The Merry Men

Page 97

But now,' he continued, 'would you have me go further? Would you have me lay my finger on the culprits - or rather, for I cannot promise quite so much, point out to you the very house where they consort? It may be a satisfaction, at least it is all we are likely to get, since we are denied the remedy of law. I reach the further stage in this way. In order to fill my outline of the robbery, I require a man likely to be in the forest idling, I require a man of education, I require a man superior to considerations of morality. The three requisites all centre in Tentaillon's boarders. They are painters, therefore they are continually lounging in the forest. They are painters, therefore they are not unlikely to have some smattering of education. Lastly, because they are painters, they are probably immoral. And this I prove in two ways. First, painting is an art which merely addresses the eye; it does not in any particular exercise the moral sense. And second, painting, in common with all the other arts, implies the dangerous quality of imagination. A man of imagination is never moral; he outsoars literal demarcations and reviews life under too many shifting lights to rest content with the invidious distinctions of the law!'

'But you always say - at least, so I understood you' - said madame, 'that these lads display no imagination whatever.'

'My dear, they displayed imagination, and of a very fantastic order, too,' returned the Doctor, 'when they embraced their beggarly profession. Besides - and this is an argument exactly suited to your intellectual level - many of them are English and American. Where else should we expect to find a thief? - And now you had better get your coffee. Because we have lost a treasure, there is no reason for starving. For my part, I shall break my fast with white wine. I feel unaccountably heated and thirsty to- day. I can only attribute it to the shock of the discovery. And yet, you will bear me out, I supported the emotion nobly.'

The Doctor had now talked himself back into an admirable humour; and as he sat in the arbour and slowly imbibed a large allowance of white wine and picked a little bread and cheese with no very impetuous appetite, if a third of his meditations ran upon the missing treasure, the other two-thirds were more pleasingly busied in the retrospect of his detective skill.

About eleven Casimir arrived; he had caught an early train to Fontainebleau, and driven over to save time; and now his cab was stabled at Tentaillon's, and he remarked, studying his watch, that he could spare an hour and a half. He was much the man of business, decisively spoken, given to frowning in an intellectual manner. Anastasie's born brother, he did not waste much sentiment on the lady, gave her an English family kiss, and demanded a meal without delay.

'You can tell me your story while we eat,' he observed. 'Anything good to-day, Stasie?'

He was promised something good. The trio sat down to table in the arbour, Jean-Marie waiting as well as eating, and the Doctor recounted what had happened in his richest narrative manner. Casimir heard it with explosions of laughter.

'What a streak of luck for you, my good brother,' he observed, when the tale was over. 'If you had gone to Paris, you would have played dick-duck-drake with the whole consignment in three months. Your own would have followed; and you would have come to me in a procession like the last time. But I give you warning - Stasie may weep and Henri ratiocinate - it will not serve you twice. Your next collapse will be fatal. I thought I had told you so, Stasie? Hey? No sense?'

The Doctor winced and looked furtively at Jean-Marie; but the boy seemed apathetic.

'And then again,' broke out Casimir, 'what children you are - vicious children, my faith! How could you tell the value of this trash? It might have been worth nothing, or next door.'

'Pardon me,' said the Doctor. 'You have your usual flow of spirits, I perceive, but even less than your usual deliberation.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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