ST. Ives

Page 81

'There are so many necessities in this world,' said I. 'Charity has to choose. One gets relieved, and some other, no less indigent, perhaps indebted, must go wanting.'

'Malice is an engaging trait,' said he.

'And envy, I think?' was my reply.

He must have felt that he was not getting wholly the better of this passage at arms; perhaps even feared that he should lose command of his temper, which he reined in throughout the interview as with a red-hot curb, for he flung away from me at the word, and addressed the lawyer with insulting arrogance.

'Mr. Romaine,' he said, 'since when have you presumed to give orders in this house?'

'I am not prepared to admit that I have given any,' replied Romaine; 'certainly none that did not fall in the sphere of my responsibilities.'

'By whose orders, then, am I denied entrance to my uncle's room?' said my cousin.

'By the doctor's, sir,' replied Romaine; 'and I think even you will admit his faculty to give them.'

'Have a care, sir,' cried Alain. 'Do not be puffed up with your position. It is none so secure, Master Attorney. I should not wonder in the least if you were struck off the rolls for this night's work, and the next I should see of you were when I flung you alms at a pothouse door to mend your ragged elbows. The doctor's orders? But I believe I am not mistaken! You have to- night transacted business with the Count; and this needy young gentleman has enjoyed the privilege of still another interview, in which (as I am pleased to see) his dignity has not prevented his doing very well for himself. I wonder that you should care to prevaricate with me so idly.'

'I will confess so much,' said Mr. Romaine, 'if you call it prevarication. The order in question emanated from the Count himself. He does not wish to see you.'

'For which I must take the word of Mr. Daniel Romaine?' asked Alain.

'In default of any better,' said Romaine.

There was an instantaneous convulsion in my cousin's face, and I distinctly heard him gnash his teeth at this reply; but, to my surprise, he resumed in tones of almost good humour:

'Come, Mr. Romaine, do not let us be petty!' He drew in a chair and sat down. 'Understand you have stolen a march upon me. You have introduced your soldier of Napoleon, and (how, I cannot conceive) he has been apparently accepted with favour. I ask no better proof than the funds with which I find him literally surrounded--I presume in consequence of some extravagance of joy at the first sight of so much money. The odds are so far in your favour, but the match is not yet won. Questions will arise of undue influence, of sequestration, and the like: I have my witnesses ready. I tell it you cynically, for you cannot profit by the knowledge; and, if the worst come to the worst, I have good hopes of recovering my own and of ruining you.'

'You do what you please,' answered Romaine; 'but I give it you for a piece of good advice, you had best do nothing in the matter. You will only make yourself ridiculous; you will only squander money, of which you have none too much, and reap public mortification.'

'Ah, but there you make the common mistake, Mr. Romaine!' returned Alain. 'You despise your adversary. Consider, if you please, how very disagreeable I could make myself, if I chose. Consider the position of your protege--an escaped prisoner! But I play a great game. I condemn such petty opportunities.'

At this Romaine and I exchanged a glance of triumph. It seemed manifest that Alain had as yet received no word of Clausel's recapture and denunciation. At the same moment the lawyer, thus relieved of the instancy of his fear, changed his tactics. With a great air of unconcern, he secured the newspaper, which still lay open before him on the table.

'I think, Monsieur Alain, that you labour under some illusion,' said he. 'Believe me, this is all beside the mark. You seem to be pointing to some compromise. Nothing is further from my views. You suspect me of an inclination to trifle with you, to conceal how things are going.

ST. Ives Page 82

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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