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   Chapter 20 AFTER THE STORM

Mrs. Falchion, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 12783

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


I was sitting on the verandah, writing a letter to Belle Treherne. The substantial peace of a mountain evening was on me. The air was clear, and full of the scent of the pines and cedars, and the rumble of the rapids came musically down the canon. I lifted my head and saw an eagle sailing away to the snow-topped peak of Trinity, and then turned to watch the orioles in the trees. The hour was delightful. It made me feel how grave mere living is, how noble even the meanest of us becomes sometimes-in those big moments when we think the world was built for us. It is half egotism, half divinity; but why quarrel with it?

I was young, ambitious; and Love and I were at that moment the only figures in the universe really deserving attention! I looked on down a lane of cedars before me, seeing in imagination a long procession of pleasant things; of-As I looked, another procession moved through the creatures of my dreams, so that they shrank away timidly, then utterly, and this new procession came on and on, until-I suddenly rose, and started forward fearfully, to see-unhappy reality!-the body of Galt Roscoe carried towards me.

Then a cold wind seemed to blow from the glacier above and killed all the summer. A man whispered to me: "We found him at the bottom of the ravine yonder. He'd fallen over, I suppose."

I felt his heart. "He is not dead, thank God!" I said.

"No, sir," said the other, "but he's all smashed." They brought him in and laid him on his bed. I sent one of the party for the doctor at Viking, and myself set to work, with what appliances I had, to deal with the dreadful injuries. When the doctor came, together we made him into the semblance of a man again. His face was but slightly injured, though his head had received severe hurts. I think that I alone saw the marks on his throat; and I hid them. I guessed the cause, but held my peace.

I had sent round at once to James Devlin (but asked him not to come till morning), and also to Mrs. Falchion; but I begged her not to come at all. I might have spared her that; for, as I afterwards knew, she had no intention of coming. She had learned of the accident on her way to Viking, and had turned back; but only to wait and know the worst or the best.

About midnight I was left alone with Roscoe. Once, earlier in the evening, he had recognised me and smiled faintly, but I had shaken my head, and he had said nothing. Now, however, he was looking at me earnestly. I did not speak. What he had to tell me was best told in his own time.

At last he said faintly: "Marmion, shall I die soon?"

I knew that frankness was best, and I replied: "I cannot tell, Roscoe. There is a chance of your living."

He moved his head sadly. "A very faint chance?"

"Yes, a faint one, but-"

"Yes? 'But'?" He looked at me as though he wished it over.

"But it rests with you whether the chance is worth anything. If you are content to die, it is gone."

"I am content to die," he replied.

"And there," said I, "you are wrong and selfish. You have Ruth to live for. Besides, if you are given the chance, you commit suicide if you do not take it."

There was a long pause, and then he said: "You are right; I will live if I can, Marmion."

"And now YOU are right." I nodded soothingly to him, and then asked him to talk no more; for I knew that fever would soon come on.

He lay for a moment silent, but at length whispered: "Did you know it was not a fall I had?" He raised his chin and stretched his throat slightly, with a kind of trembling.

"I thought it was not a fall," I replied.

"It was Phil's pal-Kilby."

"I thought that."

"How could you-think it? Did-others-think so?" he asked anxiously.

"No, not others; I alone. They thought it accident; they could have no ground for suspicion. But I had; and, besides, there were marks on your throat."

"Nothing must happen to him, you understand. He had been drinking, and-and he was justified. I wronged him in Samoa, him and Mrs. Falchion."

I nodded and put my fingers on my lips.

Again there was silence. I sat and watched him, his eyes closed, his body was motionless. He slept for hours so, and then he waked rather sharply, and said half deliriously: "I could have dragged him with me, Marmion."

"But you did not. Yes, I understand. Go to sleep again, Roscoe."

Later on the fever came, and he moaned and moved his head about his pillow. He could not move his body-it was too much injured.

There was a source of fear in Kilby. Would he recklessly announce what he had done, and the cause of it? After thinking it over and over, I concluded that he would not disclose his crimes. My conclusions were right, as after events showed.

As for Roscoe, I feared that if he lived he must go through life maimed. He had a private income; therefore if he determined to work no more in the ministry, he would, at least, have the comforts of life.

Ruth Devlin came. I went to Roscoe and told him that she wished to see him. He smiled sorrowfully and said: "To what end, Marmion? I am a drifting wreck. It will only shock her." I think he thought she would not love him now if he lived-a crippled man.

"But is this noble? Is it just to her?" said I.

After a long time he answered: "You are right again, quite right. I am selfish. When one is shaking between life and death, one thinks most of one's self."

"She will help to bring you back from those places, Roscoe."

"If I am delirious ever, do not let her come, will you, Marmion? Promise me that." I promised.

I went to her. She was very calm and womanly. She entered the room, went quietly to his bedside, and, sitting down, took his hand. Her smile was pitiful and anxious, but her words were brave.

"My dearest," she said, "I am so sorry. But you will soon be well, so we must be as patient and cheerful as we can."

His eyes answered, but he did not speak. She leaned over and kissed his cheek. Then he said: "I hope I may get well."

"This was the shadow over you," she ventured. "This was your presentiment of trouble-this accident."

"Yes, this was the shadow."

Some sharp thought seemed to move her, for her eyes grew suddenly hard, and she stooped and whispered: "Was SHE there-when-it happened, Galt?"

