The Merry Men

Page 91

They struck the Route Ronde at that moment; and the sudden change to the rattling causeway combined, with the Doctor's irritation, to keep him silent. The noddy jigged along; the trees went by, looking on silently, as if they had something on their minds. The Quadrilateral was passed; then came Franchard. They put up the horse at the little solitary inn, and went forth strolling. The gorge was dyed deeply with heather; the rocks and birches standing luminous in the sun. A great humming of bees about the flowers disposed Jean-Marie to sleep, and he sat down against a clump of heather, while the Doctor went briskly to and fro, with quick turns, culling his simples.

The boy's head had fallen a little forward, his eyes were closed, his fingers had fallen lax about his knees, when a sudden cry called him to his feet. It was a strange sound, thin and brief; it fell dead, and silence returned as though it had never been interrupted. He had not recognised the Doctor's voice; but, as there was no one else in all the valley, it was plainly the Doctor who had given utterance to the sound. He looked right and left, and there was Desprez, standing in a niche between two boulders, and looking round on his adopted son with a countenance as white as paper.

'A viper!' cried Jean-Marie, running towards him. 'A viper! You are bitten!'

The Doctor came down heavily out of the cleft, and, advanced in silence to meet the boy, whom he took roughly by the shoulder.

'I have found it,' he said, with a gasp.

'A plant?' asked Jean-Marie.

Desprez had a fit of unnatural gaiety, which the rocks took up and mimicked. 'A plant!' he repeated scornfully. 'Well - yes - a plant. And here,' he added suddenly, showing his right hand, which he had hitherto concealed behind his back - 'here is one of the bulbs.'

Jean-Marie saw a dirty platter, coated with earth.

'That?' said he. 'It is a plate!'

'It is a coach and horses,' cried the Doctor. 'Boy,' he continued, growing warmer, 'I plucked away a great pad of moss from between these boulders, and disclosed a crevice; and when I looked in, what do you suppose I saw? I saw a house in Paris with a court and garden, I saw my wife shining with diamonds, I saw myself a deputy, I saw you - well, I - I saw your future,' he concluded, rather feebly. 'I have just discovered America,' he added.

'But what is it?' asked the boy.

'The Treasure of Franchard,' cried the Doctor; and, throwing his brown straw hat upon the ground, he whooped like an Indian and sprang upon Jean-Marie, whom he suffocated with embraces and bedewed with tears. Then he flung himself down among the heather and once more laughed until the valley rang.

But the boy had now an interest of his own, a boy's interest. No sooner was he released from the Doctor's accolade than he ran to the boulders, sprang into the niche, and, thrusting his hand into the crevice, drew forth one after another, encrusted with the earth of ages, the flagons, candlesticks, and patens of the hermitage of Franchard. A casket came last, tightly shut and very heavy.

'O what fun!' he cried.

But when he looked back at the Doctor, who had followed close behind and was silently observing, the words died from his lips. Desprez was once more the colour of ashes; his lip worked and trembled; a sort of bestial greed possessed him.

'This is childish,' he said. 'We lose precious time. Back to the inn, harness the trap, and bring it to yon bank. Run for your life, and remember - not one whisper. I stay here to watch.'

Jean-Marie did as he was bid, though not without surprise. The noddy was brought round to the spot indicated; and the two gradually transported the treasure from its place of concealment to the boot below the driving seat. Once it was all stored the Doctor recovered his gaiety.

'I pay my grateful duties to the genius of this dell,' he said. 'O, for a live coal, a heifer, and a jar of country wine! I am in the vein for sacrifice, for a superb libation. Well, and why not? We are at Franchard.

The Merry Men Page 92

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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