The Slave Of The Lamp
Henry Seton Merriman
Part 5 out of 5
It was nearly dark now. The birds were silent, and only the whispering
of the crisp, withering leaves broke the solemn hush of eventide. The
two men sat side by side without speaking. They had learnt to know each
other fairly well during the last weeks--so well that between them
silence was entirely restful. At length Christian moved restlessly. He
had reached that stage of convalescence where a position becomes irksome
after a short time. It was merely a sign of returning strength.
"Where is the Abbe Drucquer," he asked abruptly.
"He left us some time ago," was the guarded reply.
"He spoke of going abroad," said Christian, deliberately ignoring the
"The Father Provincial told me that the Abbe had gone abroad--to
India--to spread there the Holy Light to such as are still in darkness."
The young journalist thought that he detected again a faint suggestion
of antagonism in the sub-prior's voice. The manner in which the
information was imparted was almost an insult to the Provincial. It was
a repetition of his words, given in such a manner that had the speaker
been a man of subtle tongue it would have implied grave doubt.
Christian was somewhat surprised that Rene Drucquer should have attained
his object so quickly. He never suspected that he himself might have had
much to do with it, that it had been deemed expedient to remove the
young priest beyond the possible reach of his influence, because he was
quite unconscious of this influence. He did not know that its power had
affected Rene Drucquer, and that some reflection of it had even touched
the self-contained Provincial--that it was even now making this old
sub-prior talk more openly than was prudent or wise. He happened to be
taking the question from a very different point of view.
BACK TO WORK
Day by day Christian Vellacott recovered strength. The enforced rest,
and perhaps also the monastic peacefulness of his surroundings,
contributed greatly towards this. In mental matters as in physical we
are subject to contagion, and from the placid recluses, vegetating
unheeded in the heart of Brittany, their prisoner acquired a certain
restfulness of mind which was eminently beneficial to his body. Life
inside those white walls was so sleepy and withal so pleasant that it
was physically and mentally impossible to think and worry over events
that might be passing in the outer world.
Presently, however, Christian began to feel idle, which is a good sign
in invalids; and soon the days became long and irksome. He began to take
an increased interest in his surroundings, and realised at once how
little he knew of the existence going on about him. Though he frequently
passed, in the dim corridors and cloisters, a silent, grey-clad figure,
exchanging perhaps with him a scarcely perceptible salutation, he had
never spoken with any other inmates of the monastery than the Provincial
and the sub-prior.
He noticed also that the watchful care of the nurse had imperceptibly
glided into that of a warder. He was never allowed out of his cell
unless accompanied by the sub-prior--in fact, he was a state prisoner.
His daily walks never extended beyond the one path near the potato bed,
or backwards and forwards at the sunny end of the garden, where the huge
pears hung ripely. From neither point was any portion of the surrounding
country visible, but the Provincial could not veil the sun, and
Christian knew where lay the west and where the east.
No possible opportunity for escape presented itself, but the Englishman
was storing up strength and knowledge all the while. He knew that things
would not go on for long like this, and felt that the Provincial would
sooner or later summon him to the long room at the end of the corridor
upon the upper floor.
This call came to him three weeks after the day when the two men had met
in the garden--nine weeks after the Englishman's captivity had
"My son," said the sub-prior one afternoon, "the Father Provincial
wishes to speak with you to-day at three."
Christian glanced up at the great monastery clock, which declared the
time to be a quarter to three.
"I am ready," he said quietly. There was no tremor in his voice or light
in his eyes, and he continued walking leisurely by the side of the old
monk; but a sudden thrill of pleasant anticipation warmed his heart.
A little later they entered the monastery and mounted the stone stairs
together. As they walked along the corridor the clock in the tower
overhead struck three.
"I will wait for you at the foot of the stairs," said the monk slowly,
as if with some compunction. Then he led the way to the end of the
corridor and knocked at the door. He stood back, as if the Provincial
were in the habit of keeping knockers waiting. Such was, at all events,
the case now, and some minutes elapsed before a clear, low voice bade
The monk opened the door and stood back against the wall for Christian
to pass in. The Provincial was seated at the table near the window,
which was open, the afternoon being sultry although the autumn was
nearly over. At his left hand stood the small Venetian mirror which
enabled him to see who was behind him without turning round.
As Christian crossed the room the Provincial rose and bowed slightly,
with one of his slow, soft glances. Then he indicated the chair at the
left-hand side of the table, and said, without looking up:
"Be good enough--Mr. Vellacott."
When they were both seated the Provincial suddenly raised his eyes and
fixed them upon the Englishman's face. The action was slightly dramatic,
but very effective, and clearly showed that he was accustomed to find
the eyes of others quail before his. Christian met the gaze with a
calmness more difficult to meet than open defiance. After a moment they
turned away simultaneously.
"I need scarcely," said the Provincial, with singular sweetness of
manner, which, however, was quite devoid of servility, "apologise to
you, Monsieur, for speaking in French, as it is almost your native
Christian bowed, at the same time edging somewhat nearer to the table.
"There are one or two matters," continued the Jesuit, speaking faster,
"upon which I have been instructed to treat with you; but first I must
congratulate you upon your restoration to health. Your illness has been
very serious... I trust that you have had nothing to complain of... in
the treatment which you have received at our hands."
Christian, while sitting quite motionless, was making an exhaustive
survey of the room.
"On the contrary," he said, in a conventional tone which, in comparison
to his companion's manner, was almost brutal, "it is probably owing to
the care of the sub-prior that I am alive at the present moment, and--"
He stopped suddenly; an almost imperceptible motion of the Jesuit's
straight eyebrows warned him.
"And...?" repeated the Provincial, interrogatively. He leant back in his
chair with an obvious air of interest.
"And I am very grateful----to him."
"The reverend father is a great doctor," said the Jesuit lightly.
"Excuse me," he continued, rising and leaning across the table, "I will
close the window; the air from the river begins to grow cool."
The journalist moved slightly, looking over his shoulder towards the
window; at the same moment he altered, with his elbow, the position of
the small mirror standing upon the table. Instead of reflecting the
whole room, including the door at the end, it now reproduced the blank
wall at the side opposed to the curtained recess where the bed was
"And now, Mr. Vellacott," continued the Jesuit, reseating himself, "I
must beg your attention. I think there can be no harm in a little mutual
frankness, and--and it seems to me that a certain allowance for
respective circumstances can well be demanded."
He paused, and opening the leather-bound manuscript book, became
absorbed for a moment in the perusal of one of its pages.
