The Merry Men

Page 92

English pale ale is to be had - not classical, indeed, but excellent. Boy, we shall drink ale.'

'But I thought it was so unwholesome,' said Jean-Marie, 'and very dear besides.'

'Fiddle-de-dee!' exclaimed the Doctor gaily. 'To the inn!'

And he stepped into the noddy, tossing his head, with an elastic, youthful air. The horse was turned, and in a few seconds they drew up beside the palings of the inn garden.

'Here,' said Desprez - 'here, near the table, so that we may keep an eye upon things.'

They tied the horse, and entered the garden, the Doctor singing, now in fantastic high notes, now producing deep reverberations from his chest. He took a seat, rapped loudly on the table, assailed the waiter with witticisms; and when the bottle of Bass was at length produced, far more charged with gas than the most delirious champagne, he filled out a long glassful of froth and pushed it over to Jean-Marie. 'Drink,' he said; 'drink deep.'

'I would rather not,' faltered the boy, true to his training.

'What?' thundered Desprez.

'I am afraid of it,' said Jean-Marie: 'my stomach - '

'Take it or leave it,' interrupted Desprez fiercely; 'but understand it once for all - there is nothing so contemptible as a precisian.'

Here was a new lesson! The boy sat bemused, looking at the glass but not tasting it, while the Doctor emptied and refilled his own, at first with clouded brow, but gradually yielding to the sun, the heady, prickling beverage, and his own predisposition to be happy.

'Once in a way,' he said at last, by way of a concession to the boy's more rigorous attitude, 'once in a way, and at so critical a moment, this ale is a nectar for the gods. The habit, indeed, is debasing; wine, the juice of the grape, is the true drink of the Frenchman, as I have often had occasion to point out; and I do not know that I can blame you for refusing this outlandish stimulant. You can have some wine and cakes. Is the bottle empty? Well, we will not be proud; we will have pity on your glass.'

The beer being done, the Doctor chafed bitterly while Jean-Marie finished his cakes. 'I burn to be gone,' he said, looking at his watch. 'Good God, how slow you eat!' And yet to eat slowly was his own particular prescription, the main secret of longevity!

His martyrdom, however, reached an end at last; the pair resumed their places in the buggy, and Desprez, leaning luxuriously back, announced his intention of proceeding to Fontainebleau.

'To Fontainebleau?' repeated Jean-Marie.

'My words are always measured,' said the Doctor. 'On!'

The Doctor was driven through the glades of paradise; the air, the light, the shining leaves, the very movements of the vehicle, seemed to fall in tune with his golden meditations; with his head thrown back, he dreamed a series of sunny visions, ale and pleasure dancing in his veins. At last he spoke.

'I shall telegraph for Casimir,' he said. 'Good Casimir! a fellow of the lower order of intelligence, Jean-Marie, distinctly not creative, not poetic; and yet he will repay your study; his fortune is vast, and is entirely due to his own exertions. He is the very fellow to help us to dispose of our trinkets, find us a suitable house in Paris, and manage the details of our installation. Admirable Casimir, one of my oldest comrades! It was on his advice, I may add, that I invested my little fortune in Turkish bonds; when we have added these spoils of the mediaeval church to our stake in the Mahometan empire, little boy, we shall positively roll among doubloons, positively roll! Beautiful forest,' he cried, 'farewell! Though called to other scenes, I will not forget thee. Thy name is graven in my heart. Under the influence of prosperity I become dithyrambic, Jean-Marie. Such is the impulse of the natural soul; such was the constitution of primaeval man. And I - well, I will not refuse the credit - I have preserved my youth like a virginity; another, who should have led the same snoozing, countryfied existence for these years, another had become rusted, become stereotype; but I, I praise my happy constitution, retain the spring unbroken.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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