The merry men, and other.., p.1
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       The Merry Men, and Other Tales and Fables, p.1

           Robert Louis Stevenson
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The Merry Men, and Other Tales and Fables

  Transcribed from the 1904 edition Chatto & Windus edition by David Price,email [email protected]

  THE MERRY MENANDOther Tales and Fables




  Three of the following Tales have appeared in the _Cornhill Magazine_;one in _Longman's_; one in Mr. Henry Norman's Christmas Annual; and onein the _Court and Society Review_. The Author desires to make properacknowledgements to the Publishers concerned.



  _To your name_, _if I wrote on brass_, _I could add nothing_; _it hasbeen already written higher than I could dream to reach_, _by a strongand dear hand_; _and if I now dedicate to you these tales_, _it is not asthe writer who brings you his work_, _but as the friend who would remindyou of his affection_.




  The Merry Men

  i. Eilean Aros

  ii. What the wreck had brought to Aros

  iii. Land and sea in Sandag Bay

  iv. The gale

  v. A man out of the sea

  Will o' the Mill


  Thrawn Janet


  The Treasure of Franchard

  i. By the dying Mountebank

  ii. Morning tale

  iii. The adoption

  iv. The education of the philosopher

  v. Treasure trove

  vi. A criminal investigation, in two parts

  vii. The fall of the House of Desprez

  viii. The wages of philosophy



  It was a beautiful morning in the late July when I set forth on foot forthe last time for Aros. A boat had put me ashore the night before atGrisapol; I had such breakfast as the little inn afforded, and, leavingall my baggage till I had an occasion to come round for it by sea, struckright across the promontory with a cheerful heart.

  I was far from being a native of these parts, springing, as I did, froman unmixed lowland stock. But an uncle of mine, Gordon Darnaway, after apoor, rough youth, and some years at sea, had married a young wife in theislands; Mary Maclean she was called, the last of her family; and whenshe died in giving birth to a daughter, Aros, the sea-girt farm, hadremained in his possession. It brought him in nothing but the means oflife, as I was well aware; but he was a man whom ill-fortune had pursued;he feared, cumbered as he was with the young child, to make a freshadventure upon life; and remained in Aros, biting his nails at destiny.Years passed over his head in that isolation, and brought neither helpnor contentment. Meantime our family was dying out in the lowlands;there is little luck for any of that race; and perhaps my father was theluckiest of all, for not only was he one of the last to die, but he lefta son to his name and a little money to support it. I was a student ofEdinburgh University, living well enough at my own charges, but withoutkith or kin; when some news of me found its way to Uncle Gordon on theRoss of Grisapol; and he, as he was a man who held blood thicker thanwater, wrote to me the day he heard of my existence, and taught me tocount Aros as my home. Thus it was that I came to spend my vacations inthat part of the country, so far from all society and comfort, betweenthe codfish and the moorcocks; and thus it was that now, when I had donewith my classes, I was returning thither with so light a heart that Julyday.

  The Ross, as we call it, is a promontory neither wide nor high, but asrough as God made it to this day; the deep sea on either hand of it, fullof rugged isles and reefs most perilous to seamen--all overlooked fromthe eastward by some very high cliffs and the great peals of Ben Kyaw._The Mountain of the Mist_, they say the words signify in the Gaelictongue; and it is well named. For that hill-top, which is more thanthree thousand feet in height, catches all the clouds that come blowingfrom the seaward; and, indeed, I used often to think that it must makethem for itself; since when all heaven was clear to the sea level, therewould ever be a streamer on Ben Kyaw. It brought water, too, and wasmossy {5} to the top in consequence. I have seen us sitting in broadsunshine on the Ross, and the rain falling black like crape upon themountain. But the wetness of it made it often appear more beautiful tomy eyes; for when the sun struck upon the hill sides, there were many wetrocks and watercourses that shone like jewels even as far as Aros,fifteen miles away.

