Kidnapped by robert loui.., p.16
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       Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, p.16
 

           Robert Louis Stevenson
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  In any by-time Alan must teach me to use my sword, for my ignorance had much distressed him; and I think besides, as I had sometimes the upper-hand of him in the fishing, he was not sorry to turn to an exercise where he had so much the upper-hand of me. He made it somewhat more of a pain than need have been, for he stormed at me all through the lessons in a very violent manner of scolding, and would push me so close that I made sure he must run me through the body. I was often tempted to turn tail, but held my ground for all that, and got some profit of my lessons; if it was but to stand on guard with an assured countenance, which is often all that is required. So, though I could never in the least please my master, I was not altogether displeased with myself.

  In the meanwhile, you are not to suppose that we neglected our chief business, which was to get away.

  “It will be many a long day,” Alan said to me on our first morning, “before the red-coats think upon seeking Corrynakiegh; so now we must get word sent to James, and he must find the siller for us.”

  “And how shall we send that word?” says I. “We are here in a desert place, which yet we dare not leave; and unless ye get the fowls of the air to be your messengers, I see not what we shall be able to do.”

  “Ay?” said Alan. “Ye’re a man of small contrivance, David.”

  Thereupon he fell in a muse, looking in the embers of the fire; and presently, getting a piece of wood, he fashioned it in a cross, the four ends of which he blackened on the coals. Then he looked at me a little shyly.

  “Could ye lend me my button?” says he. “It seems a strange thing to ask a gift again, but I own I am laith to cut another.”

  I gave him the button; whereupon he strung it on a strip of his great-coat which he had used to bind the cross; and tying in a little sprig of birch and another of fir, he looked upon his work with satisfaction.

  “Now,” said he, “there is a little clachan” (what is called a hamlet in the English) “not very far from Corrynakiegh, and it has the name of Koalisnacoan. There there are living many friends of mine whom I could trust with my life, and some that I am no just so sure of. Ye see, David, there will be money set upon our heads; James himsel’ is to set money on them; and as for the Campbells, they would never spare siller where there was a Stewart to be hurt. If it was otherwise, I would go down to Koalisnacoan whatever, and trust my life into these people’s hands as lightly as I would trust another with my glove.”

  “But being so?” said I.

  “Being so,” said he, “I would as lief they didnae see me. There’s bad folk everywhere, and what’s far worse, weak ones. So when it comes dark again, I will steal down into that clachan, and set this that I have been making in the window of a good friend of mine, John Breck Maccoll, a bouman25 of Appin’s.”

  “With all my heart,” says I; “and if he finds it, what is he to think?”

  “Well,” says Alan, “I wish he was a man of more penetration, for by my troth I am afraid he will make little enough of it! But this is what I have in my mind. This cross is something in the nature of the crosstarrie, or fiery cross, which is the signal of gathering in our clans; yet he will know well enough the clan is not to rise, for there it is standing in his window, and no word with it. So he will say to himsel’, the clan is not to rise, but there is something. Then he will see my button, and that was Duncan Stewart’s. And then he will say to himsel’, the son of Duncan is in the heather, and has need of me.”

  “Well,” said I, “it may be. But even supposing so, there is a good deal of heather between here and the Forth.”

  “And that is a very true word,” says Alan. “But then John Breck will see the sprig of birch and the sprig of pine; and he will say to himsel’ (if he is a man of any penetration at all, which I misdoubt), Alan will be lying in a wood which is both of pines and birches. Then he will think to himsel’, that is not so very rife hereabout; and then he will come and give us a look up in Corrynakiegh. And if he does not, David, the devil may fly away with him, for what I care; for he will no be worth the salt to his porridge.”

  “Eh, man,” said I, drolling with him a little, “you’re very ingenious! But would it not be simpler for you to write him a few words in black and white?”

  “And that is an excellent observe, Mr. Balfour of Shaws,” says Alan, drolling with me; “and it would certainly be much simpler for me to write to him, but it would be a sore job for John Breck to read it. He would have to go to the school for two-three years; and it’s possible we might be wearied waiting on him.”

