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   Chapter 19 THE SENTENCE

Mrs. Falchion, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 20653

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


The next morning Roscoe was quiet and calm, but he looked ten years older than when I had first seen him. After breakfast he said to me: "I have to go to the valley to pay Phil Boldrick's friend the money, and to see Mr. Devlin. I shall be back, perhaps, by lunchtime. Will you go with me, or stay here?"

"I shall try to get some fishing this morning, I fancy," I said. "And possibly I shall idle a good deal, for my time with you here is shortening, and I want to have a great store of laziness behind me for memory, when I've got my nose to the grindstone."

He turned to the door, and said: "Marmion, I wish you weren't going. I wish that we might be comrades under the same roof till-" He paused and smiled strangely.

"Till the finish," I added, "when we should amble grey-headed, sans everything, out of the mad old world? I imagine Miss Belle Treherne would scarcely fancy that.... Still, we can be friends just the same. Our wives won't object to an occasional bout of loafing together, will they?"

I was determined not to take him too seriously. He said nothing, and in a moment he was gone.

I passed the morning idly enough, yet thinking, too, very much about my friend. I was anxiously hoping that the telegram from Winnipeg would come. About noon it came. It was not known quite in what part of the North-west, Madras (under his new name) was, for the corps of mounted police had been changed about recently. My letter had, however, been forwarded into the wilds.

I saw no immediate way but to go to Mrs. Falchion and make a bold bid for his peace. I had promised Madras never to let her know that he was alive, but I would break the promise if Madras himself did not come. After considerable hesitation I started. It must be remembered that the events of the preceding chapter were only known to me afterwards.

Justine Caron was passing through the hall of the hotel when I arrived. After greetings, she said that Mrs. Falchion might see me, but that they were very busy; they were leaving in the evening for the coast. Here was a pleasant revelation! I was so confused with delight at the information, that I could think of nothing more sensible to say than that the unexpected always happens. By this time we were within Mrs. Falchion's sitting-room. And to my remark, Justine replied "Yes, it is so. One has to reckon most with the accidents of life. The expected is either pleasant or unpleasant; there is no middle place."

"You are growing philosophic," said I playfully. "Monsieur," she said gravely, "I hope as I live and travel, I grow a little wiser." Still she lingered, her hand upon the door.

"I had thought that you were always wise."

"Oh no, no! How can you say so? I have been very foolish sometimes."... She came back towards me. "If I am wiser I am also happier," she added.

In that moment we understood each other; that is, I read how unselfish this girl could be, and she knew thoroughly the source of my anxiety, and was glad that she could remove it.

"I would not speak to any one save you," she said, "but do you not also think that it is good we go?"

"I have been thinking so, but I hesitated to say so," was my reply.

"You need not hesitate," she said earnestly. "We have both understood, and I know that you are to be trusted."

"Not always," I said, remembering that one experience of mine with Mrs. Falchion on the 'Fulvia'. Holding the back of a chair, and looking earnestly at me, she continued: "Once, on the vessel, you remember, in a hint so very little, I made it appear that madame was selfish.... I am sorry. Her heart was asleep. Now, it is awake. She is unselfish. The accident of our going away is hers. She goes to leave peace behind." "I am most glad," said I. "And you think there will be peace?"

"Surely, since this has come, that will come also."

"And you-Mademoiselle?" I should not have asked that question had I known more of the world. It was tactless and unkind.

"For me it is no matter at all. I do not come in anywhere. As I said, I am happy."

And turning quickly, yet not so quickly but that I saw her cheeks were flushed, she passed out of the room. In a moment Mrs. Falchion entered. There was something new in her carriage, in her person. She came towards me, held out her hand, and said, with the same old half-quizzical tone: "Have you, with your unerring instinct, guessed that I was leaving, and so come to say good-bye?"

"You credit me too highly. No, I came to see you because I had an inclination. I did not guess that you were going until Miss Caron told me."

"An inclination to see me is not your usual instinct, is it? Was it some special impulse, based on a scientific calculation-at which, I suppose, you are an adeptor curiosity? Or had it a purpose? Or were you bored, and therefore sought the most startling experience you could conceive?" She deftly rearranged some flowers in a jar.

"I can plead innocence of all directly; I am guilty of all indirectly: I was impelled to come. I reasoned-if that is scientific-on what I should say if I did come, knowing how inclined I was to-"

"To get beyond my depth," she interrupted, and she motioned me to a chair.

