Chapter XXIX: We meet at Dunkirk
Altogether, then, I was scare so miserable the next days but what I had many hopeful and happy snatches; threw myself with a good deal of constancy upon my studies; and made out to endure the time till Alan should arrive, or I might hear word of Catriona by the means of James More. I had altogether three letters in the time of our separation. One was to announce their arrival in the town of Dunkirk in France, from which place James shortly after started alone upon a private mission. This was to England and to see Lord Holderness; and it has always been a bitter thought that my good money helped to pay the charges of the same. But he has need of a long spoon who soups with the de'il, or James More either. During this absence, the time was to fall due for another letter; and as the letter was the condition of his stipend, he had been so careful as to prepare it beforehand and leave it with Catriona to be despatched. The fact of our correspondence aroused her suspicions, and he was no sooner gone than she had burst the seal. What I received began accordingly in the writing of James More:
"My dear Sir, - Your esteemed favour came to hand duly, and I have to acknowledge the inclosure according to agreement. It shall be all faithfully expended on my daughter, who is well, and desires to be remembered to her dear friend. I find her in rather a melancholy disposition, but trust in the mercy of God to see her re-established. Our manner of life is very much alone, but we solace ourselves with the melancholy tunes of our native mountains, and by walking up the margin of the sea that lies next to Scotland. It was better days with me when I lay with five wounds upon my body on the field of Gladsmuir. I have found employment here in the haras of a French nobleman, where my experience is valued. But, my dear Sir, the wages are so exceedingly unsuitable that I would be ashamed to mention them, which makes your remittances the more necessary to my daughter's comfort, though I daresay the sight of old friends would be still better.
"My dear Sir,
Below it began again in the hand of Catriona:-
"Do not be believing him, it is all lies together, - C. M. D."
Not only did she add this postscript, but I think she must have come near suppressing the letter; for it came long after date, and was closely followed by the third. In the time betwixt them, Alan had arrived, and made another life to me with his merry conversation; I had been presented to his cousin of the Scots-Dutch, a man that drank more than I could have thought possible and was not otherwise of interest; I had been entertained to many jovial dinners and given some myself, all with no great change upon my sorrow; and we two (by which I mean Alan and myself, and not at all the cousin) had discussed a good deal the nature of my relations with James More and his daughter. I was naturally diffident to give particulars; and this disposition was not anyway lessened by the nature of Alan's commentary upon those I gave.
"I cannae make heed nor tail of it," he would say, "but it sticks in my mind ye've made a gowk of yourself. There's few people that has had more experience than Alan Breck: and I can never call to mind to have heard tell of a lassie like this one of yours. The way that you tell it, the thing's fair impossible. Ye must have made a terrible hash of the business, David."
"There are whiles that I am of the same mind," said I.
"The strange thing is that ye seem to have a kind of fancy for her too!" said Alan.
"The biggest kind, Alan," said I, "and I think I'll take it to my grave with me."
"Well, ye beat me, whatever!" he would conclude.
I showed him the letter with Catriona's postscript. "And here again!" he cried. "Impossible to deny a kind of decency to this Catriona, and sense forby! As for James More, the man's as boss as a drum; he's just a wame and a wheen words; though I'll can never deny that he fought reasonably well at Gladsmuir, and it's true what he says here about the five wounds. But the loss of him is that the man's boss."
"Ye see, Alan," said I, "it goes against the grain with me to leave the maid in such poor hands."
"Ye couldnae weel find poorer," he admitted. "But what are ye to do with it? It's this way about a man and a woman, ye see, Davie: The weemenfolk have got no kind of reason to them. Either they like the man, and then a' goes fine; or else they just detest him, and ye may spare your breath - ye can do naething. There's just the two sets of them - them that would sell their coats for ye, and them that never look the road ye're on. That's a' that there is to women; and you seem to be such a gomeral that ye cannae tell the tane frae the tither."
"Well, and I'm afraid that's true for me," said I.
"And yet there's naething easier!" cried Alan. "I could easy learn ye the science of the thing; but ye seem to me to be born blind, and there's where the deefficulty comes in."
"And can you no help me?" I asked, "you that are so clever at the trade?"
"Ye see, David, I wasnae here," said he. "I'm like a field officer that has naebody but blind men for scouts and éclaireurs; and what would he ken? But it sticks in my mind that ye'll have made some kind of bauchle; and if I was you I would have a try at her again."
"Would ye so, man Alan?" said I.
"I would e'en't," says he.
The third letter came to my hand while we were deep in some such talk: and it will be seen how pat it fell to the occasion. James professed to be in some concern upon his daughter's health, which I believe was never better; abounded in kind expressions to myself; and finally proposed that I should visit them at Dunkirk.