  So that night Alan carried down his fiery cross and set it in the bouman’s window. He was troubled when he came back; for the dogs had barked and the folk run out from their houses; and he thought he had heard a clatter of arms and seen a red-coat come to one of the doors. On all accounts we lay the next day in the borders of the wood and kept a close look-out, so that if it was John Breck that came we might be ready to guide him, and if it was the red-coats we should have time to get away.

  About noon a man was to be spied, straggling up the open side of the mountain in the sun, and looking round him as he came, from under his hand. No sooner had Alan seen him than he whistled; the man turned and came a little towards us: then Alan would give another “peep!” and the man would come still nearer; and so by the sound of whistling, he was guided to the spot where we lay.

  He was a ragged, wild, bearded man, about forty, grossly disfigured with the small pox, and looked both dull and savage. Although his English was very bad and broken, yet Alan (according to his very handsome use, whenever I was by) would suffer him to speak no Gaelic. Perhaps the strange language made him appear more backward than he really was; but I thought he had little good-will to serve us, and what he had was the child of terror.

  Alan would have had him carry a message to James; but the bouman would hear of no message. “She was forget it,” he said in his screaming voice; and would either have a letter or wash his hands of us.

  I thought Alan would be gravelled at that, for we lacked the means of writing in that desert.

  But he was a man of more resources than I knew; searched the wood until he found the quill of a cushat-dove, which he shaped into a pen; made himself a kind of ink with gunpowder from his horn and water from the running stream; and tearing a corner from his French military commission (which he carried in his pocket, like a talisman to keep him from the gallows), he sat down and wrote as follows:

  “DEAR KINSMAN,—Please send the money by the bearer to the place he kens of.

  “Your affectionate cousin,

  “A. S.”

  This he intrusted to the bouman, who promised to make what manner of speed he best could, and carried it off with him down the hill.

  He was three full days gone, but about five in the evening of the third, we heard a whistling in the wood, which Alan answered; and presently the bouman came up the water-side, looking for us, right and left. He seemed less sulky than before, and indeed he was no doubt well pleased to have got to the end of such a dangerous commission.

  He gave us the news of the country; that it was alive with red-coats; that arms were being found, and poor folk brought in trouble daily; and that James and some of his servants were already clapped in prison at Fort William, under strong suspicion of complicity. It seemed it was noised on all sides that Alan Breck had fired the shot; and there was a bill issued for both him and me, with one hundred pounds reward.

  This was all as bad as could be; and the little note the bouman had carried us from Mrs. Stewart was of a miserable sadness. In it she besought Alan not to let himself be captured, assuring him, if he fell in the hands of the troops, both he and James were no better than dead men. The money she had sent was all that she could beg or borrow, and she prayed heaven we could be doing with it. Lastly, she said, she enclosed us one of the bills in which we were described.

  This we looked upon with great curiosity and not a little fear, partly as a man may look in a mirror, partly as he might look into the b
arrel of an enemy’s gun to judge if it be truly aimed. Alan was advertised as “a small, pock-marked, active man of thirty-five or thereby, dressed in a feathered hat, a French side-coat of blue with silver buttons, and lace a great deal tarnished, a red waistcoat and breeches of black, shag;” and I as “a tall strong lad of about eighteen, wearing an old blue coat, very ragged, an old Highland bonnet, a long homespun waistcoat, blue breeches; his legs bare, low-country shoes, wanting the toes; speaks like a Lowlander, and has no beard.”

  Alan was well enough pleased to see his finery so fully remembered and set down; only when he came to the word tarnish, he looked upon his lace like one a little mortified. As for myself, I thought I cut a miserable figure in the bill; and yet was well enough pleased too, for since I had changed these rags, the description had ceased to be a danger and become a source of safety.

  “Alan,” said I, “you should change your clothes.”

