A CASE OF CONSCIENCE

Ernest Dowson

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all my old landmarks appear to vanish. prosperous as he seemed now. that had left its mark upon him. a little absently. though Autumn was not yet. with the enjoyment of the painter. she held an old parasol. The man's eyes rested on it complacently. A certain distinction had always adhered to him. turning her large. He had the air of having tasted widely. which usually took an intonation that his friends found supercilious. Actually. but very kindly. amid their greens and yellows. built large to an uniform English pattern. he was contrasting her with all other women whom he had known. that was brown from the sun. softly and suddenly as is the fashion there. You cannot care very much for me. there was a touch of military erectness in his carriage which often deceived people as to his vocation. of myself chiefly.A CASE OF CONSCIENCE Ernest Dowson This page copyright © 2001 Blackmask Online. with its rebellious brown hair braided plainly. the other played occasionally with a bit of purple heather. When you speak. like dove−cotes. frowning at the memory of so many years in which she had no part. I am a little girl to you. as one who had seen it very often before. had streaks of gray in his moustache. never more than now when he was no longer young. In one ungloved hand. at its quiet white houses. but a little of you. autumnal tint. it was worn and rather pale. at the slated roof of its market. He seemed to find her insistence adorable. I will come to the world's end with you. using English just coloured by a foreign accent. His voice. he had never been anything but artist. how I love you! but I want to go away from you and pray in the little quiet church. grew very tender in addressing this little French girl. the lines about the firm mouth were full of lassitude. where I made my first Communion. finding it charming: the girl's. possessed a certain charm. of reserve which sat piquantly upon her youth. mentally. Ploumariel. half way up the hill: at its lichened church spire. You suggest so much to me that is new. "you make me afraid. let me go. and held it between his own. and had once been war correspondent of an illustrated paper." she said. with her quaint air of childish dignity. He was a man of more than forty. "You make me afraid. I am troubled. His face. http://www. I even hardly know right from wrong. but oh. was growing bald. and the country lay very still and fair in the sunset which had befallen. from their post of vantage. though he came of a family of soldiers.com •I • II • III I IT was in Brittany. the eyes rather tired. and the apples were already acquiring a ruddier. Presently she began to speak. He took the mutinous hand. You will forget me. dotted with little gables. that made her speech prettier. A man and a girl stood looking down in silence at the village. strange. I love you. but her gray serious eyes. but very beautiful. curiously. She was pretty and very young. the poise of her head. my God. A CASE OF CONSCIENCE 1 . terrible. do not ask me. gave her a little air of dignity. without being handsome.blackmask. Sebastian. Sebastian. troubled eyes on her companion. with its little sprig of heather. of life in his day." The man looked down at her. smiling masterfully.

