The Slave Of The Lamp
Henry Seton Merriman
Part 4 out of 5
very different matter. Either of these two could have overpowered him
singly. Their thick arms encompassed him like the coils of a snake, and
there was about their heavy woollen clothing a faint odour of salt
water. He knew that they were sailors. Recognising that it was of no
avail, he still fought on, as Englishmen do. One of the men had wound a
large woollen scarf round his mouth, the other was slowly but very
surely succeeding in pinioning his arms. Then a third assailant came,
and Christian knew by the wet hand (for he used one arm only) that it
was the smallest of the three, who had suffered for his temerity.
"Quick, quick!" this man whispered in French. With his uninjured hand he
twisted the scarf tighter and tighter until Christian gasped for breath.
Still the Englishman struggled and writhed upon the ground, while the
hard breathing of the two sailors testified that it was no mean
resistance. Suddenly the one-armed man loosened the scarf, but before
Christian could recover his breath a handkerchief was pressed over his
lips, and a sweet, pungent odour filled his nostrils.
"Three to one," he gasped, and quite suddenly his head fell forward,
while his clutch relaxed.
"He is a brave man," said the dripping leader of the attack, as he stood
upright and touched his damaged shoulder gently and tentatively. "Now
quick to the carriage with him. You have not managed this well, my
friends, not at all well."
The speaker raised his cold hand to his forehead, which was wet, less
perhaps from past exertion than from the agony he was enduring.
"But, monsieur," grumbled one of the sailors in humble self-defence, "he
is made of steel!"
* * * * *
The pale light of a grey dawn was stealing slowly up into the riven sky,
lighting up the clouds which were flying eastward on the shoulder of a
boisterous wind. The heavy grey sea, heaving, surging, and hissing,
threw itself upwards into broken spray, which flew to leeward at a sharp
angle, blown from the summit of the wave like froth from an over-filled
tankard. After a night of squally restlessness, accompanied by a driving
rain that tasted brackish, things had settled down with the dawn into a
steady, roaring gale of wind. In the growing light sea-gulls rose
triumphantly with smooth breasts bravely facing the wind.
In the midst of this a dripping vessel laboured sorely. The green water
rushed from side to side over her slippery, filthy deck as she rolled,
and carried with it a tangled mass of ropes, a wooden bucket, a capstan
bar, and--ominous sign--a soaking, limp fur cap. The huge boom, reaching
nearly the whole length of the little vessel, swung wildly from side to
side as the yawl dipped her bulwarks to the receding wave. It was
certain death for a man to attempt to stand upright upon the sopping
deck, for the huge spar swung shoulder high. The steersman, crouching
low by his strong tiller, was doing his best to avoid a clean sweep, but
only a small jib and the mizzen were standing with straining clews and
gleaming seams. Crouching beneath the weather bulwarks, with their feet
wedged against the low combing of the hatch, three men were vainly
endeavouring to secure the boom, and to disentangle the clogged ropes.
Two were huge fellows with tawny, washed-out beards innocent of brush or
comb, their faces were half hidden by rough sou'-westers, and they were
enveloped from head to foot in oilskins from which the water ran in
little rills. The third was Christian Vellacott, who looked very wet
indeed. The water was dripping from his cuffs and running down his face.
His black dress-clothes were clinging to him with a soppy hindrance,
while the feet firmly planted against the combing of the hatch were
encased in immaculate patent-leather shoes, and the salt water ran off
silk socks. It would have been very funny if it were not that Fortune
invariably mingles her strokes of humour most heedlessly with sadder
things. Christian Vellacott was apparently unconscious of the humour of
the situation. He was working patiently and steadily, as men must needs
work when fighting Nature, and his half-forgotten sea-craft was already
coming back. Beneath his steady hands something akin to order was slowly
being achieved; he was coiling and disentangling the treacherous rope,
of which the breaking had cast the boom adrift, laying low a good
Farther forward upon the hatch lay the limp body of a very big man. His
matted head was bare, and the dead, brown face, turned upward to its
Maker, jerked from side to side as the vessel heaved. The stalwart legs
were encased in greasy sea-boots, deeply wrinkled, and the coils of a
huge scarf of faded purple lay upon his broad breast, where they had
been dragged down by a hasty hand in order to see more clearly the still
At the dead man's side knelt upon the deck a small, spare figure clad in
black and wearing his left arm in a sling. With his right hand he held a
crucifix to the blue lips that would never breathe a prayer to the
Virgin again. The small mouth and refined features of the praying man
were strangely out of keeping with his tempestuous surroundings.
Unmindful, however, of wind and waves alike, he knelt and prayed
audibly. Each lurch of the vessel threw him forward, so that, in order
to save himself from falling, he was obliged to press heavily upon the
dead man's throat and breast; but this he heeded not. His girlish blue
eyes were half closed in an ecstasy of religious fervour, and the pale,
narrow face wore a light that was not reflected from sea or sky. This
was the man who had unhesitatingly attacked Vellacott, had dared to pit
his small strength, more of nerve than of muscle, against the young
Englishman's hardened sinews. Violence in itself was most abhorrent to
him; it had no part in his nature; and consequently, by the strange
tenets of Ignatius Loyola's disciples, he was condemned to a course of
it. Any objectionable duty, such as this removal of Vellacott, was
immediately assigned to him in the futile endeavour of subjecting the
soul to the brain. A true Jesuit must have no nature of his own and no
individuality. He is simply a machine, with likes and dislikes,
conscience and soul subject to the will of his superior, whose mind is
also under the same arbitrary control; and so on to the top. If at the
head there were God, it would be well; but man is there, and consequently
the whole society is a gigantic mistake. To be a sincere member of it, a
man must be a half-witted fool, a religious fanatic, or a rogue for whom
no duplicity is too scurrilous, even though it amount to blasphemy.
Rene Drucquer, the man kneeling on the slimy deck, was as nearly a
religious fanatic as his soft, sweet nature would allow. With greater
bodily strength and attendant greater passions, he would have been a
simple monomaniac. In him the passion for self-devotion was singularly
strong, and contact with men had cooled it down into an unusually deep
sense of duty.
Personally courageous, his bravery was of a high order, if the spirit of
self-devotion called it into existence. In this his courage was more
akin to that of women than of men. If duty drove him he would go where
the devil drags most people, and Rene Drucquer was not by any means the
first man or woman whose life has been wrecked, wasted, and utterly
misled by a blind devotion to duty.
When throwing himself upon Christian Vellacott, no thought of possible
danger to his own person had restrained or caused him a moment's
hesitation. His blind faith in the righteousness of his cause was,
however, on the wane. This disciple of St. Ignatius might have lived a
true and manly life three hundred years earlier when his master trod the
earth, but the march of intellect had trodden down the "Constitutions"
years before Rene Drucquer came to study them. An ignoramus and a zealot
who lived nearly four centuries ago can be no guide or help to men of
the present day, and this young priest was overshadowed by the saddest
doubt that comes to men on earth--the doubt of his own Creed.
While Christian Vellacott was assisting the sailors he glanced
occasionally towards the kneeling priest, and on the narrow, intelligent
face he read a truth that never was forgotten. He saw that Rene Drucquer
was unconscious of his surroundings--unmindful of the fact that he was
on board a disabled vessel at the mercy of the wild wind. His whole
being was absorbed in prayer: this priest remembered only that the soul
of the great, rough, disfigured man was winging its serene way to the
land where no clouds are. Christian was not an impressionable
man--journalism had killed all that--nor, it is to be feared, did he
devote much thought to religion; but he recognised goodness when he met
it. The young journalist's interest was aroused, and in that trifling
incident lay the salvation of the priest. From that small beginning came
the gleam of light that was to illuminate gloriously the darkness of a
Chance had capriciously ruled that the hand that had dislocated the
Abbe's arm should set it again, and the dead sailor lying on the sticky,
tarred hatch-cover had helped. The "patron" of the boat, for he it was
whose head had been smashed by the spar, had held the priest's
trembling, swollen shoulder while Christian's steady hands gave the
painful jerk required to slip the joint back into its socket. The great,
coarse lips which had trembled a little, with a true Frenchman's
sympathy for suffering, were now blue and drawn; the stout, tender hands
The priest prayed on, while the men worked near at hand seeking to
restore order, and to repair the damages made by sea and wind. They had
got over their sullen, native shyness on finding that Christian could
speak French like the Abbe and was almost as good a sailor as
themselves. One offered him a rough blue jersey, while another placed a
gold-embroidered Sunday waistcoat at his disposal, with a visible
struggle between kindness of heart and economy. The first was accepted,
but the waistcoat was given back with a kind laugh and an assurance that
the jersey was sufficient.
The Englishman knew too well with whom he was dealing to harbour any
ill-feeling against the ignorant fishermen or even towards the Abbe
Drucquer for the rough treatment he had received. The former were poor,
and money never was beaten by a scruple in open combat yet. The latter,
he rightly presumed, was only obeying a mandate he dared not dispute.
The authority was to him Divine, the command came from one whom he had
sworn to look up to and obey as the earthly representative of his
At length the deck was cleared, and order reigned on board, though the
mainsail could not be set until the weather moderated.
Then Hoel Grall came up to the young Englishman and said:
"Monsieur, let us carry the 'patron' down below. It is not right for the
dead to lie there in this wind and storm."
"I am willing," answered Christian, looking towards the spot where the
dead man lay.
"Then, perhaps--Monsieur," began the Breton with some hesitation.
"Yes," answered Christian encouragingly, "what is it?"
"Perhaps Monsieur will speak to--to the Abbe. It is that we do not like
to disturb him in prayer."
The young Englishman bowed his head with characteristic decision.
"I will do so," he said gravely. Then he crawled across the deck and
touched Rene Drucquer's shoulder. The priest did not look up until the
touch had been repeated.
"Yes," he murmured; "yes. What do you want?"
Christian, guessed at the words, for in the tumult of the gale he could
not hear them.
"Is it not better to take him below?" he shouted.
Then for the first time did the priest appear to remember that this was
not one of the sailors.
"I beg your pardon," he said, rising from his knees. "You are right; it
is better. But I am afraid the men will not assist me. They are afraid
of touching the dead when they are afloat."
"I will help you," said Christian simply, "and that man also, I think,
because he proposed it."
With a motion of the head he indicated Hoel Grall, upon whom the command
of the little vessel had now devolved. The man was better educated than
his companions, and spoke French fluently, but in the Breton character
superstition is so deeply rooted that generations of education will
scarcely eradicate it.
