ST. Ives

Page 100

'She would never forget female decorum--nor make the terrible erratum I've done!'

And at this she lifted up her voice and wept.

This did not forward matters: it was in vain that I begged her to be more composed and to tell me a plain, consecutive tale of her misadventures; but she continued instead to pour forth the most extraordinary mixture of the correct school miss and the poor untutored little piece of womanhood in a false position--of engrafted pedantry and incoherent nature.

'I am certain it must have been judicial blindness,' she sobbed. 'I can't think how I didn't see it, but I didn't; and he isn't, is he? And then a curtain rose . . . O, what a moment was that! But I knew at once that YOU WERE; you had but to appear from your carriage, and I knew it, O, she must be a fortunate young lady! And I have no fear with you, none--a perfect confidence.'

'Madam,' said I, 'a gentleman.'

'That's what I mean--a gentleman,' she exclaimed. 'And he--and that--HE isn't. O, how shall I dare meet father!' And disclosing to me her tear-stained face, and opening her arms with a tragic gesture: 'And I am quite disgraced before all the young ladies, my school-companions!' she added.

'O, not so bad as that!' I cried. 'Come, come, you exaggerate, my dear Miss--? Excuse me if I am too familiar: I have not yet heard your name.'

'My name is Dorothy Greensleeves, sir: why should I conceal it? I fear it will only serve to point an adage to future generations, and I had meant so differently! There was no young female in the county more emulous to be thought well of than I. And what a fall was there! O, dear me, what a wicked, piggish donkey of a girl I have made of myself, to be sure! And there is no hope! O, Mr.--'

And at that she paused and asked my name.

I am not writing my eulogium for the Academy; I will admit it was unpardonably imbecile, but I told it her. If you had been there-- and seen her, ravishingly pretty and little, a baby in years and mind--and heard her talking like a book, with so much of schoolroom propriety in her manner, with such an innocent despair in the matter--you would probably have told her yours. She repeated it after me.

'I shall pray for you all my life,' she said. 'Every night, when I retire to rest, the last thing I shall do is to remember you by name.'

Presently I succeeded in winning from her her tale, which was much what I had anticipated: a tale of a schoolhouse, a walled garden, a fruit-tree that concealed a bench, an impudent raff posturing in church, an exchange of flowers and vows over the garden wall, a silly schoolmate for a confidante, a chaise and four, and the most immediate and perfect disenchantment on the part of the little lady. 'And there is nothing to be done!' she wailed in conclusion. 'My error is irretrievable, I am quite forced to that conclusion. O, Monsieur de Saint-Yves! who would have thought that I could have been such a blind, wicked donkey!'

I should have said before--only that I really do not know when it came in--that we had been overtaken by the two post-boys, Rowley and Mr. Bellamy, which was the hawbuck's name, bestriding the four post-horses; and that these formed a sort of cavalry escort, riding now before, now behind the chaise, and Bellamy occasionally posturing at the window and obliging us with some of his conversation. He was so ill-received that I declare I was tempted to pity him, remembering from what a height he had fallen, and how few hours ago it was since the lady had herself fled to his arms, all blushes and ardour. Well, these great strokes of fortune usually befall the unworthy, and Bellamy was now the legitimate object of my commiseration and the ridicule of his own post-boys!

'Miss Dorothy,' said I, 'you wish to be delivered from this man?'

'O, if it were possible!' she cried. 'But not by violence.'

'Not in the least, ma'am,' I replied. 'The simplest thing in life. We are in a civilised country; the man's a malefactor--'

'O, never!' she cried.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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