SHE came forward toward the buckboard, and into the lantern light—and stopped suddenly, looking from Raymond to the Bishop in a bewildered and startled way.

“Why—why, Father Aubert,” she stammered, “I—I hardly knew you in that coat. I—Monsignor”—she bent her knee reverently—“I”—her eyes were searching their faces—“I—-”

Raymond's eyes fixed ahead of him, and he was silent. Valérie! Ay, it was the end! He had thought to see her before they should take him to Tournayville—but he had thought to see her alone. And even then he had not known what he should say to her—what words to speak—or whether she should know from him his love. He was conscious that the Bishop was fumbling with his crucifix, as though loath to take the initiative upon himself.

It was Valérie who spoke—hurriedly, as though in a nervous effort to bridge the awkward silence.

“Mother Blondin became conscious a little while ago. She asked for Father Aubert, and—and begged for the Sacrament. I ran down to the presbytère, and when mother told me that Monsignor was coming I—-I brought back the bag that my uncle, Father Allard, takes with him to—to the dying. Oh, Monsignor, I thought that perhaps—perhaps—she is an excommuniée, Monsignor—but she is a penitent. And when I got back she was unconscious again, and then I came down here to wait by the side of the road so that I would not miss you, for Madame Bouchard is there, and she was to call me if—if there was any change. And so—and so—you will go to her, Monsignor, will you not—and Father Aubert—and—and——” Her lips quivered suddenly, for Raymond's white face was lifted now, and his eyes met hers. “Oh, what is the matter?” she cried out in fear. “Why do you look like that, Father Aubert—and why do you wear that coat, and——”

“My daughter”—the Bishop's grave voice interrupted her. He rose from his seat, and, moving past Raymond, stepped to the ground. “My daughter, Father Aubert is—-”

“No!”—Raymond, too, had stepped to the ground. “No, Monsignor”—his voice caught, then was steadied as he fought fiercely for self-control—“I will tell her, Monsignor.”

How clearly her face was defined in the lantern light, how pure it was, and, in its purity, how far removed from the story that he had to tell! And how beautiful it was, even in its startled fear and wonder—the sweet lips parted; the dark eyes wide, disturbed and troubled, as they held upon his face.

“Father Aubert!”—it was a quick cry, but low, and one of apprehension.

“Mademoiselle Valérie”—the words came slowly; it seemed as though his soul faltered now, and had not strength to say this thing—“I am not Father Aubert.”

She did not move. She repeated the words with long pauses between, as though she groped dazedly in her mind for their meaning and significance.


The Bishop, hands clasped behind his back, his head bowed, had withdrawn a few paces out of the lantern light toward the rear of the buckboard. Raymond's hands closed and gripped upon the wheel-tire against which he stood—closed tighter and tighter until it seemed the tendons in his hand must snap.

“Father Aubert is the man you know as Henri Mentone”—his eyes were upon her hungrily, pleading, searching for some sign, a smile, a gesture of sympathy that would help him to go on—and her hands were clasped suddenly, wildly to her bosom. “When you came upon me in the road that night I had just changed clothes with him. I—I was trying to escape.”

She closed her eyes. Her face became a deathly white, and she swayed a little on her feet.

“You—you are not a—a priest?”

He shook his head.

“It was the only way I saw to save my life. He had been struck by the falling limb of a tree. I thought that he was dead.”

“To save your life?”—she spoke with a curious, listless apathy, her eyes still closed.

“It was I,” he said, “not Father Aubert, who fought with Théophile Blondin that night.”

Her eyes were open wide now—wide upon him with terror.

“It was you—you who killed Théophile Blondin?”—her voice was dead, scarce above a whisper.

“I caught him in the act of robbing his mother—I had gone to the house for help after finding Father Aubert”—Raymond's voice grew passionate now in its pleading. He must make her believe! He must make her believe! It was the one thing left to him—and to her. “It was in self-defence. He sprang at me, and we fought. And afterwards, when he snatched up the revolver from the armoire, it went off in his own hand as I struggled to take it from him. But I could not prove it. Every circumstance pointed to premeditated theft on my part—and murder. And—and my life before that was—was a ruined life that would but—but make conviction certain if I were found there. My only chance lay in getting away. But there was no time—nowhere to go. And so—and so I ran back to where Father Aubert lay, and put on his clothes, meaning to gain a few hours' time that way, and in the noise of the storm I did not hear you coming until it was too late to run.”

How mercilessly hard her hands seemed to press at her bosom!

“I—I do not understand”—it was as though she spoke to herself. “There was another—a man who, with Jacques Bourget, tried to have Henri—Henri Mentone escape.”