  The road that I followed was a cattle-track. It twisted so as nearly todouble the length of my journey; it went over rough boulders so that aman had to leap from one to another, and through soft bottoms where themoss came nearly to the knee. There was no cultivation anywhere, and notone house in the ten miles from Grisapol to Aros. Houses of course therewere--three at least; but they lay so far on the one side or the otherthat no stranger could have found them from the track. A large part ofthe Ross is covered with big granite rocks, some of them larger than atwo-roomed house, one beside another, with fern and deep heather inbetween them where the vipers breed. Anyway the wind was, it was alwayssea air, as salt as on a ship; the gulls were as free as moorfowl overall the Ross; and whenever the way rose a little, your eye would kindlewith the brightness of the sea. From the very midst of the land, on aday of wind and a high spring, I have heard the Roost roaring, like abattle where it runs by Aros, and the great and fearful voices of thebreakers that we call the Merry Men.

  Aros itself--Aros Jay, I have heard the natives call it, and they say itmeans _the House of God_--Aros itself was not properly a piece of theRoss, nor was it quite an islet. It formed the south-west corner of theland, fitted close to it, and was in one place only separated from thecoast by a little gut of the sea, not forty feet across the narrowest.When the tide was full, this was clear and still, like a pool on a landriver; only there was a difference in the weeds and fishes, and the wateritself was green instead of brown; but when the tide went out, in thebottom of the ebb, there was a day or two in every month when you couldpass dryshod from Aros to the mainland. There was some good pasture,where my uncle fed the sheep he lived on; perhaps the feed was betterbecause the ground rose higher on the islet than the main level of theRoss, but this I am not skilled enough to settle. The house was a goodone for that country, two storeys high. It looked westward over a bay,with a pier hard by for a boat, and from the door you could watch thevapours blowing on Ben Kyaw.

  On all this part of the coast, and especially near Aros, these greatgranite rocks that I have spoken of go down together in troops into thesea, like cattle on a summer's day. There they stand, for all the worldlike their neighbours ashore; only the salt water sobbing between theminstead of the quiet earth, and clots of sea-pink blooming on their sidesinstead of heather; and the great sea conger to wreathe about the base ofthem instead of the poisonous viper of the land. On calm days you can gowandering between them in a boat for hours, echoes following you aboutthe labyrinth; but when the sea is up, Heaven help the man that hearsthat cauldron boiling.

  Off the south-west end of Aros these blocks are very many, and muchgreater in size. Indeed, they must grow monstrously bigger out to sea,for there must be ten sea miles of open water sown with them as thick asa country place with houses, some standing thirty feet above the tides,some covered, but all perilous to ships; so that on a clear, westerlyblowing day, I have counted, from the top of Aros, the great rollersbreaking white and heavy over as many as six-and-forty buried reefs. Butit is nearer in shore that the danger is worst; for the tide, hererunning like a mill race, makes a long belt of broken water--a _Roost_ wecall it--at the tail of the land
. I have often been out there in a deadcalm at the slack of the tide; and a strange place it is, with the seaswirling and combing up and boiling like the cauldrons of a linn, and nowand again a little dancing mutter of sound as though the _Roost_ weretalking to itself. But when the tide begins to run again, and above allin heavy weather, there is no man could take a boat within half a mile ofit, nor a ship afloat that could either steer or live in such a place.You can hear the roaring of it six miles away. At the seaward end therecomes the strongest of the bubble; and it's here that these big breakersdance together--the dance of death, it may be called--that have got thename, in these parts, of the Merry Men. I have heard it said that theyrun fifty feet high; but that must be the green water only, for the sprayruns twice as high as that. Whether they got the name from theirmovements, which are swift and antic, or from the shouting they makeabout the turn of the tide, so that all Aros shakes with it, is more thanI can tell.

  The truth is, that in a south-westerly wind, that part of our archipelagois no better than a trap. If a ship got through the reefs, and weatheredthe Merry Men, it would be to come ashore on the south coast of Aros, inSandag Bay, where so many dismal things befell our family, as I proposeto tell. The thought of all these dangers, in the place I knew so long,makes me particularly welcome the works now going forward to set lightsupon the headlands and buoys along the channels of our iron-bound,inhospitable islands.