" said the young girl. how he wishes this. to Tregellan. hardly suppressed a little quick objurgation. Tregellan. "It is M. and started apart. He was a slight man. and remarked. For some time they sat in silence. was very low and pleasant. You would let morbid fancies come between us. flushing: "and he must have seen us. a little tremor ran through her." he added. "Don't mention it. After a while the other looked up.A CASE OF CONSCIENCE "Marie−Yvonne. in one breath." The figure rose. she made no resistance: only. little one: change it for me. unintentionally. and its effective wrinkles. it will steal away your youth. make it worth while. they had gone thirty yards so. Mademoiselle. in the name of Life. and then to Sebastian Murch. and ordered absinthes. and I am sorely tempted to seal your lips from uttering heresy. ""I may as well tell you that I happened to overlook you." Sebastian Murch held up his glass. he put her away from him. "My uncle will be expecting me to supper. with its worm−eaten benches. "You have already given me your answer. I have seldom seen Ploumariel look better. with equal gentleness. white house. a little consciously. The ground floor was a café. before you have ever been young." she added breaking a little silence in which none of them seemed quite at ease. They had come into the market−place round which most of the houses in Ploumariel were grouped. more seriously. drinking and smoking. in the English fashion. "It makes no matter." she said." His words were half−jesting. before you have learnt to laugh. saw her blue gown pass out of sight down a bye street: then they turned to their own hotel. He drew her to him gently. It has been a difficult life. Let us go down. I will not hear one word more. good man. "You must have had a charming walk. as the hour suggested: these were brought to them presently by an old servant of the house. I come to claim you." he remarked. abruptly. Take care. and then her shy lips. an admirable figure. a bench and long stained table enticed them to rest. You tell me that you love me. in any case. by and by. his voice as he greeted them. and he drew closer to her." he observed. and you ask me to let you go. who gave the little fingers a private pressure. It was a low. and. are worth all the rest of my life to me. "it has been very pleasant. Believe me. urbanely. a pictorial object. The impossible conjuncture! Marie−Yvonne. as they drew near: he shook the ashes out of his briar. They watched the young girl cross it briskly. helping her with his arm over the rough stones. presently a bend of the road hid them from it." She held out her hand." Her companion. as most Breton hostels. just now. "trust yourself to me. considering its clouded green in various lights. hitherto. frowning. and its mildewed odour of dead people. Marie−Yvonne. You know that these months that I have been at Ploumariel. belted half way down the front with black stone. Presently. You are a little heretic. Marie−Yvonne. I will never give you up. But I must not linger now. Marie−Yvonne: it has made you serious−eyed. before the scent of English tobacco drew their attention to a figure seated by the road−side. A CASE OF CONSCIENCE 2 . foolish child. Emerging. you will never regret it. and. You have lived overmuch in that little church. with absent eyes. The artist appeared to be absorbed in contemplation of his drink. with the white sleeves and apron relieving her linsey dress: with her good Breton face. they recognised it. with an ugly. and dead ideas. clever face. outside it. and removed it to his pocket. gravely. under a hedge." "Yes. his eyes were profoundly in earnest. after a moment: "I shall see your uncle to−morrow and we know. I would have told Tregellan. and when he bent down and kissed her forehead." They took their way in silence towards the village. my dear fellow. my child! You know. They sat down. at last.

quite frankly. Tregellan. I have seen how it was all along. he was sure. might compass the A CASE OF CONSCIENCE 3 ." He stopped short. with admissions or recriminations. as though he expected his friend's subtilty to come to his assistance. but the chance of travel had for once defeated them." "My dear fellow!" he stopped a little. in Ploumariel. wished nothing better than to stand on his defence. amongst odorous pines overhanging a ravine. "I am sorry. his expressive mouth was set. But the other was still silent. at two dogs quarrelling oversome offal. quickly.A CASE OF CONSCIENCE "I beg your pardon. voted it magnificently picturesque. I gathered it from your letters when I was in England. Sebastian. They had slept at the Lion d'Or. "this is worse than I imagined. Tregellan. He reflected how accidental it had all been: their presence there." He spoke with an extreme deliberation which suggested nervousness. harder to defeat. and would have gone away and forgotten it. appreciating his purpose. at least. And Tregellan sat for a long time without speaking. at short intervals. "You know my meaning. And that her uncle. absolutely: his eyes had a defiant light in them. and the merest chance had held them there. I have had it on my mind to say something. but with singular determination." he said. I don't. to argue the thing out." "It is you that are impossible. it hasn't been because I have been blind." cried the other. as Tregellan still halted. admit your right to question me: still. don't be paltry. a little away. learnt imperfectly: and he looked very straight in front of him. If I have been silent. a place unknown of Murray. at the suggestion of their hostess they set off to visit it. and now I am sorry I did not speak before." "Ah. are you quite justified in playing with that charming girl. but I am afraid I must. I confess I miss your meaning. It seemed more monstrous the closer he considered it: natural enough withal. and she has consented. with the niece of a man whose guest you have recently been. you know. subject to her uncle's approval. I may as well satisfy you. his curiously anxious face suggested that the question had become to him one of increased nicety. as they had often done before." said Sebastian Murch. not angrily. is not likely to refuse. they had fallen upon it by chance. considering his words: "You are hasty and uncharitable for such a very moral person! you jump at conclusions. I have known you long enough to hazard it. that defeated it must be." The other held his cigar between two fingers. as you have introduced the subject. in compromising her?" The artist looked up at last. "I daresay you will be angry: I can't avoid that. To be very plain. holding desperately to these. Only until this afternoon I did not know how far it had gone. the pious pilgrim. were driven into the wall. and the rest! Touring in Brittany. it's impossible. with the air of a person reciting a little set speech. He looked at him now. absent: his face wore a look of annoyed indifference. who happens to prefer the English method of courtship. out into the street. It was built steeply on an edge of rock. smiling. after a moment. at the bottom of which they could discern a brown torrent purling tumidly along. I have asked Mademoiselle Mitouard to marry me. Hard by they heard of the little votive chapel of Saint Bernard. and yet. as though he hoped to be criticised. After a while. For the convenience of devotees. and so. at some peril. in their habit of old friends. iron rings. or approved. "With Mademoiselle Mitouard?" "Exactly. he observed quietly: "You must be a little more explicit.