“It was I,” said Raymond. “I took Narcisse Pélude's old clothes from the shed.”

She cried out a little—like a sharp and sudden moan, it was, as from unendurable pain.

“And then—and then you lived here as—as a priest.”

“Yes,” he answered.

“And—and to-night?”—her eyes were closed again.

“To-night,” said Raymond, and turned away his head, “to-night I am going to—to Tournayville.”

“To your death”—it was again as though she were speaking to herself.

“There is no other way,” he said. “I thought there was another way. I meant at first to escape to-night when I learned that Monsignor was coming. I took this coat, Narcisse Pélude's old clothes from the shed again, the clothes I wore the night I went to Jacques Bourget, and I meant to escape on the train. But”—he hesitated now, groping desperately for words—he could not tell her of that ride along the road; he had no right to tell her of his love, he saw that now, he had no right to tell her that, to make it the harder, the more cruel for her; he had no right to trespass on his knowledge of her love for him, to let her glean from any words of his a hint of that; he had the right only, for her sake and for his own, that, in her eyes and in her soul, the stain of murder and of theft should not rest upon him—“but”—the words seemed weak, inadequate—“but I could not go. Instead, I gave myself up to Monsignor. Mademoiselle”—how bitterly full of irony was that word—mademoiselle—mademoiselle to Valérie—like a gulf between them—mademoiselle to Valérie, who was dearest in life to him—“Mademoiselle Valérie”—he was pleading again, his soul in his voice—“it was in self-defence that night. It was that way that Théophile Blondin was killed. I could not prove it then, and—and the evidence is even blacker against me now through the things that I have done in an effort to escape. But—but it was in that way that Théophile Blondin was killed. The law will not believe. I know that. But you—you—” his voice broke. The love, the yearning for her was rushing him onward beyond self-control, and near, very near to his lips, struggling and battling for expression, were the words he was praying God now for the strength not to speak.

She did not answer him. She only moved away. Her white face was set rigidly, and the dark eyes that had been full upon him were but a blur now, for she was moving slowly backward, away from him, toward where the Bishop stood. And she passed out of the lantern light and into the shadows. And in the shadows her hand was raised from her bosom and was held before her face—and it seemed as though she held it, as she had held it in the dream of that Walled Place; that she held it, as she had held it to shut out the sight of his face from her, as she had closed upon him that door with its studded spikes. And like a stricken man he stood there, gripping at the buckboard's wheel. She did not believe him. Valérie did not believe him! There was agony to come, black depths of torment yawning just before him when the numbness from the blow had passed—but now he was stunned. She did not believe him! That man there, whom he had thought would turn with bitter words upon him, had believed him—but Valérie—Valérie—Valérie did not believe him! Ay, it was the end! The agony and the torment were coming now. It was the dream come true. The studded gate clanged shut, and the horror, without hope, without smile, without human word, of that Walled Place with its slimy walls was his, and, over the shrieking of those winged and hideous things, that swaying carrion seemed to scream the louder: “Dies ilia, dies iro—that day, a day of wrath, of wasting, and of misery, a great day, and exceeding bitter.”

He did not move. Through that blur and through the shadows he watched her, watched her as she reached the Bishop, and sank down upon the ground, and clasped her hands around the Bishop's knees. And then he heard her speak—and it seemed to Raymond that, as though stilled by a mighty uplift that swept upon him, the beating of his heart had ceased.

“Monsignor!” she cried out piteously. “Monsignor! Monsignor! It is true that they will not believe him! I was at the trial, Monsignor, I know the evidence, and I know that they will not believe him. He is going to—to his—death—to save that man. Oh, Monsignor—Monsignor, is there no other way?”

Slowly, mechanically, as slowly as she had retreated from him, Raymond moved toward the kneeling figure. The Bishop was speaking now—he had laid his hands upon her head.

“My daughter,” he said gently, “what other way would you have him take? It is a brave man's way, and for that I honour him; but it is more, it is the way of one who has come out of the darkness into the light, and for that my heart is full of thankfulness to God. It is the way of atonement, not for any wrong he has done the church, for he could do the church no wrong, for the church is pure and holy and beyond the reach of any human hand or act to soil, for it is God's church—but atonement to God for those sins of sacrilege and unbelief that lay between himself and God alone. And so, my daughter, if in those sins he has been brought to see and understand, and in his heart has sought and found God's pardon and forgiveness, he could do no other thing than that which he has done to-night.” The Bishop's voice had faltered; he brushed his hand across his cheek as though to wipe away a tear. “It is God's way, my daughter. There could be no other way.”

