The slave of the lamp, p.22
The Slave of the Lamp,
Beyond this one allusion to their respective positions, Christian wassilent regarding his captivity. After the gale subsided the weather tooka turn for the better, and clear skies by day and night renderednavigation an easy matter.
With characteristic daring the young Englishman had decided to offer noresistance and to seize no opportunities of escape until the terminationof the voyage. The scheme half-formed within his mind was to see thevoyage through, and effect his escape soon after landing in France. Itwas not without a certain adventurous fascination, and in the meantimethere was much to interest him in his surroundings. If this young Abbewas a typical member of the Society of Jesus, he was worth studying. Ifthis simplicity was an acquired cloak to deeper thought, it was worthpenetrating, and if the man's entire individuality had been submerged inthe mysterious system followed in the College of Jesuits, it was nowaste of time to seek for the real man beneath the cultivated suavitythat hid all feeling.
The more the two young men saw of each other the closer grew theirintimacy, and with growing intimacy the domination of the strongerindividuality was more marked in its influence.
To the frail and nervous priest this young Englishman was a newexperience; his vitality and calm, straightforward manner of speech weresuch as the Abbe had never met with before. Such men and better menthere were and are in the Society of Jesus, otherwise the power of thegreat Order would not be what it is; but Rene Drucquer had never come incontact with them. According to the wonderful code of laws laid down byits great founder (who, in other circumstances, might have prepared theworld for the coming of such a man as Napoleon the First), the educationof the young is entrusted to such brethren as are of slower parts; andfrom these honest, but by no means intelligent, men the young Abbe hadlearnt his views upon mankind in general. The creed they taught withoutunderstanding it themselves was that no man must give way to naturalimpulses; that he must restrain and quell and quench himself into amachine, without individuality or impulse, without likes or dislikes;that he must persistently perform such duties as are abhorrent to him,eat such food as nauseates him, and submit to the dictates of such menas hate him. And these, forsooth, are the teachings of one who, in hiszealous shortsightedness, claims to have received his inspiration directfrom the lips of the Great Teacher.
Rene Drucquer found himself in the intimate society of a man who saidwhat he thought, acted as he conceived best, and held himselfresponsible, for word or deed, to none on earth. It was his firstmission after a long and rigorous training. This was the first enemy ofthe Holy Church against whom he had been sent to fight, armed with theimmeasurable power of the greatest brotherhood the world has ever known,protected by the shadow of its blessing; and there was creeping into theyoung priest's heart a vague and terrible suspicion that there might betwo sides to the question. All the careful years of training, all theinvisible meshes of the vast net that had been gathering its folds roundhim since he had first donned the dress of a Probationer of the Collegeof Jesuits, were powerless to restrain the flight of a pure andguileless heart to the height of truth. Despite the countless one-sidedand ingenious arguments instilled into his eager young mind in guise ofmental armour against the dangers of the world, Rene Drucquer foundhimself, at the very first contact with the world, unconvinced that hewas fighting upon the righteous side.
Brest had been left behind in a shimmering blue haze. Ahead lay the grimPointe de Raz, with its short, thick-set lighthouse facing the vastAtlantic. Out to sea, in the fading glory of sunset, lay the long, lowIle-de-Sein, while here and there black rocks peeped above the water.The man holding the tiller was a sardine fisher, to whom every rock,every ripple, of these troubled waters was familiar. Fearlessly heguided the yawl close round by the high cliff--the westernmost point ofEurope--but with the sunset the wind had dropped and the sails hungloosely, while the broad bows glided onwards with no sound of partedwater.
The long Atlantic roll was swinging lazily in, and the yawl rose to itsleepily, with a long, slow movement. The distant roar of the surf uponthe Finisterre coast rose in the peaceful atmosphere like a lullaby. Theholy calm of sunset, the hush of lowering night, and the presence of theonly man who had ever drawn him with the strange, unaccountable bondthat we call sympathy, moved the heart of the young priest as it hadnever been moved before by anything but religious fervour.
For the first time he spoke of himself. The solitary heart suddenlybroke through the restraining influence of a mistaken education, andunfolded its sad story of a misread existence. Through no fault of hisown, by no relaxation of supervising care on the part of his teachers,the Jesuit had run headlong into the very danger which his Superior hadendeavoured to avoid. He had formed a friendship. Fortunately the friendwas a _man_, otherwise Rene Drucquer were lost indeed.
"I should think," he said musingly, "that no two lives have ever been sowidely separated as yours and mine, and yet our paths have met!"
Vellacott took the cigarette from his lips. It was made of a viletobacco, called "Petit Caporal," but there was nothing better to be had,and he was in the habit of making the best of everything. Therefore heblew into the air a spiral column of thin blue smoke with a certainsense of enjoyment before replying. He also was looking across theglassy expanse of water, but his gaze was steady and thoughtful, whilehis companion's eyes were dreamy and almost vacant. The light shone fullupon his face, and a physician--or a mother--would have noticed,perhaps, that there was beneath his eyes a dull shadow, while his lipswere dry and somewhat drawn.