"Well, let it be so," said I. "I was curious to know what kept you in this sylvan, and I fear, to you, half-barbaric spot. I was bored with myself; and I had some purpose in coming, or I should not have had the impulse."

She was leaning back in her chair easily, not languidly. She seemed reposeful, yet alert.

"How wonderfully you talk!" she said, with good-natured mockery. "You are scientifically frank. You were bored with yourself.-Then there is some hope for your future wife.... We have had many talks in our acquaintance, Dr. Marmion, but none so interesting as this promises to be. But now tell me what your purpose was in coming. 'Purpose' seems portentous, but quite in keeping."

I noticed here the familiar, almost imperceptible click of the small white teeth.

Was I so glad she was going that I was playful, elated? "My purpose," said I, "has no point now; for even if I were to propose to amuse you-I believe that was the old formula-by an idle day somewhere, by an excursion, an-"

"An autobiography," she broke in soothingly.

"Or an autobiography," I repeated stolidly, "you would not, I fancy, be prepared to accept my services. There would be no chance-now that you are going away-for me to play the harlequin-"

"Whose office you could do pleasantly if it suited you-these adaptable natures!"

"Quite so. But it is all futile now, as I say."

"Yes, you mentioned that before.-Well?"

"It is well," I replied, dropping into a more meaning tone.

"You say it patriarchally, but yet flatteringly." Here she casually offered me a flower. I mechanically placed it in my buttonhole. She seemed delighted at confusing me. But I kept on firmly.

"I do not think," I rejoined gravely now, "that there need be any flattery between us."

"Why?-We are not married."

"That is as radically true as it is epigrammatic," blurted I.

"And truth is more than epigram?"

"One should delight in truth; I do delight in epigram; there seems little chance for choice here."

It seemed to me that I had said quite what I wished there, but she only looked at me enigmatically.

She arranged a flower in her dress as she almost idly replied, though she did not look me full in the face as she had done before: "Well, then, let me add to your present delight by saying that you may go play till doomsday, Dr. Marmion. Your work is done."

"I do not understand."

Her eyes were on me now with the directness she could so well use at need.

"I did not suppose you would, despite your many lessons at my hands. You have been altruistic, Dr. Marmion; I fear critical people would say that you meddled. I shall only say that you are inquiring-scientific, or feminine-what you please!... You can now yield up your portfolio of-foreign affairs-of war-shall I say? and retire into sedative habitations, which, believe me, you become best.... What concerns me need concern you no longer. The enemy retreats. She offers truce-without conditions. She retires.... Is that enough for even you, Professor Marmion?"

"Mrs. Falchion," I said, finding it impossible to understand why she had so suddenly determined to go away (for I did not know all the truth until afterwards-some of it long afterwards), "it is more than I dared to hope for, though less, I know, than you have heart to do if you willed so. I know that you hold some power over my friend."

"Do not think," she said, "that you have had the least influence. What you might think, or may have intended to do, has not moved me in the least. I have had wrongs that you do not know. I have changed-that is all. I admit I intended to do Galt Roscoe harm.

"I thought he deserved it. That is over. After to-night, it is not probable that we shall meet again. I hope that we shall not; as, doubtless, is your own mind."

She kept looking at me with that new deep look which I had seen when she first entered the room.

I was moved, and I saw that just at the last she had spoken under considerable strain. "Mrs. Falchion," said I, "I have THOUGHT harder things of you than I ever SAID to any one. Pray believe that, and believe, also, that I never tried to injure you. For the rest, I can make no complaint. You do not like me. I liked you once, and do now, when you do not depreciate yourself of purpose.... Pardon me, but I say this very humbly too.... I suppose I always shall like you, in spite of myself. You are one of the most gifted and fascinating women that I ever met. I have been anxious for my friend. I was concerned to make peace between you and your husband-"

"The man who WAS my husband," she interrupted musingly.

"Your husband-whom you so cruelly treated. But I confess I have found it impossible to withhold admiration of you."

For a long time she did not reply, but she never took her eyes off my face, as she leaned slightly forward. Then at last she spoke more gently than I had ever heard her, and a glow came upon her face.

