The Merry Men

Page 95

'But you will not be a Red!' cried Anastasie.

'I am Left Centre to the core,' replied the Doctor.

'Madame Gastein will present us - we shall find ourselves forgotten,' said the lady.

'Never,' protested the Doctor. 'Beauty and talent leave a mark.'

'I have positively forgotten how to dress,' she sighed.

'Darling, you make me blush,' cried he. 'Yours has been a tragic marriage!'

'But your success - to see you appreciated, honoured, your name in all the papers, that will be more than pleasure - it will be heaven!' she cried.

'And once a week,' said the Doctor, archly scanning the syllables, 'once a week - one good little game of baccarat?'

'Only once a week?' she questioned, threatening him with a finger.

'I swear it by my political honour,' cried he.

'I spoil you,' she said, and gave him her hand.

He covered it with kisses.

Jean-Marie escaped into the night. The moon swung high over Gretz. He went down to the garden end and sat on the jetty. The river ran by with eddies of oily silver, and a low, monotonous song. Faint veils of mist moved among the poplars on the farther side. The reeds were quietly nodding. A hundred times already had the boy sat, on such a night, and watched the streaming river with untroubled fancy. And this perhaps was to be the last. He was to leave this familiar hamlet, this green, rustling country, this bright and quiet stream; he was to pass into the great city; his dear lady mistress was to move bedizened in saloons; his good, garrulous, kind-hearted master to become a brawling deputy; and both be lost for ever to Jean-Marie and their better selves. He knew his own defects; he knew he must sink into less and less consideration in the turmoil of a city life, sink more and more from the child into the servant. And he began dimly to believe the Doctor's prophecies of evil. He could see a change in both. His generous incredulity failed him for this once; a child must have perceived that the Hermitage had completed what the absinthe had begun. If this were the first day, what would be the last? 'If necessary, wreck the train,' thought he, remembering the Doctor's parable. He looked round on the delightful scene; he drank deep of the charmed night air, laden with the scent of hay. 'If necessary, wreck the train,' he repeated. And he rose and returned to the house.


THE next morning there was a most unusual outcry, in the Doctor's house. The last thing before going to bed, the Doctor had locked up some valuables in the dining-room cupboard; and behold, when he rose again, as he did about four o'clock, the cupboard had been broken open, and the valuables in question had disappeared. Madame and Jean-Marie were summoned from their rooms, and appeared in hasty toilets; they found the Doctor raving, calling the heavens to witness and avenge his injury, pacing the room bare-footed, with the tails of his night-shirt flirting as he turned.

'Gone!' he said; 'the things are gone, the fortune gone! We are paupers once more. Boy! what do you know of this? Speak up, sir, speak up. Do you know of it? Where are they?' He had him by the arm, shaking him like a bag, and the boy's words, if he had any, were jolted forth in inarticulate murmurs. The Doctor, with a revulsion from his own violence, set him down again. He observed Anastasie in tears. 'Anastasie,' he said, in quite an altered voice, 'compose yourself, command your feelings. I would not have you give way to passion like the vulgar. This - this trifling accident must be lived down. Jean-Marie, bring me my smaller medicine chest. A gentle laxative is indicated.'

And he dosed the family all round, leading the way himself with a double quantity. The wretched Anastasie, who had never been ill in the whole course of her existence, and whose soul recoiled from remedies, wept floods of tears as she sipped, and shuddered, and protested, and then was bullied and shouted at until she sipped again.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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