She rose to her feet, her face covered by her hands.

“No other way”—the words were lifeless on her lips, save that they were broken with a sob. And then, suddenly, she drew herself erect, and there was a pride and a glory in the poise of her head, and her voice rang clear and there was no tremor in it, and in it was only the pride and only the glory that was in the head held high, and in the fair, white, uplifted face. “Listen, Monsignor! I thought he was a priest, and I promised God that he should never know—but to-night all that is changed. Monsignor, does it matter that he has no thought of me! He is going to his death, Monsignor, and he shall not face this alone because I was ashamed and dared not speak. I love him, Monsignor—I love him, and I believe him, and—-”

Valérie!” Raymond's hands reached out to her. Weak he was. It seemed as though in his knees there was no strength. “Valérie!” he cried, and stumbled toward her.

And she put out her hand and held him back for an instant as her eyes searched his face—and then into hers there came a wondrous light.

“I did not know,” she whispered. “I did not know you cared.”

His arms were still outstretched, and now she came into them, and for a moment she lifted her face to his, and, for a moment that was glad beyond all gladness, he drank with his lips from her lips and from the trembling eyelids. And then the tears came, and she was sobbing on his breast, and with her arms tight about his neck she clung to him—and closer still his own arms enwrapped her—and he forgot—and he forgot—that it was only for a moment.

And so he held her there, his face buried in the dark, soft masses of her hair—and he forgot. And then out of this forgetfulness, this transport of blinding joy, there came a voice, low and shaken with emotion—the Bishop's voice.

“There is some one calling from the house.”

Raymond lifted up his head. A woman's figure was framed in the now open and lighted doorway of the cottage. It was Madame Bouchard; and now he heard Madame Bouchard as she called again.

“Valerie! Father Aubert! Come! Come quickly! Madame Blondin is conscious again, but she is very weak.”

He drew his breath in sharply as one in bitter pain, and then gently he took Valerie's arms from about him, and his shoulders squared. He had had his moment. This was reality now. He heard Valérie cry out, and saw her run toward the cottage.

“Monsignor,” he said hoarsely, and, moving back, lifted the soutane from the buckboard's seat, “Monsignor, she must not know—and she has asked for me. It is for her sake, Monsignor—that she be not disillusioned in her death, and lose the faith that she has found again. Monsignor, it is for the last time, not to perform any office, Monsignor, for you will do that, but that she may not die in the belief that God, through me, has only mocked her at the end.”

“I understand, my son,” the Bishop answered simply. “Put it on—and come.”

And so Raymond put on the soutane again, and they hurried toward the cottage. And at the doorway Madame Bouchard courtesied in reverence to the Bishop, and Raymond heard her say something about the horse, and that she would remain within call; and then they passed on into Mother Blondin's room.

It was a bare room, poor and meagre in its furnishings—a single rag mat upon the floor; a single chair, and upon the chair the black bag that Valerie had brought from the presbytère; and beside the rough wooden bed, made perhaps by the Grandfather Bouchard in the old carpenter shop by the river bank, was a small table, and upon the table a lamp, and some cups with pewter spoons laid across their tops.

Extraneous things, these details seemed to Raymond to have intruded themselves upon him as by some strange and vivid assertiveness of their own, for he was not conscious that he had looked about him—that he had looked anywhere but at that white and pitifully sunken face that was straining upward from the pillows, and at Valérie who knelt at the bedside and supported old Mother Blondin in her arms.

“Quick!” Valerie cried anxiously. “Give her a teaspoonful from that first cup on the table. She has been trying to say something, and—and I do not understand. Oh, be quick! It is something about that man in the prison.”

The old woman's head bobbed jerkily, as though she fought for strength to hold it up; the eyes, half closed, were dulled; and she struggled, gasping, for her breath.

“Yes—the prison—the man”—the words were almost inarticulate. Raymond, beside her now, was holding the spoonful of stimulant to her lips. She swallowed it eagerly. “I—I lied—I lied—at the trial. Hold me—tighter. Do not let me—go. Not yet—not—not until——” Her body seemed to straighten, then wrench backward, and her eyes closed, and her voice died away.

Raymond felt the Bishop's hand close tensely on his shoulder.

“What is this she says, my son?”

Raymond shook his head.

“I do not know,” he said huskily.

The eyes opened again, clearer now—and recognition came into them as they met Raymond's. And there came a smile, and she reached out her hand to him.

