Robert Louis Stevenson - St. Ives (1894)
It was Stevenson's practise in composition "to keep several pots on the fire," and to turn from one to the other for that variety which spices life, be it of cook or caterer of literature. In a letter to a friend he wrote: "Unconscious thought, there is the only method: macerate your subject, let it boil slow, then take the lid off and look in—and there your stuff is, good or bad." Even when he lay dying he had two works simmering over the embers of his imagination—St. Ives and Weir of Hermiston. These books were taken down from his dictation by his stepdaughter and amanuensis, Mrs. Strong, with whom he discussed the chapters in prospect. Thirty chapters of St. Ives and nine of Weir of Hermiston were written by the author. From the outline of the rest of the story, which was supplied by Mrs. Strong, Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch completed St. Ives. Mr. Quiller-Couch is a practised writer of the fiction of adventure, to which class this hovel belongs, and he has written the conclusion in a style quite harmonious with Stevenson's, and thoroughly acceptable to the dead author's most ardent admirers.
MY story begins at the foot of the guillotine. My mother, a lady of the court, followed to death her royal mistress, the unfortunate woman who was jeered at in her last hours as the "Widow Capet."
On the night before she mounted the scaffold she consigned me to the care of a friend, Madame de Chasserades, with whom, by the favor of our jailers, I remained in the Abbaye. Soon the Madame's name was read out in the daily list of the condemned, and, commending me to the charge of Madame de Noytot, she passed out of the prison door as my mother had gone, never to be seen by me again. In similar fashion I was passed on to Mademoiselle de Braye; and there were others. I was the one thing permanent; they were all transient as clouds.
Belle maman was the name I was taught to give to each; and for a day or two the new "pretty mamma" would make much of me, show me off, teach me the minuet, and to say my prayers; and then, with a tender embrace, would go the way of her predecessors, smiling. I have been in pitched battles, and I never knew such courage. I thank the Mother of God that, from the days when I was the last comfort of these dying ladies, I have not been wanting, whenever the chance offered, in a gentleman's duty to women of every degree.
At last I was taken from the prison by the Abbé de CuIemberg, whose holiness, I verily believe, awed the Republican ruffians, who were unmoved by beauty and courage, and so saved him from their violence. The Abbé gave me an education fitted to my rank, including instruction in English, for he wished to prepare me for the fate of an émigré, which, as I grew toward manhood and as France still remained atheist and re-publican, seemed destined to be my portion.
But Napoleon arose, who snatched political power from the bloody hands of the regicides, and, so far as it was possible, reconciled the country with the Church; and the Abbé, believing the monarchy could never be restored, and seeing my desire for a military career, gave his blessing to my becoming a soldier of the Empire. Only he forbade me to enlist under my paternal name of St. Ives, for my father's eldest brother, an émigré in London, who still had faith in the return of the Bourbons, had become very wealthy in secret financial transactions connected with the opposition of the British Government to Bonaparte's régime, and, as he was a bachelor, another nephew and I were his nearest heirs; so it did not appear wise to the Abbé unnecessarily to endanger my expectations, and he recommended me to assume my mother's name of Champdivers, no rightful possessor of which was living.
As my desire was to fight rather than to win renown, one name seemed as good as another to me, and I followed the wise old man's advice. Indeed, rendered world-weary by my sad boyhood, I preferred to be as inconspicuous as possible, and so remained a private, taking upon myself the hazardous duties of a spy.
My service was chiefly in Spain against the English, by whom I was captured in May, 1813, and the fact of my being a spy not transpiring I was sent as a prisoner of war to Scotland. Into the Castle of Edinburgh, perched on a great rock in the midst of that city, I was cast with several hundred of my fellow-privates, the greater part of them very ignorant, plain fellows. Be-cause of my knowledge of English I was made interpreter, and this brought me into friendly relations with the British officers in charge. With one, Major Chevenix, who spoke excellent French, I was wont to play chess. I found that while weak in the general strategy of the game, he was from the beginning very clever in divining and blocking my purpose in special combinations, and in time he became positively brilliant in devising traps of his own.
