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source:qsjtime:2023-12-04 23:34:49

NOT a parallel, but a contrast, since at all points Peace is Brodie's antithesis. The one is the austerest of Classics, caring only for the ultimate perfection of his work. The other is the gayest of Romantics, happiest when by the way he produces a glittering effect, or dazzles the ear by a vain impertinence. Now, it is by thievery that Peace reached magnificence. A natural aptitude drove him from the fiddle to the centre-bit. He did but rob, because genius followed the impulse. He had studied the remotest details of his business; he was sternly professional in the conduct of his life, and, as became an old gaol-bird, there was no antic of the policeman wherewith he was not familiar. Moreover, not only had he reduced house-breaking to a science, but, being ostensibly nothing better than a picture- frame maker, he had invented an incomparable set of tools wherewith to enter and evade his neighbour's house. Brodie, on the other hand, was a thief for distraction. His method was as slovenly as ignorance could make it. Though by trade a wright, and therefore a master of all the arts of joinery, he was so deficient in seriousness that he stole a coulter wherewith to batter the walls of the Excise Office. While Peace fought the battle in solitude, Brodie was not only attended by a gang, but listened to the command of his subordinates, and was never permitted to perform a more intricate duty than the sounding of the alarm. And yet here is the ironical contrast. Peace, the professional thief, despised his brothers, and was never heard to patter a word of flash. Brodie, the amateur, courted the society of all cross coves, and would rather express himself in Pedlar's French than in his choicest Scots. While the Englishman scraped Tate and Brady from a one-stringed fiddle, the Scot limped a chaunt from The Beggar's Opera, and thought himself a devil of a fellow. The one was a man about town masquerading as a thief; the other the most serious among housebreakers, singing psalms in all good faith.

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But if Peace was incomparably the better craftsman, Brodie was the prettier gentleman. Peace would not have permitted Brodie to drive his pony-trap the length of Evelina Road. But Brodie, in revenge, would have cut Peace had he met him in the Corn-market. The one was a sombre savage, the other a jovial comrade, and it was a witty freak of fortune that impelled both to follow the same trade. And thus you arrive at another point of difference. The Englishman had no intelligence of life's amenity. He knew naught of costume: clothes were the limit of his ambition. Dressed always for work, he was like the caterpillar which assumes the green of the leaf, wherein it hides: he wore only such duds as should attract the smallest notice, and separate him as far as might be from his business. But the Scot was as fine a dandy as ever took (haphazard) to the cracking of kens. If his refinement permitted no excess of splendour, he went ever gloriously and appropriately apparelled. He was well-mannered, cultured, with scarce a touch of provincialism to mar his gay demeanour: whereas Peace knew little enough outside the practice of burglary, and the proper handling of the revolver.

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Our Charles, for example, could neither spell nor write; he dissembled his low origin with the utmost difficulty, and at the best was plastered over (when not at work) with the parochialism of the suburbs. So far the contrast is complete; and even in their similarities there is an evident difference. Each led a double life; but while Brodie was most himself among his own kind, the real Peace was to be found not fiddle-scraping in Evelina Road but marking down policemen in the dusky byways of Blackheath. Brodie's grandeur was natural to him; Peace's respectability, so far as it transcended the man's origin, was a cloak of villainy.

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Each, again, was an inventor, and while the more innocent Brodie designed a gallows, the more hardened Peace would have gained notoriety by the raising of wrecks and the patronage of Mr. Plimsoll. And since both preserved a certain courage to the end, since both died on the scaffold as becomes a man, the contrast is once more characteristic. Brodie's cynicism is a fine foil to the piety of Peace; and while each end was natural after its own fashion, there is none who will deny to the Scot the finer sense of fitness. Nor did any step in their career explain more clearly the difference in their temperament than their definitions of the gallows. For Peace it is `a short cut to Heaven'; for Brodie it is `a leap in the dark.' Again the Scot has the advantage. Again you reflect that, if Peace is the most accomplished Classic among the housebreakers, the Deacon is the merriest companion who ever climbed the gallows by the shoulders of the incomparable Macheath.