“You, father—I—I was afraid you would not come in time. I—I am stronger now. Give Valerie the cup, and kneel, father—don't you remember—like that night in the church—and hold my hand—and—and do not let it go because—because then I—I should be afraid that God—that God would not forgive.”

He took her hand between both his own, and knelt beside the bed.

“I will not let it go,” he said—and tried to keep the choking from his throat. “What is it that you want to say—Mother Blondin?”

Her fingers twined over his, and clung tighter and tighter.

“That man, father—he—he must not hang. I—I cannot go to God with that on my soul. I lied at the trial—I lied. I hated God then. I wanted only revenge because my son was dead. I said I recognised him again, but—but that is not true, for the light was low, and—and I do not see well—but—but that—that does not matter, father—it is not that—for it must have been that man. But it was not that man who—who tried to rob me—it—it was my own son. That man is innocent—innocent—I tell you—I——” She raised herself wildly up in bed. “Why do you look at me like that, Father Aubert—with that white face—is it too late—too late—and—and—will God not forgive?”

“It is not too late. Go on, Mother Blondin”—it was his lips that formed the words; it was not his voice, it could not be—that quiet voice speaking so softly.

Her face grew calmer. The fear was gone.

“It is not too late—it is not too late—and—and God will forgive,” she whispered. “Listen then, father—listen, and pray for me. I—I was sure Théophile had been robbing me. I watched behind the door that night. I saw him go to take the money. And—and then that man came in, and Théophile rushed at him with a stick of wood. The man had—had done nothing. It was in self-defence he fought. And then I—I helped Théophile. It was Théophile who took the revolver to kill him, and—and—it went off in Théophile's hand, and——” she sighed heavily, and sank back on the pillow.

The room seemed to sway before Raymond—and

Valérie's face, across the bed, seemed to move slowly before him with a pendulum-like movement, and her face was very white, and in it was wonder, and a great dawning hope, and awe. And he put his head down upon the coverlet, but his hands still held old Mother Blondin's hand between them.

And then she spoke again, with greater difficulty now; and somehow her other hand had found Raymond's head, and her fingers played tremblingly through his hair.

“You will tell them, father—and—and this other father here will tell them—and—and Valérie will bear witness—and—and the man will live. And you will tell him, father, how God came again and made me tell the truth because you were good, and—and because you made be believe again in—in you—and God—and——-”

A broken cry came from Raymond. The scalding tears were in his eyes.

“Hush, my son!”—it was the Bishop's grave and gentle voice. “God has done a wondrous thing tonight.”

There was silence in the little room.

And then suddenly Raymond lifted his head—and the room was no more, and in its place was the moonlit church of that other night, and he saw again the old withered face transfigured into one of tender sweetness and ineffable love.

“Pierre, monsieur?”—her mind was wandering now—they were the words she had spoken as she had sat beside him in the pew. “Ah, he was a good boy, Pierre—have you not heard of Pierre Letellier? And there was little Jean—little Jean—he went away, monsieur, and I—I do not know where—where he is—I do not know——-”

Raymond's voice was breaking, as he leaned forward toward her.

“He is with God, Mother Blondin. Jean—Jean has sent you a message. His last thoughts were of you—his mother.”

The old eyes flamed with a dying fire.

“Jean—my son! My little Jean—his—his mother.” A smile lighted up her face, and hovered on her lips; and her hand, clinging to Raymond's, tightened.

“Father—I——” And then her fingers slipped from their hold, and fell away.

The Bishop's arm was around Raymond's shoulders.

“Go now, my son—and you, my daughter,” he said gently. “It is very near the end, and the time is short.”

Raymond rose blindly from his knees. Mother Blondin was very still, and a pallor, gray and premonitory, had crept into her face. Her eyes were closed. He raised the thin hand, and touched it with his lips—and turned away.

And Valérie passed out of the room with him.

And by the open window of the room beyond, Valérie knelt down, and he knelt down beside her.

It was quiet without—and there was no sound, save now the murmur of the Bishop's voice from the inner room. He was to live—and not to die. To go free! To give himself up—but to be set free—and there were to be the years with Valérie. He could not understand it yet in all its fulness.

Valérie was crying softly. With a great tenderness he put his arm about her.

“It was the Benedictus—'into the way of peace'—that you said for her that night,” she whispered. “Say it now again, my lover—for her—and for us.”

He drew her closer to him, and, with her wet cheek against his own, they repeated the words together.

And after a little time she raised her hands, and held his face between them, and looked into his face for a long while, and there was a great gladness, and a great love, and a great trust in the tear-wet eyes.

“I do not know your name,” she said.

“It is Raymond,” he answered.


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