"You will now be enjoying the society of my old comrade Mr. Stewart," he wrote. "Why not accompany him so far in his return to France? I have something very particular for Mr. Stewart's ear; and, at any rate, I would be pleased to meet in with an old fellow-soldier and one so mettle as himself. As for you, my dear sir, my daughter and I would be proud to receive our benefactor, whom we regard as a brother and a son. The French nobleman has proved a person of the most filthy avarice of character, and I have been necessitate to leave the haras. You will find us in consequence a little poorly lodged in the auberge of a man Bazin on the dunes; but the situation is caller, and I make no doubt but we might spend some very pleasant days, when Mr. Stewart and I could recall our services, and you and my daughter divert yourselves in a manner more befitting your age. I beg at least that Mr. Stewart would come here; my business with him opens a very wide door."
"What does the man want with me?" cried Alan, when he had read. "What he wants with you in clear enough - it's siller. But what can he want with Alan Breck?"
"O, it'll be just an excuse," said I. "He is still after this marriage, which I wish from my heart that we could bring about. And he asks you because he thinks I would be less likely to come wanting you."
"Well, I wish that I kent," says Alan. "Him and me were never onyways pack; we used to girn at ither like a pair of pipers. 'Something for my ear,' quo' he! I'll maybe have something for his hinder-end, before we're through with it. Dod, I'm thinking it would be a kind of divertisement to gang and see what he'll be after! Forby that I could see your lassie then. What say ye, Davie? Will ye ride with Alan?"
You may be sure I was not backward, and Alan's furlough running towards an end, we set forth presently upon this joint adventure.
It was near dark of a January day when we rode at last into the town of Dunkirk. We left our horses at the post, and found a guide to Bazin's Inn, which lay beyond the walls. Night was quite fallen, so that we were the last to leave that fortress, and heard the doors of it close behind us as we passed the bridge. On the other side there lay a lighted suburb, which we thridded for a while, then turned into a dark lane, and presently found ourselves wading in the night among deep sand where we could hear a bullering of the sea. We travelled in this fashion for some while, following our conductor mostly by the sound of his voice; and I had begun to think he was perhaps misleading us, when we came to the top of a small brae, and there appeared out of the darkness a dim light in a window.
"Voilà l'auberge à Bazin," says the guide.
Alan smacked his lips. "An unco lonely bit," said he, and I thought by his tone he was not wholly pleased.
A little after, and we stood in the lower storey of that house, which was all in the one apartment, with a stairs leading to the chambers at the side, benches and tables by the wall, the cooking fire at the one end of it, and shelves of bottles and the cellar-trap at the other. Here Bazin, who was an ill-looking, big man, told us the Scottish gentleman was gone abroad he knew not where, but the young lady was above, and he would call her down to us.
I took from my breast that kerchief wanting the corner, and knotted it about my throat. I could hear my heart go; and Alan patting me on the shoulder with some of his laughable expressions, I could scarce refrain from a sharp word. But the time was not long to wait. I heard her step pass overhead, and saw her on the stair. This she descended very quietly, and greeted me with a pale face and a certain seeming of earnestness, or uneasiness, in her manner that extremely dashed me.
"My father, James More, will be here soon. He will be very pleased to see you," she said. And then of a sudden her face flamed, her eyes lightened, the speech stopped upon her lips; and I made sure she had observed the kerchief. It was only for a breath that she was discomposed; but methought it was with a new animation that she turned to welcome Alan. "And you will be his friend, Alan Breck?" she cried. "Many is the dozen times I will have heard him tell of you; and I love you already for all your bravery and goodness."
"Well, well," says Alan, holding her hand in his and viewing her, "and so this is the young lady at the last of it! David, ye're an awful poor hand of a description."
I do not know that ever I heard him speak so straight to people's hearts; the sound of his voice was like song.
"What? will he have been describing me?" she cried.
"Little else of it since I ever came out of France!" says he, "forby a bit of a speciment one night in Scotland in a shaw of wood by Silvermills. But cheer up, my dear! ye're bonnier than what he said. And now there's one thing sure; you and me are to be a pair of friends. I'm a kind of a henchman to Davie here; I'm like a tyke at his heels; and whatever he cares for, I've got to care for too - and by the holy airn! they've got to care for me! So now you can see what way you stand with Alan Breck, and ye'll find ye'll hardly lose on the transaction. He's no very bonnie, my dear, but he's leal to them he loves."
"I thank you from my heart for your good words," said she. "I have that honour for a brave, honest man that I cannot find any to be answering with."