He shrank from the question, but he said immediately: "No, she was not there."

"I am glad," she added, "that it was

only an accident."

Her eyes grew clear of their momentary hardness. There is nothing in life like the anger of one woman against another concerning a man.

Justine Caron came to the house, pale and anxious, to inquire. Mrs. Falchion, she said, was not going away until she knew how Mr. Roscoe's illness would turn.

"Miss Caron," I said to her, "do you not think it better that she should go?"

"Yes, for him; but she grieves now."

"For him?"

"Not alone for him," was the reply. There was a pause, and then she continued: "Madame told me to say to you that she did not wish Mr. Roscoe to know that she was still here."

I assured her that I understood, and then she added mournfully: "I cannot help you now, monsieur, as I did on board the 'Fulvia'. But he will be better cared for in Miss Devlin's hands, the poor lady!... Do you think that he will live?"

"I hope so. I am not sure."

Her eyes went to tears; and then I tried to speak more encouragingly.

All day people came to inquire, chief among them Mr. Devlin, whose big heart split itself in humanity and compassion. "The price of the big mill for the guarantee of his life!" he said over and over again. "We can't afford to let him go."

Although I should have been on my way back to Toronto, I determined to stay until Roscoe was entirely out of danger. It was singular, but in this illness, though the fever was high, he never was delirious. It would almost seem as if, having paid his penalty, the brain was at rest.

While Roscoe hovered between life and death, Mr. Devlin, who persisted that he would not die, was planning for a new hospital and a new church, of which Roscoe should be president and padre respectively. But the suspense to us all, for many days, was very great; until, one morning when the birds were waking the cedars, and the snow on Mount Trinity was flashing coolness down the hot valley, he waked and said to me: "Marmion, old friend; it is morning at last."

"Yes, it is morning," said I. "And you are going to live now? You are going to be reasonable and give the earth another chance?"

"Yes, I believe I shall live now."

To cheer him, I told him what Mr. Devlin intended and had planned; how river-drivers and salmon-fishers came every day from the valley to inquire after him. I did not tell him that there had been one or two disturbances between the river-drivers and the salmon-fishers. I tried to let him see that there need be no fresh change in his life. At length he interrupted me.

"Marmion," he said, "I understand what you mean. It would be cowardly of me to leave here now if I were a whole man. I am true in intention, God knows, but I must carry a crippled arm for the rest of my life, must I not?.... and a crippled Padre is not the kind of man for this place. They want men straight on their feet."

"Do you think," I answered, "that they will not be able to stand the test? You gave them-shall I say it?-a crippled mind before; you give them a crippled body now. Well, where do you think the odds lie? I should fancy with you as you are."

There was a long silence in which neither of us moved. At last he turned his face towards the window, and, not looking at me, said lingeringly: "This is a pleasant place."

I knew that he would remain.

I had not seen Mrs. Falchion during Roscoe's illness; but every day Justine came and inquired, or a messenger was sent. And when, this fortunate day, Justine herself came, and I told her that the crisis was past, she seemed infinitely relieved and happy. Then she said:

"Madame has been ill these three days also; but now I think she will be better; and we shall go soon."

"Ask her," said I, "not to go yet for a few days. Press it as a favour to me." Then, on second thought, I sat down and wrote Mrs. Falchion a note, hinting that there were grave reasons why she should stay a little longer: things connected with her own happiness. Truth is, I had received a note that morning which had excited me. It referred to Mrs. Falchion. For I was an arch-plotter-or had been.

I received a note in reply which said that she would do as I wished. Meanwhile I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of some one.

That night a letter came to Roscoe. After reading it shrinkingly he handed it to me. It said briefly:

I'm not sorry I did it, but I'm glad I hevn't killed you. I was

drunk and mad. If I hadn't hurt you, I'd never hev forgive myself.

I reckon now, there's no need to do any forgivin' either side.

We're square-though maybe you didn't kill her after all. Mrs.

Falchion says you didn't. But you hurt her. Well, I've hurt you.

And you will never hear no more of Phil's pal from Danger Mountain.

Immediately after sunset of this night, a storm swept suddenly down the mountains, and prevented Ruth and her father from going to Viking. I left them talking to Roscoe, he wearing such a look on his face as I like to remember now, free from distress of mind-so much more painful than distress of body. As I was leaving the room, I looked back and saw Ruth sitting on a stool beside Roscoe's chair, holding the unmaimed hand in hers; the father's face shining with pleasure and pride. Before I went out, I turned again to look at them, and, as I did so, my eye fell on the window against which the wind and rain were beating. And through the wet there appeared a face, shocking in its paleness and misery-the face of Mrs. Falchion. Only for an instant, and then it was gone.

I opened the door and went out upon the verandah. As I did so, there was a flash of lightning, and in that flash a figure hurried by me. One moment, and there was another flash; and I saw the figure in the beating rain, making toward the precipice.

Then I heard a cry, not loud, but full of entreaty and sorrow. I moved quickly toward it. In another white gleam I saw Justine with her arms about the figure, holding it back from the abyss. She said with incredible pleading:

"No, no, madame, not that! It is wicked-wicked."

I came and stood beside them.

The figure sank upon the ground and buried a pitiful face in the wet grass.

Justine leaned over her.

She sobbed as one whose harvest of the past is all tears. Nothing human could comfort her yet.

I think she did not know that I was there. Justine lifted her face to me, appealing.

I turned and stole silently away.

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