ST. Ives

Page 78

You forget, there is no connection between these two personages.'

'And you forget your cousin,' retorted Romaine. 'There is the link. There is the tongue of the buckle. He knows you are Champdivers.' He put up his hand as if to listen. 'And, for a wager, here he is himself!' he exclaimed.

As when a tailor takes a piece of goods upon his counter, and rends it across, there came to our ears from the avenue the long tearing sound of a chaise and four approaching at the top speed of the horses. And, looking out between the curtains, we beheld the lamps skimming on the smooth ascent.

'Ay,' said Romaine, wiping the window-pane that he might see more clearly. 'Ay, that is he by the driving! So he squanders money along the king's highway, the triple idiot! gorging every man he meets with gold for the pleasure of arriving--where? Ah, yes, where but a debtor's jail, if not a criminal prison!'

'Is he that kind of a man?' I said, staring on these lamps as though I could decipher in them the secret of my cousin's character.

'You will find him a dangerous kind,' answered the lawyer. 'For you, these are the lights on a lee shore! I find I fall in a muse when I consider of him; what a formidable being he once was, and what a personable! and how near he draws to the moment that must break him utterly! we none of us like him here; we hate him, rather; and yet I have a sense--I don't think at my time of life it can be pity--but a reluctance rather, to break anything so big and figurative, as though he were a big porcelain pot or a big picture of high price. Ay, there is what I was waiting for!' he cried, as the lights of a second chaise swam in sight. 'It is he beyond a doubt. The first was the signature and the next the flourish. Two chaises, the second following with the baggage, which is always copious and ponderous, and one of his valets: he cannot go a step without a valet.'

'I hear you repeat the word big,' said I. 'But it cannot be that he is anything out of the way in stature.'

'No,' said the attorney. 'About your height, as I guessed for the tailors, and I see nothing wrong with the result. But, somehow, he commands an atmosphere; he has a spacious manner; and he has kept up, all through life, such a volume of racket about his personality, with his chaises and his racers and his dicings, and I know not what--that somehow he imposes! It seems, when the farce is done, and he locked in Fleet prison--and nobody left but Buonaparte and Lord Wellington and the Hetman Platoff to make a work about--the world will be in a comparison quite tranquil. But this is beside the mark,' he added, with an effort, turning again from the window. 'We are now under fire, Mr. Anne, as you soldiers would say, and it is high time we should prepare to go into action. He must not see you; that would be fatal. All that he knows at present is that you resemble him, and that is much more than enough. If it were possible, it would be well he should not know you were in the house.'

'Quite impossible, depend upon it,' said I. 'Some of the servants are directly in his interests, perhaps in his pay: Dawson, for an example.'

'My own idea!' cried Romaine. 'And at least,' he added, as the first of the chaises drew up with a dash in front of the portico, 'it is now too late. Here he is.'

We stood listening, with a strange anxiety, to the various noises that awoke in the silent house: the sound of doors opening and closing, the sound of feet near at hand and farther off. It was plain the arrival of my cousin was a matter of moment, almost of parade, to the household. And suddenly, out of this confused and distant bustle, a rapid and light tread became distinguishable. We heard it come upstairs, draw near along the corridor, pause at the door, and a stealthy and hasty rapping succeeded.

'Mr. Anne--Mr. Anne, sir! Let me in!' said the voice of Rowley.

We admitted the lad, and locked the door again behind him.

'It's HIM, sir,' he panted. 'He've come.'

'You mean the Viscount?' said I.

ST. Ives Page 79

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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