Using travellers' freedom, we spared to wait for James More, and sat down to meat, we threesome. Alan had Catriona sit by him and wait upon his wants: he made her drink first out of his glass, he surrounded her with continual kind gallantries, and yet never gave me the most small occasion to be jealous; and he kept the talk so much in his own hand, and that in so merry a note, that neither she nor I remembered to be embarrassed. If any had seen us there, it must have been supposed that Alan was the old friend and I the stranger. Indeed, I had often cause to love and to admire the man, but I never loved or admired him better than that night; and I could not help remarking to myself (what I was sometimes rather in danger of forgetting) that he had not only much experience of life, but in his own way a great deal of natural ability besides. As for Catriona, she seemed quite carried away; her laugh was like a peal of bells, her face gay as a May morning; and I own, although I was well pleased, yet I was a little sad also, and thought myself a dull, stockish character in comparison of my friend, and very unfit to come into a young maid's life, and perhaps ding down her gaiety.
But if that was like to be my part, I found that at least I was not alone in it; for, James More returning suddenly, the girl was changed into a piece of stone. Through the rest of that evening, until she made an excuse and slipped to bed, I kept an eye upon her without cease; and I can bear testimony that she never smiled, scarce spoke, and looked mostly on the board in front of her. So that I really marvelled to see so much devotion (as it used to be) changed into the very sickness of hate.
Of James More it is unnecessary to say much; you know the man already, what there was to know of him; and I am weary of writing out his lies. Enough that he drank a great deal, and told us very little that was to any possible purpose. As for the business with Alan, that was to be reserved for the morrow and his private hearing.
It was the more easy to be put off, because Alan and I were pretty weary with four day's ride, and sat not very late after Catriona.
We were soon alone in a chamber where we were to make-shift with a single bed. Alan looked on me with a queer smile.
"Ye muckle ass!" said he.
"What do ye mean by that?" I cried.
"Mean? What do I mean! It's extraordinar, David man," say he, "that you should be so mortal stupit."
Again I begged him to speak out.
"Well, it's this of it," said he. "I told ye there were the two kinds of women - them that would sell their shifts for ye, and the others. Just you try for yoursel, my bonny man! But what's that neepkin at your craig?"
I told him.
"I thocht it was something thereabout" said he.
Nor would he say another word though I besieged him long with importunities.
Chapter XXX: The letter from the ship
Daylight showed us how solitary the inn stood. It was plainly hard upon the sea, yet out of all view of it, and beset on every side with scabbit hills of sand. There was, indeed, only one thing in the nature of a prospect, where there stood out over a brae the two sails of a windmill, like an ass's ears, but with the ass quite hidden. It was strange (after the wind rose, for at first it was dead calm) to see the turning and following of each other of these great sails behind the hillock. Scarce any road came by there; but a number of footways travelled among the bents in all directions up to Mr. Bazin's door. The truth is, he was a man of many trades, not any one of them honest, and the position of his inn was the best of his livelihood. Smugglers frequented it; political agents and forfeited persons bound across the water came there to await their passages; and I daresay there was worse behind, for a whole family might have been butchered in that house and nobody the wiser.
I slept little and ill. Long ere it was day, I had slipped from beside my bedfellow, and was warming myself at the fire or walking to and fro before the door. Dawn broke mighty sullen; but a little after, sprang up a wind out of the west, which burst the clouds, let through the sun, and set the mill to the turning. There was something of spring in the sunshine, or else it was in my heart; and the appearing of the great sails one after another from behind the hill, diverted me extremely. At times I could hear a creak of the machinery; and by half-past eight of the day, and I thought this dreary, desert place was like a paradise.
For all which, as the day drew on and nobody came near, I began to be aware of an uneasiness that I could scarce explain. It seemed there was trouble afoot; the sails of the windmill, as they came up and went down over the hill, were like persons spying; and outside of all fancy, it was surely a strange neighbourhood and house for a young lady to be brought to dwell in.
At breakfast, which we took late, it was manifest that James More was in some danger or perplexity; manifest that Alan was alive to the same, and watched him close; and this appearance of duplicity upon the one side, and vigilance upon the other, held me on live coals. The meal was no sooner over than James seemed to come began to make apologies. He had an appointment of a private nature in the town (it was with the French nobleman, he told me), and we would please excuse him till about noon. Meanwhile he carried his daughter aside to the far end of the room, where he seemed to speak rather earnestly and she to listen with much inclination.
"I am caring less and less about this man James," said Alan. "There's something no right with the man James, and I shouldnae wonder but what Alan Breck would give an eye to him this day. I would like fine to see yon French nobleman, Davie; and I daresay you could find an employ to yoursel, and that would be to speir at the lassie for some news o' your affair. Just tell it to her plainly - tell her ye're a muckle ass at the off-set; and then, if I were you, and ye could do it naitural, I would just mint to her I was in some kind of a danger; a' weemenfolk likes that."
"I cannae lee, Alan, I cannae do it naitural," says I, mocking him.
