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Chapter 13

GILLANE SANDS


I did not profit by Alan's pilotage as he had done by his marchings
under General Cope; for I can scarce tell what way we went. It is my
excuse that we travelled exceeding fast. Some part we ran, some trotted,
and the rest walked at a vengeance of a pace. Twice, while we were at
top speed, we ran against country-folk; but though we plumped into the
first from round a corner, Alan was as ready as a loaded musket.

"Hae ye seen my horse?" he gasped.

"Na, man, I haenae seen nae horse the day," replied the countryman.

And Alan spared the time to explain to him that we were travelling "ride
and tie"; that our charger had escaped, and it was feared he had gone
home to Linton. Not only that, but he expended some breath (of which he
had not very much left) to curse his own misfortune and my stupidity
which was said to be its cause.

"Them that cannae tell the truth," he observed to myself as we went on
again, "should be aye mindfu' to leave an honest, handy lee behind them.
If folk dinnae ken what ye're doing, Davie, they're terrible taken up
with it; but if they think they ken, they care nae mair for it than what
I do for pease porridge."

As we had first made inland, so our road came in the end to lie very
near due north; the old Kirk of Aberlady for a landmark on the left; on
the right, the top of the Berwick Law; and it was thus we struck the
shore again, not far from Dirleton. From North Berwick west to Gillane
Ness there runs a string of four small islets, Craiglieth, the Lamb,
Fidra, and Eyebrough, notable by their diversity of size and shape.
Fidra is the most particular, being a strange grey islet of two humps,
made the more conspicuous by a piece of ruin; and I mind that (as we
drew closer to it) by some door or window of these ruins the sea peeped
through like a man's eye. Under the lee of Fidra there is a good
anchorage in westerly winds, and there, from a far way off, we could see
the _Thistle_ riding.

The shore in face of these islets is altogether waste. Here is no
dwelling of man, and scarce any passage, or at most of vagabond children
running at their play. Gillane is a small place on the far side of the
Ness, the folk of Dirleton go to their business in the inland fields,
and those of North Berwick straight to the sea-fishing from their haven;
so that few parts of the coast are lonelier. But I mind, as we crawled
upon our bellies into that multiplicity of heights and hollows, keeping
a bright eye upon all sides, and our hearts hammering at our ribs, there
was such a shining of the sun and the sea, such a stir of the wind in
the bent grass, and such a bustle of down-popping rabbits and up-flying
gulls, that the desert seemed to me like a place alive. No doubt it was
in all ways well chosen for a secret embarcation, if the secret had been
kept; and even now that it was out, and the place watched, we were able
to creep unperceived to the front of the sandhills, where they look down
immediately on the beach and sea.

But here Alan came to a full stop.

"Davie," said he, "this is a kittle passage! As long as we lie here
we're safe; but I'm nane sae muckle nearer to my ship or the coast of
France. And as soon as we stand up and signal the brig, it's another
matter. For where will your gentry be, think ye?"

"Maybe they're no come yet," said I. "And even if they are, there's one
clear matter in our favour. They'll be all arranged to take us, that's
true. But they'll have arranged for our coming from the east, and here
we are upon their west."

"Ay," says Alan, "I wish we were in some force, and this was a battle,
we would have bonnily out-manoeuvred them! But it isnae, Davit; and the
way it is, is a wee thing less inspiring to Alan Breck. I swither,
Davie."

"Time flies, Alan," said I.

"I ken that," said Alan. "I ken naething else, as the French folk say.
But this is a dreidful case of heids or tails. O! if I could but ken
where your gentry were!"

"Alan," said I, "this is no like you. It's got to be now or never."

"This is no me, quo' he,"

sang Alan, with a queer face betwixt shame and drollery.

"Neither you nor me, quo' he, neither you nor me,
Wow, na, Johnnie man! neither you nor me."

And then of a sudden he stood straight up where he was, and with a
handkerchief flying in his right hand, marched down upon the beach. I
stood up myself, but lingered behind him, scanning the sandhills to the
east. His appearance was at first unremarked: Scougal not expecting him
so early, and _my gentry_ watching on the other side. Then they awoke on
board the _Thistle_, and it seemed they had all in readiness, for there
was scarce a second's bustle on the deck before we saw a skiff put round
her stern and begin to pull lively for the coast. Almost at the same
moment of time, and perhaps half a mile away towards Gillane Ness, the
figure of a man appeared for a blink upon a sandhill, waving with his
arms; and though he was gone again in the same flash, the gulls in that
part continued a little longer to fly wild.

Alan had not seen this, looking straight to seaward at the ship and
skiff.

"It maun be as it will!" said he, when I had told him. "Weel may yon
boatie row, or my craig'll have to thole a raxing."

That part of the beach was long and flat, and excellent walking when the
tide was down; a little cressy burn flowed over it in one place to the
sea; and the sandhills ran along the head of it like the rampart of a
town. No eye of ours could spy what was passing behind there in the
bents, no hurry of ours could mend the speed of the boat's coming: time
stood still with us through that uncanny period of waiting.

