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He stum'le in de dark; but dat good God
will mek it a _mo' terrible fo'_ dat man oohever he is, w'at put 'at
light out!'"

"But how do you know he is a pirate?" demanded Thompson, aggressively.

"How do we know?" said the little priest, returning to French. "Ah!
there is no other explanation of the ninety-and-nine stories that come
to us, from every port where ships arrive from the north coast of Cuba,
of a commander of pirates there who is a marvel of courtesy and
gentility"--[1]

[Footnote 1: See gazettes of the period.]

"And whose name is Lafitte," said the obstinate attorney.

"And who, nevertheless, is not Lafitte," insisted Père Jerome.

"Daz troo, Jean," said Doctor Varrillat. "We hall know daz troo."

Père Jerome leaned forward over the board and spoke, with an air of
secrecy, in French.

"You have heard of the ship which came into port here last Monday. You
have heard that she was boarded by pirates, and that the captain of the
ship himself drove them off."

"An incredible story," said Thompson.

"But not so incredible as the truth. I have it from a passenger. There
was on the ship a young girl who was very beautiful. She came on deck,
where the corsair stood, about to issue his orders, and, more beautiful
than ever in the desperation of the moment, confronted him with a small
missal spread open, and her finger on the Apostles' Creed, commanded him
to read. He read it, uncovering his head as he read, then stood gazing
on her face, which did not quail; and then with a low bow, said: 'Give
me this book and I will do your bidding.' She gave him the book and bade
him leave the ship, and he left it unmolested."

Père Jerome looked from the physician to the attorney and back again,
once or twice, with his dimpled smile.

"But he speaks English, they say," said Jean Thompson.

"He has, no doubt, learned it since he left us," said the priest.

"But this ship-master, too, says his men called him Lafitte."

"Lafitte? No. Do you not see? It is your brother-in-law, Jean Thompson!
It is your wife's brother! Not Lafitte, but" (softly) "Lemaitre!
Lemaitre! Capitaine Ursin Lemaitre!"

The two guests looked at each other with a growing drollery on either
face, and presently broke into a laugh.

"Ah!" said the doctor, as the three rose up, "you juz kip dad
cog-an'-bull fo' yo' negs summon."

Père Jerome's eyes lighted up--

"I goin' to do it!"

"I tell you," said Evariste, turning upon him with sudden gravity, "iv
dad is troo, I tell you w'ad is sure-sure! Ursin Lemaitre din kyare
nut'n fo' doze creed; _he fall in love!_"

Then, with a smile, turning to Jean Thompson, and back again to Père
Jerome:

"But anny'ow you tell it in dad summon dad 'e hyare fo' dad creed."

Père Jerome sat up late that night, writing a letter. The remarkable
effects upon a certain mind, effects which we shall presently find him
attributing solely to the influences of surrounding nature, may find for
some a more sufficient explanation in the fact that this letter was but
one of a series, and that in the rover of doubted identity and
incredible eccentricity Père Jerome had a regular correspondent.




CHAPTER V.


THE CAP FITS.

About two months after the conversation just given, and therefore
somewhere about the Christmas holidays of the year 1821, Père Jerome
delighted the congregation of his little chapel with the announcement
that he had appointed to preach a sermon in French on the following
sabbath--not there, but in the cathedral.

He was much beloved. Notwithstanding that among the clergy there were
two or three who shook their heads and raised their eyebrows, and said
he would be at least as orthodox if he did not make quite so much of the
Bible and quite so little of the dogmas, yet "the common people heard
him gladly." When told, one day, of the unfavorable whispers, he smiled
a little and answered his informant,--whom he knew to be one of the
whisperers himself,--laying a hand kindly upon his shoulder:

"Father Murphy,"--or whatever the name was,--"your words comfort me."

"How is that?"

"Because--_'Voe quum benedixerint mihi homines!'_" [1]

[Footnote 1: "Woe unto me when all men speak well of me!"]

The appointed morning, when it came, was one of those exquisite days in
which there is such a universal harmony, that worship rises from the
heart like a spring.

"Truly," said Père Jerome to the companion who was to assist him in the
mass, "this is a sabbath day which we do not have to make holy, but only
to _keep_ so."

Maybe it was one of the secrets of Père Jerome's success as a preacher,
that he took more thought as to how he should feel, than as to what he
should say.

