IT seemed as though it were an immeasurable span of time since that voice had rung through the courtroom. He could hear it yet—he was hearing it always. “Father—Father François Aubert—help me—I do not know—I do not understand.” And sometimes it was pitiful beyond that of any human cry before; and sometimes it was dominant in its ghastly irony. And yet that was only yesterday, and it was only the afternoon of the next day now.

There were wild roses, and wild raspberries growing here along the side of the road, and the smoke wreathed upward from the chimneys of the whitewashed cottages, and the water lapped upon the shore—these things were unchanged, undisturbed, unaffected, untouched. It seemed curiously improper that it should be so—that the sense of values was somehow lost.

He had come from the courtroom with his brain in a state of numbed shock, as it were, like a wound that has taken the nerve centres by surprise and had not yet begun to throb. It was instinct, the instinct to fight on, the instinct of self-preservation that had bade him grope his way to Lemoyne, the counsel for the defence. “I have friends who have money,” he had said. “Appeal the case—spare no effort—I will see that the expenses are met.” And after that he had driven back to St. Marleau, and after that again he had lived through a succession of blurred hours, obeying mechanically a sense of routine—he had talked to the villagers, he had eaten supper with Valérie and her mother, he had gone to bed and lain awake, he had said mass in the church that morning—mass!

Was it the heat of the day! His brow was feverish. He took off his hat, and turned to let the breeze from the river fan his face and head. It was only this afternoon, a little while ago, that he had emerged from that numbed stupor, and now the hurt and the smarting of the wound had come. His brain was clear now—terribly clear. Better that the stupor, which was a kindly thing, had remained! He had said mass that morning. “Lavabo inter innocentes manus meas—I will wash my hands among the innocent.” In the sight of holy God, he had said that; at God's holy altar as he had spoken, symbolising his words, he had washed his fingers in water. It had not seemed to matter so much then, he had even mocked cynically at those same words the night that Madame Lafleur had shown him the altar cloth—but that other voice, those other words had not been pounding at his ears then, as now. And now they were joined together, his voice and that other voice, his words and those other words: “I will wash my hands among the innocent—hanged by the neck until you are dead, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

He stood by the roadside hatless. Through the open doorway of a cottage a few yards away he could see old grandmother Frenier, who was exceedingly poor, and deaf, and far up in the eighties, contentedly at work with her spinning-wheel; on the shore, where the tide was half out and the sand of the beach had merged into oozy mud, two bare-footed children overturned the rocks of such size as were not beyond their strength, laughing gleefully as they captured the sea-worms, whose nippers could pinch with no little degree of ferocity, and with which, later, no doubt, they intended to fish for tommy-cods; also there was sunlight, and sparkling water, and some one driving along the road toward him in a buckboard; and he could hear Bouchard in the carpenter shop alternately hammering and whistling—the whistling was out of tune, it was true, but what it lacked in melody it made up in spirit. This was reality, this was actuality, happiness and peace, and contentment, and serenity; and he, standing here on the road, was an integral part of the scene—no painter would leave out the village curé standing hatless on the road—the village curé would, indeed, stand out as the central figure, like a benediction upon all the rest. Why then should he not in truth, as in semblance, enter into this scene of tranquillity? Where did they come from, those words that were so foreign to all about him, where had they found birth, and why were they seared into his brain so that he could not banish them? Surely they were but an hallucination—he had only to look around him to find evidence of that. Surely they had no basis in fact, those words—“hanged by the neck until you are dead, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

They seemed to fade slowly away, old grandmother Frenier and her spinning-wheel, and the children puddling in the mud, and the buckboard coming along the road; and he no longer heard the whistling from the carpenter shop—it seemed to fade out like a picture on a cinema screen, while another crept there, at first intangible and undefined, to supplant the first. It was sombre and dark, and a narrow space, and a shadowy human form. Then there came a ray of light—sunlight, only the gladness and the brightness were not in the sunlight because it had first to pass through an opening where there were iron bars. But the ray of light, nevertheless, grew stronger, and the picture took form. There were bare walls, and bare floors, and a narrow cot—and it was a cell. And the shadowy form became more distinct—it was a man, whose back was turned, who stood at the end of the cell, and whose hands were each clutched around one of the iron bars, and who seemed to be striving to thrust his head out into the sunlight, for his head, too, was pressed close against the iron bars. And there was something horribly familiar in the figure. And then the head turned slowly, and the sunlight, that was robbed of its warmth and its freedom, slanted upon a pale cheek, and ashen lips, and eyes that were torture-burned; and the face was the face of the man who was—to be hanged by the neck until he was dead, and upon whose soul that voice had implored the mercy of God.