The priest looked into the Englishman's face with a gentle wonder in his
eyes, which were shadowy with the fervour of his recent devotions. The
two men were crouching low upon the deck, grasping the black rail with
their left hands; the water washed backwards and forwards around their
It was the first time they had seen each other face to face in open
daylight, and their eyes met quietly and searchingly as they swayed from
side to side with the heavy lurching of the ship. The Englishman spoke
"You must leave it to us," he said calmly. "You could do nothing in this
heavy sea with your one arm!"
The gentle blue eyes were again filled with wonder, and presently the
priest's intellectual face relaxed into a shadowy smile, which did not
affect his thin red lips.
"You are very good," he murmured simply.
Christian did not hear this remark. He had turned away to call Grall
towards him, and was about to move towards the body lying on the hatch,
when the priest called him back.
"Monsieur," he said.
"Tell me," continued Rene Drucquer quickly, as if in doubt, "are you
The priest looked relieved, and at the same time he appeared to be
making an effort to restrain himself, as if he had been betrayed into a
greater show of feeling than was desirable. When he at length spoke in
reply to the Englishman's obvious desire for some explanation of the
strange question, his voice was singularly cold, and modulated in such a
manner as to deprive it of any expression, while his eyes were fixed on
"You are not such as I expected," he said.
Christian looked down at him with straightforward keenness, and he saw
the priest's eyelids move uneasily beneath his gaze. Mixing with many
men as he had done, he had acquired a certain mental sureness of touch,
like that of an artist with his brush when he has handled many subjects
and many effects. He divined that Rene Drucquer had been led to expect a
violent, head strong man, and he could not restrain a smile as he turned
away. Before going, however, he said:
"At present it is a matter of saving the ship, and our lives. My own
affairs can wait, but when this gale is over you may rest assured they
shall have my attention."
Beyond this one allusion to their respective positions, Christian was
silent regarding his captivity. After the gale subsided the weather took
a turn for the better, and clear skies by day and night rendered
navigation an easy matter.
With characteristic daring the young Englishman had decided to offer no
resistance and to seize no opportunities of escape until the termination
of the voyage. The scheme half-formed within his mind was to see the
voyage through, and effect his escape soon after landing in France. It
was not without a certain adventurous fascination, and in the meantime
there was much to interest him in his surroundings. If this young Abbe
was a typical member of the Society of Jesus, he was worth studying. If
this simplicity was an acquired cloak to deeper thought, it was worth
penetrating, and if the man's entire individuality had been submerged in
the mysterious system followed in the College of Jesuits, it was no
waste of time to seek for the real man beneath the cultivated suavity
that hid all feeling.
The more the two young men saw of each other the closer grew their
intimacy, and with growing intimacy the domination of the stronger
individuality was more marked in its influence.
To the frail and nervous priest this young Englishman was a new
experience; his vitality and calm, straightforward manner of speech were
such as the Abbe had never met with before. Such men and better men
there were and are in the Society of Jesus, otherwise the power of the
great Order would not be what it is; but Rene Drucquer had never come in
contact with them. According to the wonderful code of laws laid down by
its great founder (who, in other circumstances, might have prepared the
world for the coming of such a man as Napoleon the First), the education
of the young is entrusted to such brethren as are of slower parts; and
from these honest, but by no means intelligent, men the young Abbe had
learnt his views upon mankind in general. The creed they taught without
understanding it themselves was that no man must give way to natural
impulses; that he must restrain and quell and quench himself into a
machine, without individuality or impulse, without likes or dislikes;
that he must persistently perform such duties as are abhorrent to him,
eat such food as nauseates him, and submit to the dictates of such men
as hate him. And these, forsooth, are the teachings of one who, in his
zealous shortsightedness, claims to have received his inspiration direct
from the lips of the Great Teacher.
Rene Drucquer found himself in the intimate society of a man who said
what he thought, acted as he conceived best, and held himself
responsible, for word or deed, to none on earth. It was his first
mission after a long and rigorous training. This was the first enemy of
the Holy Church against whom he had been sent to fight, armed with the
immeasurable power of the greatest brotherhood the world has ever known,
protected by the shadow of its blessing; and there was creeping into the
young priest's heart a vague and terrible suspicion that there might be
two sides to the question. All the careful years of training, all the
invisible meshes of the vast net that had been gathering its folds round
him since he had first donned the dress of a Probationer of the College
of Jesuits, were powerless to restrain the flight of a pure and
guileless heart to the height of truth. Despite the countless one-sided
and ingenious arguments instilled into his eager young mind in guise of
mental armour against the dangers of the world, Rene Drucquer found
himself, at the very first contact with the world, unconvinced that he
was fighting upon the righteous side.
Brest had been left behind in a shimmering blue haze. Ahead lay the grim
Pointe de Raz, with its short, thick-set lighthouse facing the vast
Atlantic. Out to sea, in the fading glory of sunset, lay the long, low
Ile-de-Sein, while here and there black rocks peeped above the water.
The man holding the tiller was a sardine fisher, to whom every rock,
every ripple, of these troubled waters was familiar. Fearlessly he
guided the yawl close round by the high cliff--the westernmost point of
Europe--but with the sunset the wind had dropped and the sails hung
loosely, while the broad bows glided onwards with no sound of parted
The long Atlantic roll was swinging lazily in, and the yawl rose to it
sleepily, with a long, slow movement. The distant roar of the surf upon
the Finisterre coast rose in the peaceful atmosphere like a lullaby. The
holy calm of sunset, the hush of lowering night, and the presence of the
only man who had ever drawn him with the strange, unaccountable bond
that we call sympathy, moved the heart of the young priest as it had
never been moved before by anything but religious fervour.
For the first time he spoke of himself. The solitary heart suddenly
broke through the restraining influence of a mistaken education, and
unfolded its sad story of a misread existence. Through no fault of his
own, by no relaxation of supervising care on the part of his teachers,
the Jesuit had run headlong into the very danger which his Superior had
endeavoured to avoid. He had formed a friendship. Fortunately the friend
was a _man_, otherwise Rene Drucquer were lost indeed.
"I should think," he said musingly, "that no two lives have ever been so
widely separated as yours and mine, and yet our paths have met!"
Vellacott took the cigarette from his lips. It was made of a vile
tobacco, called "Petit Caporal," but there was nothing better to be had,
and he was in the habit of making the best of everything. Therefore he
blew into the air a spiral column of thin blue smoke with a certain
sense of enjoyment before replying. He also was looking across the
glassy expanse of water, but his gaze was steady and thoughtful, while
his companion's eyes were dreamy and almost vacant. The light shone full
upon his face, and a physician--or a mother--would have noticed,
perhaps, that there was beneath his eyes a dull shadow, while his lips
were dry and somewhat drawn.
"Yes," he said at length, with grave sympathy, "we have drifted together
like two logs in a torrent."
The young priest changed his position, drawing in one leg and clasping
his hands round his knee. The movement caused his long black garment to
fall aside, displaying the dark purple stockings and rough shoes. The
hands clasped round his knee were long and white, with peculiarly flat
"One log," he said vaguely, "was bound for a certain goal, the other was
Vellacott turned slowly and glanced at his companion's face. The smoke
from the bad cigarette drifted past their heads to windward. He was not
sure whether the priest was speaking from a professional point of view,
with reference to heresy and the unknown goal to which all heretics are
drifting, or not. Had Rene Drucquer been a good Jesuit, he would have
seen his opportunity of saying a word in season. But this estimable
desire found no place in his heart just then.
"Your life," he continued in a monotone, "is already mapped out--like
the voyage of a ship traced across a chart. Is it not so? I have
imagined it like that."
Vellacott continued to smoke for some moments in silence. He sat with
his long legs stretched out in front of him, his back against the rail,
and his rough blue jersey wrinkled up so that he could keep one hand in
his pocket. The priest turned to look at him with a sudden fear that his
motives might be misread. Vellacott interpreted his movement thus, for
he spoke at once with a smile on his face.
"I think it is best," he said, "not to think too much about it. From
what experience I have had, I have come to the humiliating conclusion
that men have very little to do with the formation of their own lives. A
ship-captain may sit down and mark his course across the chart with the
greatest accuracy, the most profound knowledge of wind and current, and
the keenest foresight; but that will have very little effect upon the
"But," argued the priest in a low voice, "is it not better to have an
end in view--to have a certain aim, and a method, more or less formed,
of attaining it?"
"Most men have that," answered Christian, "but do not know that they
Christian smoked meditatively. A month ago he would have said "Yes"
without a moment's hesitation.
"And you know it, I think," added the priest slowly. He was perfectly
innocent of any desire to extract details of his companion's life from
unwilling lips, and Christian knew it. He was convinced that, whatever
part Rene Drucquer had attempted to play in the past, he was sincere at
that moment, and he divined that the young Jesuit was weakly giving way
to a sudden desire to speak to some fellow-being of his own life--to lay
aside the strict reserve demanded by the tenets of the Society to which
he was irrevocably bound. In his superficial way, Christian Vellacott
had studied men as well as letters, and he was not ignorant of the
influence exercised over the human mind by such trifling circumstances
as moonshine upon placid water, distant music, the solemn hush of
eventide, or the subtle odour of a beloved flower. If Rene Drucquer was
on the point of committing a great mistake, he at least would not urge
him on towards it, so he smoked in silence, looking practical and
The priest laughed a little short, deprecating laugh, in which there was
no shadow of mirth.
"I have not," he said, rubbing his slim hands together, palm to palm,
slowly, "and--I know it."
"It will come," suggested the Englishman, after a pause.
The priest shook his head with a little smile, which was infinitely
sadder than tears. His cold silence was worse than an outburst of grief;
it was like the keen frost that comes before snow, harder to bear than
the snow itself. Presently he moved slightly towards his companion so
that their arms were touching, and in his soft modulated voice, trained
to conceal emotion, he told his story.
"My friend," he said, intertwining his fingers, which were very
restless, "no man can be the worse for hearing the story of another
man's life. Before you judge of me, listen to what my life has been. I
have never known a friend or relation. I have never had a boy companion.
