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Chapter 25

THE RETURN OF JAMES MORE


I was called on the morrow out of a late and troubled slumber by a
knocking on my door, ran to open it, and had almost swooned with the
contrariety of my feelings, mostly painful; for on the threshold, in a
rough wrapraseal and an extraordinary big laced hat, there stood James
More.

I ought to have been glad perhaps without admixture, for there was a
sense in which the man came like an answer to prayer. I had been saying
till my head was weary that Catriona and I must separate, and looking
till my head ached for any possible means of separation. Here were the
means come to me upon two legs, and joy was the hindmost of my thoughts.
It is to be considered, however, that even if the weight of the future
were lifted off me by the man's arrival, the present heaved up the more
black and menacing; so that, as I first stood before him in my shirt and
breeches, I believe I took a leaping step backward like a person shot.

"Ah," said he, "I have found you, Mr. Balfour." And offered me his
large, fine hand, the which (recovering at the same time my post in the
doorway, as if with some thought of resistance) I took him by
doubtfully. "It is a remarkable circumstance how our affairs appear to
intermingle," he continued. "I am owing you an apology for an
unfortunate intrusion upon yours, which I suffered myself to be
entrapped into by my confidence in that false-face, Prestongrange; I
think shame to own to you that I was ever trusting to a lawyer." He
shrugged his shoulders with a very French air. "But indeed the man is
very plausible," says he. "And now it seems that you have busied
yourself handsomely in the matter of my daughter, for whose direction I
was remitted to yourself."

"I think, sir," said I, with a very painful air, "that it will be
necessary we two should have an explanation."

"There is nothing amiss?" he asked. "My agent, Mr. Sprott--"

"For God's sake moderate your voice!" I cried. "She must not hear till
we have had an explanation."

"She is in this place?" cries he.

"That is her chamber door," said I.

"You are here with her alone?" he asked.

"And who else would I have got to stay with us?" cries I.

I will do him the justice to admit that he turned pale.

"This is very unusual," said he. "This is a very unusual circumstance.
You are right, we must hold an explanation."

So saying, he passed me by, and I must own the tall old rogue appeared
at that moment extraordinary dignified. He had now, for the first time,
the view of my chamber, which I scanned (I may say) with his eyes. A bit
of morning sun glinted in by the window pane, and showed it off; my bed,
my mails, and washing dish, with some disorder of my clothes, and the
unlighted chimney, made the only plenishing; no mistake but it looked
bare and cold, and the most unsuitable, beggarly place conceivable to
harbour a young lady. At the same time came in on my mind the
recollection of the clothes that I had bought for her; and I thought
this contrast of poverty and prodigality bore an ill appearance.

He looked all about the chamber for a seat, and finding nothing else to
his purpose except my bed, took a place upon the side of it; where,
after I had closed the door, I could not very well avoid joining him.
For however this extraordinary interview might end, it must pass if
possible without waking Catriona; and the one thing needful was that we
should sit close and talk low. But I can scarce picture what a pair we
made; he in his great coat which the coldness of my chamber made
extremely suitable; I shivering in my shirt and breeks; he with very
much the air of a judge; and I (whatever I looked) with very much the
feelings of a man who has heard the last trumpet.

"Well?" says he.

And "Well" I began, but found myself unable to go further.

"You tell me she is here?" said he again, but now with a spice of
impatiency that seemed to brace me up.

"She is in this house," said I, "and I knew the circumstance would be
called unusual. But you are to consider how very unusual the whole
business was from the beginning. Here is a young lady landed on the
coast of Europe with two shillings and a penny halfpenny. She is
directed to yon man Sprott in Helvoet. I hear you call him your agent.
All I can say is he could do nothing but damn and swear at the mere
mention of your name, and I must fee him out of my own pocket even to
receive the custody of her effects, You speak of unusual circumstances,
Mr. Drummond, if that be the name you prefer. Here was a circumstance,
if you like, to which it was barbarity to have exposed her."

"But this is what I cannot understand the least," said James. "My
daughter was placed into the charge of some responsible persons, whose
names I have forgot."

"Gebbie was the name," said I; "and there is no doubt that Mr. Gebbie
should have gone ashore with her at Helvoet. But he did not, Mr.
Drummond; and I think you might praise God that I was there to offer in
his place."

"I shall have a word to say to Mr. Gebbie before done," said he. "As for
yourself, I think it might have occurred that you were somewhat young
for such a post."

"But the choice was not between me and somebody else, it was between me
and nobody," I cried. "Nobody offered in my place, and I must say I
think you show a very small degree of gratitude to me that did."

"I shall wait until I understand my obligation a little more in the
particular," says he.