  The country people had many a story about Aros, as I used to hear from myuncle's man, Rorie, an old servant of the Macleans, who had transferredhis services without afterthought on the occasion of the marriage. Therewas some tale of an unlucky creature, a sea-kelpie, that dwelt and didbusiness in some fearful manner of his own among the boiling breakers ofthe Roost. A mermaid had once met a piper on Sandag beach, and theresang to him a long, bright midsummer's night, so that in the morning hewas found stricken crazy, and from thenceforward, till the day he died,said only one form of words; what they were in the original Gaelic Icannot tell, but they were thus translated: 'Ah, the sweet singing out ofthe sea.' Seals that haunted on that coast have been known to speak toman in his own tongue, presaging great disasters. It was here that acertain saint first landed on his voyage out of Ireland to convert theHebrideans. And, indeed, I think he had some claim to be called saint;for, with the boats of that past age, to make so rough a passage, andland on such a ticklish coast, was surely not far short of themiraculous. It was to him, or to some of his monkish underlings who hada cell there, that the islet owes its holy and beautiful name, the Houseof God.

  Among these old wives' stories there was one which I was inclined to hearwith more credulity. As I was told, in that tempest which scattered theships of the Invincible Armada over all the north and west of Scotland,one great vessel came ashore on Aros, and before the eyes of somesolitary people on a hill-top, went down in a moment with all hands, hercolours flying even as she sank. There was some likelihood in this tale;for another of that fleet lay sunk on the north side, twenty miles fromGrisapol. It was told, I thought, with more detail and gravity than itscompanion stories, and there was one particularity which went far toconvince me of its truth: the name, that is, of the ship was stillremembered, and sounded, in my ears, Spanishly. The _Espirito Santo_they called it, a great ship of many decks of guns, laden with treasureand grandees of Spain, and fierce soldadoes, that now lay fathom deep toall eternity, done with her wars and voyages, in Sandag bay, upon thewest of Aros. No more salvos of ordnance for that tall ship, the 'HolySpirit,' no more fair winds or happy ventures; only to rot there deep inthe sea-tangle and hear the shoutings of the Merry Men as the tide ranhigh about the island. It was a strange thought to me first and last,and only grew stranger as I learned the more of Spain, from which she hadset sail with so proud a company, and King Philip, the wealthy king, thatsent her on that voyage.

  And now I must tell you, as I walked from Grisapol that day, the_Espirito Santo_ was very much in my reflections. I had been favourablyremarked by our then Principal in Edinburgh College, that famous writer,Dr. Robertson, and by him had been set to work on some papers of anancient date to rearrange and sift of what was worthless; and in one ofthese, to my great wonder, I found a note of this very ship, the_Espirito Santo_, with her captain's name, and how she carried a greatpart of the Spaniard's treasure, and had been lost upon the Ross ofGrisapol; but in what particular spot, the wild tribes of that place andperiod would give no information to the king's inquiries. Putting onething with another, and taking our island tradition together with thisnote of old King Jamie's perquisitions after wealth, it had come stronglyon my mind that the spot for which he sought in vain could be no otherthan the small bay of Sandag on my uncle's land; and being a fellow of amechanical turn, I had ever since been plotting how to weigh that goodship up again with all her ingots, ounces, and doubloons, and bring backour house of Darnaway to its long-forgotten dignity and wealth.

  This was a design of which I soon had reason to repent. My mind wassharply turned on different reflections; and since I became the witnessof a strange judgment of God's, the thought of dead men's treasures hasbeen intolerable to my conscience. But even at that time I must acquitmyself of sordid greed; for if I desired riches, it was not for their ownsake, but for the sake of a person who was dear to my heart--my uncle'sdaughter, Mary Ellen. She had been educated well, and had been a time toschool upon the mainland; which, poor girl, she would have been happierwithout. For Aros was no place for her, with old Rorie the servant, andher father, who was one of the unhappiest men in Scotland, plainly bredup in a country place among Cameronians, long a skipper sailing out ofthe Clyde about the islands, and now, with infinite discontent, managinghis sheep and a little 'long shore fishing for the necessary bread. Ifit was sometimes weariful to me, who was there but a month or two, youmay fancy what it was to her who dwelt in that same desert all the yearround, with the sheep and flying sea-gulls, and the Merry Men singing anddancing in the Roost!

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