MoboReader > Literature > The Merry Men, and Other Tales and Fables


The Merry Men, and Other Tales and Fables By Robert Louis Stevenson Characters: 19442

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The next morning there was a most unusual outcry, in the Doctor's house. The last thing before going to bed, the Doctor had locked up some valuables in the dining-room cupboard; and behold, when he rose again, as he did about four o'clock, the cupboard had been broken open, and the valuables in question had disappeared. Madame and Jean-Marie were summoned from their rooms, and appeared in hasty toilets; they found the Doctor raving, calling the heavens to witness and avenge his injury, pacing the room bare-footed, with the tails of his night-shirt flirting as he turned.

'Gone!' he said; 'the things are gone, the fortune gone! We are paupers once more. Boy! what do you know of this? Speak up, sir, speak up. Do you know of it? Where are they?' He had him by the arm, shaking him like a bag, and the boy's words, if he had any, were jolted forth in inarticulate murmurs. The Doctor, with a revulsion from his own violence, set him down again. He observed Anastasie in tears. 'Anastasie,' he said, in quite an altered voice, 'compose yourself, command your feelings. I would not have you give way to passion like the vulgar. This-this trifling accident must be lived down. Jean-Marie, bring me my smaller medicine chest. A gentle laxative is indicated.'

And he dosed the family all round, leading the way himself with a double quantity. The wretched Anastasie, who had never been ill in the whole course of her existence, and whose soul recoiled from remedies, wept floods of tears as she sipped, and shuddered, and protested, and then was bullied and shouted at until she sipped again. As for Jean-Marie, he took his portion down with stoicism.

'I have given him a less amount,' observed the Doctor, 'his youth protecting him against emotion. And now that we have thus parried any morbid consequences, let us reason.'

'I am so cold,' wailed Anastasie.

'Cold!' cried the Doctor. 'I give thanks to God that I am made of fierier material. Why, madam, a blow like this would set a frog into a transpiration. If you are cold, you can retire; and, by the way, you might throw me down my trousers. It is chilly for the legs.'

'Oh, no!' protested Anastasie; 'I will stay with you.'

'Nay, madam, you shall not suffer for your devotion,' said the Doctor. 'I will myself fetch you a shawl.' And he went upstairs and returned more fully clad and with an armful of wraps for the shivering Anastasie. 'And now,' he resumed, 'to investigate this crime. Let us proceed by induction. Anastasie, do you know anything that can help us?' Anastasie knew nothing. 'Or you, Jean-Marie?'

'Not I,' replied the boy steadily.

'Good,' returned the Doctor. 'We shall now turn our attention to the material evidences. (I was born to be a detective; I have the eye and the systematic spirit.) First, violence has been employed. The door was broken open; and it may be observed, in passing, that the lock was dear indeed at what I paid for it: a crow to pluck with Master Goguelat. Second, here is the instrument employed, one of our own table-knives, one of our best, my dear; which seems to indicate no preparation on the part of the gang-if gang it was. Thirdly, I observe that nothing has been removed except the Franchard dishes and the casket; our own silver has been minutely respected. This is wily; it shows intelligence, a knowledge of the code, a desire to avoid legal consequences. I argue from this fact that the gang numbers persons of respectability-outward, of course, and merely outward, as the robbery proves. But I argue, second, that we must have been observed at Franchard itself by some occult observer, and dogged throughout the day with a skill and patience that I venture to qualify as consummate. No ordinary man, no occasional criminal, would have shown himself capable of this combination. We have in our neighbourhood, it is far from improbable, a retired bandit of the highest order of intelligence.'

'Good heaven!' cried the horrified Anastasie. 'Henri, how can you?'

'My cherished one, this is a process of induction,' said the Doctor. 'If any of my steps are unsound, correct me. You are silent? Then do not, I beseech you, be so vulgarly illogical as to revolt from my conclusion. We have now arrived,' he resumed, 'at some idea of the composition of the gang-for I incline to the hypothesis of more than one-and we now leave this room, which can disclose no more, and turn our attention to the court and garden. (Jean-Marie, I trust you are observantly following my various steps; this is an excellent piece of education for you.) Come with me to the door. No steps on the court; it is unfortunate our court should be paved. On what small matters hang the destiny of these delicate investigations! Hey! What have we here? I have led on to the very spot,' he said, standing grandly backward and indicating the green gate. 'An escalade, as you can now see for yourselves, has taken place.'

