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Chapter 5 The Man from the Sea

  • Well, I was never one to sit groaning over a cracked pot. If it could not b_ended, then it is the part of a man to say no more of it. For weeks I had a_ching heart; indeed, it is a little sore now, after all these years and _appy marriage, when I think of it. But I kept a brave face on me; and, abov_ll, I did as I had promised that day on the hillside. I was as a brother t_er, and no more: though there were times when I had to put a hard curb upo_yself; for even now she would come to me with her coaxing ways, and wit_ales about how rough Jim was, and how happy she had been when I was kind t_er; for it was in her blood to speak like that, and she could not help it.
  • But for the most part Jim and she were happy enough. It was all over th_ountryside that they were to be married when he had passed his degree, and h_ould come up to West Inch four nights a week to sit with us. My folk wer_leased about it, and I tried to be pleased too.
  • Maybe at first there was a little coolness between him and me: there was no_uite the old schoolboy trust between us. But then, when the first smart wa_assed, it seemed to me that he had acted openly, and that I had no just caus_or complaint against him. So we were friendly in a way; and as for her, h_ad forgotten all his anger, and would have kissed the print of her shoe i_he mud. We used to take long rambles together, he and I; and it is about on_f these that I now want to tell you.
  • We had passed over Bramston Heath and round the clump of firs which screen_he house of Major Elliott from the sea wind. It was spring now, and the yea_as a forward one, so that the trees were well leaved by the end of April. I_as as warm as a summer day, and we were the more surprised when we saw a hug_ire roaring upon the grassplot before the major's door. There was half a fir- tree in it, and the flames were spouting up as high as the bedroom windows.
  • Jim and I stood staring, but we stared the more when out came the major, wit_ great quart pot in his hand, and at his heels his old sister who kept hous_or him, and two of the maids, and all four began capering about round th_ire. He was a douce, quiet man, as all the country knew, and here he was lik_ld Nick at the carlin's dance, hobbling around and waving his drink above hi_ead. We both set off running, and he waved the more when he saw us coming.
  • "Peace!" he roared. "Huzza, boys! Peace!"
  • And at that we both fell to dancing and shouting too; for it had been such _eary war as far back as we' could remember, and the shadow had lain so lon_ver us, that it was wondrous to feel that it was lifted. Indeed it was to_uch to believe, but the major laughed our doubts to scorn.
  • "Aye, aye, it is true," he cried, stopping with his hand to his side. "Th_llies have got Paris, Boney has thrown up the sponge, and his people are al_wearing allegiance to Louis XVIII."
  • "And the Emperor?" I asked. "Will they spare him?"
  • "There's talk of sending him to Elba, where he 'll be out of mischief's way.
  • But his officers, there are some of them who will not get off so lightly.
  • Deeds have been done during these last twenty years that have not bee_orgotten. There are a few old scores to be settled. But it 's Peace! Peace!"
  • And away he went once more with his great tankard hopping round his bonfire.
  • Well, we stayed some time with the major, and then away we went down to th_each, Jim and I, talking about this great news, and all that would come o_t. He knew a little, and I knew less, but we pieced it all together an_alked about how the prices would come down, how our brave fellows woul_eturn home, how the ships could go where they would in peace, and how w_ould pull all the coast beacons down, for there was no enemy now to fear. S_e chatted as we walked along the clean, hard sand, and looked out at the ol_orth Sea. How little did Jim know at that moment, as he strode along by m_ide so full of health and of spirits, that he had reached the extreme summi_f his life, and that from that hour all would, in truth, be upon the downwar_lope!
  • There was a little haze out to sea; for it had been very misty in the earl_orning, though the sun had thinned it. As we looked seawards we suddenly sa_he sail of a small boat break out through the fog, and come bobbing alon_owards the land. A single man was seated in the sheets, and she yawed abou_s she ran, as though he were of two minds whether to beach her or no. A_ast, determined it may be by our presence, he made straight for us, and he_eel grated upon the shingle at our very feet. He dropped his sail, spran_ut, and pulled her bows up on the beach.
  • "Great Britain, I believe?" said he, turning briskly round and facing us.
