The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker
Chapter LII. The Coming of Billy
Chaudiere had made--and lost--a reputation. The Passion Play in the valley had become known to a whole country--to the Cure's and the Seigneur's unavailing regret. They had meant to revive the great story for their own people and the Indians--a homely, beautiful object-lesson, in an Eden--like innocence and quiet and repose; but behold the world had invaded them! The vanity of the Notary had undone them. He had written to the great papers of the province, telling of the advent of the play, and pilgrimages had been organised, and excursions had been made to the spot, where a simple people had achieved a crude but noble picture of the life and death of the Hero of Christendom. The Cure viewed with consternation the invasion of their quiet. It was no longer his own Chaudiere; and when, on a Sunday, his dear people were jostled from the church to make room for strangers, his gentle eloquence seemed to forsake him, he spoke haltingly, and his intoning of the Mass lacked the old soothing simplicity.
"Ah, my dear Seigneur!" he said, on the Sunday before the playing was to end, "we have overshot the mark."
The Seigneur nodded and turned his head away. "There is an English play which says, 'I have shot mine arrow o'er the house and hurt my brother.' That's it--that's it! We began with religion, and we end with greed, and pride, and notoriety."
"What do we want of fame! The price is too high, Maurice. Fame is not good for the hearts and minds of simple folk."
"It will soon be over."
"I dread a sordid reaction."
The Seigneur stood thinking for a moment. "I have an idea," he said at last. "Let us have these last days to ourselves. The mission ends next Saturday at five o'clock. We will announce that all strangers must leave the valley by Wednesday night. Then, during those last three days, while yet the influence of the play is on them, you can lead your own people back to the old quiet feelings."
"My dear Maurice--it is worthy of you! It is the way. We will announce it to-day. And see now. . . . For those three days we will change the principals; lest those who have taken the parts so long have lost the pious awe which should be upon them. We will put new people in their places. I will announce it at vespers presently. I have in my mind who should play the Christ, and St. John, and St. Peter--the men are not hard to find; but for Mary the Mother and Mary Magdalene--"
The eyes of the two men suddenly met, a look of understanding passed between them.
"Will she do it?" said the Seigneur.
The Cure nodded. "Paulette Dubois has heard the word, 'Go and sin no more'; she will obey."
Walking through the village as they talked, the Cure shrank back painfully several times, for voices of strangers, singing festive songs, rolled out upon the road. "Who can they be?" he said distressfully.
Without a word the Seigneur went to the door of the inn whence the sounds proceeded, and, without knocking, entered. A moment afterwards the voices stopped, but broke out again, quieted, then once more broke out, and presently the Seigneur issued from the door, white with anger, three strangers behind him. All were intoxicated.
One was violent. It was Billy Wantage, whom the years had not improved. He had arrived that day with two companions--an excursion of curiosity as an excuse for a "spree."
"What's the matter with you, old stick-in-the-mud?" he shouted. "Mass is over, isn't it? Can't we have a little guzzle between prayers?"
By this time a crowd had gathered, among them Filion Lacasse. At a motion from the Seigneur, and a whisper that went round quickly, a dozen habitants swiftly sprang on the three men, pinioned their arms, and carrying them bodily to the pump by the tavern, held them under it, one by one, till each was soaked and sober. Then their horses and wagon were brought, and they were given five minutes to leave the village.
With a devilish look in his eye, and drenched and furious, Billy was disposed to resist the command, but the faces around him were determined, and, muttering curses, the three drove away towards the next parish.