Since the age of thirteen, when I was placed under the care of the holy
fathers, I have never spoken to a woman. I have been taught that life
was given us to be spent in prayer; to study, to train ourselves, and to
follow in the footsteps of the blessed Saint Ignatius. But how are we
who have only lived half a life, to imitate him, whose youth and
middle-age were passed in one of the most vicious courts of Europe
before he thought of turning to holy things? How are we, who are buried
in an atmosphere of mystic religion, to cope with sin of which we know
nothing, and when we are profoundly ignorant of its evil results? These
things I know now, but I did not suspect them when I was in the college.
There all manliness, and all sense of manly honour, were suppressed and
insidiously forbidden. We were taught to be spies upon each other, to
cringe servilely to our superiors, and to deal treacherously with such
as were beneath us. Hypocrisy--innate, unfathomable hypocrisy--was
instilled into our minds so cunningly that we did not recognise it.
Every movement of the head or hands, every glance of the eyes, and every
word from the lips was to be the outcome--not of our own hearts--but of
a law laid down by the General himself. It simply comes to this: we are
not men at all, but machines carefully planned and fitted together, so
as to render sin almost an impossibility. When tempted to sin we are
held back, not by the fear of God, but by the thought that discovery is
almost certain, and that the wrath of our Superior is withheld by no
scruple of human kindness.... But remember, I knew nothing of this
before I took my vows. To me it was a glorious career. I became an
enthusiast. At last the time came when I was eligible; I offered myself
to the Society, and was accepted. Then followed a period of hard work; I
learned Spanish and Italian, giving myself body and soul to the work.
Even the spies set to watch me day and night, waking and sleeping,
feeding and fasting, could but confess that I was sincere. One day the
Provincial sent for me--my mission had come. I was at last to go forth
into the world to do the work of my Master. Trembling with eagerness, I
went to his room; the Provincial was a young man with a beautiful face,
but it was like the face of the dead. There was no colour, no life, no
soul, no heart in it. He spoke in a low, measured voice that had neither
pity nor love.
"When that door closed behind me an hour later the scales had fallen
from my eyes. I began to suspect that this great edifice, built not of
stones but of men's hearts, was nothing less than an unrighteous
mockery. With subtle, double-meaning words, the man whom I had been
taught to revere as the authorised representative of Our Lord, unfolded
to me my duties in the future. The work of God, he called it; and to do
this work he placed in my hands the tools of the devil. What I suspected
then, I know now."
The young Englishman sat and listened with increasing interest. His
cigarette had gone out long before.
"And," he said presently, in his quiet, reassuring voice, which seemed
to infer that no difficulty in life was quite insurmountable--"And, if
you did not know it then, how have you learnt it now?"
"From you, my friend," replied the priest earnestly, "from you and from
these rough sailors. They, at least, are men. But you have taught me
Christian Vellacott made no answer. He knew that what his companion said
was true. Unconsciously, and with no desire to do so, he had opened this
young zealot's eyes to what a man's life may be. The tale was infinitely
sad, but with characteristic promptitude the journalist was already
seeking a remedy without stopping to think over the pathos of this
Presently Rene Drucquer's quick, painful tones broke the silence again,
and he continued his story.
"He told me," he said, "that in times gone by we had ruled the Roman
Catholic world invisibly from the recesses of kings' cabinets and
queens' boudoirs. That now the power has left us, but that the Order is
as firm as ever, nearly as rich, and quite as intelligent. It lies like
a huge mill, perfect but idle, waiting for the grist that will never
come to be crushed between its ruthless wheels. He told me that the sway
over kings and princes has lapsed with the growth of education, but that
we hold still within our hands a lever of greater power, though the
danger of wielding it is proportionately greater to those who would use
it. This power is the People. Before us lies a course infinitely more
perilous than the sinuous paths trodden by the first followers of St.
Ignatius as they advanced towards power. It lies on the troubled waters;
it leads over the restless, mobile heads of the people."
Again the priest ceased speaking. There was a strange thrill of
foreboding in his voice, which, however, had never been raised above a
monotone. The two men sat side by side, as still as the dead. They gazed
vacantly into the golden gates of the west, and each in his own way
thought over these things. Assuredly the Angel of Silence hung over that
little vessel then, for no sound from earth or sea or sky came to wake
those two thinkers from their reverie.
At last the Englishman's full, steady tones broke the hush.
"This," he said, "has not been learnt in two days. You must have known
it before. If you knew it, why are you what you are? You never have been
a real Jesuit, and you never will be."
"I swore to the Mother of God--I am bound...."
"By an oath forced upon you!"
"No! By an oath I myself begged to take!"
This was the bitterest drop in the priest's cup. Everything had been
done of his own free will--at his own desire. During eleven years a
network of perfidy had been cunningly woven around him, mesh after mesh,
day after day. As he grew older, so grew in strength the warp of the
net. Thus, in the fulness of time, everything culminated to the one
great end in view. Nothing was demanded (for that is an essential rule),
everything must be offered freely, to be met by an apparently hesitating
acceptance. Constant dropping wears the hardest stone in time.
"But," said Vellacott, "you can surely represent to your Provincial that
you are not fitted for the work put before you."
"My friend," interrupted the priest, "we can represent nothing. We are
supposed to have no natural inclinations. All work should be welcome,
none too difficult, no task irksome."
"You can volunteer for certain services," said Vellacott.
The priest shrugged his shoulders.
"What services?" he asked.
The Englishman looked at him for some seconds in the fading light. In
his quick way he had already found a remedy, and he was wondering
whether he should propose it or hold his peace. He was not afraid of
incurring responsibility. The young Jesuit had appealed to him, and
there was a way out of the difficulty. Christian felt that things could
not be made worse than they were. In a moment his mind was made up.
"As you know," he said, "the Society has few friends and a multitude of
enemies. I am afraid I am an enemy; but there is one redeeming point in
the Jesuit record which we are all bound to recognise, and I recognise
it unhesitatingly. You have done more to convert the heathen than the
rest of the Christian Church put together. Whatever the motive has been,
whatever the results have proved to be, the missionary work is
unrivalled. Why do you not offer yourself for that?"
As he asked the question Christian glanced at his companion's face. He
saw the sad eyes light up suddenly with a glow that was not of this dull
earth at all; he saw the thin, pure face suddenly acquire a great and
wondrous peace. The young priest rose to his feet, and, crossing the
deck, he stood holding with one hand to the tarred rigging, his back
turned towards the Englishman, looking over the still waters.
Presently he returned, and laying his thin hand upon Christian's
shoulder, he said, "My friend, you have saved me. In the first shock of
my disillusion I never thought of this. I think--I think there is work
for me yet."
TRUE TO HIS CLOTH
With the morning tide, the _Deux Freres_ entered Audierne harbour.
The rough sailors crossed themselves as they looked towards the old
wooden cross upon the headland, facing the great Atlantic. They thought
of the dead "patron" in the little cabin below, and the joyous young
wife, whose snowy head-dress they could almost distinguish upon the pier
among the waiters there.
Both Christian Vellacott and the Abbe were on deck. They had been there
the whole night. They had lain motionless side by side upon the old
sail. Day vanished, night stole on, and day came again without either
having closed his eyes or opened his lips.
They now stood near the steersman, and looked upon the land with an
interest which only comes after heavy weather at sea. To the Englishman
this little fishing-port was unknown, and he did not care to ask. The
vessel was now dropping up the river, with anchor swinging, and the
women on the pier were walking inland slowly, keeping pace and waving a
greeting from time to time in answer to a husband's shout.
"That is she, Monsieur L'Abbe," said Hoel Grall, with a peculiar twitch
of his coarse mouth, as if from pain. "That is she with the little
Rene Drucquer bowed his head, saying nothing. The _Deux Freres_
slowly edged alongside the old quay in her usual berth above the sardine
boats. A board was thrown across from the rail to the quay, and the
priest stepped ashore alone. He went towards the smiling young wife
without any hesitation; she stood there surrounded by the wives of the
sailors on board the _Deux Freres_, with her snowy coiffe and
spotless apron, holding her golden-haired child by the hand. All the
women curtsied as the priest approached, for in these western provinces
the Church is still respected.
"My daughter," said the Abbe, "I have bad news for you."
She smiled still, misunderstanding his calmness.
"Ah, mon pere," she said, "it is the season of the great winds now. What
a long voyage it has been! And you say it is a bad one. My husband is no
doubt in despair, but another voyage is sure to be better; is it not so?
I have not seen Loic upon the deck, but then my sight is not good. I am
not from Audierne, mon pere, but from inland where we cannot see so
The priest changed colour; no smile came into his face in response to
hers. He stepped nearer, and placed his hand upon her comely arm.
"It has been a very bad voyage for your poor husband," he said. "The
Holy Virgin give you comfort."
Slowly the colour vanished from the woman's round checks. Her soft,
short-sighted eyes filled with a terrible, hopeless dismay as she stared
at the young priest's bowed head. The women round now began to
understand, and they crossed themselves with a very human prayer of
thankfulness that their husbands and brothers had been spared.
"Loic is dead?" she said, in a rasping voice. For some moments she stood
motionless, then, in obedience to some strange and unaccountable
instinct, she began turning up the sleeves of her rough brown dress, as
if she were going to begin some kind of manual work.
"The Holy Virgin comfort you, my daughter; and you, my little one," said
the priest, as he stooped to lay his hand upon the golden head of the
"Loic is dead! Loic is dead!" spread from mouth to mouth.
"That comes from having ought to do with the priests," muttered the
customs officer, beneath his heavy moustache. He was an old soldier, who
read the newspapers, and spoke in a loud voice on Sunday evenings in the
Cafe de l'Ouest.
The Abbe heard the remark, and looked at the man, but said nothing. He
remembered that no Jesuit must defend himself.
The girl-widow stepped on board the untidy vessel in a mechanical,
dreamy way. She dragged the little trotting child almost roughly after
her. Christian Vellacott stood at the low cabin door. He was in the
dress of a Probationer of the Society of Jesus, which he had assumed at
the request, hesitatingly made, of Rene Drucquer, and for the very
practical reason that he had nothing else to wear except a torn
dress-coat and Hoel Grall's Sunday garments.
"Bless me, mon pere," lisped the little one, stopping in front of him.
"Much good will a blessing of mine do you, little one," he muttered in
English. Nevertheless, he lifted the child up and kissed her rosy cheek.
