Kidnapped by robert loui.., p.8
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       Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, p.8
 

           Robert Louis Stevenson
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  All this was upon Alan’s side; and I had begun to think my share of the fight was at an end, when I heard some one drop softly on the roof above me.

  Then there came a single call on the sea-pipe, and that was the signal. A knot of them made one rush of it, cutlass in hand, against the door; and at the same moment, the glass of the skylight was dashed in a thousand pieces, and a man leaped through and landed on the floor. Before he got his feet, I had clapped a pistol to his back, and might have shot him, too; only at the touch of him (and him alive) my whole flesh misgave me, and I could no more pull the trigger than I could have flown.

  He had dropped his cutlass as he jumped, and when he felt the pistol, whipped straight round and laid hold of me, roaring out an oath; and at that either my courage came again, or I grew so much afraid as came to the same thing; for I gave a shriek and shot him in the midst of the body. He gave the most horrible, ugly groan and fell to the floor. The foot of a second fellow, whose legs were dangling through the skylight, struck me at the same time upon the head; and at that I snatched another pistol and shot this one through the thigh, so that he slipped through and tumbled in a lump on his companion’s body. There was no talk of missing, any more than there was time to aim; I clapped the muzzle to the very place and fired.

  I might have stood and stared at them for long, but I heard Alan shout as if for help, and that brought me to my senses.

  He had kept the door so long; but one of the seamen, while he was engaged with others, had run in under his guard and caught him about the body. Alan was dirking him with his left hand, but the fellow clung like a leech. Another had broken in and had his cutlass raised. The door was thronged with their faces. I thought we were lost, and catching up my cutlass, fell on them in flank.

  But I had not time to be of help. The wrestler dropped at last; and Alan, leaping back to get his distance, ran upon the others like a bull, roaring as he went. They broke before him like water, turning, and running, and falling one against another in their haste. The sword in his hands flashed like quicksilver into the huddle of our fleeing enemies; and at every flash there came the scream of a man hurt. I was still thinking we were lost, when lo! they were all gone, and Alan was driving them along the deck as a sheep-dog chases sheep.

  Yet he was no sooner out than he was back again, being as cautious as he was brave; and meanwhile the seamen continued running and crying out as if he was still behind them; and we heard them tumble one upon another into the forecastle, and clap-to the hatch upon the top.

  The round-house was like a shambles; three were dead inside, another lay in his death agony across the threshold; and there were Alan and I victorious and unhurt.

  He came up to me with open arms. “Come to my arms!” he cried, and embraced and kissed me hard upon both cheeks. “David,” said he, “I love you like a brother. And O, man,” he cried in a kind of ecstasy, “am I no a bonny fighter?”

  Thereupon he turned to the four enemies, passed his sword clean through each of them, and tumbled them out of doors one after the other. As he did so, he kept humming and singing and whistling to himself, like a man trying to recall an air; only what he was trying was to make one. All the while, the flush was in his face, and his eyes were as bright as a five-year-old child’s with a new toy. And presently he sat down upon the table, sword in hand; the air that he was making all the time began to run a little clearer, and then clearer still; and then out he burst with a great voice into a Gaelic song.

  I have translated it here, not in verse (of which I have no skill) but at least in the king’s English.

  He sang it often afterwards, and the thing became popular; so that I have heard it and had it explained to me, many’s the time.

  “This is the song of the sword of Alan;

  The smith made it,

  The fire set it;

  Now it shines in the hand of Alan Breck.

  “Their eyes were many and bright,

  Swift were they to behold,

  Many the hands they guided:

  The sword was alone.

  “The dun deer troop over the hill,

  They are many, the hill is one;

  The dun deer vanish,

  The hill remains.

  “Come to me from the hills of heather,

  Come from the isles of the sea.

  O far-beholding eagles,

  Here is your meat.”