"The more fool you!" says he. "Then ye'll can tell her that I recommended it; that'll set her to the laughing; and I wouldnae wonder but what that was the next best. But see to the pair of them! If I didnae feel just sure of the lassie, and that she was awful pleased and chief with Alan, I would think there was some kind of hocus-pocus about you."
"And is she so pleased with ye, then, Alan?" I asked.
"She thinks a heap of me," says he. "And I'm no like you: I'm one that can tell. That she does - she thinks a heap of Alan. And troth! I'm thinking a good deal of him mysel; and with your permission, Shaws, I'll be getting a wee yont amang the bents, so that I can see what way James goes."
One after another went, till I was left alone beside the breakfast table; James to Dunkirk, Alan dogging him, Catriona up the stairs to her own chamber. I could very well understand how she should avoid to be alone with me; yet was none the better pleased with it for that, and bent my mind to entrap her to an interview before the men returned. Upon the whole, the best appeared to me to do like Alan. If I was out of view among the sandhills, the fine morning would decoy her forth; and once I had her in the open, I could please myself.
No sooner said than done; nor was I long under the bield of a hillock before she appeared at the inn door, looked here and there, and (seeing nobody) set out by a path that led directly seaward, and by which I followed her. I was in no haste to make my presence known; the further she went I made sure of the longer hearing to my suit; and the ground being all sandy it was easy to follow her unheard. The path rose and came at last to the head of a knowe. Thence I had a picture for the first time of what a desolate wilderness that inn stood hidden in; where was no man to be seen, nor any house of man, except just Bazin's and the windmill. Only a little further on, the sea appeared and two or three ships upon it, pretty as a drawing. One of these was extremely close in to be so great a vessel; and I was aware of a shock of new suspicion, when I recognised the trim of the Seahorse. What should an English ship be doing so near in to France? Why was Alan brought into her neighbourhood, and that in a place so far from any hope of rescue? and was it by accident, or by design, that the daughter of James More should walk that day to the seaside?
Presently I came forth behind her in the front of the sandhills and above the beach. It was here long and solitary; with a man-o'-war's boat drawn up about the middle of the prospect, and an officer in charge and pacing the sands like one who waited. I sat down where the rough grass a good deal covered me, and looked for what should follow. Catriona went straight to the boat; the officer met her with civilities; they had ten words together; I saw a letter changing hands; and there was Catriona returning. At the same time, as if this were all her business on the Continent, the boat shoved off and was headed for the Seahorse. But I observed the officer to remain behind and disappear among the bents.
I liked the business little; and the more I considered of it, liked it less. Was it Alan the officer was seeking? or Catriona? She drew near with her head down, looking constantly on the sand, and made so tender a picture that I could not bear to doubt her innocence. The next, she raised her face and recognised me; seemed to hesitate, and then came on again, but more slowly, and I thought with a changed colour. And at that thought, all else that was upon my bosom - fears, suspicions, the care of my friend's life - was clean swallowed up; and I rose to my feet and stood waiting her in a drunkenness of hope.
I gave her "good morning" as she came up, which she returned with a good deal of composure.
"Will you forgive my having followed you?" said I.
"I know you are always meaning kindly," she replied; and then, with a little outburst, "but why will you be sending money to that man! It must not be."
"I never sent it for him," said I, "but for you, as you know well."
"And you have no right to be sending it to either one of us," she said. "David, it is not right."
"It is not, it is all wrong," said I, "and I pray God he will help this dull fellow (if it be at all possible) to make it better. Catriona, this is no kind of life for you to lead; and I ask your pardon for the word, but yon man is no fit father to take care of you."
"Do not be speaking of him, even!" was her cry.
"And I need speak of him no more; it is not of him that I am thinking, O, be sure of that!" says I. "I think of the one thing. I have been alone now this long time in Leyden; and when I was by way of at my studies, still I was thinking of that. Next Alan came, and I went among soldier-men to their big dinners; and still I had the same thought. And it was the same before, when I had her there beside me. Catriona, do you see this napkin at my throat! You cut a corner from it once and then cast it from you. They're your colours now; I wear them in my heart. My dear, I cannot be wanting you. O, try to put up with me!"
I stepped before her so as to intercept her walking on.
"Try to put up with me," I was saying, "try and bear me with a little."
Still she had never the word, and a fear began to rise in me like a fear of death.
"Catriona," I cried, gazing on her hard, "is it a mistake again? Am I quite lost?"
She raised her face to me, breathless.
"Do you want me, Davie, truly?" said she, and I scarce could hear her say it.
"I do that," said I. "O, sure you know it - I do that."