Sure enough, the green paint was in several places scratched and broken; and one of the panels preserved the print of a nailed shoe. The foot had slipped, however, and it was difficult to estimate the size of the shoe, and impossible to distinguish the pattern of the nails.

'The whole robbery,' concluded the Doctor, 'step by step, has been reconstituted. Inductive science can no further go.'

'It is wonderful,' said his wife. 'You should indeed have been a detective, Henri. I had no idea of your talents.'

'My dear,' replied Desprez, condescendingly, 'a man of scientific imagination combines the lesser faculties; he is a detective just as he is a publicist or a general; these are but local applications of his special talent. But now,' he continued, 'would you have me go further? Would you have me lay my finger on the culprits-or rather, for I cannot promise quite so much, point out to you the very house where they consort? It may be a satisfaction, at least it is all we are likely to get, since we are denied the remedy of law. I reach the further stage in this way. In order to fill my outline of the robbery, I require a man likely to be in the forest idling, I require a man of education, I require a man superior to considerations of morality. The three requisites all centre in Tentaillon's boarders. They are painters, therefore they are continually lounging in the forest. They are painters, therefore they are not unlikely to have some smattering of education. Lastly, because they are painters, they are probably immoral. And this I prove in two ways. First, painting is an art which merely addresses the eye; it does not in any particular exercise the moral sense. And second, painting, in common with all the other arts, implies the dangerous quality of imagination. A man of imagination is never moral; he outsoars literal demarcations and reviews life under too many shifting lights to rest content with the invidious distinctions of the law!'

'But you always say-at least, so I understood you'-said madame, 'that these lads display no imagination whatever.'

'My dear, they displayed imagination, and of a very fantastic order, too,' returned the Doctor, 'when they embraced their beggarly profession. Besides-and this is an argument exactly suited to your intellectual level-many of them are English and American. Where else should we expect to find a thief?-And now you had better get your coffee. Because we have lost a treasure, there is no reason for starving. For my part, I shall break my fast with white wine. I feel unaccountably heated and thirsty to-day. I can only attribute it to the shock of the discovery. And yet, you will bear me out, I supported the emotion nobly.'

The Doctor had now talked himself back into an admirable humour; and as he sat in the arbour and slowly imbibed a large allowance of white wine and picked a little bread and cheese with no very impetuous appetite, if a third of his meditations ran upon the missing treasure, the other two-thirds were more pleasingly busied in the retrospect of his detective skill.

About eleven Casimir arrived; he had caught an early train to Fontainebleau, and driven over to save time; and now his cab was stabled at Tentaillon's, and he remarked, studying his watch, that he could spare an hour and a half. He was much the man of business, decisively spoken, given to frowning in an intellectual manner. Anastasie's born brother, he did not waste much sentiment on the lady, gave her an English family kiss, and demanded a meal without delay.

'You can tell me your story while we eat,' he observed. 'Anything good to-day, Stasie?'

He was promised something good. The trio sat down to table in the arbour, Jean-Marie waiting as well as eating, and the Doctor recounted what had happened in his richest narrative manner. Casimir heard it with explosions of laughter.

'What a streak of luck for you, my good brother,' he observed, when the tale was over. 'If you had gone to Paris, you would have played dick-duck-drake with the whole consignment in three months. Your own would have followed; and you would have come to me in a procession like the last time. But I give you warning-Stasie may weep and Henri ratiocinate-it will not serve you twice. Your next collapse will be fatal. I thought I had told you so, Stasie? Hey? No sense?'

The Doctor winced and looked furtively at Jean-Marie; but the boy seemed apathetic.

'And then again,' broke out Casimir, 'what children you are-vicious children, my faith! How could you tell the value of this trash? It might have been worth nothing, or next door.'

'Pardon me,' said the Doctor. 'You have your usual flow of spirits, I perceive, but even less than your usual deliberation. I am not entirely ignorant

of these matters.'

'Not entirely ignorant of anything ever I heard of,' interrupted Casimir, bowing, and raising his glass with a sort of pert politeness.

'At least,' resumed the Doctor, 'I gave my mind to the subject-that you may be willing to believe-and I estimated that our capital would be doubled.' And he described the nature of the find.

