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Chapter 12

ON THE MARCH AGAIN WITH ALAN


It was likely between one and two; the moon (as I have said) was down; a
strongish wind, carrying a heavy wrack of cloud, had set in suddenly
from the west; and we began our movement in as black a night as ever a
fugitive or a murderer wanted. The whiteness of the path guided us into
the sleeping town of Broughton, thence through Picardy, and beside my
old acquaintance the gibbet of the two thieves. A little beyond we made
a useful beacon, which was a light in an upper window of Lochend.
Steering by this, but a good deal at random, and with some trampling of
the harvest, and stumbling and falling down upon the banks, we made our
way across country, and won forth at last upon the linky, boggy muirland
that they call the Figgate Whins. Here, under a bush of whin, we lay
down the remainder of that night and slumbered.

The day called us about five. A beautiful morning it was, the high
westerly wind still blowing strong, but the clouds all blown away to
Europe. Alan was already sitting up and smiling to himself. It was my
first sight of my friend since we were parted, and I looked upon him
with enjoyment. He had still the same big great-coat on his back; but
(what was new) he had now a pair of knitted boot-hose drawn above the
knee. Doubtless these were intended for disguise; but, as the day
promised to be warm, he made a most unseasonable figure.

"Well, Davie," said he, "is this no a bonny morning? Here is a day that
looks the way that a day ought to. This is a great change of it from the
belly of my haystack; and while you were there sottering and sleeping I
have done a thing that maybe I do over seldom."

"And what was that?" said I.

"O, just said my prayers," said he.

"And where are my gentry, as ye call them?" I asked.

"Gude kens," says he; "and the short and the long of it is that we must
take our chance of them. Up with your foot-soles, Davie! Forth, Fortune,
once again of it! And a bonny walk we are like to have."

So we went east by the beach of the sea, towards where the salt-pans
were smoking in by the Esk mouth. No doubt there was a by-ordinary bonny
blink of morning sun on Arthur's Seat and the green Pentlands; and the
pleasantness of the day appeared to set Alan among nettles.

"I feel like a gomeral," says he, "to be leaving Scotland on a day like
this. It sticks in my head; I would maybe like it better to stay here
and hing."

"Ay, but ye wouldnae, Alan," said I.

"No but what France is a good place too," he explained; "but it's some
way no the same. It's brawer, I believe, but it's no Scotland. I like it
fine when I'm there, man; yet I kind of weary for Scots divots and the
Scots peat-reek."

"If that's all you have to complain of, Alan, it's no such great
affair," said I.

"And it sets me ill to be complaining, whatever," said he, "and me but
new out of yon de'il's haystack."

"And so you were unco' weary of your haystack?" I asked.

"Weary's nae word for it," said he. "I'm not just precisely a man that's
easily cast down; but I do better with caller air and the lift above my
head. I'm like the auld Black Douglas (wasnae't?) that likit better to
hear the laverock sing than the mouse cheep. And yon place, ye see,
Davie--whilk was a very suitable place to hide in, as I'm free to
own--was pit mirk from dawn to gloaming. There were days (or nights, for
how would I tell one from other?) that seemed to me as long as a long
winter."

"How did you know the hour to bide your tryst?" I asked.

"The goodman brought me my meat and a drop brandy, and a candle-dowp to
eat it by, about eleeven," said he. "So, when I had swallowed a bit, it
would be time to be getting to the wood. There I lay and wearied for ye
sore, Davie," says he, laying his hand on my shoulder, "and guessed when
the two hours would be about by--unless Charlie Stewart would come and
tell me on his watch--and then back to the dooms haystack. Na, it was a
driech employ, and praise the Lord that I have warstled through with
it!"

"What did you do with yourself?" I asked.

"Faith," said he, "the best I could! Whiles I played at the
knucklebones. I'm an extraordinar good hand at the knucklebones, but
it's a poor piece of business playing with naebody to admire ye. And
whiles I would make songs."

"What were they about?" says I.

"O, about the deer and the heather," says he, "and about the ancient old
chiefs that are all by with it long syne, and just about what songs are
about in general. And then whiles I would make believe I had a set of
pipes and I was playing. I played some grand springs, and I thought I
played them awful bonny; I vow whiles that I could hear the squeal of
them! But the great affair is that it's done with."

With that he carried me again to my adventures, which he heard all over
again with more particularity, and extraordinary approval, swearing at
intervals that I was "a queer character of a callant."

"So ye were frich'ened of Sym Fraser?" he asked once.

"In troth was I!" cried I.

"So would I have been, Davie," said he. "And that is indeed a dreidful
man. But it is only proper to give the de'il his due; and I can tell you
he is a most respectable person on the field of war."

"Is he so brave?" I asked.

"Brave!" said he. "He is as brave as my steel sword."

The story of my duel set him beside himself.

