ST. Ives

Page 14

He nodded his little bob-wigged head at us, and said repeatedly, 'All right, Johnny--me comprong.'

Then Goguelat shook hands with me, embraced me again, and I went out of the room sobbing like an infant.

How often have I not seen it, that the most unpardonable fellows make the happiest exits! It is a fate we may well envy them. Goguelat was detested in life; in the last three days, by his admirable staunchness and consideration, he won every heart; and when word went about the prison the same evening that he was no more, the voice of conversation became hushed as in a house of mourning.

For myself I was like a man distracted; I cannot think what ailed me: when I awoke the following day, nothing remained of it; but that night I was filled with a gloomy fury of the nerves. I had killed him; he had done his utmost to protect me; I had seen him with that awful smile. And so illogical and useless is this sentiment of remorse, that I was ready, at a word or a look, to quarrel with somebody else. I presume the disposition of my mind was imprinted on my face; and when, a little after, I overtook, saluted and addressed the doctor, he looked on me with commiseration and surprise.

I had asked him if it was true.

'Yes,' he said, 'the fellow's gone.'

'Did he suffer much?' I asked.

'Devil a bit; passed away like a lamb,' said he. He looked on me a little, and I saw his hand go to his fob. 'Here, take that! no sense in fretting,' he said, and, putting a silver two-penny-bit in my hand, he left me.

I should have had that twopenny framed to hang upon the wall, for it was the man's one act of charity in all my knowledge of him. Instead of that, I stood looking at it in my hand and laughed out bitterly, as I realised his mistake; then went to the ramparts, and flung it far into the air like blood money. The night was falling; through an embrasure and across the gardened valley I saw the lamplighters hasting along Princes Street with ladder and lamp, and looked on moodily. As I was so standing a hand was laid upon my shoulder, and I turned about. It was Major Chevenix, dressed for the evening, and his neckcloth really admirably folded. I never denied the man could dress.

'Ah!' said he, 'I thought it was you, Champdivers. So he's gone?'

I nodded.

'Come, come,' said he, 'you must cheer up. Of course it's very distressing, very painful and all that. But do you know, it ain't such a bad thing either for you or me? What with his death and your visit to him I am entirely reassured.'

So I was to owe my life to Goguelat at every point.

'I had rather not discuss it,' said I.

'Well,' said he, 'one word more, and I'll agree to bury the subject. What did you fight about?'

'Oh, what do men ever fight about?' I cried.

'A lady?' said he.

I shrugged my shoulders.

'Deuce you did!' said he. 'I should scarce have thought it of him.'

And at this my ill-humour broke fairly out in words. 'He!' I cried. 'He never dared to address her--only to look at her and vomit his vile insults! She may have given him sixpence: if she did, it may take him to heaven yet!'

At this I became aware of his eyes set upon me with a considering look, and brought up sharply.

'Well, well,' said he. 'Good night to you, Champdivers. Come to me at breakfast-time to-morrow, and we'll talk of other subjects.'

I fully admit the man's conduct was not bad: in writing it down so long after the events I can even see that it was good.


I was surprised one morning, shortly after, to find myself the object of marked consideration by a civilian and a stranger. This was a man of the middle age; he had a face of a mulberry colour, round black eyes, comical tufted eyebrows, and a protuberant forehead; and was dressed in clothes of a Quakerish cut. In spite of his plainness, he had that inscrutable air of a man well-to-do in his affairs. I conceived he had been some while observing me from a distance, for a sparrow sat betwixt us quite unalarmed on the breech of a piece of cannon.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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