ST. Ives

Page 16

Alain we have to thank. I should tell you, he has for some time made it his business to keep M. de Keroual informed of your career; with what purpose I leave you to judge. When he first brought the news of your--that you were serving Buonaparte, it seemed it might be the death of the old gentleman, so hot was his resentment. But from one thing to another, matters have a little changed. Or I should rather say, not a little. We learned you were under orders for the Peninsula, to fight the English; then that you had been commissioned for a piece of bravery, and were again reduced to the ranks. And from one thing to another (as I say), M. de Keroual became used to the idea that you were his kinsman and yet served with Buonaparte, and filled instead with wonder that he should have another kinsman who was so remarkably well informed of events in France. And it now became a very disagreeable question, whether the young gentleman was not a spy? In short, sir, in seeking to disserve you, he had accumulated against himself a load of suspicions.'

My visitor now paused, took snuff, and looked at me with an air of benevolence.

'Good God, sir!' says I, 'this is a curious story.'

'You will say so before I have done,' said he. 'For there have two events followed. The first of these was an encounter of M. de Keroual and M. de Mauseant.'

'I know the man to my cost,' said I: 'it was through him I lost my commission.'

'Do you tell me so?' he cried. 'Why, here is news!'

'Oh, I cannot complain!' said I. 'I was in the wrong. I did it with my eyes open. If a man gets a prisoner to guard and lets him go, the least he can expect is to be degraded.'

'You will be paid for it,' said he. 'You did well for yourself and better for your king.'

'If I had thought I was injuring my emperor,' said I, 'I would have let M. de Mauseant burn in hell ere I had helped him, and be sure of that! I saw in him only a private person in a difficulty: I let him go in private charity; not even to profit myself will I suffer it to be misunderstood.'

'Well, well,' said the lawyer, 'no matter now. This is a foolish warmth--a very misplaced enthusiasm, believe me! The point of the story is that M. de Mauseant spoke of you with gratitude, and drew your character in such a manner as greatly to affect your uncle's views. Hard upon the back of which, in came your humble servant, and laid before him the direct proof of what we had been so long suspecting. There was no dubiety permitted. M. Alain's expensive way of life, his clothes and mistresses, his dicing and racehorses, were all explained: he was in the pay of Buonaparte, a hired spy, and a man that held the strings of what I can only call a convolution of extremely fishy enterprises. To do M. de Keroual justice, he took it in the best way imaginable, destroyed the evidences of the one great-nephew's disgrace--and transferred his interest wholly to the other.'

'What am I to understand by that?' said I.

'I will tell you,' says he. 'There is a remarkable inconsistency in human nature which gentlemen of my cloth have a great deal of occasion to observe. Selfish persons can live without chick or child, they can live without all mankind except perhaps the barber and the apothecary; but when it comes to dying, they seem physically unable to die without an heir. You can apply this principle for yourself. Viscount Alain, though he scarce guesses it, is no longer in the field. Remains, Viscount Anne.'

'I see,' said I, 'you give a very unfavourable impression of my uncle, the Count.'

'I had not meant it,' said he. 'He has led a loose life--sadly loose--but he is a man it is impossible to know and not to admire; his courtesy is exquisite.'

'And so you think there is actually a chance for me?' I asked.

'Understand,' said he: 'in saying as much as I have done, I travel quite beyond my brief. I have been clothed with no capacity to talk of wills, or heritages, or your cousin. I was sent here to make but the one communication: that M.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book