'My word of honour!' said Casimir, 'I half believe you! But much would depend on the quality of the gold.'

'The quality, my dear Casimir, was-' And the Doctor, in default of language, kissed his finger-tips.

'I would not take your word for it, my good friend,' retorted the man of business. 'You are a man of very rosy views. But this robbery,' he continued-'this robbery is an odd thing. Of course I pass over your nonsense about gangs and landscape-painters. For me, that is a dream. Who was in the house last night?'

'None but ourselves,' replied the Doctor.

'And this young gentleman?' asked Casimir, jerking a nod in the direction of Jean-Marie.

'He too'-the Doctor bowed.

'Well; and if it is a fair question, who is he?' pursued the brother-in-law.

'Jean-Marie,' answered the Doctor, 'combines the functions of a son and stable-boy. He began as the latter, but he rose rapidly to the more honourable rank in our affections. He is, I may say, the greatest comfort in our lives.'

'Ha!' said Casimir. 'And previous to becoming one of you?'

'Jean-Marie has lived a remarkable existence; his experience his been eminently formative,' replied Desprez. 'If I had had to choose an education for my son, I should have chosen such another. Beginning life with mountebanks and thieves, passing onward to the society and friendship of philosophers, he may be said to have skimmed the volume of human life.'

'Thieves?' repeated the brother-in-law, with a meditative air.

The Doctor could have bitten his tongue out. He foresaw what was coming, and prepared his mind for a vigorous defence.

'Did you ever steal yourself?' asked Casimir, turning suddenly on Jean-Marie, and for the first time employing a single eyeglass which hung round his neck.

'Yes, sir,' replied the boy, with a deep blush.

Casimir turned to the others with pursed lips, and nodded to them meaningly. 'Hey?' said he; 'how is that?'

'Jean-Marie is a teller of the truth,' returned the Doctor, throwing out his bust.

'He has never told a lie,' added madame. 'He is the best of boys.'

'Never told a lie, has he not?' reflected Casimir. 'Strange, very strange. Give me your attention, my young friend,' he continued. 'You knew about this treasure?'

'He helped to bring it home,' interposed the Doctor.

'Desprez, I ask you nothing but to hold your tongue,' returned Casimir. 'I mean to question this stable-boy of yours; and if you are so certain of his innocence, you can afford to let him answer for himself. Now, sir,' he resumed, pointing his eyeglass straight at Jean-Marie. 'You knew it could be stolen with impunity? You knew you could not be prosecuted? Come! Did you, or did you not?'

'I did,' answered Jean-Marie, in a miserable whisper. He sat there changing colour like a revolving pharos, twisting his fingers hysterically, swallowing air, the picture of guilt.

'You knew where it was put?' resumed the inquisitor.

'Yes,' from Jean-Marie.

'You say you have been a thief before,' continued Casimir. 'Now how am I to know that you are not one still? I suppose you could climb the green gate?'

'Yes,' still lower, from the culprit.

'Well, then, it was you who stole these things. You know it, and you dare not deny it. Look me in the face! Raise your sneak's eyes, and answer!'

But in place of anything of that sort Jean-Marie broke into a dismal howl and fled from the arbour. Anastasie, as she pursued to capture and reassure the victim, found time to send one Parthian arrow-'Casimir, you are a brute!'

'My brother,' said Desprez, with the greatest dignity, 'you take upon yourself a licence-'

'Desprez,' interrupted Casimir, 'for Heaven's sake be a man of the world. You telegraph me to leave my business and come down here on yours. I come, I ask the business, you say "Find me this thief!" Well, I find him; I say "There he is!" You need not like it, but you have no manner of right to take offence.'

'Well,' returned the Doctor, 'I grant that; I will even thank you for your mistaken zeal. But your hypothesis was so extravagantly monstrous-'

'Look here,' interrupted Casimir; 'was it you or Stasie?'

'Certainly not,' answered the Doctor.

'Very well; then it was the boy. Say no more about it,' said the brother-in-law, and he produced his cigar-case.

'I will say this much more,' returned Desprez: 'if that boy came and told me so himself, I should not believe him; and if I did believe him, so implicit is my trust, I should conclude that he had acted for the best.'

