The Merry Men

Page 98

I am not entirely ignorant of these matters.'

'Not entirely ignorant of anything ever I heard of,' interrupted Casimir, bowing, and raising his glass with a sort of pert politeness.

'At least,' resumed the Doctor, 'I gave my mind to the subject - that you may be willing to believe - and I estimated that our capital would be doubled.' And he described the nature of the find.

'My word of honour!' said Casimir, 'I half believe you! But much would depend on the quality of the gold.'

'The quality, my dear Casimir, was - ' And the Doctor, in default of language, kissed his finger-tips.

'I would not take your word for it, my good friend,' retorted the man of business. 'You are a man of very rosy views. But this robbery,' he continued - 'this robbery is an odd thing. Of course I pass over your nonsense about gangs and landscape-painters. For me, that is a dream. Who was in the house last night?'

'None but ourselves,' replied the Doctor.

'And this young gentleman?' asked Casimir, jerking a nod in the direction of Jean-Marie.

'He too' - the Doctor bowed.

'Well; and if it is a fair question, who is he?' pursued the brother-in-law.

'Jean-Marie,' answered the Doctor, 'combines the functions of a son and stable-boy. He began as the latter, but he rose rapidly to the more honourable rank in our affections. He is, I may say, the greatest comfort in our lives.'

'Ha!' said Casimir. 'And previous to becoming one of you?'

'Jean-Marie has lived a remarkable existence; his experience his been eminently formative,' replied Desprez. 'If I had had to choose an education for my son, I should have chosen such another. Beginning life with mountebanks and thieves, passing onward to the society and friendship of philosophers, he may be said to have skimmed the volume of human life.'

'Thieves?' repeated the brother-in-law, with a meditative air.

The Doctor could have bitten his tongue out. He foresaw what was coming, and prepared his mind for a vigorous defence.

'Did you ever steal yourself?' asked Casimir, turning suddenly on Jean-Marie, and for the first time employing a single eyeglass which hung round his neck.

'Yes, sir,' replied the boy, with a deep blush.

Casimir turned to the others with pursed lips, and nodded to them meaningly. 'Hey?' said he; 'how is that?'

'Jean-Marie is a teller of the truth,' returned the Doctor, throwing out his bust.

'He has never told a lie,' added madame. 'He is the best of boys.'

'Never told a lie, has he not?' reflected Casimir. 'Strange, very strange. Give me your attention, my young friend,' he continued. 'You knew about this treasure?'

'He helped to bring it home,' interposed the Doctor.

'Desprez, I ask you nothing but to hold your tongue,' returned Casimir. 'I mean to question this stable-boy of yours; and if you are so certain of his innocence, you can afford to let him answer for himself. Now, sir,' he resumed, pointing his eyeglass straight at Jean-Marie. 'You knew it could be stolen with impunity? You knew you could not be prosecuted? Come! Did you, or did you not?'

'I did,' answered Jean-Marie, in a miserable whisper. He sat there changing colour like a revolving pharos, twisting his fingers hysterically, swallowing air, the picture of guilt.

'You knew where it was put?' resumed the inquisitor.

'Yes,' from Jean-Marie.

'You say you have been a thief before,' continued Casimir. 'Now how am I to know that you are not one still? I suppose you could climb the green gate?'

'Yes,' still lower, from the culprit.

'Well, then, it was you who stole these things. You know it, and you dare not deny it. Look me in the face! Raise your sneak's eyes, and answer!'

But in place of anything of that sort Jean-Marie broke into a dismal howl and fled from the arbour. Anastasie, as she pursued to capture and reassure the victim, found time to send one Parthian arrow - 'Casimir, you are a brute!'

'My brother,' said Desprez, with the greatest dignity, 'you take upon yourself a licence - '

'Desprez,' interrupted Casimir, 'for Heaven's sake be a man of the world.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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