THE Abb Bruneau, who gave his shaven head in atonement for unnumbered crimes, was a finished exponent of duplicity. In the eye of day and of Entrammes he shone a miracle of well-doing; by night he prowled in the secret places of Laval. The world watched him, habited in the decent black of his calling; no sooner was he beyond sight of his parish than his valise was opened, and he arrayed himself--under the hedge, no doubt--in a suit of jaunty grey. The pleasures for which he sacrificed the lives of others and his own were squalid enough, but they were the best a provincial brain might imagine; and he sinned the sins of a hedge priest with a courage and effrontery which his brethren may well envy. Indeed, the Man in the Grey Suit will be sent down the ages with a grimmer scandal, if with a staler mystery, than the Man in the Iron Mask.

He was born of parents who were certainly poor, and possibly honest, at Ass-le-Berenger. He counted a dozen Chouans among his ancestry, and brigandage swam in his blood. Even his childhood was crimson with crimes, which the quick memory of the countryside long ago lost in the pride of having bred a priest. He stained his first cure of souls with the poor, sad sin of arson, which the bishop, fearful of scandal and loth to check a promising career, condoned with a suitable advancement. At Entrammes, his next benefice, he entered into his full inheritance of villainy, and here it was--despite his own protest--that he devised the grey suit which brought him ruin and immortality. To the wild, hilarious dissipation of Laval, the nearest town, he fell an immediate and unresisting prey. Think of the glittering lamps, the sparkling taverns, the bright-eyed women, the manifold fascinations, which are the character and delight of this forgotten city! Why, if the Abb Bruneau doled out comfort and absolution at Entrammes--why should he not enjoy at Laval the wilder joys of the flesh? Lack of money was the only hindrance, since our priest was not of those who could pursue bonnes fortunes; ever he sighed for `booze and the blowens,' but `booze and the blowens' he could only purchase with the sovereigns his honest calling denied him. There was no resource but thievery and embezzlement, sins which led sometimes to falsehood or incendiarism, and at a pinch to the graver enterprise of murder. But Bruneau was not one to boggle at trifles. Women he would encounter--young or old, dark or fair, ugly or beautiful, it was all one to him--and the fools who withheld him riches must be punished for their niggard hand. For a while a theft here and there, a cunning extortion of money upon the promise of good works, sufficed for his necessities, but still he hungered for a coup, and patiently he devised and watched his opportunity.

Meanwhile his cunning protected him, and even if the gaze of suspicion fell upon him he contrived his orgies with so neat a discretion that the Church, which is not wont to expose her malefactors, preserved a timid and an innocent silence. The Abb disappeared with a commendable constancy, and with that just sense of secrecy which should compel even an archiepiscopal admiration. He was not of those who would drag his cloth through the mire. Not until the darkness he loved so fervently covered the earth would he escape from the dull respectability of Entrammes, nor did he ever thus escape unaccompanied by his famous valise. The grey suit was an effectual disguise to his calling, and so jealous was he of the Church's honour that he never--unless in his cups--disclosed his tonsure. One of his innumerable loves confessed in the witness-box that Bruneau always retained his hat in the glare of the Caf, protesting that a headache rendered him fatally susceptible to draught; and such was his thoughtful punctilio that even in the comparative solitude of a guilty bed-chamber he covered his shorn locks with a nightcap.

And while his conduct at Laval was unimpeachable, he always proved a nice susceptibility in his return. A cab carried him within a discreet distance of his home, whence, having exchanged the grey for the more sober black, he would tramp on foot, and thus creep in tranquil and unobserved. But simple as it is to enjoy, enjoyment must still be purchased, and the Abb was never guilty of a meanness. The less guilty scheme was speedily staled, and then it was that the Abb bethought him of murder.