"Indeed, and I think it stares you in the face, then," said I. "Your
child was deserted, she was clean flung away in the midst of Europe,
with scarce two shillings, and not two words of any language spoken
there: I must say, a bonny business! I brought her to this place. I gave
her the name and the tenderness due to a sister. All this has not gone
without expense, but that I scarce need to hint at. They were services
due to the young lady's character which I respect; and I think it would
be a bonny business too, if I was to be singing her praises to her
father."

"You are a young man," he began.

"So I hear you tell me," said I, with a good deal of heat.

"You are a very young man," he repeated, "or you would have understood
the significancy of the step."

"I think you speak very much at your ease," cried I. "What else was I to
do? It is a fact I might have hired some decent, poor woman to be a
third to us, and I declare I never thought of it until this moment! But
where was I to find her, that am a foreigner myself? And let me point
out to your observation, Mr. Drummond, that it would have cost me money
out of my pocket. For here is just what it comes to, that I had to pay
through the nose for your neglect; and there is only the one story to
it, just that you were so unloving and so careless as to have lost your
daughter."

"He that lives in a glass house should not be casting stones," says he;
"and we will finish inquiring into the behaviour of Miss Drummond,
before we go on to sit in judgment on her father."

"But I will be entrapped into no such attitude," said I. "The character
of Miss Drummond is far above inquiry, as her father ought to know. So
is mine, and I am telling you that. There are but the two ways of it
open. The one is to express your thanks to me as one gentleman to
another, and to say no more. The other (if you are so difficult as to be
still dissatisfied) is to pay me that which I have expended and be
done."

He seemed to soothe me with a hand in the air.

"There, there," said he. "You go too fast, you go too fast, Mr. Balfour.
It is a good thing that I have learned to be more patient. And I believe
you forget that I have yet to see my daughter."

I began to be a little relieved upon this speech and a change in the
man's manner that I spied in him as soon as the name of money fell
between us.

"I was thinking it would be more fit--if you will excuse the plainness
of my dressing in your presence--that I should go forth and leave you to
encounter her alone?" said I.

"What I would have looked for at your hands!" says he; and there was no
mistake but what he said it civilly.

I thought this better and better still, and as I began to pull on my
hose, recalling the man's impudent mendicancy at Prestongrange's, I
determined to pursue what seemed to be my victory.

"If you have any mind to stay some while in Leyden," said I, "this room
is very much at your disposal, and I can easy find another for myself:
in which way we shall have the least amount of flitting possible, there
being only one to change."

"Why, sir," said he, making his bosom big, "I think no shame of a
poverty I have come by in the service of my king; I make no secret that
my affairs are quite involved; and for the moment, it would be even
impossible for me to undertake a journey."

"Until you have occasion to communicate with your friends," said I,
"perhaps it might be convenient for you (as of course it would be
honourable to myself) if you were to regard yourself in the light of my
guest?"

"Sir," said he, "when an offer is frankly made, I think I honour myself
most to imitate that frankness. Your hand, Mr. David; you have the
character that I respect the most; you are one of those from whom a
gentleman can take a favour and no more words about it. I am an old
soldier," he went on, looking rather disgusted-like around my chamber,
"and you need not fear I shall prove burthensome. I have ate too often
at a dyke-side, drank of the ditch, and had no roof but the rain."

"I should be telling you," said I, "that our breakfasts are sent
customarily in about this time of morning. I propose I should go now to
the tavern, and bid them add a cover for yourself and delay the meal the
matter of an hour, which will give you an interval to meet your daughter
in."

Methought his nostrils wagged at this. "O, an hour," says he. "That is
perhaps superfluous. Half an hour, Mr. David, or say twenty minutes; I
shall do very well in that. And by the way," he adds, detaining me by
the coat, "what is it you drink in the morning, whether ale or wine?"

"To be frank with you, sir," says I, "I drink nothing else but spare,
cold water?"

"Tut-tut," says he, "that is fair destruction to the stomach, take an
old campaigner's word for it. Our country spirit at home is perhaps the
most entirely wholesome; but as that is not come-at-able, Rhenish or a
white wine of Burgundy will be next best."

"I shall make it my business to see you are supplied," said I.

"Why, very good," said he, "and we shall make a man of you yet, Mr.
David."

By this time, I can hardly say that I was minding him at all, beyond an
odd thought of the kind of father-in-law that he was like to prove; and
all my cares centred about the lass his daughter, to whom I determined
to convey some warning of her visitor. I stepped to the door
accordingly, and cried through the panels, knocking thereon at the same
time: "Miss Drummond, here is your father come at last."

With that I went forth upon my errand, having (by two words)
extraordinarily damaged my affairs.

Robert Louis Stevenson

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