"Yes," he said at length, with grave sympathy, "we have drifted togetherlike two logs in a torrent."
The young priest changed his position, drawing in one leg and claspinghis hands round his knee. The movement caused his long black garment tofall aside, displaying the dark purple stockings and rough shoes. Thehands clasped round his knee were long and white, with peculiarly flatwrists.
"One log," he said vaguely, "was bound for a certain goal, the other wasdrifting."
Vellacott turned slowly and glanced at his companion's face. The smokefrom the bad cigarette drifted past their heads to windward. He was notsure whether the priest was speaking from a professional point of view,with reference to heresy and the unknown goal to which all heretics aredrifting, or not. Had Rene Drucquer been a good Jesuit, he would haveseen his opportunity of saying a word in season. But this estimabledesire found no place in his heart just then.
"Your life," he continued in a monotone, "is already mapped out--likethe voyage of a ship traced across a chart. Is it not so? I haveimagined it like that."
Vellacott continued to smoke for some moments in silence. He sat withhis long legs stretched out in front of him, his back against the rail,and his rough blue jersey wrinkled up so that he could keep one hand inhis pocket. The priest turned to look at him with a sudden fear that hismotives might be misread. Vellacott interpreted his movement thus, forhe spoke at once with a smile on his face.
"I think it is best," he said, "not to think too much about it. Fromwhat experience I have had, I have come to the humiliating conclusionthat men have very little to do with the formation of their own lives. Aship-captain may sit down and mark his course across the chart with thegreatest accuracy, the most profound knowledge of wind and current, andthe keenest foresight; but that will have very little effect upon theactual voyage."
"But," argued the priest in a low voice, "is it not better to have anend in view--to have a certain aim, and a method, more or less formed,of attaining it?"
"Most men have that," answered Christian, "but do not know that theyhave it!"
Christian smoked meditatively. A month ago he would have said "Yes"without a moment's hesitation.
"And you know it, I think," added the priest slowly. He was perfectlyinnocent of any desire to extract details of his companion's life fromunwilling lips, and Christian knew it. He was convinced that, whateverpart Rene Drucquer had attempted to play in th
The priest laughed a little short, deprecating laugh, in which there wasno shadow of mirth.
"I have not," he said, rubbing his slim hands together, palm to palm,slowly, "and--I know it."
"It will come," suggested the Englishman, after a pause.
The priest shook his head with a little smile, which was infinitelysadder than tears. His cold silence was worse than an outburst of grief;it was like the keen frost that comes before snow, harder to bear thanthe snow itself. Presently he moved slightly towards his companion sothat their arms were touching, and in his soft modulated voice, trainedto conceal emotion, he told his story.
"My friend," he said, intertwining his fingers, which were veryrestless, "no man can be the worse for hearing the story of anotherman's life. Before you judge of me, listen to what my life has been. Ihave never known a friend or relation. I have never had a boy companion.Since the age of thirteen, when I was placed under the care of the holyfathers, I have never spoken to a woman. I have been taught that lifewas given us to be spent in prayer; to study, to train ourselves, and tofollow in the footsteps of the blessed Saint Ignatius. But how are wewho have only lived half a life, to imitate him, whose youth andmiddle-age were passed in one of the most vicious courts of Europebefore he thought of turning to holy things? How are we, who are buriedin an atmosphere of mystic religion, to cope with sin of which we knownothing, and when we are profoundly ignorant of its evil results? Thesethings I know now, but I did not suspect them when I was in the college.There all manliness, and all sense of manly honour, were suppressed andinsidiously forbidden. We were taught to be spies upon each other, tocringe servilely to our superiors, and to deal treacherously with suchas were beneath us. Hypocrisy--innate, unfathomable hypocrisy--wasinstilled into our minds so cunningly that we did not recognise it.Every movement of the head or hands, every glance of the eyes, and everyword from the lips was to be the outcome--not of our own hearts--but ofa law laid down by the General himself. It simply comes to this: we arenot men at all, but machines carefully planned and fitted together, soas to render sin almost an impossibility. When tempted to sin we areheld back, not by the fear of God, but by the thought that discovery isalmost certain, and that the wrath of our Superior is withheld by noscruple of human kindness.... But remember, I knew nothing of thisbefore I took my vows. To me it was a glorious career. I became anenthusiast. At last the time came when I was eligible; I offered myselfto the Society, and was accepted. Then followed a period of hard work; Ilearned Spanish and Italian, giving myself body and soul to the work.Even the spies set to watch me day and night, waking and sleeping,feeding and fasting, could but confess that I was sincere. One day theProvincial sent for me--my mission had come. I was at last to go forthinto the world to do the work of my Master. Trembling with eagerness, Iwent to his room; the Provincial was a young man with a beautiful face,but it was like the face of the dead. There was no colour, no life, nosoul, no heart in it. He spoke in a low, measured voice that had neitherpity nor love.