Raymond stared at his hat which was lying in the road. How had it got there? He did not remember that he had dropped it. He had been holding it in his hand. This buckboard that was approaching would run over it. He stooped and picked it up, and mechanically began to brush away the dust. That figure in the buckboard seemed to be familiar, too. Yes, of course, it was Monsieur Dupont, the assistant chief of the Tournayville police—the man who always answered his own questions, and clucked with his tongue as though he were some animal learning to talk. But Monsieur Dupont mattered little now. It was not old grandmother Frenier and her spinning-wheel that was reality—it was Father François Aubert in the condemned cell of the Tournayville jail, waiting to be hanged by the neck until he was dead for the murder of Théophile Blondin.

Raymond put on his hat with forced calmness. He must settle this with himself; he could not afford to lose his poise—either mentally or physically. He laid no claim to the heroic or to the quixotic—he did not want to die in the stead of that man, or in the stead of any other man. Neither was he a coward—no man had ever called Raymond Chapelle, or Arthur Leroy, or Three-Ace Artie a coward. He was a gambler—and there was still a chance. There was the appeal. He was gambling now for both their lives. He would lay down no hand, he would fight as he had always fought—to the end—while a chance remained. There was still a chance—the appeal. It was long odds, he knew that—but it was a chance—and he was a gambler. He could only wait now for the turn of the final card. He would not tolerate consideration beyond that point—not if with all his might he could force his brain to leave that “afterwards” alone. It was weeks yet to the date set for the execution of Henri Mentone for the murder of Théophile Blondin, and it would be weeks yet before the appeal was acted upon. He could only wait now—here—here in St. Marleau, as the good young Father Aubert. He could not run away, or disappear, like a pitiful coward, until that appeal had had its answer. Afterwards—no, there was no “afterwards”—not now! Now, it was the ubiquitous Monsieur Dupont, the short little man with the sharp features, and the roving black eyes that glanced everywhere at once, who was calling to him, and clambering out of the buckboard.

“You are surprised to see me, eh, Monsieur le Curé?” clucked Monsieur Dupont. “Yes, you are surprised. Very well! But what would you say, eh, if I told you that I had come to arrest Monsieur le Curé of St. Marleau? Eh—what would you say to that?”

Arrest! Curious, the cold, calculating alertness that swept upon him at that word! What had happened?

Was the game up—now? Curious, how he measured appraisingly—and almost contemptuously—the physique of this man before him. And then, under his breath, he snarled an oath at the other. Curse Monsieur Dupont and his perverted sense of humour! It was not the first time Monsieur Dupont had startled him. Monsieur Dupont was grinning broadly—like an ape!

“I imagine,” said Raymond placidly, “that what I would say, Monsieur Dupont, would be to inquire as to the nature of the charge against Monsieur le Curé of St. Marleau.”

“And I,” said Monsieur Dupont, “would at once reply—assault. Assault—bodily harm and injury—assault upon the person of one Jacques Bourget.”

“Oh!” said Raymond—and smiled. “Yes, I believe there have been rumours of it in the village, Monsieur Dupont. Several have spoken to me about it, and I even understand that the Curé of St. Marleau pleads guilty.”

And then Monsieur Dupont puckered up his face, and burst into a guffaw.

'Cré nom—ah, pardon—but it is excusable, one bad little word, eh? Yes, it is excusable. But imagine—fancy! The good, young Father Aubert—and Jacques Bourget! I would have liked to have seen it. Yes, I would! Monsieur le Curé, you do not look it, but you are magnificent. Monsieur le Curé, I lift my hat to you. Bon Dieu—ah, pardon again—but you were not gentle with Jacques Bourget, whom one would think could eat you alive! And you told me nothing about it—you are modest, eh? Yes, you are modest.”