  “Na, troth!” said Alan, “I have nae others. A fine sight I would be, if I went back to France in a bonnet!”

  This put a second reflection in my mind: that if I were to separate from Alan and his tell-tale clothes I should be safe against arrest, and might go openly about my business. Nor was this all; for suppose I was arrested when I was alone, there was little against me; but suppose I was taken in company with the reputed murderer, my case would begin to be grave. For generosity’s sake I dare not speak my mind upon this head; but I thought of it none the less.

  I thought of it all the more, too, when the bouman brought out a green purse with four guineas in gold, and the best part of another in small change. True, it was more than I had. But then Alan, with less than five guineas, had to get as far as France; I, with my less than two, not beyond Queensferry; so that taking things in their proportion, Alan’s society was not only a peril to my life, but a burden on my purse.

  But there was no thought of the sort in the honest head of my companion. He believed he was serving, helping, and protecting me. And what could I do but hold my peace, and chafe, and take my chance of it?

  “It’s little enough,” said Alan, putting the purse in his pocket, “but it’ll do my business. And now, John Breck, if ye will hand me over my button, this gentleman and me will be for taking the road.”

  But the bouman, after feeling about in a hairy purse that hung in front of him in the Highland manner (though he wore otherwise the Lowland habit, with sea-trousers), began to roll his eyes strangely, and at last said, “Her nainsel will loss it,” meaning he thought he had lost it.

  “What!” cried Alan, “you will lose my button, that was my father’s before me? Now I will tell you what is in my mind, John Breck: it is in my mind this is the worst day’s work that ever ye did since ye was born.”

  And as Alan spoke, he set his hands on his knees and looked at the bouman with a smiling mouth, and that dancing light in his eyes that meant mischief to his enemies.

  Perhaps the bouman was honest enough; perhaps he had meant to cheat and then, finding himself alone with two of us in a desert place, cast back to honesty as being safer; at least, and all at once, he seemed to find that button and handed it to Alan.

  “Well, and it is a good thing for the honour of the Maccolls,” said Alan, and then to me, “Here is my button back again, and I thank you for parting with it, which is of a piece with all your friendships to me.” Then he took the warmest parting of the bouman. “For,” says he, “ye have done very well by me, and set your neck at a venture, and I will always give you the name of a good man.”

  Lastly, the bouman took himself off by one way; and Alan and I (getting our chattels together) struck into another to resume our flight.

  * * *

  25 A bouman is a tenant who takes stock from the landlord and shares with him the increase.

  CHAPTER 22

  The Flight in the Heather: The Moor

  Some seven hours’ incessant, hard travelling brought us early in the morning to the end of a range of mountains. In front of us there lay a piece of low, broken, desert land, which we must now cross. The sun was not long up, and shone straight in our eyes; a little, thin mist went up from the face of the moorland like a smoke; so that (as Alan said) there might have been twenty squadron of dragoons there and we none the wiser.

  We sat down, therefore, in a howe of the hill-side till the mist should have risen, and made ourselves a dish of drammach, and held a council of war.

  “David,” said Alan, “this is the kittle bit. Shall we lie here till it comes night, or shall we risk it, and stave on ahead?”

  “Well,” said I, “I am tired indeed, but I could walk as far again, if that was all.”

  “Ay, but it isnae,” said Alan, “nor yet the half. This is how we stand: Appin’s fair death to us. To the south it’s all Campbells, and no to be thought of. To the north; well, there’s no muckle to be gained by going north; neither for you, that wants to get to Queensferry, nor yet for me, that wants to get to France. Well, then, we’ll can strike east.”

  “East be it!” says I, quite cheerily; but I was thinking in to myself: “O, man, if you would only take one point of the compass and let me take any other, it would be the best for both of us.”

  “Well, then, east, ye see, we have the muirs,” said Alan. “Once there, David, it’s mere pitch-and-toss. Out on yon bald, naked, flat place, where can a body turn to? Let the red-coats come over a hill, they can spy you miles away; and the sorrow’s in their horses’ heels, they would soon ride you down. It’s no good place, David; and I’m free to say, it’s worse by daylight than by dark.”