The cathedral of those days was called a very plain old pile, boasting
neither beauty nor riches; but to Père Jerome it was very lovely; and
before its homely altar, not homely to him, in the performance of those
solemn offices, symbols of heaven's mightiest truths, in the hearing of
the organ's harmonies, and the yet more elegant interunion of human
voices in the choir, in overlooking the worshipping throng which knelt
under the soft, chromatic lights, and in breathing the sacrificial odors
of the chancel, he found a deep and solemn joy; and yet I guess the
finest thought of his the while was one that came thrice and again:

"Be not deceived, Père Jerome, because saintliness of feeling is easy
here; you are the same priest who overslept this morning, and over-ate
yesterday, and will, in some way, easily go wrong to-morrow and the day
after."

He took it with him when--the _Veni Creator_ sung--he went into the
pulpit. Of the sermon he preached, tradition has preserved for us only a
few brief sayings, but they are strong and sweet.

"My friends," he said,--this was near the beginning,--"the angry words
of God's book are very merciful--they are meant to drive us home; but
the tender words, my friends, they are sometimes terrible! Notice these,
the tenderest words of the tenderest prayer that ever came from the lips
of a blessed martyr--the dying words of the holy Saint Stephen, 'Lord,
lay not this sin to their charge.' Is there nothing dreadful in that?
Read it thus: 'Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.' Not to the
charge of them who stoned him? To whose charge then? Go ask the holy
Saint Paul. Three years afterward, praying in the temple at Jerusalem,
he answered that question: 'I stood by and consented.' He answered for
himself only; but the Day must come when all that wicked council that
sent Saint Stephen away to be stoned, and all that city of Jerusalem,
must hold up the hand and say: 'We, also, Lord--we stood by.' Ah!
friends, under the simpler meaning of that dying saint's prayer for the
pardon of his murderers is hidden the terrible truth that we all have a
share in one another's sins."

Thus Père Jerome touched his key-note. All that time has spared us
beside may be given in a few sentences.

"Ah!" he cried once, "if it were merely my own sins that I had to answer
for, I might hold up my head before the rest of mankind; but no, no, my
friends--we cannot look each other in the face, for each has helped the
other to sin. Oh, where is there any room, in this world of common
disgrace, for pride? Even if we had no common hope, a common despair
ought to bind us together and forever silence the voice of scorn!"

And again, this:

"Even in the promise to Noë, not again to destroy the race with a flood,
there is a whisper of solemn warning. The moral account of the
antediluvians was closed off, and the balance brought down in the year
of the deluge; but the account of those who come after runs on and on,
and the blessed bow of promise itself warns us that God will not stop it
till the Judgment Day! O God, I thank thee that that day must come at
last, when thou wilt destroy the world, and stop the interest on my
account!"

It was about at this point that Père Jerome noticed, more particularly
than he had done before, sitting among the worshippers near him, a
small, sad-faced woman, of pleasing features, but dark and faded, who
gave him profound attention. With her was another in better dress,
seemingly a girl still in her teens, though her face and neck were
scrupulously concealed by a heavy veil, and her hands, which were small,
by gloves.

"Quadroones," thought he, with a stir of deep pity.

Once, as he uttered some stirring word, he saw the mother and daughter
(if such they were), while they still bent their gaze upon him, clasp
each other's hand fervently in the daughter's lap. It was at these
words:

"My friends, there are thousands of people in this city of New Orleans
to whom society gives the ten commandments of God with all the _nots_
rubbed out! Ah! good gentlemen! if God sends the poor weakling to
purgatory for leaving the right path, where ought some of you to go who
strew it with thorns and briers!"

The movement of the pair was only seen because he watched for it. He
glanced that way again as he said:

"O God, be very gentle with those children who would be nearer heaven
this day had they never had a father and mother, but had got their
religious training from such a sky and earth as we have in Louisiana
this holy morning! Ah! my friends, nature is a big-print catechism!"

The mother and daughter leaned a little farther forward, and exchanged
the same spasmodic hand-pressure as before. The mother's eyes were full
of tears.

"I once knew a man," continued the little priest, glancing to a side
aisle where he had noticed Evariste and Jean sitting against each other,
"who was carefully taught, from infancy to manhood, this single only
principle of life: defiance. Not justice, not righteousness, not even
gain; but defiance: defiance to God, defiance to man, defiance to
nature, defiance to reason; defiance and defiance and defiance."

"He is going to tell it!" murmured Evariste to Jean.

"This man," continued Père Jerome, "became a smuggler and at last a
pirate in the Gulf of Mexico. Lord, lay not that sin to his charge
alone! But a strange thing followed. Being in command of men of a sort
that to control required to be kept at the austerest distance, he now
found himself separated from the human world and thrown into the solemn
companionship with the sea, with the air, with the storm, the calm the
heavens by day, the heavens by night.



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