  • He was a man somewhat above middle height, but exceedingly thin. His eyes wer_iercing and set close together, a long sharp nose jutted out from betwee_hem, and beneath was a bristle of brown moustache as wiry and stiff as _at's whiskers. He was well dressed in a suit of brown with brass buttons, an_e wore high boots which were all roughened and dulled by the sea water. Hi_ace and hands were so dark that he might have been a Spaniard, but as h_aised his hat to us we saw that the upper part of his brow was quite whit_nd that it was from without that he had his swarthiness. He looked from on_o the other of us, and his grey eyes had something in them which I had neve_een before. You could read the question; but there seemed to be a menace a_he back of it, as if the answer were a right and not a favour.
  • "Great Britain?" he asked again, with a quick tap of his foot on the shingle.
  • "Yes," said I, while Jim burst out laughing.
  • "England? Scotland?"
  • "Scotland. But it's England past yonder trees."
  • "Bon! I know where I am now. I 've been in a fog without a compass for nearl_hree days, and I didn't thought I was ever to see land again."
  • He spoke English glibly enough, but with some strange turn of speech from tim_o time.
  • "Where did you come from then?" asked Jim.
  • "I was in a ship that was wrecked," said he shortly. "What is the town dow_onder?"
  • "It is Berwick."
  • "Ah! well, I must get stronger before I can go further."
  • He turned towards the boat, and as he did so he gave a lurch, and would hav_allen had he not caught the prow. On this he seated himself and looked roun_ith a face that was flushed, and two eyes that blazed like a wild beast's.
  • "Voltigeurs de la Garde!" he roared in a voice like a trumpet call, and the_gain "Voltigeurs de la Garde!"
  • He waved his hat above his head, and suddenly pitching forwards upon his fac_n the sand, he lay all huddled into a little brown heap.
  • Jim Horscroft and I stood and stared at each other. The coming of the man ha_een so strange, and his questions, and now this sudden turn. We took him by _houlder each and turned him upon his back. There he lay with his jutting nos_nd his cat's whiskers, but his lips were bloodless, and his breath woul_carce shake a feather.
  • "He's dying, Jim!" I cried.
  • "Aye, for want of food and water. There's not a drop or crumb in the boat.
  • Maybe there's something in the bag."
  • He sprang and brought out a black leather bag, which with a large blue coa_as the only thing in the boat. It was locked, but Jim had it open in a_nstant. It was half full of gold pieces.
  • Neither of us had ever seen so much before — no, nor a tenth part of it. Ther_ust have been hundreds of them, all bright new British sovereigns. Indeed, s_aken up were we that we had forgotten all about their owner until a groa_ook our thoughts back to him. His lips were bluer than ever, and his jaw ha_ropped. I can see his open mouth now, with its row of white wolfish teeth.
  • "My God, he's off!" cried Jim. "Here, run to the burn, Jock, for a hatful o_ater. Quick, man, or he's gone! I 'll loosen his things the while."
  • Away I tore, and was back in a minute with as much water as would stay in m_lengarry. Jim had pulled open the man's coat and shirt, and we doused th_ater over him, and forced some between his lips. It had a good effect; fo_fter a gasp or two he sat up and rubbed his eyes slowly, like a man who i_aking from a deep sleep. But neither Jim nor I were looking at his face now, for our eyes were fixed upon his uncovered chest.
  • There were two deep red puckers in it, one just below the collar bone, and th_ther about half-way down on the right side. The skin of his body wa_xtremely white up to the brown line of his neck, and the angry crinkled spot_ooked the more vivid against it. From above I could see that there was _orresponding pucker in the back at one place, but not at the other.
  • Inexperienced as I was, I could tell what that meant. Two bullets had pierce_is chest: one had passed through it, and the other had remained inside.
  • But suddenly he staggered up to his feet, and pulled his shirt to, with _uick suspicious glance at us.
  • "What have I been doing?" he asked. "I've been off my head. Take no notice o_nything I may have said. Have I been shouting?"
  • "You shouted just before you fell."
  • "What did I shout?"
  • I told him, though it bore little meaning to my mind. He looked sharply at us, and then he shrugged his shoulders.
  • "It's the words of a song," said he. "Well, the question is, What am I to d_ow? I didn't thought I was so weak. Where did you get the water?"
  • I pointed towards the burn, and he staggered off to the bank. There he la_own upon his face, and he drank until I thought he would never have done. Hi_ong, skinny neck was outstretched like a horse's, and he made a loud suppin_oise with his lips. At last he got up with a long sigh, and wiped hi_oustache with his sleeve.
  • "That's better," said he. "Have you any food?"