In common with my fellow-prisoners, I earned a little money wherewith to supplement our scanty rations by whittling little toys from wood and selling them to townspeople who came to gape at us as if we were baboons. Some of these visitors sought to evangelize us with their rustic Northern religion as if we had been heathen at home; others tortured us with intelligence of disasters to the arms of France. After a while, however, we became hardened to their heartlessness, and were concerned only that they should buy our wares.
For my part, I quickly learned to dissemble. I flattered the person of each lady, and to each man I praised the valor of his countrymen. T tried with the gallantries of speech to compensate for shortcomings in my habit and looks, for we were all dressed in a coarse uniform of a mustard yellow, so that, with our red-coated guards, we made a lively picture of hell; and we were shaved only twice in the week, an indignity which I, who had been accustomed to the luxury of a razoring every day, took specially to heart.
One woman was a very regular visitant; indeed, she had taken what she called an interest in the French prisoners. She was a big, bustling, bold old lady, and flounced about our market-place with insufferable airs of condescension, which I could not refrain from resenting. She chose to consider my rebuffs as affected, and, dubbing me "The Oddity," would scrutinize me through her gold eyeglass with great amusement. Indeed, I am confident that she brought others with her for the express purpose of exhibiting me to them. Her usual companion was a young lady who I quickly inferred was her niece. With a delicacy that won my heart, Flora, as the old woman called her, restrained her aunt so far as possible from acting as showman, and occupied herself with the pitiful toys of the prisoners rather than with our pitiable persons. Because my handiwork was the worst of all, the compassionate girl took a special interest in it.
One day she visited the prison alone, and as soon as she came into the courtyard I was aware of her presence. It was a raw and gusty day in October, yet I looked up as one who scents the coming spring. Her hair blew in the wind with changing colors —of bright, sunlit gold and the rich red-brown of autumn foliage; her garments molded her tall and slender figure with the ac-curacy of sculpture. I could have clapped my hands in applause, acclaiming her a genuine daughter of the winds. Indeed, I did raise my hands as if to do so, but it was to capture her handkerchief, which the wind had snatched from her. For-getting the soldier's salute, I bowed as a gentleman and offered her the slip of cambric.
"May I not take it for an omen?" I said; "you have an English proverb: `It's an ill wind that blows nobody good."
"Well," she said, with a smile, " `one good turn deserves another.' I will see what you have."
She followed me to the place where my wares were spread out under the lee of a cannon.
"Here is my Oddity Shop," I said. "I trust that you will find my ill-shapen toys as grotesque as your aunt finds their maker. Strange that a grown man and a soldier should be en-gaged upon such trash, and a sad heart produce anything so funny to look at."
She extended her hand impulsively and touched my yellow coat-sleeve. It was a gesture of mingled pity and protest. Without uttering a word, she made a purchase and departed.
Thereafter the old lady came no more; yet the prisoners did not lose in pocket by this sparing of our sensibilities, for the young girl became a regular visitor and bought our wares even more liberally than her aunt had done.
On the day following my outburst of feeling, as I sat in my place I became conscious that someone was standing near; and behold, it was herself ! She was very still and timid. In a low voice she asked me whether I suffered in my captivity—had I to complain of any hardship?
"Mademoiselle, I have not learned to complain," I said.
"I am a soldier of Napoleon. Besides, I was reared in a prison."
Little by little she drew from me the story of my life. At its close she lifted her eyes, dewy with tears, and, selecting a toy, pressed some coins into my hand, seizing the occasion to clasp it in both of hers as a token of sympathy.
Call it vanity if you please, but from that moment I knew that my love was returned as certainly as that it was bestowed. What mattered if I were half-shaved and my clothes a caricature? I was still a man, and I had drawn my image on her memory. And she was a woman, to whom love is the law of life. And love was on my side. "Ah!" thought I, "in the darkness of night, in the streets by day, my image will be present, whispering, making love for me." I blessed my captive estate which had won me her compassion, and which gave me leisure to devote my whole heart to securing my conquest. I set to work carving a gift for her—a shield with the emblem of Scotland, the Lion Rampant. Upon the back I cut the inscription: A La Belle Flora. Le Prisonnier Reconnaisant. A d. St. Y. d. K.