"I have nothing left to give or to keep back," said she. "I was all yours from the first day, if you would have had a gift of me!" she said,
This was on the summit of a brae; the place was windy and conspicuous, we were to be seen there even from the English ship; but I kneeled down before her in the sand, and embraced her knees, and burst into that storm of weeping that I thought it must have broken me. All thought was wholly beaten from my mind by the vehemency of my discomposure. I knew not where I was. I had forgot why I was happy; only I knew she stooped, and I felt her cherish me to her face and bosom, and heard her words out of a whirl.
"Davie," she was saying, "O, Davie, is this what you think of me! Is it so that you were caring for poor me! O, Davie, Davie!"
With that she wept also, and our tears were commingled in a perfect gladness.
It might have been ten in the day before I came to a clear sense of what a mercy had befallen me; and sitting over against her, with her hands in mine, gazed in her face, and laughed out loud for pleasure like a child, and called her foolish and kind names. I have never seen the place that looked so pretty as those bents by Dunkirk; and the windmill sails, as they bobbed over the knowe, were like a tune of music.
I know not how much longer we might have continued to forget all else besides ourselves, had I not chanced upon a reference to her father, which brought us to reality.
"My little friend," I was calling her again and again, rejoicing to summon up the past by the sound of it, and to gaze across on her, and to be a little distant - "My little friend, now you are mine altogether; mine for good, my little friend and that man's no longer at all."
There came a sudden whiteness in her face, she plucked her hands from mine.
"Davie, take me away from him!" she cried. "There's something wrong; he's not true. There will be something wrong; I have a dreadful terror here at my heart. What will he be wanting at all events with that King's ship? What will this word be saying?" And she held the letter forth. "My mind misgives me, it will be some ill to Alan. Open it, Davie - open it and see."
I took it, and looked at it, and shook my head.
"No," said I, "it goes against me, I cannot open a man's letter."
"Not to save your friend?" she cried.
"I cannae tell," said I. "I think not. If I was only sure!"
"And you have but to break the seal!" said she.
"I know it," said I, "but the thing goes against me."
"Give it here," said she, "and I will open it myself."
"Nor you neither," said I. "You least of all. It concerns your father, and his honour, dear, which we are both misdoubting. No question but the place is dangerous-like, and the English ship being here, and your father having word from it, and yon officer that stayed ashore. He would not be alone either; there must be more along with him; I daresay we are spied upon this minute. Ay, no doubt, the letter should be opened; but somehow, not by you nor me."
I was about thus far with it, and my spirit very much overcome with a sense of danger and hidden enemies, when I spied Alan, come back again from following James and walking by himself among the sand-hills. He was in his soldier's coat, of course, and mighty fine; but I could not avoid to shudder when I thought how little that jacket would avail him, if he were once caught and flung in a skiff, and carried on board of the Seahorse, a deserter, a rebel, and now a condemned murderer.
"There," said I, "there is the man that has the best right to open it: or not, as he thinks fit."
With which I called upon his name, and we both stood up to be a mark for him.
"If it is so - if it be more disgrace - will you can bear it?" she asked, looking upon me with a burning eye.
"I was asked something of the same question when I had seen you but the once," said I. "What do you think I answered? That if I liked you as I thought I did - and O, but I like you better! - I would marry you at his gallows' foot."
The blood rose in her face; she came close up and pressed upon me, holding my hand: and it was so that we awaited Alan.
He came with one of his queer smiles. "What was I telling ye, David?" says he.
"There is a time for all things, Alan," said I, "and this time is serious. How have you sped? You can speak out plain before this friend of ours."
"I have been upon a fool's errand," said he.
"I doubt we have done better than you, then," said I; "and, at least, here is a great deal of matter that you must judge of. Do you see that?" I went on, pointing to the ship. "That is the Seahorse, Captain Palliser."
"I should ken her, too," says Alan. "I had fyke enough with her when she was stationed in the Forth. But what ails the man to come so close?"
"I will tell you why he came there first," said I. "It was to bring this letter to James More. Why he stops here now that it's delivered, what it's likely to be about, why there's an officer hiding in the bents, and whether or not it's probable that he's alone - I would rather you considered for yourself."
"A letter to James More?" said he.
"The same," said I.
"Well, and I can tell ye more than that," said Alan. "For the last night, when you were fast asleep, I heard the man colloguing with some one in the French, and then the door of that inn to be opened and shut."
"Alan!" cried I, "you slept all night, and I am here to prove it."
"Ay, but I would never trust Alan whether he was asleep or waking!" says he. "But the business looks bad. Let's see the letter."
I gave it him.
"Catriona," said he, "you have to excuse me, my dear; but there's nothing less than my fine bones upon the cast of it, and I'll have to break this seal."
"It is my wish," said Catriona.
He opened it, glanced it through, and flung his hand in the air.
