Page:McClure's Magazine v9 n3 to v10 no2.djvu/253

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ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.

979

themselves run short of money; and I had here before me in the despatch-box a succession of devices and disguises that insured my liberty. Not only so; but, as I felt with a sudden and overpowering thrill, with ten thousand pounds in my hands I was become an eligible suitor. What advances I had made in the past, as a private soldier in a military prison, or a fugitive by the wayside, could only be qualified or, indeed, excused as acts of desperation. And now, I might come in by the front door; I might approach the dragon with a lawyer at my elbow and rich settlements to offer. The poor French prisoner, Champdivers, might be in a perpetual danger of arrest; but the rich traveling Englishman, St. Ives, in his post-chaise, with his despatch-box by his side, could smile at fate and laugh at locksmiths. I repeated the proverb, exulting, Love laughs at locksmiths! In a moment, by the mere coming of this money, my love had become possible—it had come near, it was under my hand—and it may be by one of the curiosities of human nature, but it burned that instant brighter.

"Rowley," said I, "your viscount is a made man."

"Why, we both are, sir," said Rowley.

"Yes, both," said I; "and you shall dance at the wedding;" and I flung at his head a bundle of bank notes, and had just followed it up with a handful of guineas, when the door opened, and Mr. Romaine appeared upon the threshold.

CHAPTER XVIII.

MR. ROMAINE CALLS ME NAMES.

Feeling very much of a fool to be thus taken by surprise, I scrambled to my feet and hastened to make my visitor welcome. He did not refuse me his hand; but he gave it with a coldness and distance for which I was quite unprepared, and his countenance, as he looked on me, was marked in a strong degree with concern and severity.

"So, sir, I find you here?" said he, in tones of little encouragement. "Is that you, George? You can run away; I have business with your master."

He showed Rowley out, and locked the door behind him. Then he sat down in an armchair on one side of the fire, and looked at me with uncompromising sternness.

"I am hesitating how to begin," said he. "In this singular labyrinth of blunders and difficulties that you have prepared for us, I am positively hesitating where to begin. It will perhaps be best that you should read, first of all, this paragraph." And he handed over to me a newspaper.

The paragraph in question was brief. It announced the recapture of one of the prisoners recently escaped from Edinburgh Castle; gave his name, Clausel, and added that he had entered into the particulars of the recent revolting murder in the castle, and denounced the murderer:

"It is a common soldier called Champdivers, who had himself escaped, and is in all probability involved in the common fate of his comrades. In spite of the activity along all the Forth and the East Coast, nothing has yet been seen of the sloop which these desperadoes seized at Grangemouth, and it is now almost certain that they have found a watery grave."

At the reading of this paragraph my heart turned over. Inamoment I saw my castle in the air ruined; myself changed from a mere military fugitive into a hunted murderer, fleeing from the gallows; my love, which had a moment since appeared so near to me, blotted from the field of possibility. Despair, which was my first sentiment, did not, however, endure for more than a moment. I saw that my companions had indeed succeeded in their unlikely design; and that I was supposed to have accompanied and perished along with them by shipwreck—a most probable ending to their enterprise. If they thought me at the bottom of the North Sea, I need not fear much vigilance on the streets of Edinburgh. Champdivers was wanted: what was to connect him with St. Ives? Major Chevenix would recognize me if he met me; that was beyond bargaining; he had seen me so often, his interest had been kindled to so high a point, that I could hope to deceive him by no stratagem or disguise. Well, even so he would have a competition of testimony before him: he knew Clausel, he knew me, and I was sure he would decide for honor. At the same time, the image of Flora shot up in my mind's eye with such a radiancy as fairly overwhelmed all other considerations; the blood sprang to every corner of my body, and I vowed I would see and win her, if it cost my neck.

"Very annoying, no doubt," said I, as I returned the paper to Mr. Romaine.

"Is annoying your word for it?" said he.

"Exasperating, if you like," I admitted.

"And true?" he inquired.