"There is one thing I would like to ken," says Alan. "I would like fine
to ken these gentry's orders. We're worth four hunner pound the pair of
us: how if they took the guns to us, Davie? They would get a bonny shot
from the top of that lang sandy bank."

"Morally impossible," said I. "The point is that they can have no guns.
This thing has been gone about too secret; pistols they may have, but
never guns."

"I believe ye'll be in the right," says Alan. "For all which I am
wearying a good deal for yon boat."

And he snapped his fingers and whistled to it like a dog.

It was now perhaps a third of the way in, and we ourselves already hard
on the margin of the sea, so that the soft sand rose over my shoes.
There was no more to do whatever but to wait, to look as much as we were
able at the creeping nearer of the boat, and as little as we could
manage at the long impenetrable front of the sandhills, over which the
gulls twinkled and behind which our enemies were doubtless marshalling.

"This is a fine, bright, caller place to get shot in," says Alan,
suddenly; "and, man, I wish that I had your courage!"

"Alan!" I cried, "what kind of talk is this of it? You're just made of
courage; it's the character of the man, as I could prove myself if there
was nobody else."

"And you would be the more mistaken," said he. "What makes the differ
with me is just my great penetration and knowledge of affairs. But for
auld, cauld, dour, deidly courage, I am not fit to hold a candle to
yourself. Look at us two here upon the sands. Here am I, fair hotching
to be off; here's you (for all that I ken) in two minds of it whether
you'll no stop. Do you think that I could do that, or would? No me!
Firstly, because I havenae got the courage and wouldnae daur; and
secondly, because I am a man of so much penetration and would see ye
damned first."

"It's there ye're coming, is it?" I cried. "Ah, man Alan, you can wile
your old wives, but you never can wile me."

Remembrance of my temptation in the wood made me strong as iron.

"I have a tryst to keep," I continued. "I am trysted with your cousin
Charlie; I have passed my word."

"Braw trysts that you'll can keep," said Alan. "Ye'll just mistryst
aince and for a' with the gentry in the bents. And what for?" he went on
with an extreme threatening gravity. "Just tell me that, my mannie! Are
ye to be speerited away like Lady Grange? Are they to drive a dirk in
your inside and bury ye in the bents? Or is it to be the other way, and
are they to bring ye in with James? Are they folk to be trustit? Would
ye stick your head in the mouth of Sim Fraser and the ither Whigs?" he
added with extraordinary bitterness.

"Alan," cried I, "they're all rogues and liars, and I'm with ye there.
The more reason there should be one decent man in such a land of
thieves! My word is passed, and I'll stick to it. I said long syne to
your kinswoman that I would stumble at no risk. Do ye mind of that?--the
night Red Colin fell, it was. No more I will, then. Here I stop.
Prestongrange promised me my life; if he's to be mansworn, here I'll
have to die."

"Aweel, aweel," said Alan.

All this time we had seen or heard no more of our pursuers. In truth we
had caught them unawares; their whole party (as I was to learn
afterwards) had not yet reached the scene; what there was of them was
spread among the bents towards Gillane. It was quite an affair to call
them in and bring them over, and the boat was making speed. They were
besides but cowardly fellows: a mere leash of Highland cattle thieves,
of several clans, no gentleman there to be the captain: and the more
they looked at Alan and me upon the beach, the less (I must suppose)
they liked the looks of us.

Whoever had betrayed Alan it was not the captain: he was in the skiff
himself, steering and stirring up his oarsmen, like a man with his heart
in his employ. Already he was near in, and the boat scouring--already
Alan's face had flamed crimson with the excitement of his deliverance,
when our friends in the bents, either in despair to see their prey
escape them or with some hope of scaring Andie, raised suddenly a shrill
cry of several voices.

This sound, arising from what appeared to be a quite deserted coast, was
really very daunting, and the men in the boat held water instantly.

"What's this of it?" sings out the captain, for he was come within an
easy hail.

"Freens o' mine," says Alan, and began immediately to wade forth in the
shallow water towards the boat. "Davie," he said, pausing, "Davie, are
ye no coming? I am swier to leave ye."

"Not a hair of me," said I.

He stood part of a second where he was to his knees in the salt water,
hesitating.

"He that will to Cupar, maun to Cupar," said he, and swashing in deeper
than his waist, was hauled into the skiff, which was immediately
directed for the ship.

I stood where he had left me, with my hands behind my back; Alan sat
with his head turned watching me; and the boat drew smoothly away. Of a
sudden I came the nearest hand to shedding tears, and seemed to myself
the most deserted, solitary lad in Scotland. With that I turned my back
upon the sea and faced the sand hills. There was no sight or sound of
man; the sun shone on the wet sand and the dry, the wind blew in the
bents, the gulls made a dreary piping. As I passed higher up the beach,
the sand-lice were hopping nimbly about the stranded tangles. The devil
any other sight or sound in that unchancy place. And yet I knew there
were folk there, observing me, upon some secret purpose. They were no
soldiers, or they would have fallen on and taken us ere now; doubtless
they were some common rogues hired for my undoing, perhaps to kidnap,
perhaps to murder me outright. From the position of those engaged, the
first was the more likely; from what I knew of their character and
ardency in this business, I thought the second very possible; and the
blood ran cold about my heart.