"The stinking brock!" says he, and crammed the paper in his pocket. "Here, let's get our things together. This place is fair death to me." And he began to walk towards the inn.
It was Catriona that spoke the first. "He has sold you?" she asked.
"Sold me, my dear," said Alan. "But thanks to you and Davie, I'll can jink him yet. Just let me win upon my horse," he added.
"Catriona must come with us," said I. "She can have no more traffic with that man. She and I are to be married." At which she pressed my hand to her side.
"Are ye there with it?" says Alan, looking back. "The best day's work that ever either of you did yet! And I'm bound to say, my dawtie, ye make a real, bonny couple."
The way that he was following brought us close in by the windmill, where I was aware of a man in seaman's trousers, who seemed to be spying from behind it. Only, of course, we took him in the rear.
"Wheesht!" said, he, "this is my affairs."
The man was, no doubt, a little deafened by the clattering of the mill, and we got up close before he noticed. Then he turned, and we saw he was a big fellow with a mahogany face.
"I think, sir," says Alan, "that you speak the English?"
"Non, monsieur," says he, with an incredible bad accent.
"Non, monsieur," cries Alan, mocking him. "Is that how they learn you French on the Seahorse? Ye muckle, gutsey hash, here's a Scots boot to your English hurdies!"
And bounding on him before he could escape, he dealt the man a kick that laid him on his nose. Then he stood, with a savage smile, and watched him scramble to his feet and scamper off into the sand-hills.
"But it's high time I was clear of these empty bents!" said Alan; and continued his way at top speed, and we still following, to the backdoor of Bazin's inn.
It chanced that as we entered by the one door we came face to face with James More entering by the other.
"Here!" said I to Catriona, "quick! upstairs with you and make your packets; this is no fit scene for you."
In the meanwhile James and Alan had met in the midst of the long room. She passed them close by to reach the stairs; and after she was some way up I saw her turn and glance at them again, though without pausing. Indeed, they were worth looking at. Alan wore as they met one of his best appearances of courtesy and friendliness, yet with something eminently warlike, so that James smelled danger off the man, as folk smell fire in a house, and stood prepared for accidents.
Time pressed. Alan's situation in that solitary place, and his enemies about him, might have daunted Caesar. It made no change in him; and it was in his old spirit of mockery and daffing that he began the interview.
"A braw good day to ye again, Mr. Drummond," said he. "What'll yon business of yours be just about?"
"Why, the thing being private, and rather of a long story," says James, "I think it will keep very well till we have eaten."
"I'm none so sure of that," said Alan. "It sticks in my mind it's either now or never; for the fact is me and Mr. Balfour here have gotten a line, and we're thinking of the road."
I saw a little surprise in James's eye; but he held himself stoutly.
"I have but the one word to say to cure you of that," said he, "and that is the name of my business."
"Say it then," says Alan. "Hout! wha minds for Davie?"
"It is a matter that would make us both rich men," said James.
"Do you tell me that?" cries Alan.
"I do, sir," said James. "The plain fact is that it is Cluny's Treasure."
"No!" cried Alan. "Have ye got word of it?"
"I ken the place, Mr. Stewart, and can take you there," said James.
"This crowns all!" says Alan. "Well, and I'm glad I came to Dunkirk. And so this was your business, was it? Halvers, I'm thinking?"
"That is the business, sir," said James.
"Well, well," said Alan; and then in the same tone of childlike interest, "it has naething to do with the Seahorse, then?" he asked,
"With what?" says James.
"Or the lad that I have just kicked the bottom of behind yon windmill?" pursued Alan. "Hut, man! have done with your lees! I have Palliser's letter here in my pouch. You're by with it, James More. You can never show your face again with dacent folk."
James was taken all aback with it. He stood a second, motionless and white, then swelled with the living anger.
"Do you talk to me, you bastard?" he roared out.
"Ye glee'd swine!" cried Alan, and hit him a sounding buffet on the mouth, and the next wink of time their blades clashed together.
At the first sound of the bare steel I instinctively leaped back from the collision. The next I saw, James parried a thrust so nearly that I thought him killed; and it lowed up in my mind that this was the girl's father, and in a manner almost my own, and I drew and ran in to sever them.
"Keep back, Davie! Are ye daft! Damn ye, keep back!" roared Alan. "Your blood be on your ain heid then!"
I beat their blades down twice. I was knocked reeling against the wall; I was back again betwixt them. They took no heed of me, thrusting at each other like two furies. I can never think how I avoided being stabbed myself or stabbing one of these two Rodomonts, and the whole business turned about me like a piece of a dream; in the midst of which I heard a great cry from the stair, and Catriona sprang before her father. In the same moment the point of my sword encountered some thing yielding. It came back to me reddened. I saw the blood flow on the girl's kerchief, and stood sick.