"When that door closed behind me an hour later the scales had fallenfrom my eyes. I began to suspect that this great edifice, built not ofstones but of men's hearts, was nothing less than an unrighteousmockery. With subtle, double-meaning words, the man whom I had beentaught to revere as the authorised representative of Our Lord, unfoldedto me my duties in the future. The work of God, he called it; and to dothis work he placed in my hands the tools of the devil. What I suspectedthen, I know now."
The young Englishman sat and listened with increasing interest. Hiscigarette had gone out long before.
"And," he said presently, in his quiet, reassuring voice, which seemedto infer that no difficulty in life was quite insurmountable--"And, ifyou did not know it then, how have you learnt it now?"
"From you, my friend," replied the priest earnestly, "from you and fromthese rough sailors. They, at least, are men. But you have taught methis."
Christian Vellacott made no answer. He knew that what his companion saidwas true. Unconsciously, and with no desire to do so, he had opened thisyoung zealot's eyes to what a man's life may be. The tale was infinitelysad, but with characteristic promptitude the journalist was alreadyseeking a remedy without stopping to think over the pathos of thismistaken career.
Presently Rene Drucquer's quick, painful tones broke the silence again,and he continued his story.
"He told me," he said, "that in times gone by we had ruled the RomanCatholic world invisibly from the recesses of kings' cabinets andqueens' boudoirs. That now the power has left us, but that the Order isas firm as ever, nearly as rich, and quite as intelligent. It lies likea huge mill, perfect but idle, waiting for the grist that will nevercome to be crushed between its ruthless wheels. He told me that the swayover kings and princes has lapsed with the growth of education, but thatwe hold still within our hands a lever of greater power, though thedanger of wielding it is proportionately greater to those who would useit. This power is the People. Before us lies a course infinitely moreperilous than the sinuous paths trodden by the first followers of St.Ignatius as they advanced towards power. It lies on the troubled waters;it leads over the restless, mobile heads of the people."
Again the priest ceased speaking. There was a strange thrill offoreboding in his voice, which, however, had never been raised above amonotone. The two men sat side by side, as still as the dead. They gazedvacantly into the golden gates of the west, and each in his own waythought over these things. Assuredly the Angel of Silence hung over thatlittle vessel then, for no sound from earth or sea or sky came to wakethose two thinkers from their reverie.
At last the Englishman's full, steady tones broke the hush.
"This," he said, "has not been learnt in two days. You must have knownit before. If you knew it, why are you what you are? You never have beena real Jesuit, and you never will be."
"I swore to the Mother of God--I am bound...."
"By an oath forced upon you!"
"No! By an oath I myself begged to take!"
This was the bitterest drop in the priest's cup. Everything had beendone of his own free will--at his own desire. During eleven years anetwork of perfidy had been cunningly woven around him, mesh after mesh,day after day. As he grew older, so grew in strength the warp of thenet. Thus, in the fulness of time, everything culminated to the onegreat end in view. Nothing was demanded (for that is an essential rule),everything must be offered freely, to be met by an apparently hesitatingacceptance. Constant dropping wears the hardest stone in time.
"But," said Vellacott, "you can surely represent to your Provincial thatyou are not fitted for the work put before you."
"My friend," interrupted the priest, "we can represent nothing. We aresupposed to have no natural inclinations. All work should be welcome,none too difficult, no task irksome."
"You can volunteer for certain services," said Vellacott.
The priest shrugged his shoulders.
"What services?" he asked.
The Englishman looked at him for some seconds in the fading light. Inhis quick way he had already found a remedy, and he was wonderingwhether he should propose it or hold his peace. He was not afraid ofincurring responsibility. The young Jesuit had appealed to him, andthere was a way out of the difficulty. Christian felt that things couldnot be made worse than they were. In a moment his mind was made up.
As he asked the question Christian glanced at his companion's face. Hesaw the sad eyes light up suddenly with a glow that was not of this dullearth at all; he saw the thin, pure face suddenly acquire a great andwondrous peace. The young priest rose to his feet, and, crossing thedeck, he stood holding with one hand to the tarred rigging, his backturned towards the Englishman, looking over the still waters.
Presently he returned, and laying his thin hand upon Christian'sshoulder, he said, "My friend, you have saved me. In the first shock ofmy disillusion I never thought of this. I think--I think there is workfor me yet."
The Slave of the Lamp by Henry Seton Merriman / Actions & Adventure have rating 2.5 out of 5 / Based on15 votes