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Chapter 29

WE MEET IN DUNKIRK


Altogether, then, I was scarce 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 sups with the deil, 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 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 trusts in the mercy of Grod 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 upon 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, "Your affectionate obedient servant,

"JAMES MACGREGOR DRUMMOND."

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 postcript, 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 head 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 a 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 postcript. "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 diffeeculty comes in!"

"And can _you_ no help me?" I asked, "you that's 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 is 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 a
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 the house, which was
all in the one apartment, with a stair 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 the 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 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, you'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 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 with 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 one 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 very 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 at least that 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 our 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," says 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 I But what's that neepkin at your
craig?"

I told him.

"I thocht it was something there about," said he.

Nor would he say another word though I besieged him long with
importunities.

Robert Louis Stevenson

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