ST. Ives

Page 88

Rowley is but another danger,' said Romaine.

'Rowley,' said I, 'will pass as a servant from a distance--as a creature seen poised on the dicky of a bowling chaise. He will pass at hand as a smart, civil fellow one meets in the inn corridor, and looks back at, and asks, and is told, "Gentleman's servant in Number 4." He will pass, in fact, all round, except with his personal friends! My dear sir, pray what do you expect? Of course if we meet my cousin, or if we meet anybody who took part in the judicious exhibition of this evening, we are lost; and who's denying it? To every disguise, however good and safe, there is always the weak point; you must always take (let us say--and to take a simile from your own waistcoat pocket) a snuff box-full of risk. You'll get it just as small with Rowley as with anybody else. And the long and short of it is, the lad's honest, he likes me, I trust him; he is my servant, or nobody.'

'He might not accept,' said Romaine.

'I bet you a thousand pounds he does!' cried I. 'But no matter; all you have to do is to send him out to-night on this cross- country business, and leave the thing to me. I tell you, he will be my servant, and I tell you, he will do well.'

I had crossed the room, and was already overhauling my wardrobe as I spoke.

'Well,' concluded the lawyer, with a shrug, 'one risk with another: a la guerre comme a la guerre, as you would say. Let the brat come and be useful, at least.' And he was about to ring the bell, when his eye was caught by my researches in the wardrobe. 'Do not fall in love with these coats, waistcoats, cravats, and other panoply and accoutrements by which you are now surrounded. You must not run the post as a dandy. It is not the fashion, even.'

'You are pleased to be facetious, sir,' said I; 'and not according to knowledge. These clothes are my life, they are my disguise; and since I can take but few of them, I were a fool indeed if I selected hastily! Will you understand, once and for all, what I am seeking? To be invisible, is the first point; the second, to be invisible in a post-chaise and with a servant. Can you not perceive the delicacy of the quest? Nothing must be too coarse, nothing too fine; rien de voyant, rien qui detonne; so that I may leave everywhere the inconspicuous image of a handsome young man of a good fortune travelling in proper style, whom the landlord will forget in twelve hours--and the chambermaid perhaps remember, God bless her! with a sigh. This is the very fine art of dress.'

'I have practised it with success for fifty years,' said Romaine, with a chuckle. 'A black suit and a clean shirt is my infallible recipe.'

'You surprise me; I did not think you would be shallow!' said I, lingering between two coats. 'Pray, Mr. Romaine, have I your head? or did you travel post and with a smartish servant?'

'Neither, I admit,' said he.

'Which change the whole problem,' I continued. 'I have to dress for a smartish servant and a Russia leather despatch-box.' That brought me to a stand. I came over and looked at the box with a moment's hesitation. 'Yes,' I resumed. 'Yes, and for the despatch-box! It looks moneyed and landed; it means I have a lawyer. It is an invaluable property. But I could have wished it to hold less money. The responsibility is crushing. Should I not do more wisely to take five hundred pounds, and intrust the remainder with you, Mr. Romaine?'

'If you are sure you will not want it,' answered Romaine.

'I am far from sure of that,' cried I. 'In the first place, as a philosopher. This is the first time I have been at the head of a large sum, and it is conceivable--who knows himself?--that I may make it fly. In the second place, as a fugitive. Who knows what I may need? The whole of it may be inadequate. But I can always write for more.'

'You do not understand,' he replied. 'I break off all communication with you here and now. You must give me a power of attorney ere you start to-night, and then be done with me trenchantly until better days.'

I believe I offered some objection.

ST. Ives Page 89

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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