The Merry Men

Page 104

You looked extremely well - '

'Henri!' she cried.

'Well, well, I will say no more,' he replied. 'Though, to be sure, if you had consented to indue - A PROPOS,' he broke off, 'and my trousers! They are lying in the snow - my favourite trousers!' And he dashed in quest of Jean-Marie.

Two hours afterwards the boy returned to the inn with a spade under one arm and a curious sop of clothing under the other.

The Doctor ruefully took it in his hands. 'They have been!' he said. 'Their tense is past. Excellent pantaloons, you are no more! Stay, something in the pocket,' and he produced a piece of paper. 'A letter! ay, now I mind me; it was received on the morning of the gale, when I was absorbed in delicate investigations. It is still legible. From poor, dear Casimir! It is as well,' he chuckled, 'that I have educated him to patience. Poor Casimir and his correspondence - his infinitesimal, timorous, idiotic correspondence!'

He had by this time cautiously unfolded the wet letter; but, as he bent himself to decipher the writing, a cloud descended on his brow.

'BIGRE!' he cried, with a galvanic start.

And then the letter was whipped into the fire, and the Doctor's cap was on his head in the turn of a hand.

'Ten minutes! I can catch it, if I run,' he cried. 'It is always late. I go to Paris. I shall telegraph.'

'Henri! what is wrong?' cried his wife.

'Ottoman Bonds!' came from the disappearing Doctor; and Anastasie and Jean-Marie were left face to face with the wet trousers. Desprez had gone to Paris, for the second time in seven years; he had gone to Paris with a pair of wooden shoes, a knitted spencer, a black blouse, a country nightcap, and twenty francs in his pocket. The fall of the house was but a secondary marvel; the whole world might have fallen and scarce left his family more petrified.


ON the morning of the next day, the Doctor, a mere spectre of himself, was brought back in the custody of Casimir. They found Anastasie and the boy sitting together by the fire; and Desprez, who had exchanged his toilette for a ready-made rig-out of poor materials, waved his hand as he entered, and sank speechless on the nearest chair. Madame turned direct to Casimir.

'What is wrong?' she cried.

'Well,' replied Casimir, 'what have I told you all along? It has come. It is a clean shave, this time; so you may as well bear up and make the best of it. House down, too, eh? Bad luck, upon my soul.'

'Are we - are we - ruined?' she gasped.

The Doctor stretched out his arms to her. 'Ruined,' he replied, 'you are ruined by your sinister husband.'

Casimir observed the consequent embrace through his eyeglass; then he turned to Jean-Marie. 'You hear?' he said. 'They are ruined; no more pickings, no more house, no more fat cutlets. It strikes me, my friend, that you had best be packing; the present speculation is about worked out.' And he nodded to him meaningly.

'Never!' cried Desprez, springing up. 'Jean-Marie, if you prefer to leave me, now that I am poor, you can go; you shall receive your hundred francs, if so much remains to me. But if you will consent to stay ' - the Doctor wept a little - 'Casimir offers me a place - as clerk,' he resumed. 'The emoluments are slender, but they will be enough for three. It is too much already to have lost my fortune; must I lose my son?'

Jean-Marie sobbed bitterly, but without a word.

'I don't like boys who cry,' observed Casimir. 'This one is always crying. Here! you clear out of this for a little; I have business with your master and mistress, and these domestic feelings may be settled after I am gone. March!' and he held the door open.

Jean-Marie slunk out, like a detected thief.

By twelve they were all at table but Jean-Marie.

'Hey?' said Casimir. 'Gone, you see. Took the hint at once.'

'I do not, I confess,' said Desprez, 'I do not seek to excuse his absence. It speaks a want of heart that disappoints me sorely.'

'Want of manners,' corrected Casimir.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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