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.
"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.
"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.