“I have had no opportunity to be modest.” Raymond laughed, “since, so I understand, Bourget encountered some of the villagers on his way home that afternoon, and gave me a reputation that, to say the least of it, left me with little to be modest about.”

“I believe you,” chuckled Monsieur Dupont. “I believe you, Monsieur le Curé, since I, too, got the story from Jacques Bourget himself. He desired to swear out a warrant for your arrest. You have not seen Bourget for several days, eh, Monsieur le Curé? No, you have not seen him. But I know very well how to handle such as he! He will swear out no warrant. On the contrary, he would very gladly feed out of anybody's hand just now—even yours, Monsieur le Curé. I have the brave Jacques Bourget in jail at the present moment.”

“In jail?” Raymond's puzzled frown was genuine. “But——”

“Wait a minute, Monsieur le Curé”—Monsieur Dupont's smile was suddenly gone. He tapped Raymond impressively on the shoulder. “There is more in this than appears on the surface, Monsieur le Curé. You see? Yes, you see. Well then, listen! He talked no longer of a warrant when I threatened him with arrest for getting whisky at Mother Blondin's. I had him frightened. And that brings us to Mother Blondin, which is one of the reasons I am here this afternoon—but we will return to Mother Blondin's case in a moment. You remember, eh, that I caught Bourget driving on the road the night Mentone tried to escape, and that I made him drive the prisoner to Tournayville? Yes, you remember. Very good! This morning his wife comes to Tournayville to say that he has not been seen since that night. We make a search. He is not hard to find. He has been drunk ever since—we find him in a room over one of the saloons just beginning to get sober again. Also, we find that since that night Bourget, who never has any money, has spent a great deal of money. Where did Bourget get that money? You begin to see, eh, Monsieur le Curé? Yes, you begin to see.” Monsieur Dupont laid his forefinger sagaciously along the side of his nose. “Very good! I begin to question. I am instantly suspicious. Bourget is very sullen and morose. He talks only of a warrant against you. I seize upon that story again to threaten him with, if he does not tell where he got the money. I put him in jail, where I shall keep him for two or three days to teach him a lesson before letting him go. It is another Bourget, a very lamblike Bourget, Monsieur le Curé, before I am through; though I have to promise him immunity for turning king's evidence. Do you see what is coming, Monsieur le Curé? No, you do not. Most certainly you do not! Very well then, listen! I am on the track of Mentone's accomplice. Bourget was in the plot. It was Bourget who was to drive Mentone away that night—to the St. Eustace station—after they had throttled you. Now, Monsieur le Curé”—Monsieur Dupont's eyes were afire; Monsieur Dupont assumed an attitude; Monsieur Dupont's arms wrapped themselves in a fold upon his breast—“now, Monsieur le Curé, what do you say to that?”

“It is amazing!”—Raymond's hands, palms outward, were lifted in a gesture eminently clerical. “Amazing! I can hardly credit it. Bourget then knows who this accomplice is?”

“No—tonnerre—that is the bad luck of it!” scowled Monsieur Dupont. “But there is also good luck in it. I am on the scent. I am on the trail. I shall succeed, shall I not? Yes, certainly, I shall succeed. Very well then, listen! It was dark that night. The man went to Bourget's house and called Bourget outside. Bourget could not see what the fellow looked like. He gave Bourget fifty dollars, and promised still another fifty as soon as Bourget had Mentone in the wagon. And it was on your account, Monsieur le Curé, that he went to Bourget.”

Raymond was incredulous.

“On mine?” he gasped.

“Yes, certainly—on yours. It was to offer Bourget a chance to revenge himself on you. You see, eh? Yes, you see. He said he had heard of what you had done to Bourget. Very well! We have only to analyse that a little, and instantly we have a clue. You see where that brings us, eh, Monsieur le Curé?” Raymond shook his head.

