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Two Sides of the Face: Midwinter Tales By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 11515

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Walter à Cleeve did not arrive at the Court by the front entrance, but by a door which admitted to his mother's wing of the house, through the eastern garden secluded and reserved for her use. This was his way. From childhood he and his mother had lived in a sort of conspiracy- intending no guile, be it understood. She was a Roman Catholic. Her husband, good easy man, held to the Church of England, in which he had been bred; but held to it without bigotry, and supposed heaven within the reach of all who went through life cleanly and honourably. By consequence the lady had her way, and reared the boy in her own faith. She had delicate health, too-a weapon which makes a woman all but invincible when pitted against a man of delicate feeling.

The Squire, though shy, was affectionate. He sincerely loved his boy, and there was really no good reason why he and Walter should not open their hearts to one another. But somehow the religious barrier, which he did his best to ignore, had gradually risen like an impalpable fence about him, and kept him a dignified exile in his own house. For years all the indoor servants, chosen by Mrs. à Cleeve, had been Roman Catholics. In his own sphere-in the management of the estate-he did as he wished; in hers he was less often consulted than Father Halloran, and had ceased to resent this, having stifled his first angry feelings and told himself that it did not become a man to wrangle with women and priests. He found it less tolerable that Walter and his mother laid their plans together before coming to him. Why? Good Heavens! (he reflected testily) the boy might come and ask for anything in reason, and welcome! To give, even after grumbling a bit, is one of a father's dearest privileges. But no: when Walter wanted anything-which was seldom-he must go to his mother and tell her, and his mother promised to "manage it." In his secret heart the Squire loathed this roundabout management, and tried to wean Walter by consulting him frankly on the daily business of the estate. But no again: Walter seemingly cared little for these confidences: and again, although he learned to shoot and was a fair horseman, he put no heart into his sports. His religion debarred him from a public school; or, rather-in Mrs. à Cleeve's view-it made all the public schools undesirable. When she first suggested Dinan (and in a way which convinced the Squire that she and Father Halloran had made up their minds months before), for a moment he feared indignantly that they meant to make a priest of his boy. But Mrs. à Cleeve resigned that prospect with a sigh. Walter must marry and continue the family. Nevertheless, when Great Britain formally renounced the Peace of Amiens, and Master Walter found himself among the detenus, his mother sighed again to think that, had he been designed for the priesthood, he would have escaped molestation; while his father no less ruefully cursed the folly which had brought him within Bonaparte's clutches.

Mrs. à Cleeve sat by her boudoir fire embroidering an altar frontal for the private chapel. At the sound of a footstep in the passage she stopped her work with a sharp contraction of the heart: even the clattering wooden shoes could not wholly disguise that footstep for her. She was rising from her deep chair as Walter opened the door; but sank back trembling, and put a hand over her white face.

"Mother!"

It was he. He was kneeling: she felt his hands go about her waist and his head sink in her lap.

"Oh, Walter! Oh, my son!"

"Mother!" he repeated with a sob. She bent her face and kissed him.

"Those horrible clothes-you have suffered! But you have escaped! Tell me-"

In broken sentences he began to tell her.

"You have seen your father?" she asked, interrupting him.

"Not yet. I have seen nobody: I came straight to you."

"He is greatly aged."

There came a knock at the door, and Father Halloran stood on the threshold confounded.

The priest was a tall and handsome Irishman, white-haired, with a genial laughing eye, and a touch of grave wisdom behind his geniality.

"Walter, dear lad! For the love of the saints tell us-how does this happen?"

Walter began his story again. The mother gazed into his face in a rapture. But the priest's brow, at first jolly, little by little contracted with a puzzled frown.

"I don't altogether understand," he said. "They scarcely watched you at all, it seems?"

"Thank God for their carelessness!" put in Mrs. à Cleeve fervently.

"And you escaped. There was nothing to prevent? They hadn't exacted any sort of parole?"

"Well, there was a sort of promise,"-the boy flushed hotly-"not what you'd call a real promise. The fellow-a sort of prefect in a tricolour sash-had us up in a room before him, and gabbled through some form of words that not one of us rightly understood. I heard afterwards some pretty stories of this gentleman. He had been a contractor to the late Republic, in horse-forage, and had swindled the Government (people said) to the tune of some millions of francs. Marengo finished him: he had been speculating against it on the sly, which lost his plunder and the most of his credit. On the remains of it he had managed to scrape into this prefecture. A nice sort of man to administer oaths!"

