The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker
Never again was there a Passion Play in the Chaudiere Valley. Spring- times and harvests and long winters came and went, and a blessing seemed to be upon the valley, for men prospered, and no untoward things befel the people. So it was for twenty years, wherein there had been going and coming in quiet. Some had gone upon short mortal journeys and had come back, some upon long immortal voyages, and had never returned. Of the last were the Seigneur and a woman once a Magdalene; but in a house beside a beautiful church, with a noble doorway, lived the Cure, M. Loisel, aged and serene. There never was a day, come rain or shine, in which he was not visited by a beautiful woman, whose life was one with the people of the valley.
There was no sorrow in the parish which the lady did not share, with the help of an old Irishwoman called Mrs. Flynn. Was there sickness in the parish, her hand smoothed the pillow and soothed the pain. Was there trouble anywhere, her face brought light to the door way. Did any suffer ill-repute, her word helped to restore the ruined name. They did not know that she forgave so much in all the world, because she thought she had so much in herself to forgive.
She was ever called "Madame Rosalie," and she cherished the name, and gave commands that when her grave came to be made near to a certain other grave, Madame Rosalie should be carved upon the stone. Cheerfulness and serenity were ever with her, undisturbed by wish to probe the mystery of the life which had once absorbed her own. She never sought to know whence the man came; it was sufficient to know whither he had gone, and that he had been hers for a brief dream of life. It was better to have lived the one short thrilling hour with all its pain, than never to have known what she knew or felt what she had felt. The mystery deepened her romance, and she was even glad that the ruffians who slew him were never brought to justice. To her mind they were but part of the mystic machinery of fate.
For her the years had given many compensations, and so she told the Cure, one midsummer day, when she brought to visit him the orphaned son of Paulette Dubois, graduated from his college in France and making ready to go to the far East.
"I have had more than I deserve--a thousand times," she said.
The Cure smiled, and laid a gentle hand upon her own. "It is right for you to think so," he said, "but after a long life, I am ready to say that, one way or another, we earn all the real happiness we have. I mean the real happiness--the moments, my child. I once had a moment full of happiness."
"May I ask?" she said.
"When my heart first went out to him"--he turned his face towards the churchyard.
"He was a great man," she said proudly.
The Cure looked at her benignly: she was a woman, and she had loved the man. He had, however, come to a stage of life where greatness alone seemed of little moment. He forbore to answer her, but he pressed her hand.