He kept her by his side, letting the mother go to her dead husband
When the woman came from the cabin half-an-hour later, hard-faced, and
with dry, stony eyes, she found the child sitting on Christian's knee,
prattling away in broken French. Tears came to her aching eyes at the
sight of the happy, fatherless child; the hard Breton heart was touched
The Abbe's instructions were to keep his prisoner confined under lock
and key in the cabin until nightfall, when he was to be removed inland
in a carriage under the surveillance of two lay-brethren. Christian,
however, never for a moment doubted his ability to escape when he wished
to do so, and acting upon this conviction he volunteered a promise not
to attempt evasion. Dressed as he was, in the garments of a probationer,
there was no necessity of awaiting nightfall, as there was nothing
unusual about him to attract attention. Accordingly the departure from
the _Deux Freres_ was fixed for midday. In the meantime the young
Englishman found himself the object of unremitting attention on the part
of two smooth-faced individuals who looked like domestic servants. These
two men had come on board at the same moment that the Abbe stepped
ashore, and Christian noticed that no word of greeting or recognition
passed between them and Rene Drucquer. This was to him a further proof
of the minuteness of organisation which has characterised the Order
since Ignatius Loyola wrote down his wonderful "Constitutions," in which
no trifle was too small to be unworthy of attention, no petty dramatic
effect devoid of significance. Each man appeared to have received his
instructions separately, and with no regard to those of his companion.
In the meantime, however, the journalist had not been wasting his time.
Although he still looked upon the whole affair as a very good farce, he
had not forgotten the fact that his absence must necessarily have been
causing endless anxiety in England. During the long night of wakefulness
he had turned over in his mind every possible event at St. Mary Western
since his sudden disappearance. Again and again he found himself
wondering how they would all take it, and his conclusions were
remarkably near to the truth. He guessed that Mr. Bodery would, sooner
or later, be called in to give his opinion, and he sincerely hoped that
the course taken would be the waiting tactics which had actually been
proposed by the editor of the _Beacon_.
In this hope he determined to communicate with Sidney Carew, and having
possessed himself of a blank Customs Declaration Form, he proceeded to
write a letter upon the reverse side of it. In this he told his friend
to have no anxiety, and, above all, to institute no manner of search,
because he would return to England as soon as his investigations were
complete. The letter was written in guarded language, because Christian
had arrived at the conclusion that the only means he had of despatching
it was through the hands of Rene Drucquer. The crew of the _Deux
Freres_ were not now allowed to speak with him. He possessed no
money, and it would have been folly to attempt posting an unstamped
letter addressed to England in a little place like Audierne.
Accordingly, as they were preparing to leave the vessel (the care of
poor Loic having been handed over to the village cure), Christian boldly
tendered his request.
"No, my friend, I cannot do it," replied the Abbe promptly.
"Read it yourself," urged Christian. "No harm can possibly come of it.
My friend will do exactly as I tell him. In fact, it will be to your
benefit that it should go."
Still the Jesuit shook his head. Suddenly, however, in the midst of an
argument on the part of the Englishman, he gave in and took the letter.
"Give it to me," he said; "I will risk it."
Christian watched him place the letter within the breast of his
"soutane," unread. The two lay-brethren were noting every movement.
Presently the priest removed his broad-brimmed hat and passed through
the little doorway into the dimly lighted cabin where the dead sailor
lay. He left the door ajar. After glancing at the dead man's still face
he fell upon his knees by the side of the low bunk, and remained with
bowed head for some moments. At last he rose to his feet and took the
Englishman's letter from his breast. The envelope was unclosed, and with
smooth, deliberate touch he opened the letter and read it by the light
of the candle at the dead man's head, of which the rays were to
illuminate the wandering soul upon its tortuous way. The priest read
each word slowly and carefully, for his knowledge of English was
limited. Then he stood for some seconds motionless, with arms hanging
straight, staring at the flame of the candle with weary, wondering eyes.
At last he raised his hand and held the flimsy paper in the flame of the
candle till it was all burnt away. The charred remains fluttered to the
ground, and one wavering flake of carbonised paper sank gently upon the
dead man's throat, laid bare by the hand of his frenzied wife.
"He said that I was not a Jesuit," murmured the priest, as he burnt the
envelope, and across his pale face there flitted an unearthly smile.
Scarcely had the thin smoke mingled with the incense-laden air when
Christian pushed open the door. The two men looked their last upon the
rigid face dimly illuminated by the light of the wavering candles, and
then turned to leave the ship.
The carriage was waiting for them on the quay, and Christian noticed
that the two men who had been watching him since his arrival at Audierne
were on the box. Rene Drucquer and himself were invited to enter the
roomy vehicle, and by the way in which the door shut he divined that it
was locked by a spring.
At the village post-office the carriage stopped, and, one of the
servants having opened the door, the priest descended and passed into
the little bureau. He said nothing about the letter addressed to Sidney
Carew, but Christian took for granted that it would be posted. Instead
of this, however, the priest wrote a telegram announcing the arrival of
the _Deux Freres_, which he addressed to "Morel et Fils, Merchants,
"Hoel Grall asked me to despatch this," he said quietly, as he handed
the paper to the old postmaster.
After this short halt the carriage made its way rapidly inland. Thus
they travelled through the fair Breton country together, these two
strangely contrasting men brought together by a chain of circumstances
of which the links were the merest coincidences. Christian Vellacott
did not appear to chafe against his confinement. He took absolutely no
notice of the two men whose duty it was to watch his every movement. The
spirit of adventure, which is not quite educated out of us Englishmen
yet, was very strong in him, and the rapid movement through an unknown
land to an unknown goal was not without its healthy fascination. He lay
back in the comfortable carriage and sleepily watched the flying
landscape. Withal he noticed by the position of the sun the direction in
which he was being taken, and despite many turns and twists he kept his
bearings fairly well. The carriage had left the high road soon after
crossing the bridge above Audierne, and was now going somewhat heavily
over inferior thoroughfares.
The sun had set before Vellacott awoke to find that they were still
lumbering on. He had, of course, lost all bearing now, but he soon found
that they had been journeying eastward since leaving the coast.
A halt was made for refreshment at a small hillside village which
appeared to be mainly inhabited by women, for the men were all sailors.
The accommodation was of the poorest, but bread was procurable, and
eggs, meat being an unknown luxury in the community.
In the lowering light they journeyed on again, sometimes on the broad
post-road, sometimes through cool and sombre forests. Many times when
Christian spoke kindly, or performed some little act of consideration,
the poor Abbe was on the point of disclosing his own treason. Before his
eyes was the vision of that little cabin. He saw again the dancing flame
of the paper in his hand, throwing its moving light upon the marble
features of that silent witness as the charred fragments fluttered past
the still face to the ground. But as the stone is worn by the dropping
water, so at last is man's better nature overcome by persistent
undermining when the work is carried out by men chosen as possessing "a
mind self-possessed and tranquil, delicate in its perceptions, sure in
its intuitions, and capable of a wide comprehension of various
subjects." What youthful nature could be strong enough to resist the
cunning pressure of influences wielded thus? So Rene Drucquer carried
the secret in his heart until circumstances rendered it unimportant.
Man is, after all, only fallible, and those to whom is given the
privilege of accepting or refusing candidates for admission to the great
Society of Jesus had made a fatal error in taking Rene Drucquer. Never
was a man more unfitted to do his duty in that station of life in which
he was placed. His religious enthusiasm stopped short of fanaticism; his
pliability would not bend so low as duplicity. All this the young
journalist learnt as he penetrated further into the sensitive depths of
his companion's gentle temperament. The priest was of those men to whom
love and brotherly affection are as necessary as the air they breathe.
His wavering instincts were capable of being hardened into convictions;
his natural gifts (and they were many) could be raised into talents; his
life, in fact, could have been made a success by one influence--the love
of a woman--the one influence that was forbidden: the single human
acquirement that must for ever be beyond the priest's reach. This
Christian Vellacott felt in a vague, uncertain way. He did not know very
much about love and its influence upon a man's character, these
questions never having come under his journalistic field of inquiry; but
he had lately begun to wonder whether man's life was given to him to be
influenced by no other thoughts than those in his own brain--whether
there is not in our existence a completing area in the development of
Looking at the matter from his own personal point of view--from whence
even the best of us look upon most things--he was of the opinion that
love stands in the path of the majority of men. This had been his view
of the matter for many years; probably it was the reflection of his
father's cynically outspoken opinion, and a well-grown idea is hard to
Brought up, as he had been, by a pleasure-seeking and somewhat cynical
man, and passing from his care into the busy and practical journalistic
world, it was only natural that he should have acquired a certain
hardness of judgment which, though useful in the world, is not an
amiable quality. He now felt the presence of a dawning charity towards
the actions of his fellow-men. A month earlier he would have despised
Rene Drucquer as a weak and incapable man; now there was in his heart
only pity for the young priest.
Soon after darkness had settled over the country the carriage descended
into a deep and narrow valley through which ran a rapid river of no
great breadth. Here the driver stopped, and the two travellers descended
from the vehicle. The priest exchanged a few words in a low voice with
one of the servants who had leapt down from the box, and then turning to
Vellacott he said in a curt manner--
"Follow me, please."
The Englishman obeyed, and leaving the road they turned along a broad
pathway running at the side of the water. Christian noticed that they
were going upstream. Presently they reached a cottage, and a woman came
from the open doorway at their approach. Without any greeting or word of
welcome she led the way down some wooden steps to the ferry-boat. As she
rowed them across, the journalist took note of everything in his quick,
keen way. The depth of the water, rapidity of current, and even the fact
that the boat woman was not paid for her services.
"Are we near our destination?" he asked in English when he saw this.
"We have five minutes more," replied the priest in the same language.
On landing, they followed another small path for some distance,
down-stream. It was a quiet moss-grown path, with poplar trees on either
side, and appeared to be little used. Suddenly the young priest stopped.
There was the trunk of an elm tree lying on the inside of the path,
evidently cut for the purpose of making a rough seat.
"Let us sit here a few minutes," said Rene.
Christian obeyed. He sat forward and stretched his long legs out.
"I am aching all over," he said impatiently; "I wonder what it means!"
The priest ignored the remark entirely.
"My friend," he said presently, "a few minutes more and my care of you
ceases. This journey will be over. For me it has been very eventful. In
these few days I have learnt more than I did during all the long years
of my education, and what I have learnt will never be forgotten. Without
breathing one word of religion you have taught me to respect yours;
without uttering a single complaint you have made me think with horror
and shame of the part I have played in this affair. I dare ... scarcely
hope that one day you will forgive me!"