"I am only human. You have me at advantage. What woman could reply unkindly to a speech like that? I admit I thought you held me utterly bad and heartless, and it ma

de me bitter.... I had no heart-once. I had only a wrong, an injury, which was in my mind; not mine, but another's, and yet mine. Then strange things occurred.... At last I relented. I saw that I had better go. Yesterday I saw that; and I am going-that is all.... I wished to keep the edge of my intercourse with you sharp and uncompanionable to the end; but you have forced me at my weakest point...." Here she smiled somewhat painfully.... "Believe me, that is the way to turn a woman's weapon upon herself. You have learned much since we first met.... Here is my hand in friendliness, if you care to take it; and in good-bye, should we not meet again more formally before I go."

"I wish now that your husband, Boyd Madras, were here," I said.

She answered nothing, but she did not resent it, only shuddered a little.

Our hands grasped silently. I was too choked to speak, and I left her. At that moment she blinded me to all her faults. She was a wonderful woman.

.....................

Galt Roscoe had walked slowly along the forest-road towards the valley, his mind in that state of calm which, in some, might be thought numbness of sensation, in others fortitude-the prerogative of despair. He came to the point of land jutting out over the valley, where he had stood with Mrs. Falchion, Justine, and myself, on the morning of Phil Boldrick's death.

He looked for a long time, and then, slowly descending the hillside, made his way to Mr. Devlin's office. He found Phil's pal awaiting him there. After a few preliminaries, the money was paid over, and Kilby said:

"I've been to see his camping-ground. It's right enough. Viking has done it noble.... Now, here's what I'm goin' to do: I'm goin' to open bottles for all that'll drink success to Viking. A place that's stood by my pal, I stand by-but not with his money, mind you! No, that goes to you, Padre, for hospital purposes. My gift an' his.... So, sit down and write a receipt, or whatever it's called, accordin' to Hoyle, and you'll do me proud."

Roscoe did as he requested, and handed the money over to Mr. Devlin for safe keeping, remarking, at the same time, that the matter should be announced on a bulletin outside the office at once.

As Kilby stood chewing the end of a cigar and listening to the brief conversation between Roscoe and Mr. Devlin, perplexity crossed his face. He said, as Roscoe turned round: "There's something catchy about your voice, Padre. I don't know what; but it's familiar like. You never was on the Panama level, of course?"

"Never."

"Nor in Australia?"

"Yes, in 1876."

"I wasn't there then."

Roscoe grew a shade paler, but he was firm and composed. He was determined to answer truthfully any question that was asked him, wherever it might lead.

"Nor in Samoa?"

There was the slightest pause, and then the reply came:

"Yes, in Samoa."

"Not a missionary, by gracious! Not a mickonaree in Samoa?"

"No." He said nothing further. He did not feel bound to incriminate himself.

"No? Well, you wasn't a beachcomber, nor trader, I'll swear. Was you there in the last half of the Seventies? That's when I was there."

"Yes." The reply was quiet.

"By Jingo!" The man's face was puzzled. He was about to speak again; but at that moment two river-drivers-boon companions, who had been hanging about the door-urged him to come to the tavern. This distracted him. He laughed, and said that he was coming, and then again, though with less persistency, questioned Roscoe.. "You don't remember me, I suppose?"

"No, I never saw you, so far as I know, until yesterday."

"No? Still, I've heard your voice. It keeps swingin' in my ears; and I can't remember.... I can't remember!... But we'll have a spin about it again, Padre." He turned to the impatient men. "All right, bully-boys, I'm comin'."

At the door he turned and looked again at Roscoe with a sharp, half-amused scrutiny, then the two parted. Kilby kept his word. He was liberal to Viking; and Phil's memory was drunk, not in silence, many times that day. So that when, in the afternoon, he made up his mind to keep his engagement with Mrs. Falchion, and left the valley for the hills, he was not entirely sober. But he was apparently good-natured. As he idled along he talked to himself, and finally broke out into singing:

"'Then swing the long boat down the drink,

For the lads as pipe to go;

But I sink when the 'Lovely Jane' does sink,

To the mermaids down below.'

"'The long boat bides on its strings,' says we,

'An' we bides where the long boat bides;

An' we'll bluff this equatorial sea,

Or swallow its hurricane tides.'

"But the 'Lovely Jane' she didn't go down,

An' she anchored at the Spicy Isles;

An' she sailed again to Wellington Town-

A matter of a thousand miles."