"From your pen," he then said, in a businesslike monotone, "there has
emanated a serious and hitherto unproved charge against the Holy Society
of Jesus. It came at a critical moment in the political strife then
raging in France; and, in proportion to the attention it attracted, harm
and calumny accrued to the Society. I am told that your motives were
purely patriotic, and your desire was nothing beyond a most laudable one
of keeping your countrymen out of difficulties. Before I had the
pleasure of seeing you I said, 'This is a young journalist who, at any
expense, and even at the sacrifice of truth, wishes to make a name in
the world and force himself into public attention.' Since then I have
withdrawn that opinion."
During these remarks the Provincial had not raised his eyes from the
table. He now leant back in the chair and contemplated his own clasped
hands. Christian had listened attentively. His long, grave face was
turned slightly towards the Provincial, and his eyes were perhaps a
little softer in their gaze.
"I endeavoured," he said, "some weeks ago, to explain my position."
The Jesuit inclined his head. Then he raised his long white finger to
his upper lip, stroking the blue skin pensively.
Presently he raised his eyes to the Englishman's face, and in their
velvety depths Christian thought he detected an expression which was
almost pleading. It seemed to express a desire for help, for some slight
assistance in the performance of a difficult task. He never again looked
into those eyes in all his life, but the remembrance of them remained in
his heart for many years after the surrounding incidents had passed away
from memory and interest. He knew that the Soul looking forth from that
pale and heartless face was of no ordinary mould or strength. In later
years, when they were both grey-haired men whose Yea or No was of some
weight in the world--one speaking with the great and open voice of the
Press, the other working subtly, dumbly, secretly--their motives may
have clashed once more, their souls may have met and touched, as it
were, over the heads of the People, but they never looked into each
other's eyes again.
The Provincial moved uneasily.
"It has been a most unfortunate business," he said gently, and after a
pause continued more rapidly, with his eyes upon the book. "I am
instructed to lay before you the apologies of the Society for the
inconvenience to which you have been put. Your own sense of justice will
tell you that we were bound to defend ourselves in every way. You have
done us a great injury, and, as is our custom, we have contradicted
nothing. The Society of Jesus does not defend itself in the vain hope of
receiving justice at the hands of men. I am now in a position to inform
you again that you are at liberty--free to go where you will, when you
will--and that any sum you may require is at your disposal to convey you
home to England ... on your signing a promise never to write another
word for private or public circulation on the subject of the Holy Order
of Jesus, or to dictate to the writing of another."
"I must refuse," said Christian laconically, almost before the words had
left the Jesuit's lips. "As I explained before, I am simply a public
servant; what I happen to know must ever be at the public disposal or I
A short silence followed this remark. When at length the Provincial
spoke his tone was cold and reserved.
"Of course," he said, "I expected a refusal--at first. I am instructed
to ask you to reconsider your refusal and to oblige me, at the end of a
week, with the result of your meditations. If it remains a refusal,
another week will be accorded, and so on."
The Jesuit closed the book upon the table in front of him and with great
care altered its position so that it lay quite squarely. He raised his
eyebrows slightly and glanced sideways towards the Englishman. At that
moment the bell began summoning the devotees to their evening meal, its
deep tone vibrating weirdly through the bare corridors.
"Until you accept," suggested he softly.
Christian looked at him speculatively. The faintest suspicion of a smile
hovered for a moment in his eyes, and then he turned and looked out of
"I hope, Monsieur," continued the Jesuit, "that when I have the pleasure
of seeing you--a week hence--your health will be quite re-established!"
"And in the meantime I shall feel honoured by your asking for anything
you may require."
"Thank you!" answered Christian again. He was still looking over his
shoulder, down at the brown river which ran immediately below the
"Please excuse my rising to open the door for you," said the Provincial,
with cool audacity, "but I have a few words to write before joining our
brethren at their evening repast."
Christian turned and looked at him vaguely. There was a peculiar gleam
in his eyes, and he was breathing heavily. Then he rose and, as he
passed the Jesuit, bowed slightly in acknowledgment of his grave
salutation. He walked quickly down the length of the room, which was not
carpeted, and opened the door, closing it again with some noise
immediately. But he never crossed the threshold. To the man sitting at
the table it was as if the Englishman had left the room, closing the
door after him.
Presently the Provincial glanced at the mirror, from mere habit, and
found that it was displaced. He re-arranged it thoughtfully, so that the
entire room was included in its field of reflection.
"I wonder," he said aloud, "when and why he did that!"
Then he returned to his writing. In a few minutes, however, he rose and
pushed back his chair. With his hands clasped behind his back he stood
and gazed fixedly out of the window. Beneath him the brown water glided
past with curling eddy and gleaming ripple, while its soft murmur was
the only sound that broke the pathetic silence surrounding this lonely
man. His small and perfectly formed face was quite expressionless; the
curve of his thin lips meant nothing; all the suppressed vitality of his
being lay in those deep, soft eyes over which there seemed to be a veil.
Presently he turned, and with lithe, smooth steps passed down the long
room and out of the door.
Instantly Christian Vellacott came from his hiding-place within the
recess. He ran to the window and opened it noiselessly. A moment later
he was standing upon the stone sill. The afternoon sun shone full upon
his face as he stood there, and showed a deep red flush on either cheek.
Slowly he stooped forward, holding with one hand to the woodwork of the
window while he examined critically the surface of the water. Suddenly
he threw his arms forward and like a black shadow dived noiselessly,
passing into the depth without a splash. When he rose to the surface he
turned to look at the monastery. The Provincial's window was the only
outlet directly on to the river.
The stream was rapid, and after swimming with it for a short time he
left the water and lay down to recover his breath under the friendly
cover of some bushes. There he remained for some time, while the short
October twilight closed over the land. A man just dragged from the jaws
of death, he lay in his wet clothes where he first found shelter without
even troubling to move his limbs from the pools of water slowly
accumulating. Already the monastery was a thing of the past. With the
rapid forethought of his generation he was already looking to the
future. He knew too well the spirit of the people in France to fear
pursuit. The monks never ventured beyond their own walls except on
ostentatious missions of charity. The machinations of the Society of
Jesus were less to be feared in France than in England, and he had only
to take his story to the nearest sub-prefecture to raise a storm of
popular opinion in his favour. But this was not his project. With him,
as in all human plans, his own personal feelings came before the
possible duty he owed to the public. He lay beneath the bramble
undergrowth, and speculated as to what might have taken place subsequent
to his disappearance. At that moment the fortunes of the _Beacon_
gave him no food for thought. What Mr. Bodery and his subordinate might,
or might not, think found no interest in his mind. All his speculations
were confined to events at St. Mary Western, and the outcome of his
meditations was that when the friendly cover of darkness lay on the land
he rose and started to walk briskly across the well-tilled country
towards the north.
