ST. Ives

Page 66

'Cheer up, Dudgeon; the ordeal is over, you shall be embraced no more. But do, first of all, for God's-sake, put away your pistol; you handle it as if you were a cockatrice; some time or other, depend upon it, it will certainly go off. Here is your hat. No, let me put it on square, and the wig before it. Never suffer any stress of circumstances to come between you and the duty you owe to yourself. If you have nobody else to dress for, dress for God!

'Put your wig straight On your bald pate, Keep your chin scraped, And your figure draped.

Can you match me that? The whole duty of man in a quatrain! And remark, I do not set up to be a professional bard; these are the outpourings of a dilettante.'

'But, my dear sir!' he exclaimed.

'But, my dear sir!' I echoed, 'I will allow no man to interrupt the flow of my ideas. Give me your opinion on my quatrain, or I vow we shall have a quarrel of it.'

'Certainly you are quite an original,' he said.

'Quite,' said I; 'and I believe I have my counterpart before me.'

'Well, for a choice,' says he, smiling, 'and whether for sense or poetry, give me

'"Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow: The rest is all but leather and prunello."'

'Oh, but that's not fair--that's Pope! It's not original, Dudgeon. Understand me,' said I, wringing his breast-button, 'the first duty of all poetry is to be mine, sir--mine. Inspiration now swells in my bosom, because--to tell you the plain truth, and descend a little in style--I am devilish relieved at the turn things have taken. So, I dare say, are you yourself, Dudgeon, if you would only allow it. And a propos, let me ask you a home question. Between friends, have you ever fired that pistol?'

'Why, yes, sir,' he replied. 'Twice--at hedgesparrows.'

'And you would have fired at me, you bloody-minded man?' I cried.

'If you go to that, you seemed mighty reckless with your stick,' said Dudgeon.

'Did I indeed? Well, well, 'tis all past history; ancient as King Pharamond--which is another French word, if you cared to accumulate more evidence,' says I. 'But happily we are now the best of friends, and have all our interests in common.'

'You go a little too fast, if you'll excuse me, Mr. -: I do not know your name, that I am aware,' said Dudgeon.

'No, to be sure!' said I. 'Never heard of it!'

'A word of explanation--' he began.

'No, Dudgeon!' I interrupted. 'Be practical; I know what you want, and the name of it is supper. Rien ne creuse comme l'emotion. I am hungry myself, and yet I am more accustomed to warlike palpitations than you, who are but a hunter of hedgesparrows. Let me look at your face critically: your bill of fare is three slices of cold rare roast beef, a Welsh rabbit, a pot of stout, and a glass or two of sound tawny port, old in bottle--the right milk of Englishmen.' Methought there seemed a brightening in his eye and a melting about his mouth at this enumeration.

'The night is young,' I continued; 'not much past eleven, for a wager. Where can we find a good inn? And remark that I say GOOD, for the port must be up to the occasion--not a headache in a pipe of it.'

'Really, sir,' he said, smiling a little, 'you have a way of carrying things--'

'Will nothing make you stick to the subject?' I cried; 'you have the most irrelevant mind! How do you expect to rise in your profession? The inn?'

'Well, I will say you are a facetious gentleman!' said he. 'You must have your way, I see. We are not three miles from Bedford by this very road.'

'Done!' cried I. 'Bedford be it!'

I tucked his arm under mine, possessed myself of the valise, and walked him off unresisting. Presently we came to an open piece of country lying a thought downhill. The road was smooth and free of ice, the moonshine thin and bright over the meadows and the leafless trees. I was now honestly done with the purgatory of the covered cart; I was close to my great-uncle's; I had no more fear of Mr. Dudgeon; which were all grounds enough for jollity.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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