'Well, well,' said Casimir, indulgently. 'Have you a light? I must be going. And by the way, I wish you would let me sell your Turks for you. I always told you, it meant smash. I tell you so again. Indeed, it was partly that that brought me down. You never acknowledge my letters-a most unpardonable habit.'

'My good brother,' replied the Doctor blandly, 'I have never denied your ability in business; but I can perceive your limitations.'

'Egad, my friend, I can return the compliment,' observed the man of business. 'Your limitation is to be downright irrational.'

'Observe the relative position,' returned the Doctor with a smile. 'It is your attitude to believe through thick and thin in one man's judgment-your own. I follow the same opinion, but critically and with open eyes. Which is the more irrational?-I leave it to yourself.'

'O, my dear fellow!' cried Casimir, 'stick to your Turks, stick to your stable-boy, go to the devil in general in your own way and be done with it. But don't ratiocinate with me-I cannot bear it. And so, ta-ta. I might as well have stayed away for any good I've done. Say good-bye from me to Stasie, and to the sullen hang-dog of a stable-boy, if you insist on it; I'm off.'

And Casimir departed. The Doctor, that night, dissected his character before Anastasie. 'One thing, my beautiful,' he said, 'he has learned one thing from his lifelong acquaintance with your husband: the word ratiocinate. It shines in his vocabulary, like a jewel in a muck-heap. And, even so, he continually misapplies it. For you must have observed he uses it as a sort of taunt, in the sense of to ergotise, implying, as it were-the poor, dear fellow!-a vein of sophistry. As for his cruelty to Jean-Marie, it must be forgiven him-it is not his nature, it is the nature of his life. A man who deals with money, my dear, is a man lost.'

With Jean-Marie the process of reconciliation had been somewhat slow. At first he was inconsolable, insisted on leaving the family, went from paroxysm to paroxysm of tears; and it was only after Anastasie had been closeted for an hour with him, alone, that she came forth, sought out the Doctor, and, with tears in her eyes, acquainted that gentleman with what had passed.

'At first, my husband, he would hear of nothing,' she said. 'Imagine! if he had left us! what would the treasure be to that? Horrible treasure, it has brought all this about! At last, after he has sobbed his very heart out, he agrees to stay on a condition-we are not to mention this matter, this infamous suspicion, not even to mention the robbery. On that agreement only, the poor, cruel boy will consent to remain among his friends.'

'But this inhibition,' said the Doctor, 'this embargo-it cannot possibly apply to me?'

'To all of us,' Anastasie assured him.

'My cherished one,' Desprez protested, 'you must have misunderstood. It cannot apply to me. He would naturally come to me.'

'Henri,' she said, 'it does; I swear to you it does.'

'This is a painful, a very painful circumstance,' the Doctor said, looking a little black. 'I cannot affect, Anastasie, to be anything but justly wounded. I feel this, I feel it, my wife, acutely.'

'I knew you would,' she said. 'But if you had seen his distress! We must make allowances, we must sacrifice our feelings.'

'I trust, my dear, you have never found me averse to sacrifices,' returned the Doctor very stiffly.

'And you will let me go and tell him that you have agreed? It will be like your noble nature,' she cried.

So it would, he perceived-it would be like his noble nature! Up jumped his spirits, triumphant at the thought. 'Go, darling,' he said nobly, 'reassure him. The subject is buried; more-I make an effort, I have accustomed my will to these exertions-and it is forgotten.'

A little after, but still with swollen eyes and looking mortally sheepish, Jean-Marie reappeared and went ostentatiously about his business. He was the only unhappy member of the party that sat down that night to supper. As for the Doctor, he was radiant. He thus sang the requiem of the treasure:-

'This has been, on the whole, a most amusing episode,' he said. 'We are not a penny the worse-nay, we are immensely gainers. Our philosophy has been exercised; some of the turtle is still left-the most wholesome of delicacies; I have my staff, Anastasie has her new dress, Jean-Marie is the proud possessor of a fashionable kepi. Besides, we had a glass of Hermitage last night; the glow still suffuses my memory. I was growing positively niggardly with that Hermitage, positively niggardly. Let me take the hint: we had one bottle to celebrate the appearance of our visionary fortune; let us have a second to console us for its occultation. The third I hereby dedicate to Jean-Marie's wedding breakfast.'

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