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- The Right of Way, Volume 4. - 5/14 -
satisfied pull of his nose.
"But do you seriously suggest that only infidels rob churches?" Charley persisted.
"I am not here to be cross-examined," answered the Abbe harshly. "You are charged with robbing the cathedral and trying to blow up the Governor's residence. Arrest him!" he added, turning to the constables.
"Stand where you are, men," sharply threatened the Seigneur. "There are no lettres de cachet nowadays, Francois," he added tartly to his brother.
"If it is the exclusive temptation of an infidel to rob a church, has infidelity also an inherent penchant for arson? Is it a patent? Why did the infidel blow up the Governor's residence?" continued Charley.
"He did not blow it up, he only tried," interposed the Cure softly.
"I was not aware," said Charley. "Well, did the man who stole the patens from the altar--"
"They were chalices," again interrupted the Cure, with a faint smile.
"Ah, I was not aware!" again rejoined Charley. "I repeat, what reason had the person who stole the chalices to try to blow up the Governor's residence? Is it a sign of infidelity, or--"
"You can answer for that yourself," angrily interposed the Abbe. The strain was telling on his nerves.
"It is fair to give reasons for the suspicion," urged the Seigneur acidly.
"As I said before, Francois, this is not the fifteenth century."
"He hated the English government," said the Abbe. "I do not understand," responded Charley. "Am I then to suppose that the alleged criminal was a Frenchman as well as an infidel?"
There was silence, and Charley continued. "It is an unusual thing for a French Abbe to be so concerned for the safety of an English Protestant's life and housing . . . the Governor is a Protestant--eh? That is, indeed, a zeal almost Christian--or millennial."
The Abby turned to the Seigneur. "Are you going to interfere longer with the process of the law?"
"I think Monsieur has not quite finished his argument," said the Seigneur, with a twist of the mouth.
"If the man was a Frenchman, why do you suspect the tailor of Chaudiere?" asked Charley softly. "Of course I understand the reason behind all: you have heard that the tailor is an infidel; you have protested to the good Cure here, and the Cure is a man who has a sense of justice, and will not drive a poor man from his parish by Christian persecution--without cause. Since certain dates coincide and impulses urge, you suspect the tailor. Again, according to your mind, a man who steals holy vessels must needs be an infidel; therefore a tailor in Chaudiere, suspected of being an infidel, stole the holy chalices. It might seem a fair case for a grand jury of clericals. But it breaks down in certain places. Your criminal is a Frenchman; the tailor of Chaudiere is an Englishman."
The Abbe's face was contracted with stubborn annoyance, though he held his tongue from violence. "Do you deny that you are French?" he asked tartly.
"I could almost endure the suspicion because of the compliment to my command of your charming language."
"Prove that you are an Englishman. No one knows where you came from; no one knows what you are. You are a fair subject for suspicion, apart from the evidence shown," said the Abbe, trying now to be as polite as the tailor.
"This is a free country. So long as the law is obeyed, one can go where one wills without question, I take it."
"There is a law of vagrancy."
"I am a householder, a tenant of the Church, not a vagrant."
"Monsieur, you can have your choice of proving these things here or in Quebec," said the Abbe, with angry impatience again.
"I may not be compelled to prove anything. It is the privilege of the law to prove the crime against me."
"You are a very remarkable tailor," said the Abbe sarcastically.
"I have not had the honour of making you even a cassock, I think. Monsieur le Cure, I believe, approves of those I make for him. He has a good figure, however."
"You refuse to identify yourself?" asked the Abbe, with asperity.
"I am not aware that you possess any right to ask me to do so."
The Abbe's thin lips clipped-to like shears. He turned again towards the officers.
"It would relieve the situation," interposed the Seigneur, "if Monsieur could find it possible to grant the Abbe's demand."