The next day my heart leaped in triumph when she came accompanied by a young man whose looks proclaimed him her brother. This action said, plainly as words: "I do not and I cannot know you. Here is my brother, who can; this is the way to me—follow it."
"This is my brother, Mr. Ronald Gilchrist," said she. "I have told him of your sufferings. He is so sorry for you!"
"Ah! it is like a true British gentleman," I exclaimed. "If Mr. Ronald and I were to meet in the field, we should meet like tigers; but when he sees me here disarmed and helpless, he for-gets his animosity." (At which, as I had intended, this beard-less champion colored to the ears for pleasure.) "And, my dear young lady," I continued, "I have not been unmindful of your equal generosity. For the sake of some sweet country-woman of mine who is perchance even now bestowing her compassion on a British prisoner, deign to accept this trifle." And I gave her the shield.
She took it graciously, and then, observing the inscription, cried with delight:
"Why, my name! How did you know it?"
"Your aunt spoke it one day, and I was quick to remark so appropriate a name. Your kindness has made me cherish it."
"It is very, very beautiful," said she, "and I shall always be proud of the inscription. Come, Ronald, we must be going." She bowed as to an equal, and passed on with heightened color.
A fellow-prisoner, Goguelat by name, had observed our colloquy. He was a brute of the vilest sort, yet a brave one, and had risen by his courage to a petty rank equal to my own. He was peasant-born, and therefore detested me, a gentleman and scholar, with jealous rancor.
When my visitors were gone, he burst out in a torrent of obscenity, in which he called Miss Flora by a foul name. Other prisoners were gathering around us, attracted by the prospect of an altercation. In their presence I said to Goguelat:
"You have spewed the filth of your own nature against a young child who might be your daughter, and who was giving alms to me and some others of us mendicants. If the Emperor"—and I saluted—" could hear you, he would pluck off the cross from your gross body. I cannot do that, but I do promise you one thing, Goguelat, you shall be dead to-night."
The guards approaching, we subsided. Nothing remained but to arrange the details of the duel. Goguelat and I slept in the same squad, and so a committee of honor was formed of our shed-mates. The meeting was arranged to take place at night between rounds of the guard. Our weapons were made of the blades of a pair of scissors, lashed to two wands which had been found in a corner of the courtyard. Everyone in the shed took an oath of secrecy.
I played my life on one card, and won. At the signal for attack I threw myself down and lunged at the same moment. My opponent lunged standing. I fell against his blade, which pierced my right shoulder; mine plunged through his abdomen.
When I came to my senses I was lying in my bunk with my wound dressed.
"A mere scratch," said a comrade.
"And Goguelat?" I inquired.
"He has his bellyful. You have given him his discharge."
I heard my opponent groaning in the corner. "Bring the surgeon!" I cried,
"No," said Goguelat, "I'm done for. No blabbing."
The guard, on the next round, discovered the wounded man. "This is murder!" he cried. "You wild beasts, you will hear of this tomorrow."
As Goguelat was carried away on a stretcher he cried to us all and to me in particular a cheerful and blasphemous farewell. Be died before morning. At the examination, all the inmates of the shed swore to a profound ignorance of the circumstances of his wounding. Major Chevenix listened intently when I was on the stand. He invited me to a game of chess afterward, and I made my moves with my left hand, because of my wound in the right shoulder. At the close of the game he began talking about the death of Goguelat.
"You can't make me believe it was suicide," he said; "no, it was a duel, and you, Monsieur Champdivers," he exclaimed, bringing his hand suddenly and heavily down on my injured shoulder, "were the other principal."
I winced with pain, even as I denied the accusation. "Unless you confess you are wounded," he continued, "T shall have you examined by a physician."
I remained silent.