  Now this song which he made (both words and music) in the hour of our victory, is something less than just to me, who stood beside him in the tussle. Mr. Shuan and five more were either killed outright or thoroughly disabled; but of these, two fell by my hand, the two that came by the skylight. Four more were hurt, and of that number, one (and he not the least important) got his hurt from me. So that, altogether, I did my fair share both of the killing and the wounding, and might have claimed a place in Alan’s verses. But poets have to think upon their rhymes; and in good prose talk, Alan always did me more than justice.

  In the meanwhile, I was innocent of any wrong being done me. For not only I knew no word of the Gaelic; but what with the long suspense of the waiting, and the scurry and strain of our two spirts of fighting, and more than all, the horror I had of some of my own share in it, the thing was no sooner over than I was glad to stagger to a seat. There was that tightness on my chest that I could hardly breathe; the thought of the two men I had shot sat upon me like a nightmare; and all upon a sudden, and before I had a guess of what was coming, I began to sob and cry like any child.

  Alan clapped my shoulder, and said I was a brave lad and wanted nothing but a sleep.

  “I’ll take the first watch,” said he. “Ye’ve done well by me, David, first and last; and I wouldn’t lose you for all Appin—no, nor for Breadalbane.”

  So I made up my bed on the floor; and he took the first spell, pistol in hand and sword on knee, three hours by the captain’s watch upon the wall. Then he roused me up, and I took my turn of three hours; before the end of which it was broad day, and a very quiet morning, with a smooth, rolling sea that tossed the ship and made the blood run to and fro on the round-house floor, and a heavy rain that drummed upon the roof. All my watch there was nothing stirring; and by the banging of the helm, I knew they had even no one at the tiller. Indeed (as I learned afterwards) there were so many of them hurt or dead, and the rest in so ill a temper, that Mr. Riach and the captain had to take turn and turn like Alan and me, or the brig might have gone ashore and nobody the wiser. It was a mercy the night had fallen so still, for the wind had gone down as soon as the rain began. Even as it was, I judged by the wailing of a great number of gulls that went crying and fishing round the ship, that she must have drifted pretty near the coast or one of the islands of the Hebrides; and at last, looking out of the door of the round-house, I saw the great stone hills of Skye on the right hand, and, a little more astern, the strange isle of Rum.

  * * *

  14 Bungled.

  CHAPTER 11

  The Captain Knuckles Under

  Alan and I sat down to breakfast about six of the clock. The floor was covered with broken glass and in a horrid mess of blood, which took away my hunger. In all other ways we were in a situation not only agreeable but merry; having ousted the officers from their own cabin, and having at command all the drink in the ship—both wine and spirits—and all the dainty part of what was eatable, such as the pickles and the fine sort of bread. This, of itself, was enough to set us in good humour, but the richest part of it was this, that the two thirstiest men that ever came out of Scotland (Mr. Shuan being dead) were now shut in the fore-part of the ship and condemned to what they hated most—cold water.

  “And depend upon it,” Alan said, “we shall hear more of them ere long. Ye may keep a man from the fighting, but never from his bottle.”

  We made good company for each other. Alan, indeed, expressed himself most lovingly; and taking a knife from the table, cut me off one of the silver buttons from his coat.

  “I had the
m,” says he, “from my father, Duncan Stewart; and now give ye one of them to be a keepsake for last night’s work. And wherever ye go and show that button, the friends of Alan Breck will come around you.”

  He said this as if he had been Charlemagne, and commanded armies; and indeed, much as I admired his courage, I was always in danger of smiling at his vanity: in danger, I say, for had I not kept my countenance, I would be afraid to think what a quarrel might have followed.

  As soon as we were through with our meal he rummaged in the captain’s locker till he found a clothes-brush; and then taking off his coat, began to visit his suit and brush away the stains, with such care and labour as I supposed to have been only usual with women. To be sure, he had no other; and, besides (as he said), it belonged to a king and so behoved to be royally looked after.

  For all that, when I saw what care he took to pluck out the threads where the button had been cut away, I put a higher value on his gift.