  • I had crammed two bits of oat-cake into my pocket when I left home, and thes_e crushed into his mouth and swallowed. Then he squared his shoulders, puffe_ut his chest, and patted his ribs with the flat of his hands.
  • "I am sure that I owe you exceedingly well," said he. "You have been very kin_o a stranger. But I see that you have had occasion to open my bag."
  • "We hoped that we might find wine or brandy there when you fainted."
  • "Ah! I have nothing there but just a little — how do you say it? — my savings.
  • They are not much, but I must live quietly upon them until I find something t_o. Now one could live quietly here, I should say. I could not have come upo_ more peaceful place, without perhaps so much as a gend'arme nearer than tha_own."
  • "You haven't told us yet who you are, where you come from, nor what you hav_een," said Jim bluntly.
  • The stranger looked him up and down with a critical eye:
  • "My word, but you would make a grenadier for a flank company," said he. "As t_hat you ask, I might take offence at it from other lips; but you have a righ_o know, since you have received me with so great courtesy. My name i_onaventure de Lapp. I am a soldier and a wanderer by trade, and I have com_rom Dunkirk, as you may see printed upon the boat."
  • "I thought that you had been shipwrecked!" said I.
  • But he looked at me with the straight gaze of an honest man.
  • "That is right," said he, "but the ship went from Dunkirk, and this is one o_er boats. The crew got away in the long boat, and she went down so quickl_hat I had no time to put anything into her. That was on Monday."
  • "And to-day's Thursday. You have been three days without bite or sup."
  • "It is too long," said he. "Twice before I have been for two days, but neve_uite so long as this. Well, I shall leave my boat here, and see whether I ca_et lodgings in any of these little grey houses upon the hillsides. Why i_hat great fire burning over yonder?"
  • "It is one of our neighbours who has served against the French. He i_ejoicing because peace has been declared."
  • "Oh, you have a neighbour who has served then! I am glad; for I, too, hav_een a little soldiering here and there."
  • He did not look glad, but he drew his brows down over his keen eyes.
  • "You are French, are you not?" I asked, as we all walked up the hill together, he with his black bag in his hand and his long blue cloak slung over hi_houlder.
  • "Well, I am of Alsace." said he; "and, you know, they are more German tha_rench. For myself, I have been in so many lands that I feel at home in an. _ave been a great traveller; and where do you think that I might find _odging?"
  • I can scarcely tell now, on looking back with the great gap of five-and-thirr_ears between, what impression this singular man had made upon me. _istrusted him, I think, and yet I was fascinated by him also; for there wa_omething in his bearing, in his look, and his whole fashion of speech whic_as entirely unlike anything that I had ever seen. Jim Horscroft was a fin_an, and Major Elliott was a brave one, but they both lacked something tha_his wanderer had. It was the quick alert look, the flash of the eye, th_ameless distinction which is so hard to fix. And then we had saved him whe_e lay gasping on the shingle, and one's heart always softens towards what on_as once helped.
  • "If you will come with me," said I, "I have little doubt that I can find you _ed for a night or two, and by that time you will be better able to make you_wn arrangements."
  • He pulled off his hat, and bowed with all the grace imaginable. But Ji_orscroft pulled me by the sleeve, and led me aside.
  • "You 're mad, Jock," he whispered. "The fellow is a common adventurer. What d_ou want to get mixed up with him for?"
  • But I was as obstinate a man as ever laced his boots, and if you jerked m_ack it was the finest way of sending me to the front.
  • "He's a stranger, and it's our part to look after him," said I.
  • "You'll be sorry for it," said he.
  • "Maybe so."
  • "If you don't think of yourself, you might think of your cousin."
  • "Edie can take very good care of herself."
  • "Well, then, the devil take you, and you may do what you like!" he cried, i_ne of his sudden flashes of anger. Without a word of farewell to either o_s, he turned off upon the track that led up towards his father's house.
  • Bonaventure de Lapp smiled at me as we walked on together.
  • "I didn't thought he liked me very much," said he. "I can see very well tha_e has made a quarrel with you because you are taking me to your home. Wha_oes he think of me then? Does he think perhaps that I have stole the gold i_y bag, or what is it that he fears?"
  • "Tut, I neither know nor care," said I. "No stranger shall pass our doo_ithout a crust and a bed?"
  • With my head cocked and feeling as if I was doing something very fine, instea_f being the most egregious fool south of Edinburgh, I marched on down th_ath with my new acquaintance at my elbow.