The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker
Chapter XXXVIII. The Cure and the Seigneur Visit the Tailor
It had been a perfect September day. The tailor of Chaudiere had been busier than usual, for winter was within hail, and careful habitants were renewing their simple wardrobes. The Seigneur and the Cure arrived together, each to order the making of a greatcoat of the Irish frieze which the Seigneur kept in quantity at the Manor. The Seigneur was in rare spirits. And not without reason; for this was Michaelmas eve, and tomorrow would be Michaelmas day, and there was a promise to be redeemed on Michaelmas day! He had high hopes of its redemption according to his own wishes; for he was a vain Seigneur, and he had had his way in all things all his life, as everybody knew. Importunity with discretion was his motto, and he often vowed to the Cure that there was no other motto for the modern world.
The Cure's visit to the tailor's shop on this particular day had unusual interest, for it concerned his dear ambition, the fondest aspiration of his life: to bring the infidel tailor (they could not but call a man an infidel whose soul was negative--the word agnostic had not then become usual) from the chains of captivity into the freedom of the Church. The Cure had ever clung to his fond hope; and it was due to his patient confidence that there were several parishioners who now carried Charley's name before the shrine of the blessed Virgin, and to the little calvaries by the road-side. The wife of Filion Lacasse never failed to pray for him every day. The thousand dollars gained by the saddler on the tailor's advice had made her life happier ever since, for Filion had become saving and prudent, and had even got her a "hired girl." There were at least a half-dozen other women, including Madame Dauphin, who did the same.
That he might listen again to the good priest on his holy hobby, inflamed with this passion of missionary zeal, the Seigneur, this morning, had thrown doubt upon the ultimate success of the Cure's efforts.
"My dear Cure" said the Seigneur, "it is true, I think, what the tailor suggested to my brother--on my soul, I wonder the Abbe gave in, for a more obstinate fellow I never knew!--that a man is born with the disbelieving maggot in his brain, or the butterfly of belief, or whatever it may be called. It's constitutional--may be criminal, but constitutional. It seems to me you would stand more chance with the Jew, Greek, or heretic, than our infidel. He thinks too much--for a tailor, or for nine tailors, or for one man."
He pulled his nose, as if he had said a very good thing indeed. They were walking slowly towards the village during this conversation, and the Cure, stopping short, brought his stick emphatically down in his palm several times, as he said:
"Ah, you will not see! You will not understand. With God all things are possible. Were it the devil himself in human form, I should work and pray and hope, as my duty is, though he should still remain the devil to the end. What am I? Nothing. But what the Church has done, the Church may do. Think of Paul and Augustine, and Constantine!"
"They were classic barbarians to whom religion was but an emotion. This man has a brain which must be satisfied."
"I must count him as a soul to be saved through that very intelligence, as well as through the goodness of his daily life, which, in its charity, shames us all. He gives all he earns to the sick and needy. He lives on fare as poor as the poorest of our people eat; he gives up his hours of sleep to nurse the sick. Dauphin might not have lived but for him. His heart is good, else these things were impossible. He could not act them."
"But that's just it, Cure. Doesn't he act them? Isn't it a whim? What more likely than that, tired of the flesh-pots of Egypt, he comes here to live in the desert--for a sensation? We don't know."
"We do know. The man has had sorrow and the man has had sin. Yes, believe me, there is none of us that suffers as this man has suffered. I have had many, many talks with him. Believe me, Maurice, I speak the truth. My heart bleeds for him. I think I know the thing that drove him here amongst us. It is a great temptation, which pursues him here--even here, where his life is so commendable. I have seen him fighting it. I have seen his torture, the piteous, ignoble yielding, and the struggle, with more than mortal energy, to be master of himself."
"It is--" the Seigneur said, then paused.
"No, no; do not ask me. He has not confessed to me, Maurice-naturally, nothing like that. But I know. I know and pity--ah, Maurice, I almost love. You argue, and reason, but I know this, my friend, that something was left out of this man when he was made, and it is that thing that we must find, or he will die among us a ruined soul, and his gravestone will be the monument of our shame. If he can once trust the Church, if he can once say, 'Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit,' then his temptation will vanish, and I shall bring him in--I shall lead him home."
For an instant the Seigneur looked at him in amazement, for this was a Cure he had never known.
"Dear Cure, you are not your old self," he said gently.