  He was still so engaged when we were hailed by Mr. Riach from the deck, asking for a parley; and I, climbing through the skylight and sitting on the edge of it, pistol in hand and with a bold front, though inwardly in fear of broken glass, hailed him back again and bade him speak out. He came to the edge of the round-house, and stood on a coil of rope, so that his chin was on a level with the roof; and we looked at each other awhile in silence. Mr. Riach, as I do not think he had been very forward in the battle, so he had got off with nothing worse than a blow upon the cheek: but he looked out of heart and very weary, having been all night afoot, either standing watch or doctoring the wounded.

  “This is a bad job,” said he at last, shaking his head.

  “It was none of our choosing,” said I.

  “The captain,” says he, “would like to speak with your friend. They might speak at the window.”

  “And how do we know what treachery he means?” cried I.

  “He means none, David,” returned Mr. Riach, “and if he did, I’ll tell ye the honest truth, we couldnae get the men to follow.”

  “Is that so?” said I.

  “I’ll tell ye more than that,” said he. “It’s not only the men; it’s me. I’m frich’ened, Davie.” And he smiled across at me. “No,” he continued, “what we want is to be shut of him.”

  Thereupon I consulted with Alan, and the parley was agreed to and parole given upon either side; but this was not the whole of Mr. Riach’s business, and he now begged me for a dram with such instancy and such reminders of his former kindness, that at last I handed him a pannikin with about a gill of brandy. He drank a part, and then carried the rest down upon the deck, to share it (I suppose) with his superior.

  A little after, the captain came (as was agreed) to one of the windows, and stood there in the rain, with his arm in a sling, and looking stern and pale, and so old that my heart smote me for having fired upon him.

  Alan at once held a pistol in his face.

  “Put that thing up!” said the captain. “Have I not passed my word, sir? or do ye seek to affront me?”

  “Captain,” says Alan, “I doubt your word is a breakable. Last night ye haggled and argle-bargled like an apple-wife; and then passed me your word, and gave me your hand to back it; and ye ken very well what was the upshot. Be damned to your word!” says he.

  “Well, well, sir,” said the captain, “ye’ll get little good by swearing.” (And truly that was a fault of which the captain was quite free.) “But we have other things to speak,” he continued, bitterly. “Ye’ve made a sore hash of my brig; I haven’t hands enough left to work her; and my first officer (whom I could ill spare) has got your sword throughout his vitals, and passed without speech. There is nothing left me, sir, but to put back into the port of Glasgow after hands; and there (by your leave) ye will find them that are better able to talk to you.”

  “Ay?” said Alan; “and faith, I’ll have a talk with them mysel’! Unless there’s naebody speaks English in that town, I have a bonny tale for them. Fifteen tarry sailors upon the one side, and a man and a halfling boy upon the other! O, man, it’s peetiful!”

  Hoseason flushed red.

  “No,” continued Alan, “that’ll no do. Ye’ll just have to set me ashore as we agreed.”

  “Ay,” said Hoseason, “but my first officer is dead—ye ken best how. There’s none of the rest of us acquaint with this coast, sir; and it’s one very dangerous to ships.”

  “I give ye your choice,” says Alan. “Set me on dry ground in Appin, or Ardgour, or in Morven, or Arisaig, or Morar; or, in brief, where ye please, within thirty miles of my own country; except in a country of the Campbells. That’s a broad target. If ye miss that, ye must be as feckless at the sailoring as I have found ye at the fighting. Why, my poor country people in their bit cobles15 pass from island to island in all weathers, ay, and by night too, for the matter of that.”

  “A coble’s not a ship, sir,” said the captain. “It has nae draught of water.”

  “Well, then, to Glasgow if ye list!” says Alan. “We’ll have the laugh of ye at the least.”

  “My mind runs little upon laughing,” said the captain. “But all this will cost money, sir.”

  “Well, sir,” says Alan, “I am nae weathercock. Thirty guineas, if ye land me on the sea-side; and sixty, if ye put me in the Linnhe Loch.”

  “But see, sir, where we lie, we are but a few hours’ sail from Ardnamurchan,” said Hoseason. “Give me sixty, and I’ll set ye there.”

  “And I’m to wear my brogues and run jeopardy of the red-coats to please you?” cries Alan. “No, sir; if ye want sixty guineas earn them, and set me in my own country.”