"Will you be killing him before my eyes, and me his daughter after all!" she cried.
"My dear, I have done with him," said Alan, and went, and sat on a table, with his arms crossed and the sword naked in his hand.
Awhile she stood before the man, panting, with big eyes, then swung suddenly about and faced him.
"Begone!" was her word, "take your shame out of my sight; leave me with clean folk. I am a daughter of Alpin! Shame of the sons of Alpin, begone!"
It was said with so much passion as awoke me from the horror of my own bloodied sword. The two stood facing, she with the red stain on her kerchief, he white as a rag. I knew him well enough - I knew it must have pierced him in the quick place of his soul; but he betook himself to a bravado air.
"Why," says he, sheathing his sword, though still with a bright eye on Alan, "if this brawl is over I will but get my portmanteau - "
"There goes no pockmantie out of this place except with me," says Alan.
"Sir!" cries James.
"James More," says Alan, "this lady daughter of yours is to marry my friend Davie, upon the which account I let you pack with a hale carcase. But take you my advice of it and get that carcase out of harm's way or ower late. Little as you suppose it, there are leemits to my temper."
"Be damned, sir, but my money's there!" said James.
"I'm vexed about that, too," says Alan, with his funny face, "but now, ye see, it's mines." And then with more gravity, "Be you advised, James More, you leave this house."
James seemed to cast about for a moment in his mind; but it's to be thought he had enough of Alan's swordsmanship, for he suddenly put off his hat to us and (with a face like one of the damned) bade us farewell in a series. With which he was gone.
At the same time a spell was lifted from me.
"Catriona," I cried, "it was me - it was my sword. O, are you much hurt?"
"I know it, Davie, I am loving you for the pain of it; it was done defending that bad man, my father. See!" she said, and showed me a bleeding scratch, "see, you have made a man of me now. I will carry a wound like an old soldier."
Joy that she should be so little hurt, and the love of her brave nature, supported me. I embraced her, I kissed the wound.
"And am I to be out of the kissing, me that never lost a chance?" says Alan; and putting me aside and taking Catriona by either shoulder, "My dear," he said, "you're a true daughter of Alpin. By all accounts, he was a very fine man, and he may weel be proud of you. If ever I was to get married, it's the marrow of you I would be seeking for a mother to my sons. And I bear's a king's name and speak the truth."
He said it with a serious heat of admiration that was honey to the girl, and through her, to me. It seemed to wipe us clean of all James More's disgraces. And the next moment he was just himself again.
"And now by your leave, my dawties," said he, "this is a' very bonny; but Alan Breck'll be a wee thing nearer to the gallows than he's caring for; and Dod! I think this is a grand place to be leaving."
The word recalled us to some wisdom. Alan ran upstairs and returned with our saddle-bags and James More's portmanteau; I picked up Catriona's bundle where she had dropped it on the stair; and we were setting forth out of that dangerous house, when Bazin stopped the way with cries and gesticulations. He had whipped under a table when the swords were drawn, but now he was as bold as a lion. There was his bill to be settled, there was a chair broken, Alan had sat among his dinner things, James More had fled.
"Here," I cried, "pay yourself," and flung him down some Lewie d'ors; for I thought it was no time to be accounting.
He sprang upon that money, and we passed him by, and ran forth into the open. Upon three sides of the house were seamen hasting and closing in; a little nearer to us James More waved his hat as if to hurry them; and right behind him, like some foolish person holding up his hands, were the sails of the windmill turning.
Alan gave but one glance, and laid himself down to run. He carried a great weight in James More's portmanteau; but I think he would as soon have lost his life as cast away that booty which was his revenge; and he ran so that I was distressed to follow him, and marvelled and exulted to see the girl bounding at my side.
As soon as we appeared, they cast off all disguise upon the other side; and the seamen pursued us with shouts and view-hullohs. We had a start of some two hundred yards, and they were but bandy-legged tarpaulins after all, that could not hope to better us at such an exercise. I suppose they were armed, but did not care to use their pistols on French ground. And as soon as I perceived that we not only held our advantage but drew a little away, I began to feel quite easy of the issue. For all which, it was a hot, brisk bit of work, so long as it lasted; Dunkirk was still far off; and when we popped over a knowe, and found a company of the garrison marching on the other side on some manoeuvre, I could very well understand the word that Alan had.
He stopped running at once; and mopping at his brow, "They're a real bonny folk, the French nation," says he.
No sooner were we safe within the walls of Dunkirk than we held a very necessary council-of-war on our position. We had taken a daughter from her father at the sword's point; any judge would give her back to him at once, and by all likelihood clap me and Alan into jail; and though we had an argument upon our side in Captain Palliser's letter, neither Catriona nor I were very keen to be using it in public. Upon all accounts it seemed the most prudent to carry the girl to Paris to the hands of her own chieftain, Macgregor of Bohaldie, who would be very willing to help his kinswoman, on the one hand, and not at all anxious to dishonour James upon other.