It will be remembered that this was part of the song sung by Galt Roscoe on the Whi-Whi River, the day we rescued Mrs. Falchion and Justine Caron. Kilby sang the whole song over to himself until he reached a point overlooking the valley. Then he stood silent for a time, his glance upon the town. The walk had sobered him a little. "Phil, old pal," he said at last, "you ain't got the taste of raw whiskey with you now. When a man loses a pal he loses a grip on the world equal to all that pal's grip was worth.... I'm drunk, and Phil's down there among the worms-among the worms!... Ah!" he added in disgust, and, dashing his hand across his eyes, struck off into the woods again, making his way to the summer hotel, where he had promised to meet Mrs. Falchion. He inquired for her, creating some astonishment by his uncouth appearance and unsteady manner.

He learned from Justine that Mrs. Falchion had gone to see Roscoe, and that he would probably meet her if he went that way. This he did. He was just about to issue into a partly open space by a ravine near the house, when he heard voices, and his own name mentioned. He stilled and listened.

"Yes, Galt Roscoe," said a voice, "Sam Kilby is the man that loved Alo-loved her not as you did. He would have given her a home, have made her happy, perhaps. You, when Kilby was away, married her-in native fashion-which is no marriage-and KILLED her."

"No, no, I did not kill her-that is not so. As God is my Judge, that is not so."

"You did not kill her with the knife?... Well, I will be honest now, and say that I believe that, whatever I may have hinted or said before. But you killed her just the same when you left her."

"Mercy Falchion," he said desperately, "I will not try to palliate my sin. But still I must set myself right with you in so far as I can. The very night Alo killed herself I had made up my mind to leave the navy. I was going to send in my papers, and come back to Apia, and marry her as Englishmen are married. While I remained in the navy I could not, as you know, marry her. It would be impossible to an English officer. I intended to come back and be regularly married to her."

"You say that now," was the cold reply.

"But it is the truth, the truth indeed. Nothing that you might say could make me despise myself more than I do; but I have told you all, as I shall have to tell it one day before a just God. You have spared me: He will not."

"Gait Roscoe," she replied, "I am not merciful, nor am I just. I intended to injure you, though you will remember I saved your life that night by giving you a boat for escape across the bay to the 'Porcupine', which was then under way. The band on board, you also remember, was playing the music of La Grande Duchesse. You fired on the natives who followed. Well, Sam Kilby was with them. Your brother officers did not know the cause of the trouble. It was not known to any one in Apia exactly who it was that Kilby and the natives had tracked from Alo's hut."

He drew his hand across his forehead dazedly.

"Oh, yes I remember!" he said. "I wish I had faced the matter there and then. It would have been better."

"I doubt that," she replied. "The natives who saw you coming from Alo's hut did not know you. You wisely came straight to the Consul's office-my father's house. And I helped you, though Alo, half-caste Alo, was-my sister!"

Roscoe started back. "Alo-your-sister!" he exclaimed in horror.

"Yes, though I did not know it till afterwards, not till just before my father died. Alo's father was my father; and her mother had been honestly married to my father by a missionary; though for my sake it had never been made known. You remember, also, that you carried on your relations with Alo secretly, and my father never suspected it was you."

"Your sister!" Roscoe was white and sick.

"Yes. And now you understand my reason for wishing you ill, and for hating you to the end."

"Yes," he said despairingly, "I see."

She was determined to preserve before him the outer coldness of her nature to the last.

"Let us reckon together," she said. "I helped to-in fact, I saved your life at Apia. You helped to save my life at the Devil's Slide. That is balanced. You did me-the honour to say that you loved me once. Well, one of my race loved you. That is balanced also. My sister's death came through you. There is no balance to that. What shall balance Alo's death? ... I leave you to think that over. It is worth thinking about. I shall keep your secret, too. Kilby does not know you. I doubt that he ever saw you, though, as I said, he followed you with the natives that night in Apia. He was to come to see me to-day. I think I intended to tell him all, and shift-the duty-of punishment on his shoulders, which I do not doubt he would fulfil. But he shall not know. Do not ask why. I have changed my mind, that is all. But still the account remains a long one. You will have your lifetime to reckon with it, free from any interference on my part; for, if I can help it, we shall never meet again in this world-never.... And now, good-bye."

Without a gesture of farewell she turned and left him standing there, in misery and bitterness, but in a thankfulness too, more for Ruth's sake than his own. He raised his arms with a despairing motion, then let them drop heavily to his side....

And then two strong hands caught his throat, a body pressed hard against him, and he was borne backward-backward-to the cliff!

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