Charley bowed to the Seigneur. "I do not know why I should be taken for a Frenchman or an infidel. I speak French well, I presume, but I spoke it from the cradle. I speak English with equally good accent," he added, with the glimmer of a smile; for there was a kind of exhilaration in the little contest, even with so much at stake. This miserable, silly charge had that behind it which might open up a grave, make its dead to walk, fright folk from their senses, and destroy their peace for ever. Yet he was cool and thinking clearly. He measured up the Abbe in his mind, analysed him, found the vulnerable spot in his nature, the avenue to the one place lighted by a lamp of humanity. He leaned a hand upon the ledge of the chimney where he stood, and said, in a low voice:
"Monsieur l'Abbe, it is sometimes the misfortune of just men to be terribly unjust. 'For conscience sake' is another name for prejudice-- for those antipathies which, natural to us, are, at the same time, trap- doors, for our just intentions. You, Monsieur, have a radical antipathy to those men who are unable to see or to feel what you were privileged to see and feel from the time of your birth. You know that you are right. Do you think that those who do not see as you do are wicked because they were not given what you were given? If you are right, may they, poor folk! not be the victims of their blindness of heart--of the darkness born with them, or of the evils that overtake them? For conscience sake, you would crush out evil. To you an infidel--so called--is an evil-doer, a peril to the peace of God. You drive him out from among the faithful. You heard that a tailor of Chaudiere was an infidel. You did not prove him one, but you, for conscience sake, are trying to remove him, by fixing on him a crime of which he may, with slight show of reason, be suspected. But I ask you, would you have taken the same deep interest in setting the law upon this suspected man did you not believe him to be an infidel?"
He paused. The Abbe made no reply. The Cure was bending forward eagerly; the Seigneur sat with his hands over the top of his cane, his chin on his hands, never taking his eyes from him, save to glance once or twice at his brother. Jo Portugais was crouched on the bench, watching.
"I do not know what makes an infidel," Charley went on. "Is it an honest mind, a decent life, an austerity of living as great as that of any priest, a neighbourliness that gives and takes in fairness--"
"No, no, no," interposed the Cure eagerly. "So you have lived here, Monsieur; I can vouch for that. Charity and a good heart have gone with you always."
"Do you mean that a man is an infidel because he cannot say, as Louis Trudel said to me, 'Do you believe in God?' and replies, as I replied, 'God knows!' Is that infidelity? If God is God, He alone knows when the mind or the tongue can answer in the terms of that faith which you profess. He knows the secret desires of our hearts, and what we believe, and what we do not believe; He knows better than we ourselves know--if there is a God. Does a man conjure God, if he does not believe in God? 'God knows!' is not a statement of infidelity. With me it was a phrase --no more. You ask me to bare my inmost soul. I have not learned how to confess. You ask me to lay bare my past, to prove my identity. For conscience sake you ask that, and I for conscience sake say I will not, Monsieur. You, when you enter your priestly life, put all your past behind you. It is dead for ever: all its deeds and thoughts and desires, all its errors--sins. I have entered on a life here which is to me as much a new life as your priesthood is to you. Shall I not have the right to say, that may not be disinterred? Have I not the right to say, Hands off? For the past I am responsible, and for the past I will speak from the past; but for the deeds of the present I will speak only from the present. I am not a Frenchman; I did not steal the little cross from the church door here, nor the golden chalices in Quebec; nor did I seek to injure the Governor's residence. I have not been in Quebec for three years."
He ceased speaking, and fixed his eyes on the Abbe, who now met his look fairly.
"In the way of justice, there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed, nor secret that shall not be made known," answered the Abbe. "Prove that you were not in Quebec on the day the robbery was committed." There was silence. The Abbe's pertinacity was too difficult. The Seigneur saw the grim look in Charley's face, and touched the Abbe on the arm. "Let us walk a little outside. Come, Cure" he added. "It is right that Monsieur should have a few minutes alone. It is a serious charge against him, and reflection will be good for us all."
He motioned the constables from the room. The Abby passed through the door into the open air, and the Cure and the Seigneur went arm in arm together, talking earnestly. The Cure turned in the doorway.
"Courage, Monsieur!" he said to Charley, and bowed himself out. Jo Portugais followed.
One officer took his place at the front door and the other at the back door, outside.
The Abby, by himself, took to walking backward and forward under the trees, buried in gloomy reflection. Jo Portugais caught his sleeve.
"Come with me for a moment, M'sieu'," he said. "It is important."
The Abby followed him.
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