The Merry Men

Page 79

'Doctor,' he would say - 'doctor is a foul word. It should not be used to ladies. It implies disease. I remark it, as a flaw in our civilisation, that we have not the proper horror of disease. Now I, for my part, have washed my hands of it; I have renounced my laureation; I am no doctor; I am only a worshipper of the true goddess Hygieia. Ah, believe me, it is she who has the cestus! And here, in this exiguous hamlet, has she placed her shrine: here she dwells and lavishes her gifts; here I walk with her in the early morning, and she shows me how strong she has made the peasants, how fruitful she has made the fields, how the trees grow up tall and comely under her eyes, and the fishes in the river become clean and agile at her presence. - Rheumatism!' he would cry, on some malapert interruption, 'O, yes, I believe we do have a little rheumatism. That could hardly be avoided, you know, on a river. And of course the place stands a little low; and the meadows are marshy, there's no doubt. But, my dear sir, look at Bourron! Bourron stands high. Bourron is close to the forest; plenty of ozone there, you would say. Well, compared with Gretz, Bourron is a perfect shambles.'

The morning after he had been summoned to the dying mountebank, the Doctor visited the wharf at the tail of his garden, and had a long look at the running water. This he called prayer; but whether his adorations were addressed to the goddess Hygieia or some more orthodox deity, never plainly appeared. For he had uttered doubtful oracles, sometimes declaring that a river was the type of bodily health, sometimes extolling it as the great moral preacher, continually preaching peace, continuity, and diligence to man's tormented spirits. After he had watched a mile or so of the clear water running by before his eyes, seen a fish or two come to the surface with a gleam of silver, and sufficiently admired the long shadows of the trees falling half across the river from the opposite bank, with patches of moving sunlight in between, he strolled once more up the garden and through his house into the street, feeling cool and renovated.

The sound of his feet upon the causeway began the business of the day; for the village was still sound asleep. The church tower looked very airy in the sunlight; a few birds that turned about it, seemed to swim in an atmosphere of more than usual rarity; and the Doctor, walking in long transparent shadows, filled his lungs amply, and proclaimed himself well contented with the morning.

On one of the posts before Tentaillon's carriage entry he espied a little dark figure perched in a meditative attitude, and immediately recognised Jean-Marie.

'Aha!' he said, stopping before him humorously, with a hand on either knee. 'So we rise early in the morning, do we? It appears to me that we have all the vices of a philosopher.'

The boy got to his feet and made a grave salutation.

'And how is our patient?' asked Desprez.

It appeared the patient was about the same.

'And why do you rise early in the morning?' he pursued.

Jean-Marie, after a long silence, professed that he hardly knew.

'You hardly know?' repeated Desprez. 'We hardly know anything, my man, until we try to learn. Interrogate your consciousness. Come, push me this inquiry home. Do you like it?'

'Yes,' said the boy slowly; 'yes, I like it.'

'And why do you like it?' continued the Doctor. '(We are now pursuing the Socratic method.) Why do you like it?'

'It is quiet,' answered Jean-Marie; 'and I have nothing to do; and then I feel as if I were good.'

Doctor Desprez took a seat on the post at the opposite side. He was beginning to take an interest in the talk, for the boy plainly thought before he spoke, and tried to answer truly. 'It appears you have a taste for feeling good,' said the Doctor. 'Now, there you puzzle me extremely; for I thought you said you were a thief; and the two are incompatible.'

'Is it very bad to steal?' asked Jean-Marie.

'Such is the general opinion, little boy,' replied the Doctor.

The Merry Men Page 80

Robert Louis Stevenson

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