ST. Ives

Page 117

However, my mind was made up: I thanked my obliging friend, and placed myself at his disposal.

Our way now led us into the north-east quarter of the town, among pleasant new faubourgs, to a decent new church of a good size, where I was soon seated by the side of my good Samaritan, and looked upon by a whole congregation of menacing faces. At first the possibility of danger kept me awake; but by the time I had assured myself there was none to be apprehended, and the service was not in the least likely to be enlivened by the arrest of a French spy, I had to resign myself to the task of listening to Dr. Henry Gray.

As we moved out, after this ordeal was over, my friend was at once surrounded and claimed by his acquaintances of the congregation; and I was rejoiced to hear him addressed by the expected name of Robbie.

So soon as we were clear of the crowd--'Mr. Robbie?' said I, bowing.

'The very same, sir,' said he.

'If I mistake not, a lawyer?'

'A writer to His Majesty's Signet, at your service.'

'It seems we were predestined to be acquaintances!' I exclaimed. 'I have here a card in my pocket intended for you. It is from my family lawyer. It was his last word, as I was leaving, to ask to be remembered kindly, and to trust you would pass over so informal an introduction.'

And I offered him the card.

'Ay, ay, my old friend Daniel!' says he, looking on the card. 'And how does my old friend Daniel?'

I gave a favourable view of Mr. Romaine's health.

'Well, this is certainly a whimsical incident,' he continued. 'And since we are thus met already--and so much to my advantage!--the simplest thing will be to prosecute the acquaintance instantly. Let me propose a snack between sermons, a bottle of my particular green seal--and when nobody is looking we can talk blazons, Mr. Ducie!'--which was the name I then used and had already incidentally mentioned, in the vain hope of provoking a return in kind.

'I beg your pardon, sir: do I understand you to invite me to your house?' said I.

'That was the idea I was trying to convey,' said he. 'We have the name of hospitable people up here, and I would like you to try mine.'

'Mr. Robbie, I shall hope to try it some day, but not yet,' I replied. 'I hope you will not misunderstand me. My business, which brings me to your city, is of a peculiar kind. Till you shall have heard it, and, indeed, till its issue is known, I should feel as if I had stolen your invitation.'

'Well, well,' said he, a little sobered, 'it must be as you wish, though you would hardly speak otherwise if you had committed homicide! Mine is the loss. I must eat alone; a very pernicious thing for a person of my habit of body, content myself with a pint of skinking claret, and meditate the discourse. But about this business of yours: if it is so particular as all that, it will doubtless admit of no delay.'

'I must confess, sir, it presses,' I acknowledged.

'Then, let us say to-morrow at half-past eight in the morning,' said he; 'and I hope, when your mind is at rest (and it does you much honour to take it as you do), that you will sit down with me to the postponed meal, not forgetting the bottle. You have my address?' he added, and gave it me--which was the only thing I wanted.

At last, at the level of York Place, we parted with mutual civilities, and I was free to pursue my way, through the mobs of people returning from church, to my lodgings in St. James' Square.

Almost at the house door whom should I overtake but my landlady in a dress of gorgeous severity, and dragging a prize in her wake: no less than Rowley, with the cockade in his hat, and a smart pair of tops to his boots! When I said he was in the lady's wake I spoke but in metaphor. As a matter of fact he was squiring her, with the utmost dignity, on his arm; and I followed them up the stairs, smiling to myself.

Both were quick to salute me as soon as I was perceived, and Mrs. McRankine inquired where I had been. I told her boastfully, giving her the name of the church and the divine, and ignorantly supposing I should have gained caste.

ST. Ives Page 118

Robert Louis Stevenson

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