That portion of Brittany which lies along the northern coast is a
pastoral land where sleep occupies the larger half of man's life.
Although it was only evening, an hour when Paris and London recover, as
it were, from the previous night's vigil and brighten up into vigour,
the solitary Englishman passed unheeded through the squalid villages,
unmolested along the winding roads. Mile after mile of scanty forest
land and rich meadow were left behind, while, except for a few
heavily-breathing cattle, he met no sign of life. At last he came upon
a broader road which bore unmistakable signs of military workmanship in
its construction, and here he met, and passed with laconic greeting, a
few peasant women returning with empty baskets from some neighbouring
market; or perhaps a "cantonnier" here and there, plodding home with
"sabots" swinging heavily and round shoulders bent beneath the burden
of his weighty stone-breaking implements.
Following the direction of this road his course was now towards the
north-east, with more tendency to the eastward than he desired, but
there was no choice. About eight o'clock he passed through a small
village, which appeared to be already wrapped in stupid slumber such as
attends the peasant's pillow. A cock crowed loudly, and in reply a dog
barked with some alarm, but Christian was already beyond the village
upon the deserted high road again.
He now began to feel the weakening effect of his illness; his legs
became cramped, and he frequently rested at the roadside. The highway
was running still more to the eastward now, and Christian was just
beginning to consider the advisability of taking to the country again,
when it joined a broader road cut east and west. Here he stopped short,
and, raising his head, stood quite still for some moments.
"Ah!" he muttered. "The sea. I smell the sea."
He now turned to the left, and advanced along the newly-discovered road
towards the west. As he progressed the pungent odour of seaweed
refreshed him and grew stronger every moment. Suddenly he became aware
that although high land lay upon his left hand there was to his right a
hollow darkness without shadow or depth. No merry plash of waves came to
explain this; the smell of the sea was there, but the joyous tumble of
its waters was not to be heard. The traveller stooped low and peered
into the darkness. Gradually he discerned a distant line of horizon, and
to that point there seemed to stretch a vast dead sheet of water without
light or motion. Upon his ears there stole a soft bubbling sound, varied
occasionally by a tiny ripple. Suddenly a flash of recollection appeared
to pass through the watcher's mind, and he muttered an exclamation of
surprise as he turned towards the east and endeavoured to pierce the
gloom. He was right. Upon the distant line of horizon a jagged outline
cut the sky. It was like the form of a huge tooth jutting out from the
softer earth. Such is Mont St. Michel standing grandly alone in the
midst of a shallow, sullen sea. The only firm thing among the quaking
sands, the only stone for miles around.
"The Bay of Cancale!" reflected Christian. "If I keep to the westward I
shall reach St. Malo before ten o'clock!"
And he set off with renewed vigour. From his feet there stretched away
to the north a great dead level of quicksand, seething, bubbling, and
heaving in the darkness. The sea, and yet no sea. Neither honest land
nor rolling water.
Silas Lebrun, captain and part-owner of the brig _Agnes and Mary_
of Jersey, was an early riser. Moreover, the old gentleman entertained
peculiar views as to the homage due to Morpheus. He made no elaborate
toilet before entering the presence of that most lovable god. Indeed he
always slept in his boots, and the cabin-boy had on several occasions
invited the forecastle hands to believe that he neither removed the
ancient sealskin cap from his head nor the wooden pipe from his lips
when slumber soothed his senses; but this statement was always set aside
In person the ancient sailor was almost square, with short legs and a
body worthy of promotion to something higher. His face was wrinkled and
brown, like the exterior of that incomprehensible fruit the medlar,
which is never ripe till it is bad, and then it is to be avoided. A
yellow-grey beard clustered closely round a short chin, and when
perchance the sealskin cap was absent yellow-grey hair of a similar hue
completed the circle, standing up as high from his brow as fell the
beard downward from his chin. A pair of intensely blue eyes, liquid
always with the milk of human kindness, rendered the hirsute medlar a
pleasant thing to look at.
The _Agnes and Mary_ was ready for sea, her cargo of potatoes, with
a little light weight in the way of French beans and eggs, comfortably
stowed, and as Captain Lebrun emerged from what he was pleased to call
his "state-room" with the first breath of a clear morning he performed
his matinal toilet with a certain sense of satisfaction. This
operation was simple, consisting merely in the passage of four very
brown fingers through the yellow-grey hair, and a hurried dispersal of
the tobacco ash secreted in his beard.
The first object that met the mariner's astonished gaze was the long
black form of a man stretched comfortably upon the cabin locker. The
green mud adhering to the sleeper's thin shoes showed that he had
climbed on board at low tide when the harbour was dry.
Captain Lebrun gazed meditatively at the intruder for some moments. Then
he produced a powerfully-scented pipe of venerable appearance, which had
been, at various stages of its existence, bound in a seaman-like manner
with pieces of tarred yarn. He slowly filled this object, and proceeded
to inform it in a husky voice that he was "blowed." The pipe was,
apparently, in a similar condition, as it refused absolutely to answer
to the powerful suction applied to it.
He then seated himself with some difficulty upon the corner of the low
table, and examined the sleeper critically.
"Poor devil," he again said, addressing himself to his pipe. "He's one
of them priest fellows.--Hi, mister!" he observed, raising his voice.
Christian Vellacott woke up at once, and took in the situation without
delay. He was not of those who must go through terrible contortions
before regaining their senses after sleep.
"Good morning, Captain!" he observed pleasantly.
"Oh--yourn't a parlee voo, then!"
"No, I'm an Englishman."
"Indeed. Then you'll excuse me, but what in the name of glory are you
Christian sat up and looked at his muddy shoes with some interest.
"Well, the truth is that I am bolting. I want to get across to England.
I saw where you hailed from by your rig, and clambered on board last
night. It seemed to me that when an Englishman is in a hole he cannot do
better than go to a fellow-countryman for help."
Captain Lebrun made a mighty effort to force a passage through his pipe,
and was rewarded by a very high-pitched squeak.
"Ay!" he said doubtfully. "But what sort of hole is it? Nothing dirty,
I'm hopin'. Who are yer? Why are ye runnin' away, and who are ye runnin'
Though a trifle blunt the sailor's manner was not unfriendly, and
Christian laughed before replying.
"Well," he said, "to tell you the whole story would take a long time.
You remember perhaps there was a row, about two months ago, respecting
some English rifles found in Paris?"
"Of course I remember that; we had a lot o' trouble with the Customs
just then. The thing was ferreted out by a young newspaper fellow!"
