ST. Ives

Page 85

Leaning over the banisters, I was but in time to hear his hasty footsteps in that hall that had been crowded with servants to honour his coming, and was now left empty against his friendless departure. A moment later, and the echoes rang, and the air whistled in my ears, as he slammed the door on his departing footsteps. The fury of the concussion gave me (had one been still wanted) a measure of the turmoil of his passions. In a sense, I felt with him; I felt how he would have gloried to slam that door on my uncle, the lawyer, myself, and the whole crowd of those who had been witnesses to his humiliation.


No sooner was the house clear of my cousin than I began to reckon up, ruefully enough, the probable results of what had passed. Here were a number of pots broken, and it looked to me as if I should have to pay for all! Here had been this proud, mad beast goaded and baited both publicly and privately, till he could neither hear nor see nor reason; whereupon the gate had been set open, and he had been left free to go and contrive whatever vengeance he might find possible. I could not help thinking it was a pity that, whenever I myself was inclined to be upon my good behaviour, some friends of mine should always determine to play a piece of heroics and cast me for the hero--or the victim--which is very much the same. The first duty of heroics is to be of your own choosing. When they are not that, they are nothing. And I assure you, as I walked back to my own room, I was in no very complaisant humour: thought my uncle and Mr. Romaine to have played knuckle-bones with my life and prospects; cursed them for it roundly; had no wish more urgent than to avoid the pair of them; and was quite knocked out of time, as they say in the ring, to find myself confronted with the lawyer.

He stood on my hearthrug, leaning on the chimney-piece, with a gloomy, thoughtful brow, as I was pleased to see, and not in the least as though he were vain of the late proceedings.

'Well?' said I. 'You have done it now!'

'Is he gone?' he asked.

'He is gone,' said I. 'We shall have the devil to pay with him when he comes back.'

'You are right,' said the lawyer, 'and very little to pay him with but flams and fabrications, like to-night's.'

'To-night's?' I repeated.

'Ay, to-night's!' said he.

'To-night's WHAT?' I cried.

'To-night's flams and fabrications.'

'God be good to me, sir,' said I, 'have I something more to admire in your conduct than ever _I_ had suspected? You cannot think how you interest me! That it was severe, I knew; I had already chuckled over that. But that it should be false also! In what sense, dear sir?'

I believe I was extremely offensive as I put the question, but the lawyer paid no heed.

'False in all senses of the word,' he replied seriously. 'False in the sense that they were not true, and false in the sense that they were not real; false in the sense that I boasted, and in the sense that I lied. How can I arrest him? Your uncle burned the papers! I told you so--but doubtless you have forgotten--the day I first saw you in Edinburgh Castle. It was an act of generosity; I have seen many of these acts, and always regretted--always regretted! "That shall be his inheritance," he said, as the papers burned; he did not mean that it should have proved so rich a one. How rich, time will tell.'

'I beg your pardon a hundred thousand times, my dear sir, but it strikes me you have the impudence--in the circumstances, I may call it the indecency--to appear cast down?'

'It is true,' said he: 'I am. I am cast down. I am literally cast down. I feel myself quite helpless against your cousin.'

'Now, really!' I asked. 'Is this serious? And is it perhaps the reason why you have gorged the poor devil with every species of insult? and why you took such surprising pains to supply me with what I had so little need of--another enemy? That you were helpless against them? "Here is my last missile," say you; "my ammunition is quite exhausted: just wait till I get the last in-- it will irritate, it cannot hurt him.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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