ST. Ives

Page 32

She opened big eyes upon me. 'O, Mr. St. Ives!' she cried--'if that is to be your name--I do not say they would not be becoming; but for a journey, do you think they would be wise? I am afraid'-- she gave a pretty break of laughter--'I am afraid they would be daft-like!'

'Well, and am I not daft?' I asked her.

'I do begin to think you are,' said she.

'There it is, then!' said I. 'I have been long enough a figure of fun. Can you not feel with me that perhaps the bitterest thing in this captivity has been the clothes? Make me a captive--bind me with chains if you like--but let me be still myself. You do not know what it is to be a walking travesty--among foes,' I added bitterly.

'O, but you are too unjust!' she cried. 'You speak as though any one ever dreamed of laughing at you. But no one did. We were all pained to the heart. Even my aunt--though sometimes I do think she was not quite in good taste--you should have seen her and heard her at home! She took so much interest. Every patch in your clothes made us sorry; it should have been a sister's work.'

'That is what I never had--a sister,' said I. 'But since you say that I did not make you laugh--'

'O, Mr. St. Ives! never!' she exclaimed. 'Not for one moment. It was all too sad. To see a gentleman --'

'In the clothes of a harlequin, and begging?' I suggested.

'To see a gentleman in distress, and nobly supporting it,' she said.

'And do you not understand, my fair foe,' said I, 'that even if all were as you say--even if you had thought my travesty were becoming- -I should be only the more anxious, for my sake, for my country's sake, and for the sake of your kindness, that you should see him whom you have helped as God meant him to be seen? that you should have something to remember him by at least more characteristic than a misfitting sulphur-yellow suit, and half a week's beard?'

'You think a great deal too much of clothes,' she said. 'I am not that kind of girl.'

'And I am afraid I am that kind of man,' said I. 'But do not think of me too harshly for that. I talked just now of something to remember by. I have many of them myself, of these beautiful reminders, of these keepsakes, that I cannot be parted from until I lose memory and life. Many of them are great things, many of them are high virtues--charity, mercy, faith. But some of them are trivial enough. Miss Flora, do you remember the day that I first saw you, the day of the strong east wind? Miss Flora, shall I tell you what you wore?'

We had both risen to our feet, and she had her hand already on the door to go. Perhaps this attitude emboldened me to profit by the last seconds of our interview; and it certainly rendered her escape the more easy.

'O, you are too romantic!' she said, laughing; and with that my sun was blown out, my enchantress had fled away, and I was again left alone in the twilight with the lady hens.

CHAPTER IX--THREE IS COMPANY, AND FOUR NONE

The rest of the day I slept in the corner of the hen-house upon Flora's shawl. Nor did I awake until a light shone suddenly in my eyes, and starting up with a gasp (for, indeed, at the moment I dreamed I was still swinging from the Castle battlements) I found Ronald bending over me with a lantern. It appeared it was past midnight, that I had slept about sixteen hours, and that Flora had returned her poultry to the shed and I had heard her not. I could not but wonder if she had stooped to look at me as I slept. The puritan hens now slept irremediably; and being cheered with the promise of supper I wished them an ironical good-night, and was lighted across the garden and noiselessly admitted to a bedroom on the ground floor of the cottage. There I found soap, water, razors--offered me diffidently by my beardless host--and an outfit of new clothes. To be shaved again without depending on the barber of the gaol was a source of a delicious, if a childish joy. My hair was sadly too long, but I was none so unwise as to make an attempt on it myself.

ST. Ives Page 33

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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