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Merry Men by Robert Louis Stevenson

Part 5 out of 5

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'Henri!' she cried.

'Well, well, I will say no more,' he replied. 'Though, to be sure,
if you had consented to indue - A PROPOS,' he broke off, 'and my
trousers! They are lying in the snow - my favourite trousers!'
And he dashed in quest of Jean-Marie.

Two hours afterwards the boy returned to the inn with a spade under
one arm and a curious sop of clothing under the other.

The Doctor ruefully took it in his hands. 'They have been!' he
said. 'Their tense is past. Excellent pantaloons, you are no
more! Stay, something in the pocket,' and he produced a piece of
paper. 'A letter! ay, now I mind me; it was received on the
morning of the gale, when I was absorbed in delicate
investigations. It is still legible. From poor, dear Casimir! It
is as well,' he chuckled, 'that I have educated him to patience.
Poor Casimir and his correspondence - his infinitesimal, timorous,
idiotic correspondence!'

He had by this time cautiously unfolded the wet letter; but, as he
bent himself to decipher the writing, a cloud descended on his

'BIGRE!' he cried, with a galvanic start.

And then the letter was whipped into the fire, and the Doctor's cap
was on his head in the turn of a hand.

'Ten minutes! I can catch it, if I run,' he cried. 'It is always
late. I go to Paris. I shall telegraph.'

'Henri! what is wrong?' cried his wife.

'Ottoman Bonds!' came from the disappearing Doctor; and Anastasie
and Jean-Marie were left face to face with the wet trousers.
Desprez had gone to Paris, for the second time in seven years; he
had gone to Paris with a pair of wooden shoes, a knitted spencer, a
black blouse, a country nightcap, and twenty francs in his pocket.
The fall of the house was but a secondary marvel; the whole world
might have fallen and scarce left his family more petrified.


ON the morning of the next day, the Doctor, a mere spectre of
himself, was brought back in the custody of Casimir. They found
Anastasie and the boy sitting together by the fire; and Desprez,
who had exchanged his toilette for a ready-made rig-out of poor
materials, waved his hand as he entered, and sank speechless on the
nearest chair. Madame turned direct to Casimir.

'What is wrong?' she cried.

'Well,' replied Casimir, 'what have I told you all along? It has
come. It is a clean shave, this time; so you may as well bear up
and make the best of it. House down, too, eh? Bad luck, upon my

'Are we - are we - ruined?' she gasped.

The Doctor stretched out his arms to her. 'Ruined,' he replied,
'you are ruined by your sinister husband.'

Casimir observed the consequent embrace through his eyeglass; then
he turned to Jean-Marie. 'You hear?' he said. 'They are ruined;
no more pickings, no more house, no more fat cutlets. It strikes
me, my friend, that you had best be packing; the present
speculation is about worked out.' And he nodded to him meaningly.

'Never!' cried Desprez, springing up. 'Jean-Marie, if you prefer
to leave me, now that I am poor, you can go; you shall receive your
hundred francs, if so much remains to me. But if you will consent
to stay ' - the Doctor wept a little - 'Casimir offers me a place -
as clerk,' he resumed. 'The emoluments are slender, but they will
be enough for three. It is too much already to have lost my
fortune; must I lose my son?'

Jean-Marie sobbed bitterly, but without a word.

'I don't like boys who cry,' observed Casimir. 'This one is always
crying. Here! you clear out of this for a little; I have business
with your master and mistress, and these domestic feelings may be
settled after I am gone. March!' and he held the door open.

Jean-Marie slunk out, like a detected thief.

By twelve they were all at table but Jean-Marie.

'Hey?' said Casimir. 'Gone, you see. Took the hint at once.'

'I do not, I confess,' said Desprez, 'I do not seek to excuse his
absence. It speaks a want of heart that disappoints me sorely.'

'Want of manners,' corrected Casimir. 'Heart, he never had. Why,
Desprez, for a clever fellow, you are the most gullible mortal in
creation. Your ignorance of human nature and human business is
beyond belief. You are swindled by heathen Turks, swindled by
vagabond children, swindled right and left, upstairs and
downstairs. I think it must be your imagination. I thank my stars
I have none.'

