The Merry Men

Page 81

And in this way he regained peace of mind and animal composure, conscious of his limbs, conscious of the sight of his eyes, conscious that the air had a cool taste, like a fruit, at the top of his throat; and at last, in complete abstraction, he began to sing. The Doctor had but one air - , 'Malbrouck s'en va-t-en guerre;' even with that he was on terms of mere politeness; and his musical exploits were always reserved for moments when he was alone and entirely happy.

He was recalled to earth rudely by a pained expression on the boy's face. 'What do you think of my singing?' he inquired, stopping in the middle of a note; and then, after he had waited some little while and received no answer, 'What do you think of my singing?' he repeated, imperiously.

'I do not like it,' faltered Jean-Marie.

'Oh, come!' cried the Doctor. 'Possibly you are a performer yourself?'

'I sing better than that,' replied the boy.

The Doctor eyed him for some seconds in stupefaction. He was aware that he was angry, and blushed for himself in consequence, which made him angrier. 'If this is how you address your master!' he said at last, with a shrug and a flourish of his arms.

'I do not speak to him at all,' returned the boy. 'I do not like him.'

'Then you like me?' snapped Doctor Desprez, with unusual eagerness.

'I do not know,' answered Jean-Marie.

The Doctor rose. 'I shall wish you a good morning,' he said. 'You are too much for me. Perhaps you have blood in your veins, perhaps celestial ichor, or perhaps you circulate nothing more gross than respirable air; but of one thing I am inexpugnably assured:- that you are no human being. No, boy' - shaking his stick at him - 'you are not a human being. Write, write it in your memory - "I am not a human being - I have no pretension to be a human being - I am a dive, a dream, an angel, an acrostic, an illusion - what you please, but not a human being." And so accept my humble salutations and farewell!'

And with that the Doctor made off along the street in some emotion, and the boy stood, mentally gaping, where he left him.


MADAME DESPREZ, who answered to the Christian name of Anastasie, presented an agreeable type of her sex; exceedingly wholesome to look upon, a stout BRUNE, with cool smooth cheeks, steady, dark eyes, and hands that neither art nor nature could improve. She was the sort of person over whom adversity passes like a summer cloud; she might, in the worst of conjunctions, knit her brows into one vertical furrow for a moment, but the next it would be gone. She had much of the placidity of a contented nun; with little of her piety, however; for Anastasie was of a very mundane nature, fond of oysters and old wine, and somewhat bold pleasantries, and devoted to her husband for her own sake rather than for his. She was imperturbably good-natured, but had no idea of self-sacrifice. To live in that pleasant old house, with a green garden behind and bright flowers about the window, to eat and drink of the best, to gossip with a neighbour for a quarter of an hour, never to wear stays or a dress except when she went to Fontainebleau shopping, to be kept in a continual supply of racy novels, and to be married to Doctor Desprez and have no ground of jealousy, filled the cup of her nature to the brim. Those who had known the Doctor in bachelor days, when he had aired quite as many theories, but of a different order, attributed his present philosophy to the study of Anastasie. It was her brute enjoyment that he rationalised and perhaps vainly imitated.

Madame Desprez was an artist in the kitchen, and made coffee to a nicety. She had a knack of tidiness, with which she had infected the Doctor; everything was in its place; everything capable of polish shone gloriously; and dust was a thing banished from her empire. Aline, their single servant, had no other business in the world but to scour and burnish. So Doctor Desprez lived in his house like a fatted calf, warmed and cosseted to his heart's content.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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