I propose to give it one. earnest from Sebastian. therefore. growing giddy may be. M. It seemed. le Docteur Mitouard insisted that the invalid could be cared for properly at his house alone. but for the rest uninjured! Tregellan had made off in haste to Ploumariel in search of assistance. and one inspiring confidence no less. the artist had made a false step.'" "That is a caricature of my circle. in spite of protestations. and it has had no chance. and some ten Aves. And there.A CASE OF CONSCIENCE circuit. who write. as he foresaw. making his way rapidly down a winding path. Tregellan left him with an easy mind. Tregellan had protested: and the Saint. And there. two days later. cursing his folly. half enviously. there is five−and−twenty years' disparity between you. during which you have seen almost as much of her as I. who will receive her with open arms. as he had seen her standing by his friend's sofa when he paid his adieux. had seemed to intervene. with a little cry of horror. and paint. to begin with. who was charmed with the wild beauty of the scene. I think she is being starved in this corner. as you call it. finding this persistence perhaps a trifle crude. half−way round. a country whence his brother had brought back a wife." The other frowned slightly. that. Tregellan." "She is a child. why do you ask?" I imagined not. in which. But it's the relation I object to. lost his hold. had been seized with a fit of emulation: not in any mood of devotion. "Not precisely. le Docteur Mitouard. resenting the purely æesthetic motive of the feat. a clear dispensation of Providence. and holding a lamentably sprained ankle. and within the hour he had returned with two stalwart Bretons and M. the recollection of the young. and teach her their 'fads. bearing away with him." II 4 . all the clever bores. Do you intend to live in Ploumariel?" Sebastian smiled. saw him disappear amidst crumbling mortar and uprooted ferns. and talk. spiritually. considering your history it takes me by surprise. It was with a sensible relief. Everybody who is emancipated will know her. For. for the fall had the illusion of great depth. charming face of a girl. but for the sake of a wider prospect. II "I am sorry you don't see it. and everybody who has a 'fad'. You will introduce her to your circle. Caring greatly for things foreign. amidst débris twenty feet lower. he remarked good−humouredly enough: "Will you be good enough to explain your opposition? Do you object to the girl? You have been back a week now. he was installed. naturally. his impatience at an enforced detention. who is as charming here as the apple−blossom in her own garden. "to me it seems impossible. Sebastian. you will go back to London with your little Breton wife. after a pause. Their tour had been. the Doctor's niece. She has a beautiful soul. he found him lying on a grass terrace. in the beginnings of an intimacy. Tregellan indeed had an imperative need to be in London within the week. and with an especial passion for England. saying an oraison to Saint Bernard. and I am not afraid of the result. not the girl. from Tregellan half−hearted. and they will come in a body and emancipate her. and are talked about between Bloomsbury and Kensington. drawing to its close. that the amiable doctor should prove an hospitable person. might be considerably forgot. the petulance of the invalid. in a country ordinarily so placid." continued Tregellan. with a suggestion of irony. I think it would interfere a little with my career. Tregellan! though I may remind you it is also yours. And all that had been two months ago.