  “It’s to risk the brig, sir,” said the captain, “and your own lives along with her.”

  “Take it or want it,” says Alan.

  “Could ye pilot us at all?” asked the captain, who was frowning to himself.

  “Well, it’s doubtful,” said Alan. “I’m more of a fighting man (as ye have seen for yoursel’) than a sailor-man. But I have been often enough picked up and set down upon this coast, and should ken something of the lie of it.”

  The captain shook his head, still frowning.

  “If I had lost less money on this unchancy cruise,” says he, “I would see you in a rope’s end before I risked my brig, sir. But be it as ye will. As soon as I get a slant of wind (and there’s some coming, or I’m the more mistaken) I’ll put it in hand. But there’s one thing more. We may meet in with a king’s ship and she may lay us aboard, sir, with no blame of mine: they keep the cruisers thick upon this coast, ye ken who for. Now, sir, if that was to befall, ye might leave the money.”

  “Captain,” says Alan, “if ye see a pennant, it shall be your part to run away. And now, as I hear you’re a little short of brandy in the fore-part, I’ll offer ye a change: a bottle of brandy against two buckets of water.”

  That was the last clause of the treaty, and was duly executed on both sides; so that Alan and I could at last wash out the round-house and be quit of the memorials of those whom we had slain, and the captain and Mr. Riach could be happy again in their own way, the name of which was drink.

  * * *

  15 Coble: a small boat used in fishing.

  CHAPTER 12

  I Hear of the “Red Fox”

  Before we had done cleaning out the round-house, a breeze sprang up from a little to the east of north. This blew off the rain and brought out the sun.

  And here I must explain; and the reader would do well to look at a map. On the day when the fog fell and we ran down Alan’s boat, we had been running through the Little Minch. At dawn after the battle, we lay becalmed to the east of the Isle of Canna or between that and Isle Eriska in the chain of the Long Island. Now to get from there to the Linnhe Loch, the straight course was through the narrows of the Sound of Mull. But the captain had no chart; he was afraid to trust his brig so deep among the islands; and the wind serving well, he preferred to go by west of Tiree and come up under the southern coast of the great Is
le of Mull.

  All day the breeze held in the same point, and rather freshened than died down; and towards afternoon, a swell began to set in from round the outer Hebrides. Our course, to go round about the inner isles, was to the west of south, so that at first we had this swell upon our beam, and were much rolled about. But after nightfall, when we had turned the end of Tiree and began to head more to the east, the sea came right astern.

  Meanwhile, the early part of the day, before the swell came up, was very pleasant; sailing, as we were, in a bright sunshine and with many mountainous islands upon different sides. Alan and I sat in the round-house with the doors open on each side (the wind being straight astern), and smoked a pipe or two of the captain’s fine tobacco. It was at this time we heard each other’s stories, which was the more important to me, as I gained some knowledge of that wild Highland country on which I was so soon to land. In those days, so close on the back of the great rebellion, it was needful a man should know what he was doing when he went upon the heather.

  It was I that showed the example, telling him all my misfortune; which he heard with great good-nature. Only, when I came to mention that good friend of mine, Mr. Campbell the minister, Alan fired up and cried out that he hated all that were of that name.

  “Why,” said I, “he is a man you should be proud to give your hand to.”

  “I know nothing I would help a Campbell to,” says he, “unless it was a leaden bullet. I would hunt all of that name like blackcocks. If I lay dying, I would crawl upon my knees to my chamber window for a shot at one.”

  “Why, Alan,” I cried, “what ails ye at the Campbells?”

  “Well,” says he, “ye ken very well that I am an Appin Stewart, and the Campbells have long harried and wasted those of my name; ay, and got lands of us by treachery—but never with the sword,” he cried loudly, and with the word brought down his fist upon the table. But I paid the less attention to this, for I knew it was usually said by those who have the underhand. “There’s more than that,” he continued, “and all in the same story: lying words, lying papers, tricks fit for a peddler, and the show of what’s legal over all, to make a man the more angry.”

 
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