The Right of Way
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
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
"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
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
"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 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
"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
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
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,
"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!"