curiously. allow me to know her. a little grimly. with a touch of resentment at what he found his lack of subtilty. "Consider what a transplantation. slowly. your ideas. the one I value most." said the artist. in the end. a perfect thing. with increasing gravity." "My dear fellow. youryour peculiar position?" Sebastian was silent for a moment. Sebastian. a world without definitions. of lassitude. at last he said coldly: "If I were to answer. Tregellan shook his head. terrify her. frowning: the lines about his mouth grew a little sterner. Sebastian?" "I made it up long ago." II 5 . "She has had the chance to become what she is. could least afford to lose. She has been brought up by an old eccentric. of all my friends. even cruel. so ordered. Yes?" "Then I should understand that there was no further question of your marriage. ours. ideas." "You are candid. "but I must say it. I can't see that I am wrong. They will trouble her.A CASE OF CONSCIENCE Tregellan threw away the stump of his cigar into the darkling street. "The Breton blood. ignoring his interruption." "You must be going to say something. "why should she be so limited? I would give her scope. And no harm has come of it. extremely disagreeable! something horrible. I must remind you. Have you explained to Mademoiselle." said Tregellan." he continued. Tregellan!" The other looked at him. her English mother: passionate Catholicism! a touch of Puritan! Have you quite made up your mind. Then he said at last: "I called it impossible: you force me to be very explicit. from this world of Plotmariel where everything is fixed for her by that venerable old Curé. Tregellan!" "Let her go. with a little gesture of discouragement." exclaimed his friend. or her uncle. "I could not have said more myself. I have watched it. compassionately." "She will not accept them. let her go." "At least. "I am. divide you. where everything is an open question." said the artist." The other continued. It is not an elastic nature. that you are. "She has had great luck." "Exactly. on the English system of growing up as she liked." put in the artist. at least until it gave you the occasion of making love to her. to yours. where life is so easy.

For all I know she may be actually dead. I am entirely in your hands: at the mercy of your extraordinary notions of duty. "No. but I swear you love the girl yourself. "I must tell you something which I fear you have not realised. his friend's tortuous hand. "Is that your final word. "It must be. and are no right arbiter here. I am infinitely sorry. still played. after a day of exhausting tranquillity. but not its object. of the complex aching life of cities. He spent an hour painfully invoking casuistry. "I have considered our conversation. some day she will find it out. the deluge. tossed to and fro irresolutely. Presently they brought him in a pencilled note. Tell her what you will. and they heard suddenly the tinkle of an Angelus bell. and the chestnuts. Only the two Englishmen sitting. a chance remark from one of your dear friends. it's not true. Immediately afterwards Murch went out alone: Tregellan could guess the direction of his visit. his face grown singularly gray. then sat holding it in lax fingers. leaden voice. this knowledge tied his hands. Legally. it must be I. Sebastian Murch. Sebastian. brought in a contrasting note of modern life. I shall not tell her. I have suffered enough for a youthful folly. and if it be not you. I refuse to allow an infamous woman to wreck my future life as she has disgraced my past. The last glow of the sun fell on the gray roofs opposite. very gray and old now. with some surprise. "You know she is not dead. I shall say nothing. an act of mad generosity. she is not my wife. both wore the bruised harassed air which tells of a night passed without benefit of sleep. she has passed out of it." There was extremest peace in the quiet square. dying hard it seemed over the street in which the Mitouards lived. Sebastian! Believe me. he wondered if the artist was making his difficult confession. to save you both somebody shall tell her. "well. if you must. but never for a moment III 6 .A CASE OF CONSCIENCE Presently the other commenced in a hard. "It's not true. If she marry you and find out. a little wearily. with its troubles and Its difficulties." The other was watching his face. and pave the way to your own success. and their smoking over." he said simply. looking out on it all with their anxious faces. Tregellan?" asked the artist at last. rightly or wrongly she will believe that she has been living in sin. and your unjustifiable interference. morally. Do you see the tragedy. with an anxious compassion." he cried aloud. I will sleep on it. . the misery of it? By God." he answered quickly. or complete." He read the note through twice before he grasped its purport. Ite! missa est! . I have not told Marie−Yvonne that." III They made their first breakfast in an almost total silence. . and. but a moment later knew himself for a self−deceiver all along. Very placid! the place and the few peasants in their pictorial hats and caps who lingered. he recognised. legally. of course. under which a few children." "Yes. unexpected. There was no more to do or say. Then he added very quietly as one breaks supreme bad tidings. The Catholic Church does not recognise divorce. No damnable secret like that keeps itself for ever: an old newspaper. the houses seemed sleepy at last. Sebastian. acidly. with tangled hair and fair dirty faces. Never had self−consciousness been more sudden. their glasses empty.