"I am not myself--yes, that is it, Maurice. I am not the old humdrum Cure you knew. The whole world is my field now. I have sorrowed for sin, within the bounds of this little Chaudiere. Now I sorrow for unbelief. Through this man, through much thinking on him, I have come to feel the woe of all the world. I have come to hear the footsteps of the Master near. My friend, it is not a legend, not a belief now, it is a presence. I owe him much, Maurice. In bringing him home, I shall understand what it all means--the faith that we profess. I shall in truth feel that it is all real. You see how much I may yet owe to him-- to this infidel tailor. I only hope I have not betrayed him," he added anxiously. "I would keep faith with him--ah, yes, indeed!"
"I only remember that you have said the man suffers. That is no betrayal."
They entered the village in silence. Presently, however, the sound of Maximilian Cour's violin, as they passed the bakery, set the Seigneur's tongue wagging again, and it wagged on till they came to the tailor's shop.
"Good-day to you, Monsieur," he said, as they entered.
"Have you a hot goose for me?"
"I have, but I will not press it on you," replied Charley.
"Should you so take my question--eh?"
"Should you so take my 'anser'?"
The pun was new to the Seigneur, and he turned to the Cure chuckling. "Think of that, Cure! He knows the classics." He laughed till the tears came into his eyes.
The next few moments Charley was busy measuring the two potentates for greatcoats. As it was his first work for them, it was necessary for the Cure to write down the Seigneur's measurements, as the tailor called them off, while the Seigneur did the same when the Cure was being measured. So intent were the three it might have been a conference of war. The Seigneur ventured a distant but self-conscious smile when the measurement of his waist was called, for he had by two inches the advantage of the Cure, though they were the same age, while he was one inch better in the chest. The Seigneur was proud of his figure, and, unheeding the passing of fashions, held to the knee-breeches and silk stockings long after they had disappeared from the province. To the Cure he had often said that the only time he ever felt heretical was when in the presence of the gaitered calves of a Protestant dean. He wore his sleeves tight and his stock high, as in the days when William the Sailor was king in England, and his long gold-topped Prince Regent cane was the very acme of dignity.
The measurement done, the three studied the fashion plates--mostly five years old--as Von Moltke and Bismarck might have studied the field of Gravelotte. The Seigneur's remarks were highly critical, till, with a few hasty strokes on brown paper, Charley sketched in his figure with a long overcoat in style much the same as his undercoat, stately and flowing and confined at the waist.
"Admirable, most admirable!" said the Seigneur. "The likeness is astonishing"--he admired the carriage of his own head in Charley's swift lines--"the garment in perfect taste. Form--there is nothing like form and proportion in life. It is almost a religion."
"My dear friend!" said the Cure, in amazement.
"I know when I am in the presence of an artist and his work. Louis Trudel had rule and measure, shears and a needle. Our friend here has eye and head, sense of form and creative gift. Ah, Cure, Cure, if I were twenty-five, with the assistance of Monsieur, I would show the bucks in Fabrique Street how to dress. What style is this called, Monsieur?" he suddenly asked, pointing to the drawing.
"Style a la Rossignol, Seigneur," said the tailor.
The Seigneur was flattered out of all reason. He looked across at the post-office, where he could see Rosalie dimly moving in the shade of the shop.
"Ah, if I had but ordered this coat sooner!" he said regretfully. He was thinking that to-morrow was Michaelmas day, when he was to ask Rosalie for her answer again, and he fancied himself appearing before her in the gentle cool of the evening, in this coat, lightly thrown back, disclosing his embroidered waistcoat, seals, and snowy linen. "Monsieur, I am highly complimented, believe me," he said. "Observe, Cure, that this coat is invented for me on the spot."
The Cure nodded appreciatively. "Wonderful! Wonderful! But do you not think," he added, a little wistfully--for, was he not a Frenchman, susceptible like all his race to the appearance of things?--"do you not think it might be too fashionable for me?"
"Not a whit--not a whit," replied the Seigneur generously. "Should not a Cure look distinguished--be dignified? Consider the length, the line, the eloquence of design! Ah, Monsieur, once again, you are an artist! The Cure shall wear it--indeed but he shall! Then I shall look like him, and perhaps get credit for some of his perfections."
"And the Cure?" said Charley.
"The Cure?--the Cure? Tiens, a little of my worldliness will do him good. There are no contrasts in him. He must wear the coat." He waved his walking-stick complacently, for he was thinking that the Cure's less perfect figure would set off his own well as they walked together. "May I have the honour to keep this as a souvenir?" he added, picking up the sketch.
"With pleasure," answered Charley. "You do not need it?"
"Not at all."
