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- The Right of Way, Volume 4. - 4/14 -
"Stand off, Jack-in-boxes!"
The two stood aside, and looked covertly at the Seigneur, whose temper seemed unusually irascible. Charley's face showed no surprise, but he looked inquiringly at the Cure.
"If they wish to be measured for uniforms--or manners--I will see them at my shop," he said.
The Seigneur chuckled. Charley stepped again towards the door. The two constables stood before it. Again he turned inquiringly, this time towards the Cure. The Cure did not speak.
"It is you we wish to see, tailor," said the Abbe Rossignol.
Soft-tongued irony leaped to Charley's lips: "Have I, then, the honour of including Monsieur among my customers? I cannot recall Monsieur's figure. I think I should not have forgotten it."
It was now the old Charley Steele, with the new body, the new spirit, but with the old skilful mind, aggravatingly polite, non-intime--the intolerant face of this father of souls irritated him.
"I never forget a figure which has idiosyncrasy," he added, with a bland eye wandering over the priest's gaunt form. It was his old way to strike first and heal after--"a kick and a lick," as old Paddy Wier, whom he once saved from prison, said of him. It was like bygone years of another life to appear in defence when the law was tightening round a victim. The secret spring had been touched, the ancient machinery of his mind was working almost automatically.
The illusion was considerable, for the Seigneur had taken the only arm- chair in the room, a little apart, as it were, filling the place of judge. The priest-brother, cold and inveterate, was like the attorney for the crown. The Cure was the clerk of the court, who could only echo the decisions of the Judge. The constables were the machinery of the Law, and Jo Portugais was the unwilling witness, whose evidence would be the crux of the case. The prisoner--he himself was prisoner and prisoner's counsel.
A good struggle was forward.
He had enraged the Abbe as much as he had delighted the Abbe's brother; for nothing gave the Seigneur such pleasure as the discomfiture of the Abbe Rossignol, chaplain and ordinary to the Archbishop of Quebec. The genial, sympathetic nature of the Seigneur could not even be patient with the excessive piety of the churchman, who, in rigid righteousness, had thrashed him cruelly as a boy. At Charley's words upon the Abbe's figure, gaunt and precise as a swaddled ramrod, he pulled his nose with a grunt of satisfaction.
The Cure, the peace-maker, intervened. The tailor's meaning was sufficiently clear: if they had come to see him personally, then it was natural for him to wish to know the names and stations of his guests, and their business. The Seigneur was aware that the tailor did know, and he enjoyed the 'sang-froid' with which he was meeting the situation.
"Monsieur," said the Cure, in a mollifying voice, "I have ventured to bring the Seigneur of Chaudiere"--the Seigneur stood up and bowed gravely--"and his brother, the Abbe Rossignol, who would speak with you on private business"--he ignored the presence of the constables.
Charley bowed to the Seigneur and the Abbe, then turned inquiringly towards the two constables. "Friends of my brother the Abbe," said the Seigneur maliciously.
"Their names, Monsieur?" asked Charley.
"They have numbers," answered the Seigneur whimsically--to the Cure's pain, for levity seemed improper at such a time.
"Numbers of names are legally suspicious, numbers for names are suspiciously legal," rejoined Charley. "You have pierced the disguise of discourtesy," said the Seigneur, and, on the instant, he made up his mind that whatever the tailor might have been, he was deserving of respect.
"You have private business with me, Monsieur?" asked Charley of the Abbe.
The Abbe shook his head. "The business is not private, in one sense. These men have come to charge you with having broken into the cathedral at Quebec and stolen the gold vessels of the altar; also with having tried to blow up the Governor's residence."
One of the constables handed Charley the warrant. He looked at it with a curious smile. It was so natural, yet so unnatural, to be thus in touch with the habits of far-off times.
"On what information is this warrant issued?" he asked.
"That is for the law to show in due course," said the priest.
"Pardon me; it is for the law to show now. I have a right to know."
The constables shifted from one foot to the other, looked at each other meaningly, and instinctively felt their weapons.
"I believe," said the Seigneur evenly, "that--" The Abbe interrupted. "He can have information at his trial."
"Excuse me, but the warrant has my endorsement," said the Seigneur, "and, as the justice most concerned, I shall give proper information to the gentleman under suspicion." He waved a hand at the Abbe, as at a fractious child, and turned courteously to Charley.
"Monsieur," he said, "on the tenth of August last the cathedral at Quebec was broken into, and the gold altar-vessels were stolen. You are suspected. The same day an attempt was made to blow up the Governor's residence. You are suspected."
"On what ground, Monsieur?"
"You appeared in this vicinity three days afterwards with an injury to the head. Now, the incendiary received a severe blow on the head from a servant of the Governor. You see the connection, Monsieur?"
"Where is the servant of the Governor, Monsieur?"
"Dead, unfortunately. He told the story so often, to so much hospitality, that he lost his footing on Mountain Street steps--you remember Mountain Street steps possibly, Monsieur?--and cracked his head on the last stone."
There was silence for a moment. If the thing had not been so serious, Charley must have laughed outright. If he but disclosed his identity, how easy to dispose of this silly charge! He did not reply at once, but looked calmly at the Abbe. In the pause, the Seigneur added "I forgot to add that the man had a brown beard. You have a brown beard, Monsieur."
"I had not when I arrived here."
Jo Portugais spoke. "That is true, M'sieu'; and what is more, I know a newly shaved face when I see it, and M'sieu's was tanned with the sun. It is foolish, that!"
"This is not the place for evidence," said the Abbe sharply.
"Excuse me, Abbe," said his brother; "if Monsieur wishes to have a preliminary trial here, he may. He is in my seigneury; he is a tenant of the Church here--"
"It is a grave offence that an infidel, dropping down here from, who knows where--that an acknowledged infidel should be a tenant of the Church!"
"The devil is a tenant of the Almighty, if creation is the Almighty's," said Charley.
"Satan is a prisoner," snapped the Abbe.
"With large domains for exercise," retorted Charley, "and in successful opposition to the Church. If it is true that the man you charge is an infidel, how does that warrant suspicion?"
"Other thefts," answered the Abbe. "A sacred iron cross was stolen from the door of the church of Chaudiere. I have no doubt that the thief of the gold vessels of the cathedral was the thief of the iron cross."
"It is not true," sullenly broke in Jo Portugais.
"What proof have you?" said the Seigneur. Charley waved a deprecating hand towards Jo.
"I shall not call Portugais as evidence," he said.
"You are conducting your own case?" asked the Seigneur, with a grim smile.
"It is dangerous, I believe."
"I will take my chances," answered Charley. "Will you tell me what object the criminal could have in stealing the gold vessels from the cathedral?" he added, turning to the Abbe.
"They were gold!"
"And for taking the cross from the door of the church in Chaudiere?"
"It was sacred, and he was an infidel, and hated it."
"I do not see the logic of the argument. He stole the vessels because they were valuable, and the iron cross because he was an infidel! Now how do you know that the suspected criminal was an infidel, Monsieur?"
"It is well known."
"Has he ever said so?"
"He does not deny it."
"If you were charged with being an opium-eater, does it follow that you are one because you do not deny it? There was a Man who was said to blaspheme, to have all 'the crafts and assaults of the devil'--was it His duty to deny it? Suppose you were accused of being a highwayman, would you be less a highwayman if you denied it? Or would you be less guilty if you denied it?"
"That is beside the case," said the priest with acerbity.
"Faith, I think it is the case itself," said the Seigneur with a
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