ST. Ives

Page 77

'Or else conclude this interview,' said I.

'Can you not understand that we are here discussing matters of the gravest import? Can you not understand that I feel myself weighed with a load of responsibility on your account--that you should take this occasion to air your fire-eating manners against your own attorney? There are serious hours in life, Mr. Anne,' he said severely. 'A capital charge, and that of a very brutal character and with singularly unpleasant details; the presence of the man Clausel, who (according to your account of it) is actuated by sentiments of real malignity, and prepared to swear black white; all the other witnesses scattered and perhaps drowned at sea; the natural prejudice against a Frenchman and a runaway prisoner: this makes a serious total for your lawyer to consider, and is by no means lessened by the incurable folly and levity of your own disposition.'

'I beg your pardon!' said I.

'Oh, my expressions have been selected with scrupulous accuracy,' he replied. 'How did I find you, sir, when I came to announce this catastrophe? You were sitting on the hearthrug playing, like a silly baby, with a servant, were you not, and the floor all scattered with gold and bank paper? There was a tableau for you! It was I who came, and you were lucky in that. It might have been any one--your cousin as well as another.'

'You have me there, sir,' I admitted. 'I had neglected all precautions, and you do right to be angry. Apropos, Mr. Romaine, how did you come yourself, and how long have you been in the house?' I added, surprised, on the retrospect, not to have heard him arrive.

'I drove up in a chaise and pair,' he returned. 'Any one might have heard me. But you were not listening, I suppose? being so extremely at your ease in the very house of your enemy, and under a capital charge! And I have been long enough here to do your business for you. Ah, yes, I did it, God forgive me!--did it before I so much as asked you the explanation of the paragraph. For some time back the will has been prepared; now it is signed; and your uncle has heard nothing of your recent piece of activity. Why? Well, I had no fancy to bother him on his death-bed: you might be innocent; and at bottom I preferred the murderer to the spy.'

No doubt of it but the man played a friendly part; no doubt also that, in his ill-temper and anxiety, he expressed himself unpalatably.

'You will perhaps find me over delicate,' said I. 'There is a word you employed--'

'I employ the words of my brief, sir,' he cried, striking with his hand on the newspaper. 'It is there in six letters. And do not be so certain--you have not stood your trial yet. It is an ugly affair, a fishy business. It is highly disagreeable. I would give my hand off--I mean I would give a hundred pound down, to have nothing to do with it. And, situated as we are, we must at once take action. There is here no choice. You must at once quit this country, and get to France, or Holland, or, indeed, to Madagascar.'

'There may be two words to that,' said I.

'Not so much as one syllable!' he retorted. 'Here is no room for argument. The case is nakedly plain. In the disgusting position in which you have found means to place yourself, all that is to be hoped for is delay. A time may come when we shall be able to do better. It cannot be now: now it would be the gibbet.'

'You labour under a false impression, Mr. Romaine,' said I. 'I have no impatience to figure in the dock. I am even as anxious as yourself to postpone my first appearance there. On the other hand, I have not the slightest intention of leaving this country, where I please myself extremely. I have a good address, a ready tongue, an English accent that passes, and, thanks to the generosity of my uncle, as much money as I want. It would be hard indeed if, with all these advantages, Mr. St. Ives should not be able to live quietly in a private lodging, while the authorities amuse themselves by looking for Champdivers.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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