Christian rubbed his hands slowly together. He was terribly anxious to
hear the sequel.
"I am that newspaper fellow," he said, with a quick smile.
Captain Lebrun slowly stood up. He contemplated his pipe thoughtfully,
then laying it upon the table he turned solemnly towards Christian, and
held out a broad brown hand which was covered with scales in lieu of
"Shake hands, mister?" he said.
Christian obliged him.
"And now," he said quickly, "I want to know what has happened
since--since I left England. Has there been a great row? Has ... has
anybody wondered where I was?"
The old sailor may have had his suspicions. He may have guessed that
Christian Vellacott had not left England at the dictates of his own free
will, for he looked at him very kindly with his liquid blue eyes, and
"I couldn't say that _nobody_ hasn't been wonderin' where ye was,
but--but there's been nothing in the papers!"
"That is all right! And now will you give me a passage, Captain?"
"Course I will! We sail about eleven this morning. I'm loaded and
cleared out. But I should like you to have a change o' clothes. Can't
bear to see ye in them black things. It makes me feel as if I was
talkin' to a priest."
"I should like nothing better," replied Christian, as he rose and
contemplated his own person reflectively.
"Come into my state-room then. I've got a few things of my own, and a
bit of a slop-chest: jerseys and things as I sell to the men."
The Captain's wardrobe was of a marine character and somewhat rough in
texture. He had, however, a coat and waistcoat of thick blue pilot-cloth
which fitted Christian remarkably well, but the continuations thereof
were so absurdly out of keeping with the young fellow's long limbs as to
precipitate the skipper on to the verge of apoplexy. When he recovered,
and his pipe was re-lighted, he left the cabin and went forward to
borrow a pair of the required articles from Tom Slake, an ordinary
seaman of tall and slim proportions. In a short time Christian Vellacott
bore the outward semblance of a very fair specimen of the British tar,
except that his cheeks were bleached and sunken, which discrepancy was
promptly commented upon by the blunt old sailor.
Secrecy was absolutely necessary, so Tom, of the long legs, was the only
person to whom Christian's presence was made known; and he it was who
(in view of a possible berth as steward later on) was entrusted with the
simple culinary duties of the vessel.
Breakfast, as served up by Tom, was of a noble simplicity. A long shiny
loaf of yesterday's bread, some butter in a saucer--which vessel was
deemed entirely superfluous in connection with cups--brown sugar in an
old mustard-tin, with portions of yellow paper adhering to it, and solid
slices of bacon brought from the galley in their native frying-pan. Such
slight drawbacks, however, as there might have been in the matter of
table-ware disappeared before the sense of kindly hospitality with which
Captain Lebrun poured the tea into a cracked cup and a borrowed
pannikin, dropping in the sugar with careful judgment from his brown
fingers. Such defects as there might have lurked in the culinary art as
carried on in the galley vanished before the friendly solicitude with
which Tom tilted the frying-pan to pour into Christian's plate a bright
flow of bacon-fat cunningly mingled with cinders.
When the meal had been duly despatched Captain Lebrun produced his pipe
and proceeded to fill it, after having extracted from its inward parts
the usual high-toned squeak.
Christian leant back against the bulkhead with his hands buried deeply
in Tom's borrowed pockets. He felt much more at home in pilot cloth than
"There is one more thing I should like to borrow," he said.
"Ay?" repeated the captain interrogatively, as he searched in his
waistcoat-pocket for a match.
"Ay, what is it?"
"A pipe. I have not had a smoke for two months."
The Captain struck a light upon his leg.
"I've got one somewhere," he replied reassuringly; "carried it for many
years now, just in case this one fell overboard or got broke."
Tom, who happened to be present, smiled audibly behind a hand which was
hardly a recommendation for the coveted berth of steward, but Christian
looked at the battered pipe with sympathetic gravity.
At ten o'clock the _Agnes and Mary_ warped out of harbour and
dropped lazily down the Rance, setting sail as she went. Christian had
spent most of the morning in the little cabin smoking Captain Lebrun's
reserve pipe, and seeking to establish order among the accounts of the
ship. The accounts were the _bete noire_ of the old sailor's
existence. Upon his own confession he "wasn't no arithmetician," and
Christian found, upon inspecting his accounts, no cause to contradict
this ambiguous statement.
When the _Agnes and Mary_ was clear of the harbour he went on deck,
where activity and maritime language reigned supreme. The channel was
narrow and the wind light, consequently the little brig drifted more or
less at her own sweet will. This would have been well enough had the
waterway been clear of other vessels, but the Jersey steamer was coming
in, with her yellow funnel gleaming in the sunlight, her mail-flag
fluttering at her foremast, and her captain swearing on the bridge, with
the whistle-pull in his hand.
Seeing that the _Agnes and Mary_ had no steerage way, the captain
stopped his engines for a few minutes, and then went ahead again at
half-speed. This brought the vessels close together, and, as is the
invariable custom in such circumstances, the two crews stared stonily at
each other. On the deck were one or two passengers enjoying the morning
air after a cramped and uncomfortable night. Among these was an old man
with a singularly benign expression; he was standing near the
after-wheel, gazing with senile placidity towards St. Malo. As the
vessels neared each other, however, he walked towards the rail, and
stood there with a pleasant smile upon his face, as if ready to exchange
a greeting with any kindred soul upon the _Agnes and Mary_.
Christian Vellacott, seated upon the rail of the after-deck, saw the old
man and watched him with some interest--not, however, altering his
position or changing countenance. The vessels moved slowly on, and, in
due course, the two men were opposite to each other, each at the extreme
stern of his ship.
Then the young journalist removed Captain Lebrun's spare pipe from his
lips, and leaning sideways over the water, called out:
"Good morning, Signor Bruno!"
The effect of this friendly greeting upon the benevolent old gentleman
was peculiar. He grasped the rail before him with both hands, and stared
at the young Englishman. Then he stamped upon the deck with a sudden
access of fury.
"Ah!" he exclaimed fiercely, while a tiger-like gleam shone out from
beneath his smooth white brows. "Ah! it is you!"
Christian swung his legs idly, and smiled with some amusement across the
little strip of water.
Suddenly the old man plunged his hand into the breast-pocket of his
coat. He appeared to be tugging wildly at some article which was caught
in the lining of his clothes, when a remarkable change came over his
face. A dull red colour flew to his cheeks, and his eyes gleamed
ruddily, as if shot with blood. Then without a word he fell forward with
his breast against the painted rail, remained there a second, and as the
two ships passed away from each other, rolled over upon his back on the
clean deck, grasping a pistol in his right hand.
