ST. Ives

Page 119

I defy you to see or think of them and not smile with an infinite and intimate, but quite impersonal, pleasure. Well, either I know nothing of women, or that was the case with Bethiah McRankine. She had been to church with a cockade behind her, on the one hand; on the other, her house was brightened by the presence of a pair of good-looking young fellows of the other sex, who were always pleased and deferential in her society and accepted her views as final.

These were sentiments to be encouraged; and, on the way home from church--if church it could be called--I adopted a most insidious device to magnify her interest. I took her into the confidence, that is, of my love affair, and I had no sooner mentioned a young lady with whom my affections were engaged than she turned upon me a face of awful gravity.

'Is she bonny?' she inquired.

I gave her full assurances upon that.

'To what denoamination does she beloang?' came next, and was so unexpected as almost to deprive me of breath.

'Upon my word, ma'am, I have never inquired,' cried I; 'I only know that she is a heartfelt Christian, and that is enough.'

'Ay!' she sighed, 'if she has the root of the maitter! There's a remnant practically in most of the denoaminations. There's some in the McGlashanites, and some in the Glassites, and mony in the McMillanites, and there's a leeven even in the Estayblishment.'

'I have known some very good Papists even, if you go to that,' said I.

'Mr. Ducie, think shame to yoursel'!' she cried.

'Why, my dear madam! I only--' I began.

'You shouldnae jest in sairious maitters,' she interrupted.

On the whole, she entered into what I chose to tell her of our idyll with avidity, like a cat licking her whiskers over a dish of cream; and, strange to say--and so expansive a passion is that of love!--that I derived a perhaps equal satisfaction from confiding in that breast of iron. It made an immediate bond: from that hour we seemed to be welded into a family-party; and I had little difficulty in persuading her to join us and to preside over our tea-table. Surely there was never so ill-matched a trio as Rowley, Mrs. McRankine, and the Viscount Anne! But I am of the Apostle's way, with a difference: all things to all women! When I cannot please a woman, hang me in my cravat!


By half-past eight o'clock on the next morning, I was ringing the bell of the lawyer's office in Castle Street, where I found him ensconced at a business table, in a room surrounded by several tiers of green tin cases. He greeted me like an old friend.

'Come away, sir, come away!' said he. 'Here is the dentist ready for you, and I think I can promise you that the operation will be practically painless.'

'I am not so sure of that, Mr. Robbie,' I replied, as I shook hands with him. 'But at least there shall be no time lost with me.'

I had to confess to having gone a-roving with a pair of drovers and their cattle, to having used a false name, to having murdered or half-murdered a fellow-creature in a scuffle on the moors, and to having suffered a couple of quite innocent men to lie some time in prison on a charge from which I could have immediately freed them. All this I gave him first of all, to be done with the worst of it; and all this he took with gravity, but without the least appearance of surprise.

'Now, sir,' I continued, 'I expect to have to pay for my unhappy frolic, but I would like very well if it could be managed without my personal appearance or even the mention of my real name. I had so much wisdom as to sail under false colours in this foolish jaunt of mine; my family would be extremely concerned if they had wind of it; but at the same time, if the case of this Faa has terminated fatally, and there are proceedings against Todd and Candlish, I am not going to stand by and see them vexed, far less punished; and I authorise you to give me up for trial if you think that best--or, if you think it unnecessary, in the meanwhile to make preparations for their defence.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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