ST. Ives

Page 112

bars, the glinting of pebbles on the path, and the impenetrable night on the garden and the hills beyond it, she heaved a deep breath that struck upon my heart like an appeal.

'Why does Miss Gilchrist sigh?' I whispered. 'Does she recall absent friends?'

She turned her head swiftly in my direction; it was the only sign of surprise she deigned to make. At the same time I stepped into the light and bowed profoundly.

'You!' she said. 'Here?'

'Yes, I am here,' I replied. 'I have come very far, it may be a hundred and fifty leagues, to see you. I have waited all this night in your garden. Will Miss Gilchrist not offer her hand--to a friend in trouble?'

She extended it between the bars, and I dropped upon one knee on the wet path and kissed it twice. At the second it was withdrawn suddenly, methought with more of a start than she had hitherto displayed. I regained my former attitude, and we were both silent awhile. My timidity returned on me tenfold. I looked in her face for any signals of anger, and seeing her eyes to waver and fall aside from mine, augured that all was well.

'You must have been mad to come here!' she broke out. 'Of all places under heaven this is no place for you to come. And I was just thinking you were safe in France!'

'You were thinking of me!' I cried.

'Mr. St. Ives, you cannot understand your danger,' she replied. 'I am sure of it, and yet I cannot find it in my heart to tell you. O, be persuaded, and go!'

'I believe I know the worst. But I was never one to set an undue value on life, the life that we share with beasts. My university has been in the wars, not a famous place of education, but one where a man learns to carry his life in his hand as lightly as a glove, and for his lady or his honour to lay it as lightly down. You appeal to my fears, and you do wrong. I have come to Scotland with my eyes quite open to see you and to speak with you--it may be for the last time. With my eyes quite open, I say; and if I did not hesitate at the beginning do you think that I would draw back now?'

'You do not know!' she cried, with rising agitation. 'This country, even this garden, is death to you. They all believe it; I am the only one that does not. If they hear you now, if they heard a whisper--I dread to think of it. O, go, go this instant. It is my prayer.'

'Dear lady, do not refuse me what I have come so far to seek; and remember that out of all the millions in England there is no other but yourself in whom I can dare confide. I have all the world against me; you are my only ally; and as I have to speak, you have to listen. All is true that they say of me, and all of it false at the same time. I did kill this man Goguelat--it was that you meant?'

She mutely signed to me that it was; she had become deadly pale.

'But I killed him in fair fight. Till then, I had never taken a life unless in battle, which is my trade. But I was grateful, I was on fire with gratitude, to one who had been good to me, who had been better to me than I could have dreamed of an angel, who had come into the darkness of my prison like sunrise. The man Goguelat insulted her. O, he had insulted me often, it was his favourite pastime, and he might insult me as he pleased--for who was I? But with that lady it was different. I could never forgive myself if I had let it pass. And we fought, and he fell, and I have no remorse.'

I waited anxiously for some reply. The worst was now out, and I knew that she had heard of it before; but it was impossible for me to go on with my narrative without some shadow of encouragement.

'You blame me?'

'No, not at all. It is a point I cannot speak on--I am only a girl. I am sure you were in the right: I have always said so--to Ronald. Not, of course, to my aunt. I am afraid I let her speak as she will. You must not think me a disloyal friend; and even with the Major--I did not tell you he had become quite a friend of ours--Major Chevenix, I mean--he has taken such a fancy to Ronald! It was he that brought the news to us of that hateful Clausel being captured, and all that he was saying.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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