“No, I must confess, I don't,” he said.

“Hah! No? Tiens!” ejaculated Monsieur Dupont almost pityingly. “It is easy to be seen, Monsieur le Curé, that you would make a very poor police officer, and an equally poor criminal—the law would have its fingers on you while you were wondering what to do. It is so, is it not? Yes, it is so. You are much better as a priest. As a priest—I pay you the compliment, Monsieur le Curé—you are incomparable. Very good! Listen, then! I will explain. The fellow said he had heard of your fight with Bourget. Splendid! Excellent! He must then have heard of it from some one. Therefore he has been seen in the neighbourhood by some one besides Bourget. Who is that 'some one' who has talked with a stranger, and who can very likely tell us what that stranger looks like, where Bourget cannot? I do not say that it is certain, but that it is likely. It may not have been so dark when he talked to this 'some one'—eh? In any case it is enough to go on. Now, you see, Monsieur le Curé, why I am here—I shall begin to question everybody; and for your part, Monsieur le Curé, you can do a great deal in letting the parish know what we are after.”

Raymond looked at Monsieur Dupont with admiration. Monsieur Dupont had set himself another “vigil”!

“Without doubt, Monsieur Dupont!” he assured the other heartily. “Certainly, I will do my utmost to help you. I will have a notice posted on the church door.”

“Good!” cried Monsieur Dupont, with a gratified smile. “And now another matter—and one that will afford you satisfaction, Monsieur le Curé. In a day or so, I will see that Mother Blondin is the source of no more trouble in St. Marleau—or anywhere else.”

“Mother Blondin?” repeated Raymond—and now he was suddenly conscious that he was in some way genuinely disturbed.

“Yes,” said Monsieur Dupont. “Twice in the past we have searched her place. We knew she sold whisky. But she was too sharp for us—and those who bought knew how to keep their mouths shut. But with Bourget as a witness, it is different, eh? You see? Yes, you see. She is a fester, a sore. We will clean up the place; we will put her in jail. The air around here will be the sweeter for it, and——”

“No,” said Raymond soberly. “No, Monsieur Dupont”—his hands reached out and clasped on Monsieur Dupont's shoulders. He knew now what was disturbing him. It was that surge of pity for the proscribed old woman, that sense of miserable distress that he had experienced more than once before. The scene of that morning, when she had clung to the palings of the fence outside the graveyard while they shovelled the earth upon the coffin of her son, rose vividly before him. And it was he again who was bringing more trouble upon her now through his dealings with Jacques Bourget. Yes, it was pity—and more. It was a swiftly matured, but none the less determined, resolve to protect her. “No, Monsieur Dupont, I beg of you”—he shook his head gravely—“no, Monsieur Dupont, you will not do that.”

“Heh! No? And why not?” demanded Monsieur Dupont in jerky astonishment. “I thought you would ask for nothing better. She is already an excommuniée, and——-”

“And she has suffered enough,” said Raymond earnestly. “It would seem that sorrow and misery had been the only life she had ever known. She is too old a woman now to have her home taken from her, and herself sent to jail. She is none too well, as it is. It would kill her. A little sympathy, a little kindness, Monsieur Dupont—it will succeed far better.”

“Bah!” sniffed Monsieur Dupont. “A little sympathy, a little kindness! And will that stop the whisky selling that the law demands shall be stopped, Monsieur le Curé?”

“I will guarantee that,” said Raymond calmly.

“You!” Monsieur Dupont clucked vigorously with his tongue. “You will stop that! And besides other things, do you perform miracles, Monsieur le Curé? How will you do that?”

“You must leave it to me”—Raymond's hands tightened in friendly fashion on Monsieur Dupont's shoulders—“I will guarantee it. If that is a miracle, I will attempt it. If I do not succeed I will tell you so, and then you will do as you see fit. You will agree, will you not, Monsieur Dupont?—and I shall be deeply grateful to you.”

Monsieur Dupont shrugged his shoulders helplessly.

“I have to tell you again that you are too soft-hearted, Monsieur le Curé. Yes, there is no other name for it—soft-hearted. And you will be made a fool of. I warn you! Well—very well! Try it, if you like. I give you a week. If at the end of a week—well, you understand? Yes, you understand.”