Christian raised his hand slowly to his forehead. The gleam of the
sleek, smooth water flowing past his feet made him giddy. He wondered
vaguely if the strange, dull feeling that was creeping over his senses
was the result of extreme fatigue.
"You speak as if we were never going to meet again," he said dreamily.
The priest did not answer for some moments. His slim hands were tightly
clasped upon his knees.
"It is probable," he said at length, "that such will be the case. If our
friendship is discovered it is certain!"
"Then our friendship must not be discovered," said the practical
"But, my friend, that would be deceit--duplicity!"
"A little duplicity, more or less, cannot matter much," replied
Christian, in a harder voice.
The priest looked up sharply, half fearing that his own treachery in the
matter of the letter was suspected. But his companion remained silent,
and the darkness prevented the expression of his face from being seen.
"And," continued the Englishman, after a long pause, "I am to be left
There was a peculiar ring of weary indifference in his tone, as if it
mattered little where he was left. The priest noticed it and remembered
"I know nothing, my friend. I have but to obey my orders."
"And close your mind against thought?"
"I cannot prevent the thoughts from coming into my mind," replied the
priest gently, "but I can keep them prisoners when they have entered."
He rose suddenly, and led the way along the river bank. Had Christian's
manner been more encouraging he would have told him then and there about
As they passed along the narrow footpath, the dim form of a man rose
from behind the log of wood upon which they had been sitting. It was one
of the lay brethren who had accompanied them from Audierne. Contrary to
Rene Drucquer's whispered instructions, he had followed them after
quitting the carriage, and had crept up behind the poplars unheard and
unsuspected. He came, however, too late. Unconsciously, Christian had
saved his companion.
GREEK AND GREEK
When they had walked about a hundred yards farther on, the footpath was
brought to a sudden termination by a house built across it to the
water's edge. In this lay the explanation of its scanty use and
luxuriant growth of moss.
It was not a dark night, and without difficulty the priest found the
handle of a bell, of which, however, no sound reached their ears. The
door, cut deep in the stone, was opened after a short delay by a lay
brother who showed no signs of rigid fasting. Again Christian noticed
that no greeting was exchanged, no word of explanation offered or
expected. The lay brother led the way along a dimly lighted corridor, in
which there were doors upon each side at regular intervals. There was a
chill and stony feeling in the atmosphere.
At the end of the corridor a gleam of light shone through a half-open
door upon the bare stone floor. Into this cell Christian was shown.
Without even noticing whether the priest followed him or not, he entered
the tiny room and threw himself wearily upon the bed. Although it was an
intensely hot night he shivered a little, and as he lay he clasped his
head with either hand. His eyes were dull and lifeless, and the colour
had entirely left his cheeks, though his lips were red and moist. He
took no notice of his surroundings, which, though simple and somewhat
bare, were not devoid of comfort.
In the meantime, Rene Drucquer had followed the door-keeper up a broad
flight of stairs to a second corridor which was identical with that
below, except that a room took the place of this small entrance-lobby
and broad door. Thus the windows of this room were immediately above the
river, which rendered them entirely free from overlookers, as the land
on the opposite side was low and devoid of trees.
The lay brother stopped in front of the door of this apartment, and
allowed the young priest to pass him and knock at the door with his own
hands. The response from within was uttered in such a low tone that if
he had not been listening most attentively Rene would not have heard it.
He opened the door, which creaked a little on its hinges, and passed
into the room alone.
In front of him a man dressed in a black soutane was seated at a table
placed before the window. The only lamp in the room, which was long and
narrow, stood on the table before him, so that the light of it was
reflected from his sleek black head disfigured by a tiny tonsure. As
Rene Drucquer advanced up the room, the occupant raised his head
slightly, but made no attempt to turn round. With a quick, unobtrusive
movement of his large white hand he moved the papers on the table before
him, so that no written matter remained exposed to view. Upon the table
were several books, and on the right-hand side of the plain inkstand
stood a beautifully carved stone crucifix, while upon the left there was
a small mirror no larger than a carte-de-visite. This was placed at a
slight angle upon a tiny wire easel, and by raising his eyes any person
seated at the table could at once see what was passing in the room
behind him--the entire apartment, including the door, being reflected in
Though seated, the occupant of this peculiarly constructed room was
evidently tall. His shoulders, though narrow, were very square, and in
any other garment than a thin soutane his slightness of build would
scarcely have been noticeable. His head was of singular and remarkable
shape. Very narrow from temple to temple, it was quite level from the
summit of the high forehead to the spot where the tonsure gleamed
whitely, and the length of the skull from front to back was abnormal.
The dullest observer could not have failed to recognise that there was
something extraordinary in such a head, either for good or evil.
The Abbe Drucquer advanced across the bare stone floor, and took his
stand at the left side of the table, within a yard of his Provincial's
elbow. Before taking any notice of him, the Provincial opened a thick
book bound in dark morocco leather, of which the leaves were of white
unruled paper, interleaved, like a diary, with blotting paper. The pages
were numbered, although there was, apparently, no index attached to the
volume. After a moment's thought, the tall man turned to a certain folio
which was partially covered by a fine handwriting in short paragraphs.
Then for the first time he looked up.
"Good evening," he said, in full melodious voice. As he raised his face
the light of the lamp fell directly upon it. There was evidently no
desire to conceal any passing expression by the stale old method of a
shaded lamp. The face was worthy of the head. Clean-cut, calm, and
dignified; it was singularly fascinating, not only by reason of its
beauty, which was undeniable, but owing to the calm, almost superhuman
power that lay in the gaze of the velvety eyes. There was no keenness of
expression, no quickness of glance, and no seeking after effect by
mobility of lash or lid. When he raised his eyes, the lower lid was
elevated simultaneously, which peculiarity, concealing the white around
the pupil, imparted an uncomfortable sense of inscrutability. There was
no expression beyond a vague sense of velvety depth, such as is felt
upon gazing for some space of time down a deep well.
"Good evening," replied Rene Drucquer, meeting with some hesitation the
slow, kindly glance.
The Provincial leant forward and took from the tray of the inkstand a
quill pen. With the point of it he followed the lines written in the
book before him.
"I understand," he said, in a modulated and business-like tone, "that
you have been entirely successful?"
"I believe so."
The Provincial turned his head slightly, as if about to raise his eyes
once more to the young priest's face, but after remaining a moment in
the same position with slightly parted lips and the pen poised above the
book, he returned to the written notes.
"You left," he continued, "on Monday week last. On the Wednesday evening
you ... carried out the instructions given to you. This morning you
arrived at Audierne, and came into the harbour at daybreak. Your part
has been satisfactorily performed. You have brought your prisoner with
all expedition. So--" here the Provincial raised the pen from the book
with a jerk of his wrist and shrugged his shoulders almost
imperceptibly, "so--you have been entirely successful?"
Although there was a distinct intention of interrogation in the tone in
which this last satisfactory statement was made, the young priest stood
motionless and silent. After a pause, the other continued in the same
kind, even voice:
"What has not been satisfactory to you, my son?"
"The 'patron' of the boat, Loic Plufer, was killed by the breaking of a
rope, before we were out of sight of the English coast."
"Ah! I am sorry. Had you time--were you enabled to administer to him the
"No, my father. He was killed at one blow."
The Provincial laid aside his pen and leant back. His soft eyes rested
steadily on the book in front of him.
"Did the accident have any evil effect upon the crew!" he asked
"I think not," was the reply. "I endeavoured to prevent such effect
arising, and--and in this the Englishman helped me greatly."
Without moving a muscle the Provincial turned his eyes towards the young
priest. He did not look up into his face, but appeared to be watching
his slim hands, which were moving nervously upon the surface of his
"My son," he said smoothly. "As you know, I am a great advocate for
frankness. Frankness in word and thought, in subordinate and superior. I
have always been frank with you, and from you I expect similar
treatment. It appears to me that there is still something unsatisfactory
respecting your successfully executed mission. It is in connection with
this Englishman. Is it not so?"
Rene Drucquer moved a little, changing his attitude and clasping his
hands one over the other.
"He is not such as I expected," he replied after a pause.
"No," said the Provincial meditatively. "They are a strange race. Some
of them are strong--very strong indeed. But most of them are foolish;
and singularly self-satisfied. He is intelligent, this one; is it not
"Yes, I think he is very intelligent."
"Was he violent or abusive?"
"No; he was calm and almost indifferent."
For some moments the Provincial thought deeply. Then he waved his hand
in the direction of a chair which stood with its back towards the window
at the end of the table.
"Take a seat, my son," he said, "I have yet many questions to ask you. I
am afraid I forgot that you might be tired."
"Now tell me," he continued, when Rene had seated himself, "do you think
this indifference was assumed by way of disarming suspicion and for the
purpose of effecting a speedy escape?"
"Did you converse together to any extent?"
"We were naturally thrown together a great deal; especially after the
death of the 'patron.' He was of great assistance to me and to Hoel
Grall, the second in command, by reason of his knowledge of seamanship."
"Ah! He is expert in such matters?"
"Yes, my father."
A further note was here added to the partially-filled page of the
"Of what subjects did he speak? Of religion, our Order, politics,
himself and his captivity?"
"Of none of those."
The Provincial leant back suddenly in his chair, and for some minutes
complete silence reigned in the room. He was evidently thinking deeply,
and his eyes were fixed upon the open book with inscrutable immobility.
Once he glanced slowly towards Rene Drucquer, who sat with downcast eyes
and interlocked fingers. Then he pressed back his elbows and inhaled a
deep breath, as if weary of sitting in one position.
"I have met Englishmen," he said speculatively, "of a type similar--I
think--to this man. They never spoke of religion, of themselves or of
their own opinion; and yet they were not silent men. Upon most subjects
they could converse intelligently, and upon some with brilliancy; but
these subjects were invariably treated in a strictly general sense. Such
men _never_ argue, and never appear to be highly interested in that
of which they happen to be speaking.... They make excellent
listeners...." Here the speaker stopped for a moment and passed his long
hand downwards across his eyes as if the light were troubling his sight;
in doing so he glanced again towards the Abbe's fingers, which were now
quite motionless, the knuckles gleaming like ivory.
"... And one never knows quite how much they remember and how much they
forget. Perhaps it is that they hear everything ... and forget nothing.
Is our friend of this type, my son?"
"I think he is."
"It is such men as he who have made that little island what it is. They
are difficult subjects; but they are liable to sacrifice their
opportunities to a mistaken creed they call honour, and therefore they
are not such dangerous enemies as they otherwise might have been."
