ST. Ives

Page 29

For long nothing stirred except my friend with the spade; then I heard the opening of a sash; and presently after saw Miss Flora appear in a morning wrapper and come strolling hitherward between the borders, pausing and visiting her flowers--herself as fair. THERE was a friend; HERE, immediately beneath me, an unknown quantity-- the gardener: how to communicate with the one and not attract the notice of the other? To make a noise was out of the question; I dared scarce to breathe. I held myself ready to make a gesture as soon as she should look, and she looked in every possible direction but the one. She was interested in the vilest tuft of chickweed, she gazed at the summit of the mountain, she came even immediately below me and conversed on the most fastidious topics with the gardener; but to the top of that wall she would not dedicate a glance! At last she began to retrace her steps in the direction of the cottage; whereupon, becoming quite desperate, I broke off a piece of plaster, took a happy aim, and hit her with it in the nape of the neck. She clapped her hand to the place, turned about, looked on all sides for an explanation, and spying me (as indeed I was parting the branches to make it the more easy), half uttered and half swallowed down again a cry of surprise.

The infernal gardener was erect upon the instant. 'What's your wull, miss?' said he.

Her readiness amazed me. She had already turned and was gazing in the opposite direction. 'There's a child among the artichokes,' she said.

'The Plagues of Egyp'! I'LL see to them!' cried the gardener truculently, and with a hurried waddle disappeared among the evergreens.

That moment she turned, she came running towards me, her arms stretched out, her face incarnadined for the one moment with heavenly blushes, the next pale as death. 'Monsieur de. Saint- Yves!' she said.

'My dear young lady,' I said, 'this is the damnedest liberty--I know it! But what else was I to do?'

'You have escaped?' said she.

'If you call this escape,' I replied.

'But you cannot possibly stop there!' she cried.

'I know it,' said I. 'And where am I to go?'

She struck her hands together. 'I have it!' she exclaimed. 'Come down by the beech trunk--you must leave no footprint in the border- -quickly, before Robie can get back! I am the hen-wife here: I keep the key; you must go into the hen-house--for the moment.'

I was by her side at once. Both cast a hasty glance at the blank windows of the cottage and so much as was visible of the garden alleys; it seemed there was none to observe us. She caught me by the sleeve and ran. It was no time for compliments; hurry breathed upon our necks; and I ran along with her to the next corner of the garden, where a wired court and a board hovel standing in a grove of trees advertised my place of refuge. She thrust me in without a word; the bulk of the fowls were at the same time emitted; and I found myself the next moment locked in alone with half a dozen sitting hens. In the twilight of the place all fixed their eyes on me severely, and seemed to upbraid me with some crying impropriety. Doubtless the hen has always a puritanic appearance, although (in its own behaviour) I could never observe it to be more particular than its neighbours. But conceive a British hen!


I was half an hour at least in the society of these distressing bipeds, and alone with my own reflections and necessities. I was in great pain of my flayed hands, and had nothing to treat them with; I was hungry and thirsty, and had nothing to eat or to drink; I was thoroughly tired, and there was no place for me to sit. To be sure there was the floor, but nothing could be imagined less inviting.

At the sound of approaching footsteps, my good-humour was restored. The key rattled in the lock, and Master Ronald entered, closed the door behind him, and leaned his back to it.

'I say, you know!' he said, and shook a sullen young head.

'I know it's a liberty,' said I.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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