At supper we talked politics. I make it my business, when I am in France, to preach political good-will and moderation, and to dwell on the example of Poland, much as some alarmists in England dwell on the example of Carthage. The priest and the commandant assured me of their sympathy with all I said, and made a heavy sighing over the bitterness of contemporary feeling.
‘Why, you cannot say anything to a man with which he does not absolutely agree,’ said I, ‘but he flies up at you in a temper.’
They both declared that such a state of things was antichristian.
While we were thus agreeing, what should my tongue stumble upon but a word in praise of Gambetta’s moderation. The old soldier’s countenance was instantly suffused with blood; with the palms of his hands he beat the table like a naughty child.
‘Comment, monsieur?’ he shouted. ‘Comment? Gambetta moderate? Will you dare to justify these words?’
But the priest had not forgotten the tenor of our talk. And suddenly, in the height of his fury, the old soldier found a warning look directed on his face; the absurdity of his behaviour was brought home to him in a flash; and the storm came to an abrupt end, without another word.
It was only in the morning, over our coffee (Friday, September 27th), that this couple found out I was a heretic. I suppose I had misled them by some admiring expressions as to the monastic life around us; and it was only by a point-blank question that the truth came out. I had been tolerantly used both by simple Father Apollinaris and astute Father Michael; and the good Irish deacon, when he heard of my religious weakness, had only patted me upon the shoulder and said, ‘You must be a Catholic and come to heaven.’ But I was now among a different sect of orthodox. These two men were bitter and upright and narrow, like the worst of Scotsmen, and indeed, upon my heart, I fancy they were worse. The priest snorted aloud like a battle-horse.
‘Et vous prétendez mourir dans cette espèce de croyance?’ he demanded; and there is no type used by mortal printers large enough to qualify his accent.
I humbly indicated that I had no design of changing.
But he could not away with such a monstrous attitude. ‘No, no,’ he cried; ‘you must change. You have come here, God has led you here, and you must embrace the opportunity.’
I made a slip in policy; I appealed to the family affections, though I was speaking to a priest and a soldier, two classes of men circumstantially divorced from the kind and homely ties of life.
‘Your father and mother?’ cried the priest. ‘Very well; you will convert them in their turn when you go home.’
I think I see my father’s face! I would rather tackle the Gaetulian lion in his den than embark on such an enterprise against the family theologian.Share It