Father Halloran turned impatiently to the window, and, leaning a hand on one of the stone mullions, gazed out upon the small garden. Daylight was failing, and the dusk out there on the few autumn flowers seemed one with the chill shadow touching his hopes and robbing them of colour. He shivered: and as with a small shiver men sometimes greet a deadly sickness, so Father Halloran's shiver presaged the doom of a life's hope. He had been Walter's tutor, and had

built much on the boy: he had read warnings from time to time, and tried at once to obey them and persuade himself that they were not serious-that his anxiety magnified them. If honour could be inherited, it surely ran in Walter's blood; in honour-the priest could assert with a good conscience-he had been instructed. And yet-

The lad had turned to his mother, and went on with a kind of sullen eagerness: "There were sixteen of us, including an English clergyman, his wife and two young children, and a young couple travelling on their honeymoon. It wasn't as if they had taken our word and let us go: they marched us off at once to special quarters-billeted us all in one house, over a greengrocer's shop, with a Government concierge below stairs to keep watch on our going and coming. A roll was called every night at eight-you see, there was no liberty about it. The whole thing was a fraud. Father Halloran may say what he likes, but there are two sides to a bargain; and if one party breaks faith, what becomes of the other's promise?"

Mrs. à Cleeve cast a pitiful glance at Father Halloran's back. The priest neither answered nor turned.

"Besides, they stole my money. All that father sent passed through the prefect's hands and again through the concierge's; yes, and was handled by half a dozen other rascals, perhaps, before ever it reached me. They didn't even trouble themselves to hide the cheat. One week I might be lucky and pick up a whole louis; the next I'd be handed five francs and an odd sou or two, with a grin."

"And all the while your father was sending out your allowance as usual- twenty pounds to reach you on the first of every month-and Dickinson's agents in Paris sending back assurances that it would be transmitted and reach you as surely as if France and England were at peace!"

Father Halloran caught the note of anxious justification in Mrs. a Cleeve's voice, and knew that it was meant for him. He turned now with a half audible "Pish!" but controlled his features-superfluously, since he stood now with his back to the waning light.

"Have you seen him?" he asked abruptly.

"Seen whom?"

"Your father."

"I came around by the east door, meaning to surprise mother. I only arrived here two minutes before you knocked."

"For God's sake answer me 'yes' or 'no,' like a man!" thundered Father Halloran, suddenly giving vent to his anger: as suddenly checking it with a tight curb, he addressed Mrs. à Cleeve. "Your pardon!" said he.

The woman almost whimpered. She could not use upon her confessor the card of weak nerves she would have played at once and unhesitatingly upon her husband. "I think you are horribly unjust," she said. "God knows how I have looked forward to this moment: and you are spoiling all! One would say you are not glad to see our boy back!"

The priest ignored the querulous words. "You must see your father at once," he said gravely. "At once," he repeated, noting how Walter's eyes sought his mother's.

"Of course, if you think it wise-" she began.

"I cannot say if it be wise-in your meaning. It is his duty."

"We can go with him-"

"No."

"But we might help to explain?"

Father Halloran looked at her with pity. "I think we have done that too often," he answered; and to himself he added: "She is afraid of him. Upon my soul, I am half afraid of him myself."

"You think his father will understand?" she asked, clutching at comfort.

"It depends upon what you mean by 'understanding.' It is better that Walter should go: afterwards I will speak to him." The priest seemed to hesitate before adding, "He loves the boy. By the way, Walter, you might tell us exactly how you escaped."

"The greengrocer's wife helped me," said Walter sullenly. "She had taken a sort of fancy to me, and-she understood the injustice of it better than Father Halloran seems to. She agreed that there was no wrong in escaping. She had a friend at Yvignac, and it was agreed that I should walk out there early one morning and find a change of clothes ready. The master of the house earned his living by travelling the country with a small waggon of earthenware, and that night he carried me, hidden in the hay among his pitchers and flower-pots, as far as Lamballe. I meant to strike the coast westward, for the road to St. Malo would be searched at once as soon as the concierge reported me missing. From Lamballe I trudged through St. Brisac to Guingamp, hiding by day and walking by night, and at Guingamp called at the house of an onion-merchant, to whom I had been directed. At this season he works his business by hiring gangs of boys of all ages from fourteen to twenty, marching them down to Pampol or Morlaix, and shipping them up the coast to sell his onions along the Seine valley, or by another route southward from Etaples and Boulogne. I joined a party of six bound for Morlaix, and tramped all the way in these shoes with a dozen strings of onions slung on a stick across my shoulders. At Morlaix I shipped on a small trader, or so the skipper called it: he was bound, in fact, for Guernsey, and laden down to the bulwarks with kegs of brandy, and at St. Peter's Port he handed me over to the captain of a Cawsand boat, with whom he did business. I'm giving you just the outline, you understand. I have been through some rough adventures in the last two weeks,"-the lad paused and shivered-"but I don't ask you to think of that. The Cawsand skipper sunk his cargo last night about a mile outside the Rame, and just before daybreak set me ashore in Cawsand village. I have been walking ever since."

Father Halloran stepped to the bell-rope.

"Shall I ring? The boy should drink a glass of wine, I think, and then go to his father without delay."

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