The Cure looked a little disappointed, and Charley, seeing, immediately sketched on brown paper the priestly figure in the new-created coat, a la Rossignol. On this drawing he was a little longer engaged, with the result that the Cure was reproduced with a singular fidelity--in face, figure, and expression a personality gentle yet important.
"On my soul, you shall not have it!" said the Seigneur. "But you shall have me, and I shall have you, lest we both grow vain by looking at ourselves." He thrust the sketch of himself into the Cure's hands, and carefully rolled up that of his friend.
The Cure was amazed at this gift of the tailor, and delighted with the picture of himself--his vanity was as that of a child, without guile or worldliness. He was better pleased, however, to have the drawing of his friend by him, that vanity might not be too companionable. He thanked Charley with a beaming face, and then the two friends bowed and moved towards the door. Suddenly the Cure stopped.
"My dear Maurice," said he, "we have forgotten the important thing."
"Think of that--we two old babblers!" said the Seigneur. He nodded for the Cure to begin. "Monsieur," said the Cure to Charley, "you maybe able to help us in a little difficulty. For a long time we have intended holding a great mission with a kind of religious drama like that performed at Ober-Ammergau, and called The Passion Play. You know of it, Monsieur?"
"Very well through reading, Monsieur."
"Next Easter we propose having a Passion Play in pious imitation of the famous drama. We will hold it at the Indian reservation of Four Mountains, thus quickening our own souls and giving a good object-lesson of the great History to the Indians."
The Cure paused rather anxiously, but Charley did not speak. His eyes were fixed inquiringly on the Cure, and he had a sudden suspicion that some devious means were forward to influence him. He dismissed the thought, however, for this Cure was simple as man ever was made, straightforward as the most heretical layman might demand.
The Cure, taking heart, again continued: "Now I possess an authentic description of the Ober-Ammergau drama, giving details of its presentation at different periods, and also a book of the play. But there is no one in the parish who reads German, and it occurred to the Seigneur and myself that, understanding French so well, by chance you may understand German also, and would, perhaps, translate the work for us."
"I read German easily and speak it fairly," Charley answered, relieved; "and you are welcome to my services."
The Cure's pale face flushed with pleasure. He took the little German book from his pocket, and handed it over.
"It is not so very long," he said; "and we shall all be grateful." Then an inspiration came to him; his eyes lighted.
"Monsieur," he said, "you will notice that there are no illustrations in the book. It is possible that you might be able to make us a few drawings--if we do not ask too much? It would aid greatly in the matter of costume, and you might use my library--I have a fair number of histories." The Cure was almost breathless, his heart thumped as he made the request. After a slight pause he added, hastily: "You are always doing for others. It is hardly kind to ask you; but we have some months to spare; there need be no haste." Charley hastened to relieve the Cure's anxiety. "Do not apologise," he said. "I will do what I can when I can. But as for drawing, Monsieur, it will be but amateurish."
"Monsieur," interposed the Seigneur promptly, "if you're not an artist, I'm damned!"
"Maurice!" murmured the Cure reproachfully. "Can't help it, Cure. I've held it in for an hour. It had to come; so there it is exploded. I see no damage either, save to my own reputation. Monsieur," he added to Charley, "if I had gifts like yours, nothing would hold me. I should put on more airs than Beauty Steele."
It was fortunate that, at that instant, Charley's face was turned away, or the Seigneur would have seen it go white and startled. Charley did not dare turn his head for the moment. He could not speak. What did the Seigneur know of Beauty Steele?
To hide his momentary confusion, he went over to the drawer of a cupboard in the wall, and placed the book inside. It gave him time to recover himself. When he turned round again his face was calm, his manner composed.
"And who, may I ask, is Beauty Steele?" he said. "Faith I do not know," answered the Seigneur, taking a pinch of snuff. "It's years since I first read the phrase in a letter a scamp of a relative of mine wrote me from the West. He had met a man of the name, who had a reputation as a clever fop, a very handsome fellow. So I thought it a good phrase, and I've used it ever since on occasions. 'More airs than Beauty Steele.' --It has a sound; it's effective, I fancy, Monsieur?"
"Decidedly effective," answered Charley quietly. He picked up his shears. "You will excuse me," he said grimly, "but I must earn my living. I cannot live on my reputation."
The Seigneur and the Cure lifted their hats--to the tailor.
"Au revoir, Monsieur," they both said, and Charley bowed them out.
The two friends turned to each other a little way up the street. "Something will come of this, Cure," said the Seigneur. The Cure, whose face had a look of happiness, pressed his arm in reply.
Inside the tailor-shop, a voice kept saying, "More airs than Beauty Steele!"