'Pardon me,' replied Desprez, still humbly, but with a return of
spirit at sight of a distinction to be drawn; 'pardon me, Casimir.
You possess, even to an eminent degree, the commercial imagination.
It was the lack of that in me - it appears it is my weak point -
that has led to these repeated shocks. By the commercial
imagination the financier forecasts the destiny of his investments,
marks the falling house - '

'Egad,' interrupted Casimir: 'our friend the stable-boy appears to
have his share of it.'

The Doctor was silenced; and the meal was continued and finished
principally to the tune of the brother-in-law's not very
consolatory conversation. He entirely ignored the two young
English painters, turning a blind eyeglass to their salutations,
and continuing his remarks as if he were alone in the bosom of his
family; and with every second word he ripped another stitch out of
the air balloon of Desprez's vanity. By the time coffee was over
the poor Doctor was as limp as a napkin.

'Let us go and see the ruins,' said Casimir.

They strolled forth into the street. The fall of the house, like
the loss of a front tooth, had quite transformed the village.
Through the gap the eye commanded a great stretch of open snowy
country, and the place shrank in comparison. It was like a room
with an open door. The sentinel stood by the green gate, looking
very red and cold, but he had a pleasant word for the Doctor and
his wealthy kinsman.

Casimir looked at the mound of ruins, he tried the quality of the
tarpaulin. 'H'm,' he said, 'I hope the cellar arch has stood. If
it has, my good brother, I will give you a good price for the

'We shall start digging to-morrow,' said the sentry. 'There is no
more fear of snow.'

'My friend,' returned Casimir sententiously, 'you had better wait
till you get paid.'

The Doctor winced, and began dragging his offensive brother-in-law
towards Tentaillon's. In the house there would be fewer auditors,
and these already in the secret of his fall.

'Hullo!' cried Casimir, 'there goes the stable-boy with his
luggage; no, egad, he is taking it into the inn.'

And sure enough, Jean-Marie was seen to cross the snowy street and
enter Tentaillon's, staggering under a large hamper.

The Doctor stopped with a sudden, wild hope.

'What can he have?' he said. 'Let us go and see.' And he hurried

'His luggage, to be sure,' answered Casimir. 'He is on the move -
thanks to the commercial imagination.'

'I have not seen that hamper for - for ever so long,' remarked the

'Nor will you see it much longer,' chuckled Casimir; 'unless,
indeed, we interfere. And by the way, I insist on an examination.'

'You will not require,' said Desprez, positively with a sob; and,
casting a moist, triumphant glance at Casimir, he began to run.

'What the devil is up with him, I wonder?' Casimir reflected; and
then, curiosity taking the upper hand, he followed the Doctor's
example and took to his heels.

The hamper was so heavy and large, and Jean-Marie himself so little
and so weary, that it had taken him a great while to bundle it
upstairs to the Desprez' private room; and he had just set it down
on the floor in front of Anastasie, when the Doctor arrived, and
was closely followed by the man of business. Boy and hamper were
both in a most sorry plight; for the one had passed four months
underground in a certain cave on the way to Acheres, and the other
had run about five miles as hard as his legs would carry him, half
that distance under a staggering weight.

'Jean-Marie,' cried the Doctor, in a voice that was only too
seraphic to be called hysterical, 'is it - ? It is!' he cried.
'O, my son, my son!' And he sat down upon the hamper and sobbed
like a little child.

'You will not go to Paris now,' said Jean-Marie sheepishly.

'Casimir,' said Desprez, raising his wet face, 'do you see that
boy, that angel boy? He is the thief; he took the treasure from a
man unfit to be entrusted with its use; he brings it back to me
when I am sobered and humbled. These, Casimir, are the Fruits of
my Teaching, and this moment is the Reward of my Life.'

'TIENS,' said Casimir.


(1) Boggy.

(2) Clock

(3) Enjoy.

(4) To come forrit - to offer oneself as a communicant.

(5) It was a common belief in Scotland that the devil appeared as a
black man. This appears in several witch trials and I think in
Law's MEMORIALS, that delightful store-house of the quaint and

(6) Let it be so, for my tale!

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