ST. Ives

Page 75

Mr. Pole or Mr. Powl, probably in the spirit of prophecy, warned you against this danger.'

'Yes, Mr. Anne,' said Rowley blankly.

'Now there has just arisen one of those rare cases, in which I am willing to depart from my principles. My uncle has given me a box- -what you would call a Christmas box. I don't know what's in it, and no more do you: perhaps I am an April fool, or perhaps I am already enormously wealthy; there might be five hundred pounds in this apparently harmless receptacle!'

'Lord, Mr. Anne!' cried Rowley.

'Now, Rowley, hold up your right hand and repeat the words of the oath after me,' said I, laying the despatch-box on the table. 'Strike me blue if I ever disclose to Mr. Powl, or Mr. Powl's Viscount, or anything that is Mr. Powl's, not to mention Mr. Dawson and the doctor, the treasures of the following despatch-box; and strike me sky-blue scarlet if I do not continually maintain, uphold, love, honour and obey, serve, and follow to the four corners of the earth and the waters that are under the earth, the hereinafter before-mentioned (only that I find I have neglected to mention him) Viscount Anne de Keroual de St.-Yves, commonly known as Mr. Rowley's Viscount. So be it. Amen.'

He took the oath with the same exaggerated seriousness as I gave it to him.

'Now,' said I. 'Here is the key for you; I will hold the lid with both hands in the meanwhile.' He turned the key. 'Bring up all the candles in the room, and range them along-side. What is it to be? A live gorgon, a Jack-in-the-box, or a spring that fires a pistol? On your knees, sir, before the prodigy!'

So saying, I turned the despatch-box upside down upon the table. At sight of the heap of bank paper and gold that lay in front of us, between the candles, or rolled upon the floor alongside, I stood astonished.

'O Lord!' cried Mr. Rowley; 'oh Lordy, Lordy, Lord!' and he scrambled after the fallen guineas. 'O my, Mr. Anne! what a sight o' money! Why, it's like a blessed story-book. It's like the Forty Thieves.'

'Now Rowley, let's be cool, let's be businesslike,' said I. 'Riches are deceitful, particularly when you haven't counted them; and the first thing we have to do is to arrive at the amount of my- -let me say, modest competency. If I'm not mistaken, I have enough here to keep you in gold buttons all the rest of your life. You collect the gold, and I'll take the paper.'

Accordingly, down we sat together on the hearthrug, and for some time there was no sound but the creasing of bills and the jingling of guineas, broken occasionally by the exulting exclamations of Rowley. The arithmetical operation on which we were embarked took long, and it might have been tedious to others; not to me nor to my helper.

'Ten thousand pounds!' I announced at last.

'Ten thousand!' echoed Mr. Rowley.

And we gazed upon each other.

The greatness of this fortune took my breath away. With that sum in my hands, I need fear no enemies. People are arrested, in nine cases out of ten, not because the police are astute, but because they themselves run short of money; and I had here before me in the despatch-box a succession of devices and disguises that insured my liberty. Not only so; but, as I felt with a sudden and overpowering thrill, with ten thousand pounds in my hands I was become an eligible suitor. What advances I had made in the past, as a private soldier in a military prison, or a fugitive by the wayside, could only be qualified or, indeed, excused as acts of desperation. And now, I might come in by the front door; I might approach the dragon with a lawyer at my elbow, and rich settlements to offer. The poor French prisoner, Champdivers, might be in a perpetual danger of arrest; but the rich travelling Englishman, St.-Ives, in his post-chaise, with his despatch-box by his side, could smile at fate and laugh at locksmiths. I repeated the proverb, exulting, Love laughs at locksmiths! In a moment, by the mere coming of this money, my love had become possible--it had come near, it was under my hand--and it may be by one of the curiosities of human nature, but it burned that instant brighter.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book