We made but a slow journey of it up, for Catriona was not so good at the riding as the running, and had scarce sat in the saddle since the 'Forty-five. But we made it out at last, reached Paris early of a Sabbath morning, and made all speed, under Alan's guidance, to find Bohaldie. He was finely lodged, and lived in a good style, having a pension on the Scots Fund, as well as private means; greeted Catriona like one of his own house, and seemed altogether very civil and discreet, but not particularly open. We asked of the news of James More. "Poor James!" said he, and shook his head and smiled, so that I thought he knew further than he meant to tell. Then we showed him Palliser's letter, and he drew a long face at that.
"Poor James!" said he again. "Well, there are worse folk than James More, too. But this is dreadful bad. Tut, tut, he must have forgot himself entirely! This is a most undesirable letter. But, for all that, gentlemen, I cannot see what we would want to make it public for. It's an ill bird that fouls his own nest, and we are all Scots folk and all Hieland."
Upon this we all agreed, save perhaps Alan; and still more upon the question of our marriage, which Bohaldie took in his own hands, as though there had been no such person as James More, and gave Catriona away with very pretty manners and agreeable compliments in French. It was not till all was over, and our healths drunk, that he told us James was in that city, whither he had preceded us some days, and where he now lay sick, and like to die. I thought I saw by my wife's face what way her inclination pointed.
"And let us go see him, then," said I.
"If it is your pleasure," said Catriona. These were early days.
He was lodged in the same quarter of the city with his chief, in a great house upon a corner; and we were guided up to the garret where he lay by the sound of Highland piping. It seemed he had just borrowed a set of them from Bohaldie to amuse his sickness; though he was no such hand as was his brother Rob, he made good music of the kind; and it was strange to observe the French folk crowding on the stairs, and some of them laughing. He lay propped in a pallet. The first look of him I saw he was upon his last business; and, doubtless, this was a strange place for him to die in. But even now I find I can scarce dwell upon his end with patience. Doubtless, Bohaldie had prepared him; he seemed to know we were married, complimented us on the event, and gave us a benediction like a patriarch.
"I have been never understood," said he. "I forgive you both without an afterthought;" after which he spoke for all the world in his old manner, was so obliging as to play us a tune or two upon his pipes, and borrowed a small sum before I left.
I could not trace even a hint of shame in any part of his behaviour; but he was great upon forgiveness; it seemed always fresh to him. I think he forgave me every time we met; and when after some four days he passed away in a kind of odour of affectionate sanctity, I could have torn my hair out for exasperation. I had him buried; but what to put upon his tomb was quite beyond me, till at last I considered the date would look best alone.
I thought it wiser to resign all thoughts of Leyden, where we had
appeared once as brother and sister, and it would certainly look strange to
return in a new character. Scotland would be doing for us; and thither, after I
had recovered that which I had left behind, we sailed in a Low Country
And now, Miss Barbara Balfour (to set the ladies first), and Mr. Alan Balfour younger of Shaws, here is the story brought fairly to an end. A great many of the folk that took a part in it, you will find (if you think well) that you have seen and spoken with. Alison Hastie in Limekilns was the lass that rocked your cradle when you were too small to know of it, and walked abroad with you in the policy when you were bigger. That very fine great lady that is Miss Barbara's name-mamma is no other than the same Miss Grant that made so much a fool of David Balfour in the house of the Lord Advocate. And I wonder whether you remember a little, lean, lively gentleman in a scratch-wig and a wraprascal, that came to Shaws very late of a dark night, and whom you were awakened out of your beds and brought down to the dining-hall to be presented to, by the name of Mr. Jamieson? Or has Alan forgotten what he did at Mr. Jamieson's request - a most disloyal act - for which, by the letter of the law, he might be hanged - no less than drinking the king's health across the water? These were strange doings in a good Whig house! But Mr. Jamieson is a man privileged, and might set fire to my corn-barn; and the name they know him by now in France is the Chevalier Stewart.
As for Davie and Catriona, I shall watch you pretty close in the next days, and see if you are so bold as to be laughing at papa and mamma. It is true we were not so wise as we might have been, and made a great deal of sorrow out of nothing; but you will find as you grow up that even the artful Miss Barbara, and even the valiant Mr. Alan, will be not so very much wiser than their parents. For the life of man upon this world of ours is a funny business. They talk of the angels weeping; but I think they must more often be holding their sides as they look on; and there was one thing I determined to do when I began this long story, and that was to tell out everything as it befell.