  “Alan,” said I, “hear my way of it. Appin’s death for us; we have none too much money, nor yet meal; the longer they seek, the nearer they may guess where we are; it’s all a risk; and I give my word to go ahead until we drop.”

  Alan was delighted. “There are whiles,” said he, “when ye are altogether too canny and Whiggish to be company for a gentleman like me; but there come other whiles when ye show yoursel’ a mettle spark; and it’s then, David, that I love ye like a brother.”

  The mist rose and died away, and showed us that country lying as waste as the sea; only the moorfowl and the pewees crying upon it, and far over to the east, a herd of deer, moving like dots. Much of it was red with heather; much of the rest broken up with bogs and hags and peaty pools; some had been burnt black in a heath fire; and in another place there was quite a forest of dead firs, standing like skeletons. A wearier-looking desert man never saw; but at least it was clear of troops, which was our point.

  We went down accordingly into the waste, and began to make our toilsome and devious travel towards the eastern verge. There were the tops of mountains all round (you are to remember) from whence we might be spied at any moment; so it behoved us to keep in the hollow parts of the moor, and when these turned aside from our direction to move upon its naked face with infinite care. Sometimes, for half an hour together, we must crawl from one heather bush to another, as hunters do when they are hard upon the deer. It was a clear day again, with a blazing sun; the water in the brandy bottle was soon gone; and altogether, if I had guessed what it would be to crawl half the time upon my belly and to walk much of the rest stooping nearly to the knees, I should certainly have held back from such a killing enterprise.

  Toiling and resting and toiling again, we wore away the morning; and about noon lay down in a thick bush of heather to sleep. Alan took the first watch; and it seemed to me I had scarce closed my eyes before I was shaken up to take the second. We had no clock to go by; and Alan stuck a sprig of heath in the ground to serve instead; so that as soon as the shadow of the bush should fall so far to the east, I might know to rouse him. But I was by this time so weary that I could have slept twelve hours at a stretch; I had the taste of sleep in my throat; my joints slept even when my mind was waking; the hot smell of the heather, and the drone of the wild bees, were like possets to me; and every now and again I would give a jump and find I had been dozing.

  The last
time I woke I seemed to come back from farther away, and thought the sun had taken a great start in the heavens. I looked at the sprig of heath, and at that I could have cried aloud: for I saw I had betrayed my trust. My head was nearly turned with fear and shame; and at what I saw, when I looked out around me on the moor, my heart was like dying in my body. For sure enough, a body of horse-soldiers had come down during my sleep, and were drawing near to us from the south-east, spread out in the shape of a fan and riding their horses to and fro in the deep parts of the heather.

  When I waked Alan, he glanced first at the soldiers, then at the mark and the position of the sun, and knitted his brows with a sudden, quick look, both ugly and anxious, which was all the reproach I had of him.

  “What are we to do now?” I asked.

  “We’ll have to play at being hares,” said he. “Do ye see yon mountain?” pointing to one on the north-eastern sky.

  “Ay,” said I.

  “Well, then,” says he, “let us strike for that. Its name is Ben Alder. it is a wild, desert mountain full of hills and hollows, and if we can win to it before the morn, we may do yet.”

  “But, Alan,” cried I, “that will take us across the very coming of the soldiers!”

  “I ken that fine,” said he; “but if we are driven back on Appin, we are two dead men. So now, David man, be brisk!”

  With that he began to run forward on his hands and knees with an incredible quickness, as though it were his natural way of going. All the time, too, he kept winding in and out in the lower parts of the moorland where we were the best concealed. Some of these had been burned or at least scathed with fire; and there rose in our faces (which were close to the ground) a blinding, choking dust as fine as smoke. The water was long out; and this posture of running on the hands and knees brings an overmastering weakness and weariness, so that the joints ache and the wrists faint under your weight.

 
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