The Provincial said these words in a lighter manner, almost amounting to
pleasantry, and did not appear to notice that the priest moved uneasily
in his seat.
"Then," he continued, "you have learnt nothing of importance during the
few days you have passed with him?"
"Nothing, my father."
"Did he make any attempt to communicate with his friends?"
"He wrote a letter which he requested me to post."
The Provincial leant forward in his chair and took a pen in his right
hand, while he extended his left across the table towards his companion.
"I burnt it," said Rene gently.
"Ah! That is a pity. Why did you do that?"
"I had discretion!" replied the young priest, with quiet determination.
The Provincial examined the point of his pen critically, his perfectly
formed lips slightly apart.
"Yes," he murmured reflectively. "Yes, of course, you had discretion.
What was in the letter?"
"A few words in English, telling his friends to have no anxiety, and
asking them particularly to institute no search, as he would return home
as soon as he desired to do so."
"Ah! He said that, did he? And the letter was addressed to--"
The Provincial made another note in the manuscript book. Then he read
the whole page over carefully and critically. His attitude was like that
of a physician about to pronounce a diagnosis.
"And," he said reflectively, without looking up, "was there nothing
noticeable about him in any way? Nothing characteristic of the man, I
mean, and peculiar. How would you describe him, in fact?"
"I should say," replied Rene Drucquer, "that his chief characteristic is
energy; but for some reason, during these last two days this seems to
have slowly evaporated. His resistance on Wednesday night was very
energetic--he dislocated my arm, and reset it later--and when the vessel
was in danger he was full of life. Later this peculiar indifference of
manner came over him, and hour by hour it has increased in power. It
almost seems as if he were anxious to keep away from England just now."
The Provincial raised his long white finger to his upper lip. It was the
action of a man who is in the habit of tugging gently at his moustache
when in thought, and one would almost have said that the smooth-faced
priest had at no very distant period worn that manly ornament. His
finger passed over the shaded skin with a disagreeable, rasping sound.
"That does not sound very likely," he said slowly. "Have you any
tangible reason, to offer in support of this theory?"
"No, my father. But the idea came to me, and so I mention it. It seemed
as if this desire came to him upon reflection, after the ship was out of
danger, and the indifference was contemporaneous with it."
The Provincial suddenly closed the book and laid aside his pen.
"Thank you, my son!" he said, in smooth, heartless tones, "I will not
trouble you any more to-night. You will need food and rest. Good night,
my son. You have done well!"
Rene Drucquer rose and gravely passed down the long room. Before he
reached the door, however, the clear voice of his superior caused him to
pause for a moment.
"As you go down to the refectory," he said, "kindly make a request that
Mr. Vellacott be sent to me as soon as he is refreshed. I do not want
you to see him before I do!"
When the door had closed behind Rene Drucquer the Provincial rose from
his seat and slowly paced backwards and forwards from the door to the
table. Presently he drew aside the curtain which hid a small recess near
the door, whore a simple bed and a small table were concealed. With a
brush he smoothed back his sleek hair, and, dipping the ends of his
fingers into a basin of water, he wiped them carefully. Thus he prepared
to receive Christian Vellacott.
He returned to his chair and seated himself somewhat wearily. Although
there were but few papers on the table, he had three hours' hard work
before him yet. He leant back, and again, that singular gesture, as if
to stroke a moustache that was not there, was noticeable.
"I have a dull presentiment," he muttered reflectively, "that we have
made a mistake here. We have gone about it in the wrong way, and if
there is blame to be attached to any one, Talma is the man. That temper
of his is fatal!"
After a pause he heaved a weary sigh, and stretched his long arms out on
either side, enjoying a free and open yawn.
"Ah me!" he sighed, "what an uphill fight this has become, and day by
day it grows harder. Day by day we lose power; one hold after another
slips from our grasp. Perhaps it means that this vast organisation is
effete--perhaps, after all, we are dying of inanition, and yet--yet it
should not be, for we have the people still.... Ah! I hear footsteps.
This is our journalistic friend, no doubt. I think he will prove
A moment later someone knocked softly at the door. There was a slight
shuffling of feet, and Christian Vellacott entered the room alone. There
was a peculiar dull expression in his eyes, as if he were suffering
pain, mental or physical. After glancing at the mirror, the Provincial
rose and bowed formally with his hand upon the back of his chair. As the
Englishman came forward the Jesuit glanced at his face, and with a
polite motion of the hand he said:
"Sir, take the trouble of seating yourself," speaking in French at once,
with no apology, as if well aware that his companion knew that language
as perfectly as his own.
"Thank you," replied Christian. He drew the chair slightly forward as he
seated himself, and fixed his eyes upon the Jesuit's face. Through the
entire interview he never removed his gaze, and he noticed that until
the last words were spoken those soft, deep eyes were never raised to
"I suppose," said the Jesuit at length, almost humbly, "that we are
irreconcilable enemies, Mr. Vellacott?"
The manner in which this was spoken did not bear the slightest
resemblance to the cold superiority with which Rene Drucquer had been
The Englishman sat with one lean hand resting on the table and watched.
He knew that some reply was expected, but in face of that knowledge he
chose to remain silent. It was a case of Greek meeting Greek. The
inscrutable Provincial had met a foeman worthy of his steel at last. His
strange magnetic influence threw itself vainly against a will as firm as
his own, and he felt that his incidental effects, dramatic and
conversational, fell flat. Instantly he became interested in Christian
"I need hardly remind a man of your discrimination, Mr. Vellacott," he
continued tentatively, "that there are two sides to every question."
The Englishman smiled and moved slightly in his chair, drawing in his
feet and leaning forward.
"Implying, I presume," he said lightly, "that in this particular
question you are on one side and I upon the other."
"Alas! it seems so."
Vellacott leant back in his chair again and crossed his legs.
"In my turn," he said quietly, "I must remind you, monsieur, that I am a
The Provincial raised his eyebrows almost imperceptibly and waited for
his companion to continue. His silence and the momentary motion of his
eyebrows, which in no way affected the lids, expressed admirably his
failure to see the connection of his companion's remark.
"Which means," Christian went on to explain, "that my place is not upon
either side of the question, but in the middle. I belong to no party,
and I am the enemy of no man. I do not lead men's opinions. It is my
duty to state facts as plainly and as coldly as possible in order that
my countrymen may form their own judgment. It may appear that at one
time I write upon one side of the question; the next week I may seem to
write upon the other. That is one of the misfortunes of my calling."
"Then we are not necessarily enemies," said the Jesuit softly.
"No--not necessarily. On the other hand," continued Christian, with
daring deliberation, "it is not at all necessary that we should be
The Jesuit smiled slightly--so slightly that it was the mere ghost of a
smile, affecting the lines of his small mouth, but in no way relieving
the soft darkness of his eyes.
"Then we are enemies," he said. "He whose follower I am, said that all
who are not with Him are against Him."
The Englishman's lips closed suddenly, and a peculiar stony look came
over his face. There was one subject upon which he had determined not to
"I am instructed," continued the Provincial, with a sudden change of
manner from pleasant to practical, "to ask of you a written promise
never to write one word either for or against the Society of Jesus
again. In exchange for that promise I am empowered to tender to you the
sincere apologies of the Society for the inconvenience to which you may
have been put, and to assist you in every way to return home at once."
A great silence followed this speech. A small clock suspended somewhere
in the room ticked monotonously, otherwise there was no sound audible.
The two men sat within a yard of each other, each thinking, of the other
in his individual way, from his individual point of view, the Jesuit
with downcast eyes, his companion watching his immobile features.
At length Christian Vellacott's full and quiet tones broke the spell.
"Of course," he said simply, "I refuse."
The Provincial rose from his seat, pushing it back as he did so.
"Then I will not detain you any longer. You are no doubt fatigued. The
lay brother waiting outside will show you the room assigned to you, and
at whatever time of day or night you may wish to see me, remember that I
am at your service."
Christian rose also. He appeared to hesitate, and then to grasp the
table with both hands to assist himself. He stood for a moment, and
suddenly tottered forward. Had not the Provincial caught him he would
"My head turns," he mumbled incoherently.
"What is the matter? ... what is the matter?"
The Jesuit slipped his arm round him--a slight arm, but as hard and
strong as steel.
"You are tired," he said sympathetically, "perhaps you have a little
touch of fever. Come, I will assist you to your room."
And the two men passed out together.
In later days Christian Vellacott could bring back to his memory no
distinct recollection of that first night spent in the monastery. There
was an indefinite remembrance of the steady, monotonous clang of a bell
in the first hours, doubtless the tolling of the matins, calling the
elect to prayer at midnight.
After that he must have fallen into a deep, lethargic sleep, for he
never heard the distant strains of the organ and the melodious chanting
of gruff voices. The strange, unquiet melody hovered over him in the
little cell, following him as he glided away from earth upon the blessed
wings of sleep, and haunted his restless dreams.
The monks were early astir next morning, for the sweet smell of drying
hay filled the air, and the second crop of the fruitful earth lay
waiting to be stacked. With tucked-up gowns and bared arms the sturdy
devotees worked with rake and pitchfork. No whispered word passed
between them; none raised his head to look around upon the smiling
landscape or search in the cloudless sky for the tiny lark whose morning
hymn rippled down to them. Each worked on in silence, tossing the
scented hay, his mind being no doubt filled with thoughts above all
Near at hand lay a carefully-kept vegetable garden of large dimensions.
Here grew in profusion all nourishing roots and herbs, but there was no
sign of more luscious fruits. Small birds hopped and fluttered here and
there unheeded and unmolested, calling to each other joyously, and the
warming air was alive with the hum of tinier wings.
In the midst of this walked man--the lord of all--humbly, silently, with
bowed head and unadmiring eyes--man whose life was vouchsafed for the
enjoyment of all these things.
A little square patch of sunlight lay on the stone floor of the small
cell allotted to Christian Vellacott. The thick oak door deadened the
sounds of life in the monastery, such as they were, and the strong,
laboured breathing of the young Englishman alone broke the chill
Christian lay, all dressed, on the narrow bed. His eyes were half
closed, and the ruddy brown of his cheeks had faded into an ashy grey.
His clenched hands lay numbly at his side. Through his open, swollen
lips meaningless words came in a hoarse whisper.