"I'm a soldier myself," he resumed, "and have been out and hit my man. I don't wish to drive you into a corner for an affair that was necessary or correct, and I'll take your word of honor for it. But I must be satisfied of that."
"I give you my parole," I said, "as a gentleman and a soldier, that nothing has taken place amongst us prisoners that was not honorable as the day."
"All right," said he. "You can go now, Champdivers. And, say, forgive me for putting you to the torture." Then he added musingly: "But I wonder what the devil you two were fighting about?"
"Oh, what do men ever fight about?" I cried.
"A lady!" he exclaimed. "I should hardly have thought it of him."
"He!" I cried. "He never dared address her, the foul-mouthed beast"
Major Chevenix looked narrowly at me: " Good night!" he said.
Some time after this, a man of middle age, plainly dressed but with the insetutable air of a well-to-do man of business, visited Mt in the prised.
"Have I the pleasure of addressing Monsieur le Vicomte Anne de Kéroual de Saint-Yves?" he asked:
"There are those who fright object to nay bearing that name in nrty ptesent condition," I replied.
"If you refer to your uncle, I am deputized to say that he does not object, and is able and willing to free you from your present cakidition. He wishes to see you at his estate, Amer-sham Place, near -Dunstable. Will you effect your liberty by buying parole, and then comply with your tuiele's desires? I will frankly tell you that he means to make you his heir in place of ytftir c stash Main, wheat he has discoveted to be a Bonapartist spy. Here is money for your parole and traveling ex-penses." And he ggaie rile a package of bank-notes.
We prise : ers triad formed A conspiracy to tunnel our way to freedom, and the work was (eating cotrpletion under my direction. Accordingly I vaguely promised my visitor to be on my way w my uft lets within a few days, intending that it should be as aff ttripledged maii, free to fight for the Emperor if I escaped to France.
I was curious to know how I had been discovered, and Mr. Daniel kotnaine, lawyer (fat such was' the name and profession of ffiy visitot), informed rife that ingrttity had been made for me in France, where it was leaned that I had been taken prisoner. Accordingly, a description of me under the name of St. Ives had been sent to every British prison to learn whether I were among its inmates: A reply had come from one of the officers of Edinbtirglh Castle (whom I easily guessed) that a prisoner known by the name of Champdivers answered to such a description and that he had already revealed his identity by signing the initials of his teal name Capon a earning sold to a visitor:
With a patting injunction to "Beware of Alain," Mr: Ro-Mair e left the prison. Hardly had he gone when Flora and her brother appeared upon the scene. I could with difficult refrain from telling the beaming girl of the turn in my fortunes. As it was, I assumed my proper name with a dignity of manner that did not displease Flora and greatly impressed Ronald.
"Major Chevenix, to whom I showed the shield, told me you were of noble birth," said the dear girl, blushing, "and he added that you were worthy of it."
Something in her manner informed me that the Major was a suitor for her hand, and that she was proud of his attentions—but that I had her heart. This generous loyalty in love moved me deeply. Stretching my hands toward the city beneath us, I cried :
"Oh, you wonderful people, once I thought you were all my enemies!"
Then I turned to the Gilchrists:
"Show me the house where you live, that I may say in my vigils: Beneath that roof are those who are thinking, and thinking kindly, of me."
"It is a pretty thought," said Flora, "and a true one. Yonder is our cottage, the farthest you can see against the Pentland Hills." And she pointed to a white dot in the suburbs, fully two leagues away.
In a few days we prisoners completed our tunnel. Its exit opened upon a sheer precipice whose height we could only guess at, and down the face of which we had to go by means of a loose, knotted rope. I was the first to attempt the descent. What with whirling in mid air, and hanging from my wounded shoulder, I was liable to faint before I reached the ground. There I made the rope taut for the other prisoners by fastening its end beneath a great stone, and then I set off on my journey.