Christian Vellacott sat still upon the rail, swinging one leg, and
smiling reflectively. He saw the old man fall and the other passengers
crowd round him, but the _Agnes and Mary_ had now caught the breeze
and was moving rapidly out to sea, where the sunlight danced upon the
water in little golden bars.
"Apperlexy!" said a voice in the journalist's ear. He turned and found
Captain Lebrun standing at his side looking after the steamer.
"Do you think so?" asked Christian.
"I do," was the reply, given with some conviction. "I seen a man fall
just like that; he was a broad-built man wi' a thick neck, and in a
moment of excitement he fell just like that, and died a'most at once.
Apperlexy they said it was."
"It seemed to come over him very suddenly, did it not?" said Christian
"Ay, it did," said the captain. "Ye seemed to know him!"
Christian turned and looked his companion full in the face. "I have met
him twice," he said quietly. "He was in England for some years, I
believe; a political refugee, he called himself."
By sea and land Captain Lebrun had learnt to devote an exclusive
attention to his own affairs, allowing other men to manage theirs, well
or ill, according to their fancy. He knew that Christian Vellacott
wished to tell him no more, and he was content that it should be so, but
he had noticed a circumstance which, from the young journalist's
position, was probably invisible. He turned to give an order to the man
at the wheel, and then walked slowly and with some difficulty (for
Captain Lebrun suffered, in a quiet way, agonies from rheumatism) back
towards his passenger.
"Seemed to me," he said reflectively, as he looked upwards to see if the
foretopsail was shivering, "as if he had something in his hand when a'
Christian followed the Captain's gaze. The sails were now filling well,
and there was an exhilarating sound of straining cordage in the air
while the vessel glided on. The young journalist was not an
impressionable man, but he felt all these things. The sense of open
freedom, the gentle rise and fall of the vessel, the whirring breeze,
and the distant line of high land up the Rance towards Dinant--all
these were surely worth hearing, feeling, and seeing; assuredly, they
added to the joy of living.
"Something in his hand," he repeated gravely; "what was it?"
Captain Lebrun turned sideways towards the steersman, and made a little
gesture with his left hand. A wrinkle had appeared in one corner of the
foretopsail. Then he looked round the horizon with a sailor's
far-seeing gaze, before replying.
"Seemed to me," he mumbled, without taking his pipe from his lips,
"that it was a revolver."
Then the two men smoked in silence for some time. The little vessel
moved steadily out towards the blue water, passing a lighthouse built
upon a solitary rock, and later a lightship, with its clean red hull
gleaming in the sunlight as it rose and fell lazily. So close were they
to the latter that the man watching on deck waved his hand in
Still Vellacott had vouchsafed no reply to Captain Lebrun's strange
statement. He sat on the low rail, swinging one leg monotonously, while
the square little sailor stood at his side with that patient maritime
reflectiveness which is being slowly killed by the quicker ways of
"My calling brings me into contact with a rum lot of people," said the
young fellow at last, "and I suppose all of us make enemies without
With this vague elucidation the little skipper was forced to content
himself. He gave a grunt of acquiescence, and walked forward to
superintend the catheading of the anchor.
IN THE RUE ST. GINGOLPHE AGAIN
One would almost have said that the good citizen Jacquetot was restless
and disturbed. It was not that the little tobacco shop left aught to be
desired in the way of order, neither had the tobacconist quitted his
seat at the window-end of the counter. But he was not smoking, and at
short intervals he drew aside the little red curtain and looked out into
the quiet Rue St. Gingolphe with a certain eagerness.
The tobacconist was not in the habit of going to meet things. He usually
waited for them to come to him. But on this particular evening of
September in a year which it is not expedient to name, he seemed to be
looking out into the street in order that he might not be taken by
surprise in the event of an arrival. Moreover he mopped his vast
forehead at unnecessarily frequent intervals, just as one may note a
snuff-taker have recourse to that solace more frequently when he is
agitated than when a warm calm reigns within his breast.
"So quiet--so quiet," he muttered, "in our little street--and in the
others--who knows? It would appear that they have their shutters lowered
He listened intently, but there was no sound except the clatter of an
occasional cart or the distant whistle of a Seine steamer.
Then the tobacconist returned to the perusal of the _Petit
Journal_. Before he had skimmed over many lines, he looked up sharply
and drew aside the red curtain. Yes! It was some one at last. The
footsteps were hurried and yet hesitating--the gait of a person not
knowing his whereabouts. And yet the man who entered the shop a moment
later was evidently the same who had come to the citizen Jacquetot when
last we met him.
"Ah!" exclaimed the tobacconist. "It is you!"
"No," replied the other. "It is not. I am not the citizen...Morot--I
think you call it."
"But, yes!" exclaimed the fat man in amazement. "You are that citizen,
and you are also the Vicomte d'Audierne."
The new-comer was looking round him curiously; he stepped towards the
curtained door, and turned the handle.
"I am," he said, "his brother. We are twins. There is a resemblance. Is
this the room? Yes!"
"Yes, monsieur. It is! But never was there such a resemblance."
The tobacconist mopped his head breathlessly.
"Go," said the other, "and get a mattress. Bring it and lay it on this
table. My brother is wounded. He has been hit."
Jacquetot rose laboriously from his seat. He knew now that this was not
the Vicomte d'Audierne. This man's method was quite different. He spoke
with a quiet air of command, not doubting that his orders would be
obeyed. He was obviously not in the habit of dealing with the People.
The Vicomte d'Audierne had a different manner of speaking to different
people--this man, who resembled him so strangely, gave his orders
without heeding the reception of them.
The tobacconist was essentially a man of peace. He passed out of a small
door in the corner of the shop, obeying without a murmur, and leaving
the new-comer alone.
A moment later the sound of wheels awoke the peaceful stillness of the
Rue St. Gingolphe. The vehicle stopped, and at the same instant the man
passed through the little curtained doorway into the room at the back of
the shop, closing the door after him.
The gas was turned very low, and in the semi-darkness he stood quite
still, waiting. He had not long to wait; he had scarcely closed the door
when it was opened again, and some one entered rapidly, closing it
behind him. Then the first comer raised his arm and turned up the gas.
Across the little table, in the sudden flood of light, two men stood
looking at each other curiously. They were so startlingly alike, in
height and carriage and every feature, that there was something weird
and unpleasant in their action--in their silence.
"Ah!" said the last comer. "It is thou. I almost fired!"
And he threw down on the table a small revolver.
"Why have you done this?" continued the Vicomte d'Audierne. "I thought
we agreed sixteen years ago that the world was big enough to contain us
both without meeting, if we exercised a little care."
