Page:McClure's Magazine v9 n3 to v10 no2.djvu/252

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joint note of the transaction, Monsieur de Kéroual dismissed me to my own room, La Ferriére following with the invaluable box.

At my chamber door I took it from him with thanks, and entered alone. Everything had been already disposed for the night, the curtains drawn, and the fire trimmed; and Rowley was still busy with my bedclothes. He turned round as I entered with a look of welcome that did my heart good. Indeed, I had never a much greater need of human sympathy, however trivial, than at that moment when I held a fortune in my arms. In my uncle’s room I had breathed the very atmosphere of disenchantment. He had gorged my pockets; he had starved every dignified or affectionate sentiment of a man. I had received so chilling an impression of age and experience that the mere look of youth drew me to confide in Rowley. He was only a boy, his heart must beat yet, he must still retain some innocence and natural feelings, he could blurt out follies with his mouth, he was not a machine to utter perfect speech! At the same time, I was beginning to outgrow the painful impressions of my interview; my spirits were beginning to revive; and at the jolly, empty looks of Mr. Rowley, as he ran forward to relieve me of the box, St. Ives became himself again.

"Now, Rowley, don't be in a hurry," said I. "This is a momentous juncture. Man and boy, you have been in my service about three hours. You must already have observed that I am a gentleman of a somewhat morose disposition, and there is nothing that I more dislike than the smallest appearance of familiarity. Mr. Pole or Mr. Powl, probably in the spirit of prophecy, warned you against this danger."

"Yes, Mr. Anne," said Rowley blankly.

"Now there is just arisen one of those rare cases in which I am willing to depart from my principles. My uncle has given me a box—what you would call a Christmas-box. I don't know what's in it, and no more do you: perhaps I am an April fool, or perhaps I am already enormously wealthy; there might be five hundred pounds in this apparently harmless receptacle!"

"Lord, Mr. Anne!" cried Rowley.

"Now, Rowley, hold up your right hand and repeat the words of the oath after me," said I, laying the despatch-box on the table. "Strike me blue if I ever disclose to Mr. Powl, or Mr. Powl's viscount, or anything that is Mr. Powl's, not to mention Mr. Dawson and the doctor, the treasures of the following despatch-box; and strike me sky-blue scarlet if I do not continually maintain, uphold, love, honor, and obey, serve, and follow to the four corners of the earth and the waters that are under the earth, the hereinafter-before-mentioned (only that I find I have neglected to mention him) Viscount Anne de Kéroual de St.-Yves, commonly known as Mr. Rowley’s viscount. So be it. Amen."

He took the oath with the same exaggerated seriousness as I gave it to him.

"Now," said I. "Here is the key for you; I will hold the lid with both hands in the meanwhile." He turned the key. "Bring up all the candles in the room, and range them alongside. What is it to be? A live gorgon, a Jack-in-the-box, or a spring that fires a pistol? On your knees, sir, before the prodigy!"

So saying, I turned the despatch-box upside down upon the table. At the sight of the vast mass of bank paper and gold that lay in front of us, between the candles, or rolled upon the floor alongside, I stood astonished.

"Oh my! Oh Mr. Anne! What a sight o' money!" cried Mr. Rowley, and he scrambled after the fallen guineas. "Why, it's like a blessed story-book. It's like the Forty Thieves."

"Now, Rowley, let's be cool, let's be business-like," said I. "Riches are deceitful, particularly when you haven't counted them; and the first thing we have to do is to arrive at the amount of my—let me say, modest competency. If I'm not mistaken, I have enough here to keep you in gold buttons all the rest of your life. You collect the gold, and I'll take the paper."

Accordingly, down we sat together on the hearthrug, and for some time there was no sound but the creasing of bills and the jingling of guineas, broken occasionally by the exulting exclamations of Rowley. The arithmetical operation on which we were embarked took long, and it might have been tedious to others; not to me nor to my helper.

"Ten thousand pounds!" I announced at last.

"Ten thousand!" echoed Mr. Rowley.

And we gazed upon each other.

The greatness of this fortune took my breath away. With that sum in my hands, I need fear no enemies. People are arrested, in nine cases out of ten, not because the police are astute, but because