"To think of that!" he cried. "I showed ye the trick in Corrynakiegh
too. And three times--three times disarmed! It's a disgrace upon my
character that learned ye! Here, stand up, out with your airn; ye shall
walk no step beyond this place upon the road till ye can do yoursel' and
me mair credit."

"Alan," said I, "this is midsummer madness. Here is no time for fencing
lessons."

"I cannae well say no to that," he admitted. "But three times, man! And
you standing there like a straw bogle and rinning to fetch your ain
sword like a doggie with a pocket-napkin! David, this man Duncansby must
be something altogether by-ordinar! He maun be extraordinar skilly. If I
had the time, I would gang straight back and try a turn at him mysel'.
The man must be a provost."

"You silly fellow," said I, "you forget it was just me."

"Na," said he, "but three times!"

"When ye ken yourself that I am fair incompetent," I cried.

"Well, I never heard tell the equal of it," said he.

"I promise you the one thing, Alan," said I. "The next time that we
forgather, I'll be better learned. You shall not continue to bear the
disgrace of a friend that cannot strike."

"Ay, the next time!" says he. "And when will that be, I would like to
ken?"

"Well, Alan, I have had some thoughts of that, too," said I; "and my
plan is this. It's my opinion to be called an advocate."

"That's but a weary trade, Davie," says Alan, "and rather a blagyard one
forby. Ye would be better in a king's coat than that."

"And no doubt that would be the way to have us meet," cried I. "But as
you'll be in King Lewie's coat, and I'll be in King Geordie's, we'll
have a dainty meeting of it."

"There's some sense in that," he admitted.

"An advocate, then, it'll have to be," I continued, "and I think it a
more suitable trade for a gentleman that was _three times_ disarmed. But
the beauty of the thing is this: that one of the best colleges for that
kind of learning--and the one where my kinsman, Pilrig, made his
studies--is the college of Leyden in Holland. Now, what say you, Alan?
Could not a cadet of _Royal Ecossais_ get a furlough, slip over the
marches, and call in upon a Leyden student!"

"Well, and I would think he could!" cried he. "Ye see, I stand well in
with my colonel, Count Drummond-Melfort; and, what's mair to the
purpose, I have a cousin of mine lieutenant-colonel in a regiment of the
Scots-Dutch. Naething could be mair proper than what I would get a leave
to see Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart of Halkett's. And Lord Melfort, who is
a very scienteefic kind of a man, and writes books like Cęsar, would be
doubtless very pleased to have the advantage of my observes."

"Is Lord Melfort an author, then?" I asked, for much as Alan thought of
soldiers, I thought more of the gentry that write books.

"The very same, Davie," said he. "One would think a colonel would have
something better to attend to. But what can I say that make songs?"

"Well, then," said I, "it only remains you should give me an address to
write you at in France; and as soon as I am got to Leyden I will send
you mine."

"The best will be to write me in the care of my chieftain," said he,
"Charles Stewart, of Ardsheil, Esquire, at the town of Melons, in the
Isle of France. It might take long, or it might take short, but it would
aye get to my hands at the last of it."

We had a haddock to our breakfast in Musselburgh, where it amused me
vastly to hear Alan. His great-coat and boot-hose were extremely
remarkable this warm morning, and perhaps some hint of an explanation
had been wise; but Alan went into that matter like a business, or I
should rather say, like a diversion. He engaged the goodwife of the
house with some compliments upon the rizzoring of our haddocks; and the
whole of the rest of our stay held her in talk about a cold he had taken
on his stomach, gravely relating all manner of symptoms and sufferings,
and hearing with a vast show of interest all the old wives' remedies she
could supply him with in return.

We left Musselburgh before the first ninepenny coach was due from
Edinburgh, for (as Alan said) that was a rencounter we might very well
avoid. The wind, although still high, was very mild, the sun shone
strong, and Alan began to suffer in proportion. From Prestonpans he had
me aside to the field of Gladsmuir, where he exerted himself a great
deal more than needful to describe the stages of the battle. Thence, at
his old round pace, we travelled to Cockenzie. Though they were building
herring-busses there at Mrs. Cadell's, it seemed a desert-like,
back-going town, about half full of ruined houses; but the ale-house was
clean, and Alan, who was now in a glowing heat, must indulge himself
with a bottle of ale, and carry on to the new luckie with the old story
of the cold upon his stomach, only now the symptoms were all different.

I sat listening; and it came in my mind that I had scarce ever heard him
address three serious words to any woman, but he was always drolling and
fleering and making a private mock of them, and yet brought to that
business a remarkable degree of energy and interest. Something to this
effect I remarked to him, when the good wife (as chanced) was called
away.

