On his way home he met Father Antoine not far from Michaud’s door. The priest would have passed with his usual surly look if Simpson had not stopped him.
“Well?” Antoine demanded.
“Why should we quarrel—you and I?” Simpson asked. “Can we not work together for these people of yours?”
“Your friends are not my people, heretic!” Father Antoine retorted.” Rot in hell with them!”
He plunged past Simpson and was gone down the darkling alley.
“You are late, m’sieu’,” remarked Madame Picard as he came into the kitchen and sat down in a chair near the cripple. Her manner was less rough than usual.
“I’ve been at Michaud’s,” he answered.
“Ah? But you were there this morning.”
“He asked me to come this evening, when his friends came, madame. There were several there.”
“They are often there,” she answered. There was nothing significant in her tone, but Simpson had an uneasy feeling that she had known all the time of his visit to the carpenter.
“I met Father Antoine on the way home,” he said.
“A bad man!” She flamed into sudden violence. “A bad man!”
“I had thought so.” Her loquacity this evening was amazing. Simpson thought he saw an opening to her confidence and plunged in. “And he is a priest. It is bad, that. Here are sheep without a shepherd.”
“Here are many people—all good Christians.” Simpson, eager and hopeful, leaned forward in his chair. His gaunt face with the down-drawn mouth and the hungry eyes—grown more hungry in the last three weeks—glowed, took on fervour; his hand shot out expressive fingers. The woman raised her head slowly, staring at him; more slowly still she seated herself at the table that stood between them. She rested her arms on it, and narrowed her eyelids as he spoke till her eyes glittered through the slits of them.
“All good Christians,” Simpson went on; “and there is none to lead them save a black——” He slurred the word just in time. The woman’s eyes flashed open and narrowed again. “Save a renegade priest,” Simpson concluded. “It is wrong, is it not? And I knew it was wrong, though I live far away and came—was led—here to you.” His voice, though it had not been loud, left the room echoing. “It was a real call.” He whispered that.
“You are a Catholic?” asked Madame Picard.
“Yes. Of the English Catholic Church.” He suspected that the qualifying adjective meant nothing to her, but let the ambiguity rest.