Page:McClure's Magazine v9 n3 to v10 no2.djvu/251

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.

977

spy—had trodden out the last sparks of hope and interest.

"Certainly," said I; "and, indeed, the day for them is nearly over. I was taken to Monsieur de Culemberg's,—I presume, sir, that you know the Abbé de Culemberg?"

He indicated assent without opening his eyes.

"He was a very brave and a very learned man—"

"And a very holy one," said my uncle, civilly.

"And a very holy one, as you observe," I continued. "He did an infinity of good, and through all the Terror kept himself from the guillotine. He gave me such education as I have—enough for a soldier. It was in his house in the country at Dammarie, near Melun, that I made the acquaintance of your agent, Mr. Vicary, who lay there in hiding, only to fall a victim at the last to a gang of chauffeurs."

"This poor Mr. Vicary!" observed my uncle. "He had been many times in my interests to France, and this was his first failure. Quel charmant homme, n'est-ce pas?"

"Infinitely so," said I. "But I would not willingly detain you any farther with a story the details of which it must naturally be more or less unpleasant for you to hear. Suffice it, that by M. de Culemberg’s advice, I entered the service of France at sixteen, and have since then carried arms in such a manner as not to disgrace my family."

"You narrate well; vous avez la voix chaude," said my uncle, turning on his pillows as if to study me. "I have a very good account of you by Monsieur de Mauséant, whom you helped in Spain. And you had some education from the Abbé de Culemberg, a man of good house? Yes, you will do very well. You have a good manner and a handsome person, which hurts nothing. We are all handsome in the family; even I myself, I have had my successes, the memories of which still charm me. It is my intention, my nephew, to make of you my heir. I am not very well content with my other nephew, Monsieur le Vicomte: he has not been respectful, which is the flattery due to age. And there are other matters."

I was half tempted to throw back in his face that inheritance so coldly offered. At the same time I had to consider that he was an old man and, after all, my relation; and that I was a poor one, in considerable straits, with a hope at heart which that inheritance might yet enable me to realize. Nor could I forget that, however icy his manners, he had behaved to me from the first with the extreme of liberality and, I was about to write, kindness, but the word, in that connection, would not come. I really owed the man some measure of gratitude, which it would be an ill manner to repay if I were to insult him on his deathbed.

"Your will, monsieur, must ever be my rule," said I, bowing.

"You have wit, monsieur mon neveu," said he, "the best wit—the wit of silence. Many might have deafened me with their gratitude. Gratitude!" he repeated, with a peculiar intonation, and lay and smiled to himself. "But to approach what is more important. As a prisoner of war, will it be possible for you to be served heir to English estates? I have no idea: long as I have dwelt in England, I have never studied what they call their laws. On the other hand, how if Romaine should come too late? I have two pieces of business to be transacted—to die, and to make my will; and, however desirous I may be to serve you, I cannot postpone the first in favor of the second beyond a very few hours."

"Well, sir, I must then contrive to be doing as I did before," said I.

"Not so," said the Count. "I have an alternative. I have just drawn my balance at my banker's, a considerable sum, and I am now to place it in your hands. It will be so much for you and so much less—" He paused, and smiled with an air of malignity that surprised me. "But it is necessary it should be done before witnesses. Monsieur le Vicomte is of a particular disposition, and an unwitnessed donation may very easily be twisted into a theft."

He touched a bell, which was answered by a man having the appearance of a confidential valet. To him he gave a key.

"Bring me the despatch-box that came yesterday, La Ferriére," said he. "You will at the same time present my compliments to Dr. Hunter and M. l’Abbé, and request them to step for a few moments to my room."

The despatch-box proved to be rather a bulky piece of baggage, covered with Russia leather. Before the doctor and an excellent old smiling priest it was passed over into my hands with a very clear statement of the disposer's wishes; immediately after which, though the witnesses remained behind to draw up and sign a