"What do ye want?" says he. "A man should aye put his best foot forrit
with the womenkind; he should aye give them a bit of a story to divert
them, the poor lambs! It's what ye should learn to attend to, David; ye
should get the principles, it's like a trade. Now, if this had been a
young lassie, or onyways bonnie, she would never have heard tell of my
stomach, Davie. But aince they're too old to be seeking joes, they a'
set up to be apotecaries. Why? What do I ken? They'll be just the way
God made them, I suppose. But I think a man would be a gomeral that
didnae give his attention to the same."

And here, the luckie coming back, he turned from me as if with
impatience to renew their former conversation. The lady had branched
some while before from Alan's stomach to the case of a goodbrother of
her own in Aberlady, whose last sickness and demise she was describing
at extraordinary length. Sometimes it was merely dull, sometimes both
dull and awful, for she talked with unction. The upshot was that I fell
in a deep muse, looking forth of the window on the road, and scarce
marking what I saw. Presently had any been looking they might have seen
me to start.

"We pit a fomentation to his feet," the goodwife was saying, "and a het
stane to his wame, and we gied him hyssop and water of pennyroyal, and
fine, clean balsam of sulphur for the hoast...."

"Sir," says I, cutting very quietly in, "there's a friend of mine gone
by the house."

"Is that e'en sae?" replies Alan, as though it were a thing of
small-account. And then, "Ye were saying, mem?" says he; and the
wearyful wife went on.

Presently, however, he paid her with a half-crown piece, and she must go
forth after the change.

"Was it him with the red head?" asked Alan.

"Ye have it," said I.

"What did I tell you in the wood?" he cried. "And yet it's strange he
should be here too! Was he his lane?"

"His lee-lane for what I could see," said I.

"Did he gang by?" he asked.

"Straight by," said I, "and looked neither to the right nor left."

"And that's queerer yet," said Alan. "It sticks in my mind, Davie, that
we should be stirring. But where to?--deil hae't! This is like old days
fairly," cries he.

"There is one big differ, though," said I, "that now we have money in
our pockets."

"And another big differ, Mr. Balfour," says he, "that now we have dogs
at our tail. They're on the scent; they're in full cry, David. It's a
bad business and be damned to it." And he sat thinking hard with a look
of his that I knew well.

"I'm saying, Luckie," says he, when the goodwife returned, "have ye a
back road out of this change house?"

She told him there was and where it led to.

"Then, sir," says he to me, "I think that will be the shortest road for
us. And here's good-bye to ye, my braw woman; and I'll no forget thon of
the cinnamon water."

We went out by way of the woman's kale yard, and up a lane among fields.
Alan looked sharply to all sides, and seeing we were in a little hollow
place of the country, out of view of men, sat down.

"Now for a council of war, Davie," said he. "But first of all, a bit
lesson to ye. Suppose that I had been like you, what would yon old wife
have minded of the pair of us? Just that we had gone out by the back
gate. And what does she mind now? A fine, canty, friendly, cracky man,
that suffered with the stomach, poor body! and was real ta'en up about
the goodbrother. O man, David, try and learn to have some kind of
intelligence!"

"I'll try, Alan," said I.

"And now for him of the red head," says he; "was he gaun fast or slow?"

"Betwixt and between," said I.

"No kind of a hurry about the man?" he asked.

"Never a sign of it," said I.

"Nhm!" said Alan, "it looks queer. We saw nothing of them this morning
on the Whins; he's passed us by, he doesnae seem to be looking, and yet
here he is on our road! Dod, Davie, I begin to take a notion. I think
it's no you they're seeking, I think it's me; and I think they ken fine
where they're gaun."

"They ken?" I asked.

"I think Andie Scougal's sold me--him or his mate wha kent some part of
the affair--or else Chairlie's clerk callant, which would be a pity
too," says Alan; "and if you askit me for just my inward private
conviction, I think there'll be heads cracked on Gillane sands."

"Alan," I cried, "if you're at all right there'll be folk there and to
spare. It'll be small service to crack heads."

"It would aye be a satisfaction though," says Alan. "But bide a bit,
bide a bit; I'm thinking--and thanks to this bonny westland wind, I
believe I've still a chance of it. It's this way, Davie. I'm no trysted
with this man Scougal till the gloaming comes. _But_," says he, "_if I
can get a bit of a wind out of the west I'll be there long or that_," he
says, "_and lie-to for ye behind the Isle of Fidra_. Now if your gentry
kens the place, they ken the time forbye. Do ye see me coming, Davie?
Thanks to Johnnie Cope and other red-coat gomerals, I should ken this
country like the back of my hand; and if ye're ready for another bit run
with Alan Breck, we'll can cast back inshore, and come down to the
seaside again by Dirleton. If the ship's there, we'll try and get on
board of her. If she's no there, I'll just have to get back to my weary
haystack. But either way of it, I think we will leave your gentry
whistling on their thumbs."

"I believe there's some chance in it," said I. "Have on with ye, Alan!"

Robert Louis Stevenson

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