arch and sad as her nature. you should have known me better than that. "God help you both! I would have saved you if you had let me. "I wish I had never known. silently. settled himself on the shiny leather cushion: he appeared to be the only passenger. "I have been walking about the hills like a madman for hours. that you said last night: divorce to a Catholic?" Tregellan interrupted him.A CASE OF CONSCIENCE disputing that plain fact which Sebastian had so brutally illuminated. and he handed him from time to time a book. Tregellan found him altered. curiously. hooded. he went on after a moment: "You did me a grave injustice. continued to regard him with the same dull. "I have come to get your answer. with places for four." said Tregellan. carrying Tregellan's things." "It was true then?" said Sebastian. and presently. Sebastian stood looking drearily in at the window. were contraposed against him. he must let them go their own way to misery. Coming in later in the day. which had persuaded him to a disagreeable interference." He had climbed into his place at the back. Presently. they went down and out into the splendid sunshine. "It is absolutely true. shortly. a brush. and so at last he was left to decide with a sigh. I am going by it. Sebastian. the least misery for you and her. There was no more to say. He knelt down again and resumed his packing. Sebastian Murch found his friend packing. He regarded the thing as it had been very remote. and their eyes both sought the white house of Doctor Mitouard. His voice was very cold. had loved her all along. when the chamber− maid entered for his luggage." he said. with its one incongruous apple tree. suddenly: "Is it true. Tregellan! How could I ever tell her!" III 7 . and now all the elaborate devices of his honour. God knows I meant nothing shameful. the glass of which had long perished. Sebastian had tied his hands. The Quimperlé Courrier passes in half−an−hour. standing back a little in its trim garden. This suspicion of an ulterior motive had altered it. shrugged his shoulders. my poor friend. The little Breton wild flower! how cruel it seemed to gather her! And he could do no more. but there was no one visible. Things must be! He was a man nicely conscientious. leaning against the bed. that because he loved these two so well. Sebastian asked. They had to cross the Square to reach the carriage. pointed to his valise. Yes! he loved her. I am afraid. From the corner they could look down the road to Quimperlé. only the best. watched him trivial things. which waited outside the post−office. anxious gaze. I have not been near her. I shall catch a night train to Paris. and outside them both. "I did not know it then. Marie−Yvonne! how the name expressed her! at once sweet and serious. which the other packed mechanically with elaborate care. Tell me what you mean to do?" Tregellan rose. a dusty ancient vehicle." As Sebastian said nothing. A man in a blue blouse preceded them.

or angrily.A CASE OF CONSCIENCE Inside. suggestively." "Good−bye. I am very sorry." said the other." he said. Tregellan shrugged his shoulders: not impatiently. write and tell me. with a lurch to the right. in a large straw hat. Sebastian." "Ah. As it passed the Mitouards' house. to recognise the long stooping figure of Sebastian Murch. "Yes! I will write." The carriage lumbered off." The driver cracked his whip. a young girl. raising a cloud of white dust. "you must arrange it with your own conscience. She watched it out of sight. indifferently. who advanced to meet her. "Well." he replied. it's too difficult!" cried the other: "I can't find my way. Sebastian drew back a little further from the off wheel. it rattled down the hill. "if you find it. too late to discover whom it contained. but in sheer impotence. as it turned the corner. III 8 . as one who gave it up. then she turned. "I can't help you. came down the garden. leaning on the little iron gate.

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