“I understand,” said Raymond; and, with a final dap on Monsieur Dupont's shoulders, he dropped his hands. “And I am of the impression that Monsieur le Curé is not the only one who is—soft-hearted.”

“Bah! Nothing of the sort! Nothing of the sort!” snorted Monsieur Dupont in a sort of pleased repudiation, as he climbed back into the buckboard. “It is only to open your eyes.” He picked up the reins. “I shall spend the rest of the day around here on that other business. Do not forget about the notice, Monsieur le Curé.”

“It shall be posted on the church door this afternoon,” Raymond promised.

He stood for a moment looking after Monsieur Dupont, as the other drove off; and then, turning abruptly, he walked rapidly along in the opposite direction, and, reaching the station road that led past old Mother Blondin's door, began to climb the hill. Yes, decidedly he would post a notice on the church door for Monsieur Dupont! If in any way he could aid Monsieur Dupont to lay hands on this accomplice of Henri Mentone, he—the derision that had crept to his lips faded away, and into the dark eyes came a sudden weariness. There was humour doubtless in the picture of Monsieur Dupont buttonholing every one he met, as he flitted indefatigably all over the country in pursuit for his mare's nest; but, somehow, he, Raymond, was not in the mood for laughter—for even a grim laughter.

There was a man waiting to be hanged; and, besides the man waiting to be hanged, there was—Valérie.

There was Valérie who, come what would, some day, near or distant, whether he escaped or not, must inevitably know him finally for the man he was. Not that it would change her life, it was only those devils of hell who tried to insinuate that she cared; but to him it was a thought pregnant with an agony so great that he could pray—he who had thought never to bow the knee in sincerity to God—yes, that he could pray, without mimicry, without that hideous profanation upon his lips, that he might not stand despised, a contemptuous thing, a sacrilegious profligate, in the eyes of the woman whom he loved.

He clenched his hands. He was not logical. If he cared so much as that why—no, here was specious argument! He was logical. His love for Valerie, great as it might be, great as it was, in the final analysis was hopeless. If he escaped, he could never return to the village, he could never return to her—to be recognised as the good, young Father Aubert; if he did not escape, if he—no, that was the “afterwards,” he would not consent to think of that—only if he did not escape there would be more than the hopelessness of this love to concern him, there would be death. Yes, he was logical. The love he knew for Valérie was but to mock him, to tantalise him with a vista of what, under other circumstances, he might have claimed by right of his manhood's franchise—if he had not, years ago, from a boy almost, bartered away that franchise to the devil. Well, was he to whimper now, and turn, like a craven thing, from the bitter dregs that, while the cup was still full and the dregs yet afar off, he had held in bald contempt and incredulous raillery! The dregs were here now. They were not bitter on his lips, they were bitter in his soul; they were bitter almost beyond endurance—but was he to whimper! Yes, he was logical.

All else might be hopeless; but it was not hopeless that he might save his life. He had a right to fight for that, and he would fight for it as any man would fight—to the last.

He had climbed the hill now, and was approaching old Mother Blondin's door. Logical! Yes, he was logical—but life was not all logic. In the abstract logic was doubtless a panacea that was all-embracing; in the presence of the actual it shrank back a futile thing from the dull gnawing of the heart and the misery of the soul. Perhaps that was why he was standing here at Mother Blondin's door now. God knew, she was miserable enough; God knew, that the dregs too were now at her lips! They were not unlike—old Mother Blon-din and himself. Theirs was a common cup.

He knocked upon the door—and, as he knocked, he caught sight of the old woman's shrivelled face peering at him none too pleasantly from the window. And then her step, sullen and reluctant, crossed the floor, and she held the door open grudgingly a little way; and the space thus opened she blocked completely with her body.

“What do you want?” she demanded sourly.

“I would like to come in, Madame Blondin,” Raymond answered pleasantly. “I would like to have a little talk with you.”