"She is dead," replied the brother. "She died two years ago--the wife of
Prangius--what does it matter now?"
"I know that--but why did you come?"
"I was ordered to Paris by the General. I was near you at the barricade,
and I heard the bullet hit you. Where is it?"
The Vicomte looked down at his hand, which was pressed to his breast;
the light of the gas flickered, and gleamed on his spectacles as he did
"In my chest," he replied. "I am simply dripping with blood. It has
trickled down my legs into my boots. Very hot at first--and then very
The other looked at him curiously, and across his velvety eyes there
passed that strange contraction which has been noted in the glance of
the Vicomte d'Audierne.
"I have sent for a mattress," he said. "That bullet must come out. A
doctor is following me; he will be here on the instant."
"One of your Jesuits?"
"Yes--one of my Jesuits."
The Vicomte d'Audierne smiled and winced. He staggered a little, and
clutched at the back of a chair. The other watched him without emotion.
"Why do you not sit down?" he suggested coldly. "There are none of
your--_People_--here to be impressed."
Again the Vicomte smiled.
"Yes," he said smoothly, "we work on different lines, do we not? I
wonder which of us has dirtied his hands the most. Which of the two--the
two fools who quarrelled about a woman. Ha? And she married a third--a
dolt. Thus are they made--these women!"
"And yet," said the Jesuit, "you have not forgotten."
The Vicomte looked up slowly. It seemed that his eyelids were heavy,
requiring an effort to lift them.
"I do not like to hear the rooks call--that is all," he said.
The other turned away his soft, slow glance, the glance that had failed
to overcome Christian Vellacott's quiet defiance--
"Nor I," he said. "It makes one remember."
There was a short silence, and then the Jesuit spoke--sharply and
"Sit down, you fool!" he said. "You are fainting."
The Vicomte obeyed, and at the same moment the door opened and the
tobacconist appeared, pushing before him a mattress.
The Jesuit laid aside his hat, revealing the tonsure gleaming whitely
amidst his jetty hair, and helped to lay the mattress upon the table.
Then the two men, the Provincial and the tobacconist of the Rue St.
Gingolphe, lifted the wounded aristocrat gently and placed him upon the
improvised bed. True to his blood, the Vicomte d'Audierne uttered no
sound of agony, but as his brother began to unbutton the butcher's
blouse in which he was disguised he fainted quietly. Presently the
doctor arrived. He was quite a young man, with shifting grey eyes, and
he saluted the Provincial with a nervous obsequity which was unpleasant
to look upon. The deftness with which he completed the task of laying
bare the wound was notable. His fingers were too clever to be quite
honest. When, however, he was face to face with the little blue-rimmed
orifice that disfigured the Vicomte's muscular chest, the expression of
his face--indeed his whole manner--changed. His eyes lost their
shiftiness--he seemed to forget the presence of the great man standing
at the other side of the table.
While he was selecting a probe from his case of instruments the Vicomte
d'Audierne opened his eyes.
"Ah!" said the doctor, noting this at once. "You got this on the
"How did you get here?" He was feeling the wounded man's pulse now.
"All the way?"
"Who carried you into this room?" asked the doctor, returning to his
case of instruments.
"No one! I walked." The doctor's manner, quick and nonchalant, evidently
aggravated his patient.
"Why did you do that?"
He was making his preparations while he spoke, and never looked at the
"In order to avoid attracting attention."
This brought the doctor's glance to his face, and the result was
instantaneous. The young man started, and into his eyes there came again
the shifty expression, as he looked from the face of the patient to that
of the Provincial standing motionless at the other side of the table. He
said nothing, however, and returned with a peculiar restraint to his
preparations. It is probable that his silence was brought about by the
persistent gaze of two pairs of deep velvety eyes which never left his
"Will Monsieur take chloroform," he asked, unfolding a clean
pocket-handkerchief, and taking from his waistcoat pocket a small phial.
"But--I beg of you------"
"It is not necessary," persisted the Vicomte calmly.
The doctor looked across to the Provincial and made a hopeless little
movement of the shoulders, accompanied by an almost imperceptible
elevation of the eyebrows.
The Jesuit replied by looking meaningly at the small glass-stoppered
Then the doctor muttered:
"As you will!"
He had laid his instruments out upon the mattress--the gas was turned up
as high as it would go. Everything was ready. Then he turned his back a
moment and took off his coat, which he laid upon a chair, returning
towards the bed with one hand behind his back.
Quick as thought, he suddenly darted forward and pressed the clean
handkerchief over the wounded man's mouth and nose. The Vicomte
d'Audierne gave a little smothered exclamation of rage, and raised his
arms; but the Jesuit was too quick for him, and pinned him down upon the
After a moment the doctor removed the handkerchief, and the Vicomte lay
unconscious and motionless, his delicate lips drawn back in anger, so
that the short white teeth gleamed dangerously.
"It is possible," said the surgeon, feeling his pulse again, "that
Monsieur has killed himself by walking into this room."
Like a cat over its prey, the young doctor leant across the mattress.
Without looking round he took up the instruments he wanted, knowing the
order in which they lay. He had been excellently taught. The noiseless
movements of his white fingers were marvellously dexterous--neat, rapid,
and finished. The evil-looking instruments gleamed and flashed beneath
the gaslight. He had a peculiar little habit of wiping each one on his
shirt-sleeve before and after use, leaving a series of thin red stripes
After the lapse of a minute he raised his head, wiped something which he
held in his fingers, and passed it across to the Provincial.
"That is the bullet, my father," he said, without ceasing his
occupation, and without raising his eyes from the wounded man.
"Will he live?" asked the Jesuit casually, while he examined the bullet.
"If he tries, my father," was the meaning reply.
The young doctor was bandaging now, skilfully and rapidly.
"This would be the death of a dog," said the Provincial, as if musing
aloud; for the surgeon was busy at his trade, and the tobacconist had
withdrawn some time before.
"Better than the life of a dog," replied the Vicomte, in his smoothly
mocking way, without opening his eyes.
It was very easy to blame one woman, and to cast reflections upon the
entire sex. If these brothers had not quarrelled about that woman, they
would have fallen out over something else. Some men are so: they are
like a strong spirit--light and yet potent--that floats upon the top of
all other liquids and will mingle with none.
It would seem that these two could not be in the same room without
quarrelling. It was only with care that (as the Jesuit had coldly
observed) they could exist in the same world without clashing. Never
was the Vicomte d'Audierne so cynical, so sceptical, as in the presence
of his brother. Never was Raoul d'Audierne so cold, so heartless, so
Jesuitical, as when meeting his brother's scepticism.