Presently the door opened with a creaking sound, but the sleeper moved
no limb or feature. Rene Drucquer entered the cell and ran quickly to
the bedside. Behind, with more dignity and deliberation, followed the
sub-prior of the monastery. The young priest had obtained permission
from his Provincial to see Christian Vellacott for a few moments before
his hurried departure for India. Thus Rene had received his mission
sooner than he had hoped for. The astute and far-seeing Provincial had
from the beginning intended that Rene Drucquer should be removed from
harm's way without delay once his disagreeable mission to St. Mary
Western was performed.
"My father," exclaimed the young priest in alarm, "he is dying!"
The venerable sub-prior bent his head over the bed. He was a tall, spare
man, with very sunken cheeks, and a marvellous expression of placid
contentment in his eyes such as one never finds in the face of a young
monk. He was very learned in medicines, and in the administration of
such simple herbs as were required to remedy the illnesses within the
monastery walls. Perhaps some of his patients died when they might have
lived under more skilled treatment, but it is a short and easy step from
life to death within a comfortless cell, and his bony hands were as
tender over his sick brethren as those of a woman.
He felt the Englishman's pulse and watched his ashen face for some
moments, touching the clammy forehead softly, while Rene Drucquer stood
by with a great sickening weight of remorse and fear upon his heart.
Then the sub-prior knelt stiffly down, and placed his clean-shaven lips
near to Christian's ear.
"My son," he said, "do you hear me?"
Christian breathed less heavily, as if he were listening to some far-off
sound, but never moved a feature. Presently he began to murmur
incoherently, and the sub-prior bent his ear to listen.
"Much good would a blessing of mine do you, Hilda," observed Christian
into the reverend ear. The old gentleman raised his cadaverous head and
looked somewhat puzzled. Again he listened.
"Look after Aunt Judy--she cannot last long," murmured the young
Englishman in his native tongue, which was unknown to the monk.
"It is fever," said the sub-prior presently--"one of those terrible
fevers which kill men as the cold kills flies!"
No thought seemed to enter the monk's mind of possible infection. He
knelt upon the cold floor with one bare and bony arm beneath the sick
man's head, while the other lay across his breast. He was looking
intently into the veiled eyes, inhaling the very breath of the swollen
"Will he die, my father?" asked Rene Drucquer in a whisper; his face was
as pale as Vellacott's.
"He is in the hands of the good God," was the pious answer. The tall
monk rose to his feet and stood before the bed thinking. He rubbed his
bony hands together slowly. Through the tiny window a shaft of sunlight
poured down upon his grizzled head, and showed up relentlessly the deep
furrows that ran diagonally down from his cheek-bone to his chin.
"You must watch here, my son," he continued, "while I inform the
Father-Provincial of this."
The venerable sub-prior was no Jesuit, and perhaps he would have been
just as well pleased had the Provincial elected to live elsewhere than
in the monastery. But the Prior--an old man of ninety, and incapable of
work or thought--was completely in the power of the Society.
When he found himself alone with the Englishman, Rene Drucquer sat
wearily upon a small wooden bench, the only form of seat provided, and
leaned his narrow face upon his hands.
The prospect that he saw before him as he sat staring vacantly at the
floor of the little cell was black enough. He saw no possible outlet,
and he had not the courage to force his way through the barriers erected
all round him. It must be remembered that he was a Roman Catholic, and
over a sincere disciple of the Mother Church the power of the Jesuits is
greater than man should ever be allowed to exercise. The slavery that
England fought against so restlessly is nothing to it, for mental
bondage is infinitely heavier than physical service. He had determined
to accept the Provincial's offer of missionary work in Asia, but the
sudden horror of realising that he was a Jesuit, and could never be
anything else than a Jesuit for the rest of his days, was fresh upon
him. He was too young yet to find consolation in the thought that he at
all events could attempt to steer a clear, unsullied course through the
shoals and quicksands that surround a priest's existence, and he was too
old to buoy himself up with the false hope that he might, despite his
Jesuit's oath, do some good work for his Church. His awakening had been
rendered more terrible by the brilliancy of the dreams which it had
He had not looked upon Christian Vellacott as a victim hitherto, for the
bravest receive the least sympathy, and the young Englishman's cool way
of treating his reverse of fortune had repelled pity or commiseration.
But now all that was changed. Whatever this sickness might prove to be,
Rene Drucquer felt that the blame of it lay at his own door. If
Christian Vellacott were to die, he, Rene Drucquer, was in the eyes of
God a murderer, for he had forcibly brought him to his death. This was
an unpleasant reflection for a young devotee whose inward soul was full
of human kindness; and the presence of the strong man who lay gasping
for breath upon the narrow, comfortless bed was not reassuring.
It was only natural that those thoughts, coupled with the realisation of
the aimlessness of his own existence, should have bred in the young
Jesuit's heart a dull fire of antagonism against the man who was in
immediate authority over him, and when the Provincial noiselessly
entered the cell a few minutes later, he felt a sudden thrill of
misgiving at the thought that his feelings were sacred to none--that
this man with his deep, inscrutable eyes could read the face of his very
soul like an open book.
In this, Rene Drucquer was right. The Provincial was fully aware of the
presence of this spirit of antagonism, and, moreover, he knew that it
extended to the taciturn sub-prior who accompanied him. But this
knowledge in no way disturbed him. The spirit of antagonism had met him
in every turn of life. It was so familiar that he had learned to despise
it. Hitherto he had never failed in any undertaking, and he had never
been turned aside from the execution of his purpose by the fear of
incurring the enmity of men. Such minds as this make their mark in the
line of life which they take up, and if they do not happen to win the
love of their fellow-beings, they get on remarkably well without it.
The Provincial came into the cell with a singular noiselessness of
motion. His pale face expressed neither surprise nor annoyance, and his
eyes rested upon the form of the sick man with no sign of apprehension.
He approached, and with his long white finger touched Christian's wrist.
For a few moments he watched the uneasy movements of his flushed face,
and then he turned aside, without, however, leaving the bedside. Here
again there seemed to be no fear or thought of infection.
The sub-prior stood behind him with clasped hands, while Rene, who had
risen from his seat, was near at hand.
"This man, my father," said the Provincial coldly, "must not die. You
must take every care, and spare no expense or trouble. If it is
necessary you can have doctors from Nantes. I will bear every expense,
and I shall be grieved to hear of his death!"
Then he turned to leave the cell. He was a busy man, and his visit had
already lasted nearly three minutes.
Rene Drucquer stepped forward hurriedly. He was between his superior and
the door, so that he was in a position to command attention.
"My father," he pleaded, "may I nurse him?"
The Provincial raised his eyebrows almost imperceptibly; then he waved
his hand, commanding the young priest to stand aside.
"No," he said softly, "you must leave for Nantes in half-an-hour," and
he passed out into the noiseless corridor.
BACK TO LIFE
One mellow autumnal evening, when the sunlight reflected from the white
monastery walls upon the fruit trees climbing there was still warm and
full of ripening glow, the Provincial was taking his post-prandial
It is, perhaps, needless to observe that he was alone. No one ever
walked with the Provincial. No footstep ever crushed the gravel in
harmony with his gliding tread. Perhaps, indeed, no one had ever walked
with him thus, in the twilight, since a fairy, dancing form had moved in
the shadow of his tall person, and footsteps lighter than his own had
vainly endeavoured to keep time with his longer limbs. But that was in
no monastery garden; and the useful, vegetable producing enclosure bore
little resemblance to the chateau terrace. In those days it may be that
there was a gleam of life in the man's deep, velvety eyes--perhaps,
indeed, a moustache adorned the short, twisted lip where the white
fingers rasped so frequently now.
The pious monks were busy with their evening meal, and the Provincial
was quite alone in the garden. All around him the leaves glowed ruddily
in the warm light. Everywhere the fruits of earth were ripe and full
with mature beauty; but the solitary walker noted none of these. He
paced backwards and forwards with downcast eyes, turning slowly and
indifferently as if it mattered little where he walked. The merry
blackbirds in the hay field adjoining the garden called to each other
continuously, and from a hidden rookery came the voice of the dusky
settlers, which is, perhaps, the saddest sound in all nature's
harmonies. But the Jesuit resolutely refused to listen. Once, however,
he stopped and stood motionless for some seconds, with his head turned
slightly to meet the distant cry; but he never raised his eyes, which
were deep and lifeless in their gaze. It may be that there was a rookery
near that southern chateau, where he once had walked in the solemn
evening hour, or perhaps he did not hear that sound at all though his
ear was turned towards it.
It would be hard indeed to read from the priest's still features the
thoughts that might be passing through his powerful brain; but the
strange influence of his being was such as makes itself felt without any
spoken word. As he walked there with his long hands clasped behind his
back, his peculiarly shaped head bent slightly forward, and his perfect
lips closely pressed, no one could have looked at him without feeling
instinctively that no ordinary mind was busy beneath the tiny
tonsure--that no ordinary soul breathed there for weal or woe, seeking
after higher things in the right way or the wrong. The man's cultivated
repose of manner, his evident intellectuality, and his subtle strength
of purpose visible in every glance of his eyes, betrayed that although
his life might be passed in the calm retreat of a monastery, his soul
was not there. The man was never created to pass his existence in
prayerful meditation; his mission was one of strife and contention
amidst the strong minds of the age. One felt that he was living in this
quiet Breton valley for a purpose; that from this peaceful spot he was
dexterously handling wires that caused puppets--aye, puppets with golden
crowns--to dance, and smirk, and bow in the farthest corners of the
Presently the Jesuit heard footsteps upon the gravel at the far side of
the garden, but he did not raise his head. His interest in the trivial
incidents of everyday life appeared to be quite dead.
"Softly, softly!" said a deep, rough voice, which the Provincial
recognised as that of the sub-prior; then he raised his eyes slightly
and looked across the garden, without, however, altering his pace.
He saw there Christian Vellacott walking by the side of the hard-faced
old monk with long, hesitating strides, like a man who had forgotten how
to use his legs. It was exactly six weeks since the young journalist had
passed through that garden with Rene Drucquer, and those weeks had been
to him a strange and not unpleasant dream. It seemed as if the man lying
upon that little bed was in no way connected with the wiry, energetic
Christian Vellacott of old. As he lay there semi-somnolent and lazily
comfortable from sheer weakness, his interest in life was of a
speculative description, as if he looked on things from afar off.
Nothing seemed to matter much. There was an all-pervading sense of
restful indifference as to whether it might be night or day, morning,
noon, or evening. All responsibility in existence seemed to have left
him: his ready pride of self-dependence had given way to a gentle
obedience, and the passage from wakefulness to sleep was very sweet.