“Well, you can't come in!” she snarled defiantly. “I don't want to talk to you, and I don't want you coming here! It is true I may have been fool enough to say you had a good heart, but I want nothing to do with you. You are perhaps not as bad as some of them; but you are all full of tricks with your smirking mouths! No priest would come here if he were not up to something. I am an excommuniée—eh? Well, I am satisfied!” Her voice was beginning to rise shrilly. “I don't know what you want, and I don't want to know; but you can't wheedle around me just because Jacques Bourget knocked me down, and you——”

“It is on account of Jacques Bourget that I want to speak to you,” Raymond interposed soothingly. “Bourget has been locked up in jail.”

She stared at him, blinking viciously behind her glasses.

“Ah! I thought so! That is like the whole tribe of you! You had him arrested!”

“No,” said Raymond. “I did not have him arrested. You remember the note that was read out at the trial, Madame Blcndin—about the attempted escape of Henri Mentone?”

“Well?”—Madame Blondin's animosity at the sight of a soutane was forgotten for the moment in a newly aroused interest. “Well—what of it? I remember! What of it?”

“It seems,” said Raymond, “that Monsieur Dupont has discovered that Bourget was to help in the escape.”

Madame Blondin cackled suddenly in unholy mirth. “And so they arrested him, eh? Well, I am glad! Do you hear? I am glad! I hope they wring his neck for him! He would help the murderer of my son to escape, would he? I hope they hang him with the other!”

“They will not hang him,” Raymond replied. “He has given all the information in his possession to the police, and he is to go free. But it was because of that afternoon here that he was persuaded to help in the escape. He expected to revenge himself on me: and that story, too, Madame Blondin, is now known to the police. Bourget has confessed to buying whisky here, and is ready to testify as a witness against you.”

Le maudit!” Mother Blondin's voice rose in a virulent scream. “I will tear his eyes out! Do you hear? I will show Jacques Bourget what he will get for telling on me! He has robbed me! He never pays! Well, he will pay for this! He will pay for this! I will find some one who will cut his tongue out! They are not all like Jacques Bourget, they are——”

“You do not quite understand, Madame Blondin,” Raymond interrupted gravely. “It is not with Jacques Bourget that you are concerned now, it is with the police. Monsieur Dupont came to the village this afternoon—indeed, he is here now. He said he had evidence enough at last to close up this place and put you in jail, and that he was going to do so. You are in a very serious situation, Madame Blondin”—he made as though to step forward—“will you not let me come in, as a friend, and talk it over with you, and see what we can do?”

Mother Blondin's hand was like a claw in its bony thinness, as it gripped hard over the edge of the door.

“No, you will not come in!” she shouted. “You, or your Monsieur Dupont, or the police—you will not come in! Eh—they will take my home from me—all I've got—they will put me in jail”—she was twisting her head about in a sort of pitiful inventory of her surroundings. “They have been trying to run me out of St. Marleau for a long time—all the good people, the saintly people—you, and your hypocrites. They cross to the other side of the road to get out of old Mother Blondin's way! And so at last, between you, you have beaten an old woman, who has no one to protect her since you have killed her son! It is a victory—eh! Go tell them to ring the church bells—go tell them—go tell them! And on Sunday, eh, you will have something to preach about! It will make a fine sermon!”

And somehow there came a lump into Raymond's throat. There was something fine in this wretched, tattered, unkempt figure before him—something of the indomitable, of the unconquerable in her spirit, misapplied though it was. Her voice fought bravely to hold its defiant, infuriated ring, to show no sign of the misery that had stolen into the dim old eyes, and was quivering on the wrinkled lips, but the voice had broken—once almost in a sob.

“No, no, Madame Blondin”—he reached out his hand impulsively to lay it over the one that was clutched upon the door—“you must not——”

She snatched her hand away—and suddenly thrust her head through the partially open doorway into his face.

“It is not Bourget, it is not Jacques Bourget!” she cried fiercely. “It is you! If you had not come that afternoon when you had no business to come, this would not have happened. It is you, who——”

“That is true,” said Raymond quietly. “And that is why I am here now. I have had a talk with Monsieur Dupont, and he will give you another chance.”

