ST. Ives

Page 87

Well do they say, an old soldier, an old innocent! For I guessed nothing of all this.'

'And, guessing it, have you the same objections to leave England?' he inquired.

'The same,' said I.

'It is indispensable,' he objected.

'And it cannot be,' I replied. 'Reason has nothing to say in the matter; and I must not let you squander any of yours. It will be enough to tell you this is an affair of the heart.'

'Is it even so?' quoth Romaine, nodding his head. 'And I might have been sure of it. Place them in a hospital, put them in a jail in yellow overalls, do what you will, young Jessamy finds young Jenny. O, have it your own way; I am too old a hand to argue with young gentlemen who choose to fancy themselves in love; I have too much experience, thank you. Only, be sure that you appreciate what you risk: the prison, the dock, the gallows, and the halter-- terribly vulgar circumstances, my young friend; grim, sordid, earnest; no poetry in that!'

'And there I am warned,' I returned gaily. 'No man could be warned more finely or with a greater eloquence. And I am of the same opinion still. Until I have again seen that lady, nothing shall induce me to quit Great Britain. I have besides--'

And here I came to a full stop. It was upon my tongue to have told him the story of the drovers, but at the first word of it my voice died in my throat. There might be a limit to the lawyer's toleration, I reflected. I had not been so long in Britain altogether; for the most part of that time I had been by the heels in limbo in Edinburgh Castle; and already I had confessed to killing one man with a pair of scissors; and now I was to go on and plead guilty to having settled another with a holly stick! A wave of discretion went over me as cold and as deep as the sea.

'In short, sir, this is a matter of feeling,' I concluded, 'and nothing will prevent my going to Edinburgh.'

If I had fired a pistol in his ear he could not have been more startled.

'To Edinburgh?' he repeated. 'Edinburgh? where the very paving- stones know you!'

'Then is the murder out!' said I. 'But, Mr. Romaine, is there not sometimes safety in boldness? Is it not a common-place of strategy to get where the enemy least expects you? And where would he expect me less?'

'Faith, there is something in that, too!' cried the lawyer. 'Ay, certainly, a great deal in that. All the witnesses drowned but one, and he safe in prison; you yourself changed beyond recognition--let us hope--and walking the streets of the very town you have illustrated by your--well, your eccentricity! It is not badly combined, indeed!'

'You approve it, then?' said I.

'O, approve!' said he; 'there is no question of approval. There is only one course which I could approve, and that were to escape to France instanter.'

'You do not wholly disapprove, at least?' I substituted.

'Not wholly; and it would not matter if I did,' he replied. 'Go your own way; you are beyond argument. And I am not sure that you will run more danger by that course than by any other. Give the servants time to get to bed and fall asleep, then take a country cross-road and walk, as the rhyme has it, like blazes all night. In the morning take a chaise or take the mail at pleasure, and continue your journey with all the decorum and reserve of which you shall be found capable.'

'I am taking the picture in,' I said. 'Give me time. 'Tis the tout ensemble I must see: the whole as opposed to the details.'

'Mountebank!' he murmured.

'Yes, I have it now; and I see myself with a servant, and that servant is Rowley,' said I.

'So as to have one more link with your uncle?' suggested the lawyer. 'Very judicious!'

'And, pardon me, but that is what it is,' I exclaimed. 'Judicious is the word. I am not making a deception fit to last for thirty years; I do not found a palace in the living granite for the night. This is a shelter tent--a flying picture--seen, admired, and gone again in the wink of an eye. What is wanted, in short, is a trompe-l'oeil that shall be good enough for twelve hours at an inn: is it not so?'

'It is, and the objection holds.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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