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The irreverent tale revolves around the exploits of Captain Jacques St. Ives who is captured by the British and thrown in jail. While there, he meets the droll Miss Gilchrist and her lovely niece, Flora, who takes an interest in the prisoner. For Jacques and Flora, it's love at first sight - although Major Chevening had his eye on her first. Not long afterward, Jacques escapes and makes an enemy out of his long lost brother Alain, who's been living in Scotland and looking to take over the family fortune upon the death of their grandfather. Jacques thought Alain had been killed with their parents during the French Revolution. The escaped prisoner represents a threat to his brother and to the major, and now the plot thickens... St. Ives is one of Stevenson's last romances, left unfinished at his death, yet still showing the same key qualities as his earlier works. It was completed in 1898 by Arthur Quiller-Couch.
It was in the month of May 1813 that I was so unlucky as to fall at last into the hands of the enemy. My knowledge of the English language had marked me out for a certain employment. Though I cannot conceive a soldier refusing to incur the risk, yet to be hanged for a spy is a disgusting business; and I was relieved to be held a prisoner of war. Into the Castle of Edinburgh, standing in the midst of that city on the summit of an extraordinary rock, I was cast with several hundred fellow–sufferers, all privates like myself, and the more part of them, by an accident, very ignorant, plain fellows. My English, which had brought me into that scrape, now helped me very materially to bear it. I had a thousand advantages. I was often called to play the part of an interpreter, whether of orders or complaints, and thus brought in relations, sometimes of mirth, sometimes almost of friendship, with the officers in charge. A young lieutenant singled me out to be his adversary at chess, a game in which I was extremely proficient, and would reward me for my gambits with excellent cigars. The major of the battalion took lessons of French from me while at breakfast, and was sometimes so obliging as to have me join him at the meal. Chevenix was his name. He was stiff as a drum–major and selfish as an Englishman, but a fairly conscientious pupil and a fairly upright man. Little did I suppose that his ramrod body and frozen face would, in the end, step in between me and all my dearest wishes; that upon this precise, regular, icy soldier–man my fortunes should so nearly shipwreck! I never liked, but yet I trusted him; and though it may seem but a trifle, I found his snuff–box with the bean in it come very welcome.
For it is strange how grown men and seasoned soldiers can go back in life; so that after but a little while in prison, which is after all the next thing to being in the nursery, they grow absorbed in the most pitiful, childish interests, and a sugar–biscuit or a pinch of snuff become things to follow after and scheme for!