She still held her face close to his.

“I do not believe you!” she flung out furiously. “I do not believe you! It is some trick you are trying to play! I know Monsieur Dupont! I know him! He would give no one a chance if he could help it! I have been too much for him for a long time, and if he had evidence against me now he would give me not a minute to sell any more of—of what he thinks I sell here!”

“That also is true,” said Raymond, as quietly as before. “He could not very well permit you to go on breaking the law if he could prevent it. But in exchange for his promise, I have given him a pledge that you will not sell any more whisky.”

She straightened up—and stared at him, half in amazement, half in crafty suspicion.

“Ah, then, so it is you, and not Monsieur Dupont, who is going to stop it—eh?” she exclaimed, with a shrill laugh. “And how do you intend to do it—eh? How do you intend to do it? Tell me that!”

“I think it will be very simple,” said Raymond—and his dark eyes, full of a kindly sympathy, looked into hers. “To save your home, and you, I have pledged myself to Monsieur Dupont that this will stop, and so—well, Madame Blondin, and so I have come to put you upon your honour to make good my pledge.” She craned her head forward again to peer into his face. She looked at him for a long minute without a word. Her lips alternately tightened and were tremulous. The fingers of her hand plucked at the door's edge. And then she threw back her head in a quavering, jeering laugh.

“Ha, ha! Old Mother Blondin upon her honour—think of that! You, a smooth-tongued priest—and me, an excommuniée! Ha, ha! Think of that! And what did Monsieur Dupont say, eh—what did Monsieur Dupont say?”

“He said what I know is not true,” said Raymond simply. “He said you would make a fool of me.”

“Ah, he said that!”—she jerked her head forward again sharply. “Well, Monsieur Dupont is wrong, and you are right. I would not do that, because I could not—since you have already made one of yourself! Ha, ha! Old Mother Blondin upon her honour! Ha, ha! It is a long while since I have heard that—and from a priest—ha, ha! How could any one make a fool of a fool!” Her voice was high-pitched again, fighting for its defiance; but, somehow, where she strove to infuse venom, there seemed only a pathetic wistfulness instead. “And so you would trust old Mother Blondin—eh? Well”—she slammed the door suddenly in his face, and her voice came muffled through the panels—“well, you are a fool!”

The bolt within rasped into place—and Raymond, turned away, and began to descend the hill.

Mother Blondin for the moment was in the grip of a sullen pride that bade her rise in arms against this fresh outlook on life; but Mother Blondin would close and bolt yet another door, unless he was very much mistaken—the rear door, and in the faces of her erstwhile and unhallowed clientele!

Yes, he had pity for the old woman who had no kin now, and who had no friends. Pity! He owed her more than that! So then—there came a sudden thought—so then, why not? He would not long be curé of St. Marleau, but while he was—well, he was the curé of St. Marleau! He could not remove the ban of excommunication, that was beyond the authority of a mere curé, it would require at least Monsignor the Bishop to do that; but he could remove the ban—of ostracism! Yes, decidedly, the good, young Father Aubert could do that! He was vaguely conscious that there were degrees of excommunication, and he seemed to remember that Valérie had said it was but a minor one that had been laid upon Mother Blondin, and that the villagers of their own accord had drawn more and more aloof. It would, therefore, not be very difficult.

He quickened his step, and, reaching the bottom of the hill, made his way at once toward the carpenter shop. He could see Madame Bouchard hoeing in the little garden patch between the road and the front of the shop. It was Madame Bouchard that he now desired to see.

Tiens! Bon jour, Madame Bouchard!” he called out to her, as he approached. “I am come a penitent! I did not deserve your bread! I am sure that you are vexed with me! But I have not seen you since to thank you.”

She came forward to where Raymond now leaned upon the fence.

“Oh, Monsieur le Curé!” she exclaimed laughingly. “How can you say such things! Fancy! The idea! Vexed with you! It is only if you really liked it?”

“H'm!” drawled Raymond teasingly, pretending to deliberate. “When do you bake again, Madame Bouchard?”

She laughed outright now.

