ST. Ives

Page 70

Dawson took his departure, and I was left alone with Rowley. A man who may be said to have wakened to consciousness in the prison of the Abbaye, among those ever graceful and ever tragic figures of the brave and fair, awaiting the hour of the guillotine and denuded of every comfort, I had never known the luxuries or the amenities of my rank in life. To be attended on by servants I had only been accustomed to in inns. My toilet had long been military, to a moment, at the note of a bugle, too often at a ditch-side. And it need not be wondered at if I looked on my new valet with a certain diffidence. But I remembered that if he was my first experience of a valet, I was his first trial as a master. Cheered by which consideration, I demanded my bath in a style of good assurance. There was a bathroom contiguous; in an incredibly short space of time the hot water was ready; and soon after, arrayed in a shawl dressing-gown, and in a luxury of contentment and comfort, I was reclined in an easy-chair before the mirror, while Rowley, with a mixture of pride and anxiety which I could well understand, laid out his razors.

'Hey, Rowley?' I asked, not quite resigned to go under fire with such an inexperienced commander. 'It's all right, is it? You feel pretty sure of your weapons?'

'Yes, my lord,' he replied. 'It's all right, I assure your lordship.'

'I beg your pardon, Mr. Rowley, 'but for the sake of shortness, would you mind not belording me in private?' said I. 'It will do very well if you call me Mr. Anne. It is the way of my country, as I dare say you know.'

Mr. Rowley looked blank.

'But you're just as much a Viscount as Mr. Powl's, are you not?' he said.

'As Mr. Powl's Viscount?' said I, laughing. 'Oh, keep your mind easy, Mr. Rowley's is every bit as good. Only, you see, as I am of the younger line, I bear my Christian name along with the title. Alain is the Viscount; I am the Viscount Anne. And in giving me the name of Mr. Anne, I assure you you will be quite regular.'

'Yes, Mr. Anne,' said the docile youth. 'But about the shaving, sir, you need be under no alarm. Mr. Powl says I 'ave excellent dispositions.'

'Mr. Powl?' said I. 'That doesn't seem to me very like a French name.'

'No, sir, indeed, my lord,' said he, with a burst of confidence. 'No, indeed, Mr. Anne, and it do not surely. I should say now, it was more like Mr. Pole.'

'And Mr. Powl is the Viscount's man?'

'Yes, Mr. Anne,' said he. 'He 'ave a hard billet, he do. The Viscount is a very particular gentleman. I don't think as you'll be, Mr. Anne?' he added, with a confidential smile in the mirror.

He was about sixteen, well set up, with a pleasant, merry, freckled face, and a pair of dancing eyes. There was an air at once deprecatory and insinuating about the rascal that I thought I recognised. There came to me from my own boyhood memories of certain passionate admirations long passed away, and the objects of them long ago discredited or dead. I remembered how anxious I had been to serve those fleeting heroes, how readily I told myself I would have died for THEM, how much greater and handsomer than life they had appeared. And looking in the mirror, it seemed to me that I read the face of Rowley, like an echo or a ghost, by the light of my own youth. I have always contended (somewhat against the opinion of my friends) that I am first of all an economist; and the last thing that I would care to throw away is that very valuable piece of property--a boy's hero-worship.

'Why,' said I, 'you shave like an angel, Mr. Rowley!'

'Thank you, my lord,' says he. 'Mr. Powl had no fear of me. You may be sure, sir, I should never 'ave had this berth if I 'adn't 'ave been up to Dick. We been expecting of you this month back. My eye! I never see such preparations. Every day the fires has been kep' up, the bed made, and all! As soon as it was known you were coming, sir, I got the appointment; and I've been up and down since then like a Jack-in-the-box. A wheel couldn't sound in the avenue but what I was at the window! I've had a many disappointments; but to-night, as soon as you stepped out of the shay, I knew it was my--it was you.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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