Through all those dreamy hours he heard the soft rustle of woollen
garments and the suppressed shuffle of sandalled feet. Whenever he
opened his heavy eyes he discerned vaguely in the dim light a grey,
still form seated upon the plain wooden bench at his bedside. Whenever
he tried to change his position upon the hard bed and his weary bones
refused their function, strong, hard hands were slipped beneath him and
kind assistance freely given. As a rule, it was the tall sub-prior who
ministered to the sick man, fighting the dread fever with all his simple
knowledge; his hands smoothed oftenest the tossed pillow; but many
clean-shaven, strong, and weary faces were bowed over the bed during
those six weeks, for there was a competition for the post of sick-nurse.
The monks loved to feel that they were performing some tangible good,
and not spending their hours over make-believe tasks like a
man-of-warsman in fine weather.
One frequent visitor, however, Christian Vellacott never saw beneath his
lazy lashes. The Provincial never entered that little cell unless he was
positively informed that its inmate was asleep. The inscrutable Jesuit
seemed almost to be ashamed of the anxiety that he undoubtedly felt
respecting the sick man thus thrown upon his hands by a peculiar chain
of incidents. He spoke coldly and sarcastically to the sub-prior
whenever he condescended to mention the subject at all; but no day
passed in which he failed to pay at least one visit to the little cell
at the end of the long, silent corridor.
"Softly, softly!" said the old sub-prior, holding out his bony hand to
stay his companion's progress, "you are too ambitious, my son."
Christian laughed in a low, weak voice, and raised his head to look
round him. The laugh ceased suddenly as he caught sight of the
Provincial, and across the potato-bed the two strong men looked
speculatively into each other's eyes in the peaceful twilight. The
Jesuit's gaze fell first, and with a dignified bow he moved gently away.
"I am stronger than I look, my father," said Christian, turning to his
companion. Then they walked slowly on, and presently rested upon a
wooden bench built against the monastery wall.
The young Englishman leaned back and watched the Provincial, who was
pacing backwards and forwards where they had first seen him. The old
monk sat with clasped hands, and gravely contemplated the gravel beneath
his feet. Thus they waited together within the high, whitewashed walls,
while the light faded from the western sky. Three types, as strangely
contrasted as the student of human kind could wish to see: the old monk
with his placid bloodless face and strong useless arms--a wasted
energy, a mere monument to mistaken zeal; and the younger men so widely
severed by social circumstances, and yet resembling each other somewhat
in heart and soul. Each had a strong individuality--each a great and
far-reaching vitality. Each was, in his way, a power in the world, as
all strong minds are; for in face of what may be said (and with apparent
justice) respecting chance and mere good fortune, good men must come to
the top among their fellows. They must--and most assuredly they do. As
in olden days the doughtiest knights sought each other in the
battlefield to measure steel, so in these later times the ruling
intellects of the day meet and clear a circle round them. The Provincial
was a power in the Society of Jesus; perhaps he was destined one day to
be General of it; and Christian Vellacott had suddenly appeared upon the
field of politic strife, heralding his arrival with two most deadly
blows dealt in masterly succession. From the first they were sure to
come together, sooner or later; and now, when they were separated by
nothing more formidable than a bed of potatoes, they were glancing
askance and longing to be at each other. But it could not be. Had the
sub-prior left the garden it would have made no difference. It was
morally impossible that those two men could speak what they were
thinking, for one of them was a Jesuit.
The Provincial, however, made the first move, and the Englishman often
wondered in later days what his intention might have been. He walked on
to the northern end of the garden, where a few thick-stemmed pear trees
were trained against the wall. The fruit was hanging in profusion, for
it was not consumed in the monastery but given to the poor at
harvest-time. The Provincial selected a brown, ripe pear, and broke it
delicately from the tree without allowing his fingers to come in contact
with the fruit itself. Then he turned and walked with the same lazy
precision towards the two other occupants of the garden. At his approach
the sub-prior rose from his seat and stood motionless with clasped
hands; there was a faint suggestion of antagonism in his attitude, which
was quite devoid of servility. Christian, however, remained seated,
raising his keen grey eyes to the Provincial's face with a quiet
self-assertion which the Jesuit ignored.
"I am glad, Monsieur, to see you restored to health," he said coldly to
Christian, meeting his gaze for a moment.
The Englishman bowed very slightly, and there was a peculiar
expressiveness in the action which betrayed his foreign education, but
the cool silence with which he waited for the Provincial to speak again
was essentially British. The Jesuit moved and glanced slowly beneath his
lowered eyelids towards the motionless figure of the sub-prior. He was
too highly bred to allow himself to be betrayed into any sign of
embarrassment, and too clever to let the Englishman see that he was
hesitating. After a momentary pause he turned gravely to the sub-prior,
"Will you allow your patient, my brother, to taste of our fruit? it is
ripe and wholesome."
Then, without awaiting a reply, he presented the pear to Vellacott. It
was a strange action, and no doubt there was some deep intention in it.
The Jesuit must have known, however, from Rene Drucquer's report, and
from his own observations, that Christian Vellacott was of too firm a
mould to allow his feelings to be influenced by a petty action of this
description, however sincere and conciliatory might have been the spirit
in which it was conceived. Perhaps he read the Englishman's character
totally wrong, although his experience of men must have been very great;
or perhaps he really wished to conciliate him, and took this first step
with the graceful delicacy of his nation, with a view to following it
With a conventional word of thanks, Vellacott took the pear and set it
down upon the bench at his side. Whatever the Jesuit's intention might
have been, it was frustrated by his quiet action. It would have been so
easy to have said a few words of praise regarding the fruit, and it was
only natural to have begun eating it at once; but Vellacott read a
deeper meaning in all this, and he chose a more difficult course. It was
assuredly harder to keep silence then than to talk, and a weaker-minded
man would have thanked the Provincial with effusion. The manner in which
Vellacott laid the fruit upon the bench, his quiet and deliberate
silence, conveyed unmistakably and intentionally that the Provincial's
society was as unwelcome as it was unnecessary. There was nothing to be
done but take the hint; and in the lowering twilight the solitary,
miserable man moved reluctantly away. With contemplative hardness of
heart the Englishman watched him go; there was no feeling of triumph in
his soul--neither, however, was there pity. The Jesuit had chosen his
own path, he had reached his goal, and that most terrible thirst--the
thirst for power--was nearly slaked. If at times--at the end of a long
day of hard mental work, when men's hearts are softened by weariness and
lowering peace--he desired something else than power, some little touch
of human sympathy perhaps, his was the blame if no heart responded to
his own. Christian Vellacott sat and wondered dreamily, with the
nonchalance of a man who has been at the very gates of death, if power
were worth this purchase-money.
The sub-prior had seated himself again, and with his strong hands meekly
clasped he waited. He knew that something was passing which he could not
understand: his dull instincts told him vaguely that between these two
strong men there was war-fare, dumb, sullen, and merciless; but unused
as he was to the ways of men, unlearned in the intricacies of human
thoughts, he could not read more.
"You have not told me yet, my father," said Vellacott, "how long I have
"Six weeks, my son," replied the taciturn monk.
"And it was very bad?"
"Yes, very bad."
Christian slowly rubbed his thin hands together. His fingers were moist
and singularly white, with a bleached appearance about the knuckles. His
face was thin, but not emaciated, his long jaw and somewhat pronounced
chin were not more bony than of old, but the expression of his mouth was
quite changed; his lips were no longer thrust upward with a determined
curve, and a smile seemed nearer at hand.
"I have a faint recollection of being very tenderly nursed and cared
for; generally by you, I think. No doubt you saved my life."
The sub-prior moved a little, and drew in his feet.
"The matter was not in my hands," he said quietly.
The Englishman, with some tact, allowed this remark to pass in
"Did you ever think that ... I was not ... going back to England?" he
asked presently, in a lighter tone, though the thought of returning
home brought no smile to his face.
The sub-prior did not reply at once. He appeared to be thinking deeply,
for he leaned forward in an unmonastic attitude with his knees apart,
his elbows resting upon them, and his hands clasped. He gazed across the
prosaic potato-bed with his colourless lips slightly apart.
"One night," he began meditatively, "I went to sit with you after the
bell for matins had been rung. From midnight till three o'clock you
never moved. Then I gave you some cordial, and as I stooped over you the
candle flickered a little; there were strange shadows upon your face,
but around your lips there was a deeper shade. I had seen it once
before, on my brother's face when he lay upon the hard Paris pavement
with a bullet in his lungs, and his breath whistling through the orifice
as the wind whistles round our walls in winter. I held the candle closer
to your face, and as I did so, a hand came over my shoulder and took it
from my fingers. The Father Provincial had come to help me. He said no
word, but set the candle down upon the bed, and I held you up while he
administered the cordial drop by drop, as a man oils a cartwheel."
"Ah!" said Christian slowly and suggestively, "_he_ was there!"
The monk made no reply. He sat motionless, with a calm, acquired
silence, which might have meant much or nothing.
"Did he come often?" inquired the Englishman.
"I never saw him."
This, again, was met with silence. Presently the sub-prior continued his
"When daylight came at last," he said, "the shadow had left your lips. I
think that night was the worst; it was then that you were nearer ...
nearer than at any other time."
Christian Vellacott was strong enough now to take his usual interest in
outward things. With the writer's instinct he went through the world
looking round him, always studying men and things, watching, listening,
and storing up experience. The Provincial interested him greatly, but he
did not dare to show his curiosity; he hesitated to penetrate the
darkness that surrounded the man's life, past, present, and future. In a
minor degree the taciturn sub-prior arrested his attention. The old monk
was in a communicative humour, and the Englishman led him on a little
without thinking much about the fairness of it.
"Did your brother die?" he asked sympathetically.
"He died," was the reply. "Yes, my son, he died--died cursing the
tyrant's bullet in his lungs. He threw away his life in a vain attempt
to alter human nature, to set straight that which is crooked and cannot
be set straight. He sought to bring about at once that which cometh not
until the lion shall eat straw like an ox. See, my son, that you do not
attempt the same."
"I think," said Christian, after a pause, "that we all try a little, and
perhaps some day a great accumulation of little efforts will take place.
You, my father, have tried as well!"
The monk slowly shook his head, without, however, any great display of
"I was not always a monk," he said, as if seeking to excuse a bygone
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