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Chapter 30

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, Catriona began to sing in the house. At this I would have cast
my hat in the air; 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 to a resolve, and 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
without 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 wouldnae 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 speer at the lassie for some news of 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
yon."

"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 sand hills, the fine morning would decoy her out; 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 recognized the trim of the _Seahorse_. What should an English
ship be doing so near in 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 sand hills 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 immediately 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 was 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 innocency. 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," said she.
"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 want 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 look
so pretty as these 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 of 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 this 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 last night
when you were fast asleep, I heard the man colloquing 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, "ye'll 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 thegether. This place is fair death to me."
And he began to walk towards the inn.

It was Catriona who 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 ye did yet I 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.

"See, Alan!" said I.

"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 back door
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 Csar. 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 ye 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," says James.

"Well, well," says 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 something
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 ye 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,
transported 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 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 its hands, were
the sails of the windmill turning.

Alan gave but the 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.

Robert Louis Stevenson

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