THE ARETHUSA. Well, sir, oblige me at least by looking at this book. Here, I open it with my eyes shut. Read one of these songs - read this one - and tell me, you who are a man of intelligence, if it would be possible to sing it at a fair?

THE COMMISSARY (CRITICALLY). MAIS OUI. TRES BIEN.

THE ARETHUSA. COMMENT, MONSIEUR! What! But do you not observe it is antique. It is difficult to understand, even for you and me; but for the audience at a fair, it would be meaningless.

THE COMMISSARY (TAKING A PEN). ENFIN, IL FAUI EN FINIR. What is your name?

THE ARETHUSA (SPEAKING WITH THE SWALLOWING VIVACITY OF THE ENGLISH). Robert-Louis-Stev'ns'n.

THE COMMISSARY (AGHAST). HE! QUOI?

THE ARETHUSA (PERCEIVING AND IMPROVING HIS ADVANTAGE). Rob'rt- Lou's-Stev'ns'n.

THE COMMISSARY (AFTER SEVERAL CONFLICTS WITH HIS PEN). EH BIEN, IL FAUT SE PASSER DU NOM. CA NE S'ECRIT PAS. (Well, we must do without the name: it is unspellable.)

The above is a rough summary of this momentous conversation, in which I have been chiefly careful to preserve the plums of the Commissary; but the remainder of the scene, perhaps because of his rising anger, has left but little definite in the memory of the Arethusa. The Commissary was not, I think, a practised literary man; no sooner, at least, had he taken pen in hand and embarked on the composition of the PROCES-VERBAL, than he became distinctly more uncivil and began to show a predilection for that simplest of all forms of repartee: "You lie!" Several times the Arethusa let it pass, and then suddenly flared up, refused to accept more insults or to answer further questions, defied the Commissary to do his worst, and promised him, if he did, that he should bitterly repent it. Perhaps if he had worn this proud front from the first, instead of beginning with a sense of entertainment and then going on to argue, the thing might have turned otherwise; for even at this eleventh hour the Commissary was visibly staggered. But it was too late; he had been challenged the PROCES-VERBAL was begun; and he again squared his elbows over his writing, and the Arethusa was led forth a prisoner.

A step or two down the hot road stood the gendarmerie. Thither was our unfortunate conducted, and there he was bidden to empty forth the contents of his pockets. A handkerchief, a pen, a pencil, a pipe and tobacco, matches, and some ten francs of change: that was all. Not a file, not a cipher, not a scrap of writing whether to identify or to condemn. The very gendarme was appalled before such destitution.

"I regret," he said, "that I arrested you, for I see that you are no VOYOU." And he promised him every indulgence.

The Arethusa, thus encouraged, asked for his pipe. That he was told was impossible, but if he chewed, he might have some tobacco. He did not chew, however, and asked instead to have his handkerchief.

"NON," said the gendarme. "NOUS AVONS EU DES HISTOIRES DE GENS QUI SE SONT PENDUS." (No, we have had histories of people who hanged themselves.)

"What," cried the Arethusa. "And is it for that you refuse me my handkerchief? But see how much more easily I could hang myself in my trousers!"

The man was struck by the novelty of the idea; but he stuck to his colours, and only continued to repeat vague offers of service.

"At least," said the Arethusa, "be sure that you arrest my comrade; he will follow me ere long on the same road, and you can tell him by the sack upon his shoulders."

This promised, the prisoner was led round into the back court of the building, a cellar door was opened, he was motioned down the stair, and bolts grated and chains clanged behind his descending person.

Across the Plains Page 47

Robert Louis Stevenson Stories

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book