Sixteen years of their life had made no difference. They were as far
apart now as on one grey morning sixteen years ago, when the Vicomte
d'Audierne had hurried away from the deserted shore of the Cote du Nord,
leaving his brother lying upon the sand with an ugly slit in his neck.
That slit had healed now, but the scar was always at his throat, and in
both their hearts.
True to his training, the Provincial had not spoken the truth when he
said that he had been ordered to Paris. There was only one man in the
world who could order him to do anything, and that man was too wise to
test his authority. Raoul d'Audierne had come to Paris for the purpose
of seeing his brother--senior by an hour. There were many things of
which he wished to speak, some belonging to the distant past, some to a
more recent date. He wished to speak of Christian Vellacott--one of the
few men who had succeeded in outwitting him--of Signor Bruno, or Max
Talma, who had died within pistol range of that same Englishman, a
sudden, voiceless death, the result of a terrible access of passion at
the sight of his face.
But this man was a Jesuit and a d'Audierne, which latter statement is
full of import to those who, having studied heredity, know that
wonderful _inner_ history of France which is the most romantic
story of human kind. And so Raoul d'Audierne--the man whose power in the
world is like that of the fires burning within the crust of the earth,
unseen, immeasurable--and so he took his hat, and left the little room
behind the tobacconist's shop in the Rue St. Gingolphe--beaten,
THE MAKING OF CHRISTIAN VELLACOTT
"Money," Captain Lebrun was saying emphatically, as the _Agnes and
Mary_ drifted slowly past Gravesend pier on the rising tide. "Hang
money! Now, I should think that you make as much of it in a month as I
do in a year. You're a young man, and as far as I know ye, ye're a
successful one. Life spreads out before you like a clean chart. I'm an
old 'un--my time is nearly up. I've lived what landsmen call a hard
life, and now I'm slowly goin' home. Ay, Mr. Vellacott, goin' home! And
you think that with all your manifold advantages you're a happier man
than me. Not a bit of it! And why? 'Cause you belong to a generation
that looks so far ahead that it's afraid of bein' happy, just for fear
there's sorrow a comin'. Money, and lookin' ahead, that's what spoils
yer lives nowadays."
The skipper emphasised these weighty observations by expectorating
decisively into the water, and walked away, leaving Christian Vellacott
with a vaguely amused smile upon his face. It is just possible that
Silas Lebrun, master and owner of the _Agnes and Mary_, was nearer
the mark than he thought.
An hour later, Vellacott was walking along the deserted embankment above
Westminster, on the Chelsea side of the river. It was nine o'clock, for
which fact Big Ben solemnly gave his word, far up in the fog. The
morning was very dark, and the street lamps were still alight, while
every window sent forth a gleam suggestive of early autumnal fires.
Turning up his own street he increased his pace, realising suddenly that
he had not been within his own doors for more than four months. Much
might have happened in that time--to change his life, perhaps. As he
approached the house he saw a strange servant, an elderly woman, on her
knees at the steps, and somehow the sight conveyed to his mind the
thought that there was something waiting for him within that peaceful
little house. He almost ran those last few yards, and sprang up the
steps past the astonished woman without a word of explanation.
The gas in the narrow entrance-hall was lighted, and as he threw aside
his cap he perceived a warm gleam of firelight through the half-open
door of the dining-room. He crossed the carpeted hall, and pushed open
Near the little breakfast-table, just under the gas, stood Hilda Carew.
In _his_ room, standing among _his_ multifarious possessions,
in the act of pouring from _his_ coffee-pot. She was dressed in
black--he noticed that. Instead of being arranged high upon her head,
her marvellous hair hung in one massive plait down her back. She looked
like a tall and beautiful school-girl. He had not seen her hair like
that since the old days when he had been as one of the Carews.
As he pushed open the door, she looked up; and for a moment they stood
thus. She set down the coffee-pot, carefully and symmetrically, in the
centre of the china stand provided for its reception--and the colour
slowly left her face.
"You have come back at last!" she said quite monotonously. It sounded
like a remark made for the purpose of filling up an awkward silence.
Then he entered the room, and mechanically closed the door behind him.
She noticed the action, but did not move. He passed round the table,
behind Aunt Judy's chair, and they shook hands conventionally.
"Yes," he said almost breathlessly; "I am back; you do not seem elated
by the fact."
Suddenly she smiled--the smile that suggested, in some subtle way, a
"Of course--I am glad ... to see you."
In a peculiar dreamy way she began to add milk to the coffee. It seemed
as if this were mere play-acting, and not real life at all.
"How is it that you are here?" he asked, with a broken, disjointed
laugh. "You cannot imagine how strange an effect it was ... for me ...
to come in and see you ... here--of all people."
She looked at him gravely, and moved a step towards him.
"Aunt Judy is dead!" she explained; "and Aunt Hester is very ill. Mother
is upstairs with them--_her_--now. I have just come from the room,
where I have been since midnight."
She stopped, raised her hand to her hair as if recollecting something,
and stood looking sideways out of the window.
"There is something about you this morning," he said, with a
concentrated deliberation, "that brings back the old Prague days. I
suppose it is that I have not seen your hair as you have it
She turned quite away from his hungry gaze, looking out of the window.
After a pause she broke the silence--with infinite tact--not speaking
"It has been a terrible week," she said. "Mother heard from Mr. Bodery
that they were very ill; so we came. I never dreamt that it was so bad
when you spoke of them. Five years it has been going on?"
"Yes; five years. Thank you for coming, but I am sorry you should have
"Every one should keep guard over his own skeleton."
She was looking at him now.
"You look very ill," she said curtly. "Where have you been?"
"I was kidnapped," he said, with a short laugh, "and then I got typhoid.
The monks nursed me."
"You were in a monastery?"
"Yes; in Brittany."
She was idly arranging the cups and saucers with her left hand, which
she seemed desirous of bringing under his notice; but he could look at
nothing but her face.
"Then," she said, "it would have been impossible to find you?"
"Quite," he replied, and after a pause he added, in a singularly easy
manner, "Tell me what happened after I disappeared."
She did not seem to like the task.
"Well--we searched--oh! Christian, it was horrid!"
"I wondered," he said, in a deep, soft voice, "whether you would find it
"Yes, of course, we _all_ did."
This did not appear to satisfy him.
"But you," he persisted, "you, yourself--what did you think?"
"I do not know," she answered, with painful hesitation. "I don't think I
thought at all."
"Then what did you do, Hilda?"
"I--oh, we searched. We telegraphed for Mr. Bodery, who came down at
once. Then Fred rode over, and placed himself at Mr. Bodery's disposal.
