
Blind with agony, and as in a direful dream, Rosalie made her way to the bed. The sight of his ensanguined body roused her, and, murmuring his name--continually murmuring his name--she assisted Mrs. Flynn to bind up the wound again. Standing where she stood when she had stayed Louis Trudel's arm long ago, with an infinite tenderness she touched the scar- the scar of the cross--on his breast. Terrible as was her grief, her heart had its comfort in the thought--who could rob her of that for ever?--that he would die a martyr. It did not matter now who knew the story of her love. It could not do him harm. She was ready to proclaim it to all the world. And those who watched knew that they were in the presence of a great human love.
The priest made ready to receive the unconscious man into the Church. Had Charley not said, "Tell them so?" Was it not now his duty to say the sacred offices over a son of the Church in his last bitter hour? So it was done while he lay unconscious.
For hours he lay still, and then the fevered blood, poisoned by the bullet which had brought him down, made him delirious, gave him hallucinations--open-eyed illusions. All the time Rosalie knelt at the foot of the bed, her piteous tearless eyes for ever fixed on his face.
Towards evening, with an unnatural strength, he sat up in bed.
"See," he whispered, "that woman in the corner there. She has come to take me, but I will not go." Fantasy after fantasy possessed him- fantasy, strangely mixed with facts of his own past. Now it was Kathleen, now Billy, now Jo Portugais, now John Brown, now Suzon Charlemagne at the Cote Dorion, again Jo Portugais. In strange, touching sentences he spoke to them, as though they were present before him. At length he stopped abruptly, and gazed straight before him--over the head of Rosalie into the distance.
"See," he said, pointing, "who is that? Who? I can't see his face--it is covered. So tall-so white! He is opening his arms to me. He is coming--closer--closer. Who is it?"
"It is Death, my son," said the priest in his ear, with a pitying gentleness.
The Cure's voice seemed to calm the agitated sense, to bring it back to the outer precincts of understanding. There was an awe-struck silence as the dying man fumbled, fumbled, over his breast, found his eye-glass, and, with a last feeble effort, raised it to his eye, shining now with an unearthly fire. The old interrogation of the soul, the elemental habit outlived all else in him. The idiosyncrasy of the mind automatically expressed itself.
"I beg--your--pardon," he whispered to the imagined figure, and the light died out of his eyes, "have I--ever--been--introduced--to you?"
"At the hour of your birth, my son," said the priest, as a sobbing cry came from the foot of the bed.
But Charley did not hear. His ears were for ever closed to the voices of life and time.