ST. Ives

Page 13

Major Chevenix smoked awhile, looking now at his cigar ash, now at me. 'I'm a soldier myself,' he says presently, 'and I've been out in my time and hit my man. I don't want to run any one into a corner for an affair that was at all necessary or correct. At the same time, I want to know that much, and I'll take your word of honour for it. Otherwise, I shall be very sorry, but the doctor must be called in.'

'I neither admit anything nor deny anything,' I returned. 'But if this form of words will suffice you, here is what I say: I give you my parole, as a gentleman and a soldier, there has nothing taken place amongst us prisoners that was not honourable as the day.'

'All right,' says he. 'That was all I wanted. You can go now, Champdivers.'

And as I was going out he added, with a laugh: 'By the bye, I ought to apologise: I had no idea I was applying the torture!'

The same afternoon the doctor came into the courtyard with a piece of paper in his hand. He seemed hot and angry, and had certainly no mind to be polite.

'Here!' he cried. 'Which of you fellows knows any English? Oh!'-- spying me--'there you are, what's your name! YOU'LL do. Tell these fellows that the other fellow's dying. He's booked; no use talking; I expect he'll go by evening. And tell them I don't envy the feelings of the fellow who spiked him. Tell them that first.'

I did so.

'Then you can tell 'em,' he resumed, 'that the fellow, Goggle-- what's his name?--wants to see some of them before he gets his marching orders. If I got it right, he wants to kiss or embrace you, or some sickening stuff. Got that? Then here's a list he's had written, and you'd better read it out to them--I can't make head or tail of your beastly names--and they can answer PRESENT, and fall in against that wall.'

It was with a singular movement of incongruous feelings that I read the first name on the list. I had no wish to look again on my own handiwork; my flesh recoiled from the idea; and how could I be sure what reception he designed to give me? The cure was in my own hand; I could pass that first name over--the doctor would not know- -and I might stay away. But to the subsequent great gladness of my heart, I did not dwell for an instant on the thought, walked over to the designated wall, faced about, read out the name 'Champdivers,' and answered myself with the word 'Present.'

There were some half dozen on the list, all told; and as soon as we were mustered, the doctor led the way to the hospital, and we followed after, like a fatigue party, in single file. At the door he paused, told us 'the fellow' would see each of us alone, and, as soon as I had explained that, sent me by myself into the ward. It was a small room, whitewashed; a south window stood open on a vast depth of air and a spacious and distant prospect; and from deep below, in the Grassmarket the voices of hawkers came up clear and far away. Hard by, on a little bed, lay Goguelat. The sunburn had not yet faded from his face, and the stamp of death was already there. There was something wild and unmannish in his smile, that took me by the throat; only death and love know or have ever seen it. And when he spoke, it seemed to shame his coarse talk.

He held out his arms as if to embrace me. I drew near with incredible shrinkings, and surrendered myself to his arms with overwhelming disgust. But he only drew my ear down to his lips.

'Trust me,' he whispered. 'Je suis bon bougre, moi. I'll take it to hell with me, and tell the devil.'

Why should I go on to reproduce his grossness and trivialities? All that he thought, at that hour, was even noble, though he could not clothe it otherwise than in the language of a brutal farce. Presently he bade me call the doctor; and when that officer had come in, raised a little up in his bed, pointed first to himself and then to me, who stood weeping by his side, and several times repeated the expression, 'Frinds--frinds--dam frinds.'

To my great surprise, the doctor appeared very much affected.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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