First he went to Paris, then to Brest. He did everything that could be
done, but of course it was of no avail. By Mr. Bodery's advice
everything was kept secret. There was nothing in the newspapers."
She stopped suddenly, and there was a silence in the room. He was
looking at her curiously, still ignoring that little left hand. Only one
word of her speech seemed to have attached itself to his understanding.
"Fred?" he said. "Fred Farrar?"
He turned away--walked towards the door, and then returned to the
hearthrug, where he stood quite still.
"I suppose it was a quiet wedding," he said in a hard voice, "on my
"Yes," she whispered. He waited, but she added nothing.
Then suddenly he laughed.
"I have made a most extraordinary mistake!" he said, and again laughed.
"Oh, don't" she exclaimed.
He came nearer to her--quite near, until his sleeve almost touched her
"I thought--at St. Mary Western--that you loved _me_."
She seemed to shrink away from him.
"What made me think so, Hilda?"
She raised her head, and her eyes flashed one momentary appeal for
mercy--like the eyes of a whipped dog.
"Tell me," he said sternly.
"It was," she whispered, "because _I_ thought so myself."
"And when I was gone you found out that you had made a mistake?"
"Yes; he was so kind, so _brave_, Christian--because he knew of my
Christian Vellacott turned away, and looked thoughtfully out of the
"Well," he said, after a pause, "so long as you do not suffer by it--"
"Oh--h," she gasped, as if he were whipping her. She did not quite know
what he meant. She does not know now.
At last he spoke again, slowly, deliberately, and without emotion.
"Some day," he said, "when you are older, when you have more experience
of the world, you will probably fall into the habit of thanking God, in
your prayers, that I am what I am. It is not because I am good ...
perhaps it is because I am ambitious--my father, you may remember, was
considered heartless; it may be _that_. But if I were different--if
I were passionate instead of being what the world calls cold and
calculating--you would be ... your life would be--" he stopped, and
turning away he sat down wearily in Aunt Judy's armchair. "You will
know some day!" he said.
It is probable that she does know now. She knows, in all likelihood,
that her husband would have been powerless to save her from Christian
Vellacott--from herself--from that Love wherein there are no roses but
And in the room above them Aunt Hester was dying. So wags the world.
There is no attention paid to the laws of dramatic effect upon the stage
of life. The scenes are produced without sequence, without apparent
rhyme or reason; and Chance, the scene-shifter, is very careless, for
comedies are enacted amid scenic effects calculated to show off to
perfection the deepest tragedy, while tragedies are spoilt by their
The doctor and Mrs. Carew stood at the bedside, and listened to the old
woman's broken murmurings. Into her mind there had perhaps strayed a
gleam of that Light which is not on the earth, for she was not abusing
"Ah, Christian," she was murmuring, "I wish you would come. I want to
thank you for your kindness, more especially to Aunt Judy. She is old,
and we must make allowances. I know she is aggravating. It happened long
ago, when your father was a little boy--but it altered her whole life. I
think women are like that. There is something that only comes to them
once. I am feeling far from well, nephew Vellacott. I think I should
like to see a doctor. What does Aunt Judy think? Is she asleep?"
She turned her head to where she expected to find her sister, and in the
act of turning her eyes closed. She slumbered peacefully. The two
sisters had slept together for seventy years--seventy long, monotonous
years, in which there had been no incident, no great joy, no deep
sorrow--years lost. Except for the natural growth and slow decay of
their frames, they had remained stationary, while around them children
had grown into men and women and had passed away.
Presently Aunt Hester opened her eyes, and they rested on the vacant
pillow at her side. After a pause she slowly turned her head, and fixed
her gaze upon the doctor's face. He thought that the power of speech had
left her, but suddenly she spoke, quite clearly.
"Where is my sister Judith?" she asked.
There are times when the truth must be spoken, though it kill.
"Your sister died yesterday," replied the doctor.
Aunt Hester lay quite still, staring at the ceiling. Her shrivelled
fingers were picking at the counter-pane. Then a gleam of intelligence
passed across her face.
"And now," she said, "I shall have a bed to myself. I have waited long
Aunt Hester was very human, although the shadow of an angel's wing lay
across her bed.
* * * * *
It was many years later that Christian Vellacott found himself in the
presence of the Angel of Death again. A telegram from Havre was one day
handed to him in the room at the back of the tall house in the Strand,
and the result was that he crossed from Southampton to Havre that same
As the sun rose over the sea the next morning, its earliest rays glanced
gaily through the open port-hole of a cabin in a large ocean steamer,
still panting from her struggle through tepid Eastern seas.
In this little cabin lay the Jesuit missionary, Rene Drucquer, watching
the moving reflections of the water, which played ceaselessly on the
painted ceiling overhead. He had been sent home from India by a
kind-hearted army surgeon; a doomed man, stricken by a climatic disease
in which there was neither hope nor hurry. When the steamer arrived in
the Seine it was found expedient to let the young missionary die where
he lay. The local agent of the Society of Jesus was a kind-hearted man,
and therefore a faithless servant. He acceded to Rene Drucquer's prayer
to telegraph for Christian Vellacott.
And now Vellacott was actually coming down the cabin stairs. He entered
the cabin and stood by the sick man's bed.
"Ah, you have come," said the Frenchman, with that peculiar tone of
pathetic humour which can only be rendered in the language that he
"But how old! Do I look as old as that, I wonder? And hard--yes, hard as
"Oh no," replied Vellacott. "It may be that the hardness that was once
there shows now upon my face--that is all."
The Frenchman looked lovingly at him, with eyes like the eyes of a
"And now you are a great man, they tell me."
Vellacott shrugged his shoulders.
"In my way," he admitted. "And you?"
"I--I have taught."
"Ah! and has it been a success?"
"In teaching I have learnt."
Vellacott merely nodded his head.
"Do you know why I sent for you?" continued the missionary.
"I sent for you in order to tell you that I burnt that letter at
"I came to that conclusion, for it never arrived."
"I want you to forgive me."
"I never thought of it again," he replied heartily.
The priest was looking keenly at him.
"I did not say 'thou,' but '_you_,'" he persisted gently.
Vellacott's glance wavered; he raised his head, and looked out of the
open port-hole across the glassy waters of the river.
"What do you mean?" he inquired.
"I thought," said Rene Drucquer, "there might be some one else--some
woman--who was waiting for news."
After a little pause the journalist replied.
"My dear Abbe," he said, "there is no woman in the whole world who wants
news of me. And the result is, as you kindly say, I am a great man
now--in my way."
But he knew that he might have been a greater.
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