I had not gone far when a shot in the Castle, followed shortly by an alarm, informed me that the escape had been discovered. On the morrow every citizen of Edinburgh and every country-man for miles around would be ready to apprehend me in my yellow prison garb. I must lie concealed until I could procure other clothes. At the Gilchrists' cottage alone could I hope to do so. I hurried thither, and, climbing the wall and lying upon its top beneath the half-denuded branches of a beech-tree, waited for Ronald or Flora to appear, for I feared to appeal to their aunt. Worn out by my exertions, I fell asleep, and was wakened next morning by a bent old gardener raking leaves beneath me. As I deliberated upon my course of action, Flora came out of the house. I tossed a bit of mortar at her to attract her attention. It hit her upon the nape of the neck, and with a cry she looked up and saw me peering out between the branches.
The gardener straightened up. "What's yer wull, miss?" said he.
"There's a child in the artichokes," said she with ready prevarication; and before he returned I was safely bestowed in the hen-house. Here I was smuggled under shawls and fed upon beaten eggs until Flora should commit her aunt, by presenting my case as a hypothetical one, to receiving me into the house. This was soon accomplished, for the aunt had an imaginative vein in her nature, which made my romantic rôle of escaped prisoner even more interesting than my comic one of "the oddity." She it was who changed some of my English notes into Scots currency at a trifle less than brokers' charges. Ronald procured for me the clothes of a drover as the best disguise for traveling south, and gave me, as a parting remembrance, a stout holly cudgel. Flora presented me her plaid, already endeared to me as the covering she had tucked about me that first day I spent in the hen-house.
In the primitive fashion in which I crossed the border, plaid and cudgel proved of even greater service than the silver and the pound notes. Flora's gift softened the hard ale-house benches, and even the bare earth on which at times I slept, and with the stout holly stick I played my part so well in a night attack upon myself and two drovers with whom I was traveling that my companions, on their return from England, were apprehended for mortally cracking the skull of a man who had borne the reputation of possessing the hardest head in Scotland. Hearing of their arrest made it a matter of duty, as it was already of inclination, for me to return to Scotland rather than escape to France. I had circumvented the machinations of my cousin Alain, and reached my uncle in time to receive his blessing before he died. Then, by a bold stratagem, in which I was aided by my similarity in appearance to Alain and by knowledge of his double dealing with the English and French governments, I fastened upon him alone the suspicions that had been directed against us both.
On arriving in Edinburgh I performed first my act of duty by going into court and testifying that I had killed in self-defense the drover with whose murder my companions had been charged, but concerning which they had refused to say a word, being God-fearing men who would not lie, and loyal friends who would not bring me, whom they knew as an escaping prisoner, into peril.
Nor was I in peril. Even as I traveled north Louis XVIII was ascending the throne of France, and the long war had ended between my native land and the country that fortune had des-tined to be my future home. Indeed, it was Major Chevenix who grasped my hand at the close of my testimony in the drovers' trial, and welcomed me significantly as fellow-townsman as well as compatriot.
It was a bright spring morning when I approached the Gilchrist cottage. The bough of the beech-tree that overhung the garden-wall was thick with leaves. With a sudden inspiration, I clambered to the top of the wall and lay down in my former post of observation. Gently pushing the leaves aside, I saw, not fifteen yards away, Flora, my goddess of spring, now in her appropriate season, kneeling by a garden-bed and filling the lap of her morning-gown with tulips — scarlet, yellow, and striped.
The gardener stood by her, expostulating.
"It's clean ruinin' the bulbs to pick leaves an' all."
"Let me have my way this time, Robie; the Major has told me that a very particular friend is coming today."
I shook the bough of the beech and peered out between the leaves.
Flora looked up, and, spying me, uttered a gasping little cry.
"What ails ye, miss?" asked the old gardener.
She had whipped about and was facing the kitchen-garden. "Isn't that a child among the arti—the strawberry-beds, I mean?"
He dropped his spade and hobbled away. She turned, let the tulips fall at her feet, and ah! her second cry of gladness and her heavenly blush as she stretched out both arms to me. It was all happening over again, and I determined that the sweet ritual of remembrance should not be changed. So, after our embrace, when she began to lead me toward the house, I pulled her in the opposite direction.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"To the hen-house, to be sure!
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
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