I had a mad idea to loosen my sword in the scabbard; for though I was
very unfit to stand up like a gentleman blade to blade, I thought I
could do some scathe in a random combat. But I perceived in time the
folly of resistance. This was no doubt the joint "expedient" on which
Prestongrange and Fraser were agreed. The first, I was very sure, had
done something to secure my life; the second was pretty likely to have
slipped in some contrary hints into the ears of Neil and his companions;
and if I were to show bare steel I might play straight into the hands of
my worst enemy and seal my own doom.

These thoughts brought me to the head of the beach. I cast a look
behind, the boat was nearing the brig, and Alan flew his handkerchief
for a farewell, which I replied to with the waving of my hand. But Alan
himself was shrunk to a small thing in my view, alongside of this pass
that lay in front of me. I set my hat hard on my head, clenched my
teeth, and went right before me up the face of the sand-wreath. It made
a hard climb, being steep, and the sand like water underfoot. But I
caught hold at last by the long bent grass on the brae-top, and pulled
myself to a good footing. The same moment men stirred and stood up here
and there, six or seven of them, ragged-like knaves, each with a dagger
in his hand. The fair truth is, I shut my eyes and prayed. When I opened
them again, the rogues were crept the least thing nearer without speech
or hurry. Every eye was upon mine, which struck me with a strange
sensation of their brightness, and of the fear with which they continued
to approach me. I held out my hands empty: whereupon one asked, with a
strong Highland brogue, if I surrendered.

"Under protest," said I, "if ye ken what that means, which I misdoubt."

At that word, they came all in upon me like a flight of birds upon a
carrion, seized me, took my sword, and all the money from my pockets,
bound me hand and foot with some strong line, and cast me on a tussock
of bent. There they sat about their captive in a part of a circle and
gazed upon him silently like something dangerous, perhaps a lion or a
tiger on the spring. Presently this attention was relaxed. They drew
nearer together, fell to speech in the Gaelic, and very cynically
divided my property before my eyes. It was my diversion in this time
that I could watch from my place the progress of my friend's escape. I
saw the boat come to the brig and be hoisted in, the sails fill, and the
ship pass out seaward behind the isles and by North Berwick.

In the course of two hours or so, more and more ragged Highlandmen kept
collecting, Neil among the first, until the party must have numbered
near a score. With each new arrival there was a fresh bout of talk, that
sounded like complaints and explanations; but I observed one thing, none
of those that came late had any share in the division of my spoils. The
last discussion was very violent and eager, so that once I thought they
would have quarrelled; on the heels of which their company parted, the
bulk of them returning westward in a troop, and only three, Neil and two
others, remaining sentries on the prisoner.

"I could name one who would be very ill pleased with your day's work,
Neil Duncanson," said I, when the rest had moved away.

He assured me in answer I should be tenderly used, for he knew he was
"acquent wi' the leddy."

This was all our talk, nor did any other son of man appear upon that
portion of the coast until the sun had gone down among the Highland
mountains, and the gloaming was beginning to grow dark. At which hour I
was aware of a long, lean, bony-like Lothian man of a very swarthy
countenance, that came towards us among the bents on a farm horse.

"Lads," cried he, "hae ye a paper like this?" and held up one in his
hand. Neil produced a second, which the new comer studied through a pair
of horn spectacles, and saying all was right and we were the folk he was
seeking, immediately dismounted. I was then set in his place, my feet
tied under the horse's belly, and we set forth under the guidance of the
Lowlander. His path must have been very well chosen, for we met but one
pair--a pair of lovers--the whole way, and these, perhaps taking us to
be free-traders, fled on our approach. We were at one time close at the
foot of Berwick Law on the south side; at another, as we passed over
some open hills, I spied the lights of a clachan and the old tower of a
church among some trees not far off, but too far to cry for help, if I
had dreamed of it. At last we came again within sound of the sea. There
was moonlight, though not much; and by this I could see the three huge
towers and broken battlements of Tantallon, that old chief place of the
Red Douglases. The horse was picketed in the bottom of the ditch to
graze, and I was led within, and forth into the court, and thence into a
tumble-down stone hall. Here my conductors built a brisk fire in the
midst of the pavement, for there was a chill in the night. My hands were
loosed, I was set by the wall in the inner end, and (the Lowlander
having produced provisions) I was given oatmeal bread and a pitcher of
French brandy. This done, I was left once more alone with my three
Highlandmen. They sat close by the fire drinking and talking; the wind
blew in by the breaches, cast about the smoke and flames, and sang in
the tops of the towers; I could hear the sea under the cliffs, and my
mind being reassured as to my life, and my body and spirits wearied with
the day's employment, I turned upon one side and slumbered.

I had no means of guessing at what hour I was wakened, only the moon was
down and the fire low. My feet were now loosed, and I was carried
through the ruins and down the cliff-side by a precipitous path to where
I found a fisher's boat in a haven of the rocks. This I was had on board
of, and we began to put forth from the shore in a fine starlight.

Robert Louis Stevenson

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