“To-morrow, Monsieur le Curé—and I shall see that you are not forgotten.”

“It is a long way off—to-morrow,” said Raymond mournfully; and then, with a quick smile: “But only one loaf this time, Madame Bouchard, instead of two.”

“Nonsense!” she returned. “It is a great pleasure. And what are two little loaves!”

“A great deal,” said Raymond, suddenly serious. “A very great deal, Madame Bouchard; and especially so if you send one of the two loaves to some one else that I know of.”

“Some one else?”

“Yes,” said Raymond. “To Mother Blondin.”

“To—Mother Blondin!”—Madame Bouchard stared in utter amazement. “But—but, Monsieur le Curé, you are not in earnest! She—she is an excommuniée, and we—we do not——”

“I think it would make her very glad,” said Raymond softly. “And Mother Blondin I think has——”

It was on the tip of his tongue to say that Mother Blondin was not likely now to sell any more whisky at the tavern, but he checked himself. It was Mother Blondin who must be left to tell of that herself. If he spread such a tale, she would be more likely than not to rebel at a situation which she would probably conceive was being thrust forcibly down her throat; and, in pure spite at what she might also conceive to be a self-preening and boastful spirit on his part for his superiority over her, sell all the more, no matter what the consequences to herself. And so he changed what he was about to say. “And Mother Blondin I think has known but little gladness in her life.”

“But—but, Monsieur le Curé,” she gasped, “what would the neighbours say?”

“I hope,” said Raymond, “that they would say they too would send her loaves—of kindness.”

Madame Bouchard leaned heavily upon her hoe.

“It is many years, Monsieur le Curé, since almost I was a little girl, that any one has willingly had anything to do with the old woman on the hill.”

“Yes,” said Raymond gently. “And will you think of that, Madame Bouchard, when you bake to-morrow—the many years—and the few that are left—for the old woman on the hill.”

The tears had sprung to Madame Bouchard's eyes. He left her standing there, leaning on the hoe.

He went on along the road toward the presbytère. It had been a strange afternoon—an illogical one, an imaginary one almost. It seemed to have been a jumble of complexities, and incongruities, and unrealities—there was the man who was to be hanged by the neck until he was dead; and Monsieur Dupont who, through a very natural deduction and not because he was a fool, for Monsieur Dupont was very far from a fool, was now vainly engaged like a dog circling around in a wild effort to catch his own tail; and there was Mother Blondin who had another window to gaze from; and Madame Bouchard who had still another. Yes, it had been a strange afternoon—only now that voice in the courtroom was beginning to ring in his ears again. “Father—Father François Aubert—help me—I do not understand.” And the gnawing was at his soul again, and again his hat was lifted from his head to cool his fevered brow.

And as he reached the church there came to him the sound of organ notes, and instead of crossing to the presbytère he stepped softly inside to listen—it would be Valérie—Valérie, and Gauthier Beaulieu, the altar boy, probably, who often pumped the organ for her when she was at practice. But as he stepped inside the music ceased, and instead he heard them talking in the gallery, and in the stillness of the church their voices came to him distinctly.

“Valérie”—yes, that was the boy's voice—“Valérie, why do they call him the good, young Father Aubert?”

“Such a question!” Valérie laughed. “Why do you call him that yourself?”

“I don't—any more,” asserted the boy. “Not after what I saw at mass this morning.”

Raymond drew his breath in sharply. What was this! What was this that Gauthier Beaulieu, the altar boy, had seen at mass! He had fooled the boy—the boy could not have seen anything! He drew back, opening the door cautiously. They were coming down the stairs now—but he must hear—hear what it was that Gauthier Beaulieu had seen.

“Why, what do you mean, Gauthier?” Valérie asked.

“I mean what I say,” insisted the boy doggedly. “It is not right to call him that! When he was kneeling there this morning, and I guess it was the bright light because the stained window was open, for I never saw it before, I saw his hair all specked with white around his temples. And a man with white in his hair isn't young, is he! And I saw it, Valérie—honest, I did!”

“Your eyes should have been closed,” said Valérie. “And——”

Raymond was crossing the green to the presbytère.

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