ST. Ives

Page 96

Then suddenly -

'Odd-rabbit it! I'll be Catholic too!' he broke out. 'You must teach me it, Mr. Anne--I mean, Ramornie.'

I dissuaded him: alleging that he would find me very imperfectly informed as to the grounds and doctrines of the Church, and that, after all, in the matter of religions, it was a very poor idea to change. 'Of course, my Church is the best,' said I; 'but that is not the reason why I belong to it: I belong to it because it was the faith of my house. I wish to take my chances with my own people, and so should you. If it is a question of going to hell, go to hell like a gentleman with your ancestors.'

'Well, it wasn't that,' he admitted. 'I don't know that I was exactly thinking of hell. Then there's the inquisition, too. That's rather a cawker, you know.'

'And I don't believe you were thinking of anything in the world,' said I--which put a period to his respectable conversion.

He consoled himself by playing for awhile on a cheap flageolet, which was one of his diversions, and to which I owed many intervals of peace. When he first produced it, in the joints, from his pocket, he had the duplicity to ask me if I played upon it. I answered, no; and he put the instrument away with a sigh and the remark that he had thought I might. For some while he resisted the unspeakable temptation, his fingers visibly itching and twittering about his pocket, even his interest in the landscape and in sporadic anecdote entirely lost. Presently the pipe was in his hands again; he fitted, unfitted, refitted, and played upon it in dumb show for some time.

'I play it myself a little,' says he.

'Do you?' said I, and yawned.

And then he broke down.

'Mr. Ramornie, if you please, would it disturb you, sir, if I was to play a chune?' he pleaded. And from that hour, the tootling of the flageolet cheered our way.

He was particularly keen on the details of battles, single combats, incidents of scouting parties, and the like. These he would make haste to cap with some of the exploits of Wallace, the only hero with whom he had the least acquaintance. His enthusiasm was genuine and pretty. When he learned we were going to Scotland, 'Well, then,' he broke out, 'I'll see where Wallace lived!' And presently after, he fell to moralising. 'It's a strange thing, sir,' he began, 'that I seem somehow to have always the wrong sow by the ear. I'm English after all, and I glory in it. My eye! don't I, though! Let some of your Frenchies come over here to invade, and you'll see whether or not! Oh, yes, I'm English to the backbone, I am. And yet look at me! I got hold of this 'ere William Wallace and took to him right off; I never heard of such a man before! And then you came along, and I took to you. And both the two of you were my born enemies! I--I beg your pardon, Mr. Ramornie, but would you mind it very much if you didn't go for to do anything against England'--he brought the word out suddenly, like something hot--'when I was along of you?'

I was more affected than I can tell.

'Rowley,' I said, 'you need have no fear. By how much I love my own honour, by so much I will take care to protect yours. We are but fraternising at the outposts, as soldiers do. When the bugle calls, my boy, we must face each other, one for England, one for France, and may God defend the right!'

So I spoke at the moment; but for all my brave airs, the boy had wounded me in a vital quarter. His words continued to ring in my hearing. There was no remission all day of my remorseful thoughts; and that night (which we lay at Lichfield, I believe) there was no sleep for me in my bed. I put out the candle and lay down with a good resolution; and in a moment all was light about me like a theatre, and I saw myself upon the stage of it playing ignoble parts. I remembered France and my Emperor, now depending on the arbitrament of war, bent down, fighting on their knees and with their teeth against so many and such various assailants. And I burned with shame to be here in England, cherishing an English fortune, pursuing an English mistress, and not there, to handle a musket in my native fields, and to manure them with my body if I fell.

ST. Ives Page 97

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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