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Chapter 7 The Corriemuir Peel Tower

  • Well, it would weary me, and I am very sure that it would weary you also, if _ere to attempt to tell you how life went with us after this man came unde_ur roof, or the way in which he gradually came to win the affections of ever_ne of us. With the women it was quick work enough; but soon he had thawed m_ather too, which was no such easy matter, and had gained Jim Horscroft'_oodwill as well as my own. Indeed, we were but two great boys beside him, fo_e had been everywhere and seen everything; and of an evening he would chatte_way in his limping English until he took us clean from the plain kitchen an_he little farm steading, to plunge us into courts and camps and battlefield_nd all the wonders of the world. Horscroft had been sulky enough with him a_irst; but de Lapp, with his tact and his easy ways, soon drew him round, until he had quite won his heart, and Jim would sit with Cousin Edie's hand i_is, and the two be quite lost in listening to all that he had to tell us. _ill not tell you all this; but even now, after so long an interval, I ca_race how, week by week and month by month, by this word and that deed, h_oulded us all as he wished.
  • One of his first acts was to give my father the boat in which he had come, reserving only the right to have it back in case he should have need of it.
  • The herring were down on the coast that autumn, and my uncle before he die_ad given us a fine set of nets, so the gift was worth many a pound to us.
  • Sometimes de Lapp would go out in the boat alone, and I have seen him for _hole summer day rowing slowly along and stopping every half-dozen strokes t_hrow over a stone at the end of a string. I could not think what he was doin_ntil he told me of his own freewill.
  • "I am fond of studying all that has to do with the military," said he, "and _ever lose a chance. I was wondering if it would be a difficult matter for th_ommander, of an army corps to throw his men ashore here."
  • "If the wind were not from the east," said I.
  • "Ah! quite so, if the wind were not from the east. Have you taken sounding_ere?"
  • "No?"
  • "Your line of battleships would have to lie outside; but there is water enoug_or a forty-gun frigate right up within musket range. Cram your boats wit_irailleurs, deploy them behind these sandhills, then back with the launche_or more, and a stream of grape over their heads from the frigates. It coul_e done! it could be done!"
  • His moustaches bristled out more like a cat's than ever, and I could see b_he flash of his eyes that he was carried away by his dream.
  • "You forget that our soldiers would be upon the beach," said I indignantly.
  • "Ta, ta, ta!" he cried. "Of course it takes two sides to make a battle. Let u_ee now; let us work it out. What could you get together? Shall we say twenty, thirty thousand. A few regiments of good troops: the rest, pouf! — conscripts, bourgeois with arms. How do you call them — volunteers?"
  • "Brave men!" I shouted.
  • "Oh yes, very brave men, but imbecile. Ah, mon Dieu, it is incredible ho_mbecile they would be! Not they alone, I mean, but all young troops. They ar_o afraid of being afraid that they would take no precaution. Ah, I have see_t! In Spain I have seen a battalion of conscripts attack a battery of te_ieces. Up they went, ah, so gallantly! and presently the hillside looked, from where I stood, like — how do you say it in English? — a raspberry tart.
  • And where was our fine battalion of conscripts? Then another battalion o_oung troops tried it, all together in a rush, shouting and yelling but wha_ill shouting do against a mitraille of grape? And there was our secon_attalion laid out on the hillside. And then the foot chasseurs of the Guard, old soldiers, were told to take the battery; and there was nothing fine abou_heir advance — no column, no shouting, nobody killed — just a few scattere_ines of tirailleurs and pelotons of support; but in ten minutes the guns wer_ilenced, and the Spanish gunners cut to pieces. War must be learned, my youn_riend, just the same as the farming of sheep."
  • "Pooh!" said I, not to be outcrowed by a foreigner. "If we had thirty thousan_en on the line of the hill yonder, you would come to be very glad that yo_ad your boats behind you."
  • "On the line of the hill?" said he, with a flash of his eyes along the ridge.
  • "Yes, if your man knew his business he would have his left about your house, his centre on Corriemuir, and his right over near the doctor's, house, wit_is tirailleurs pushed out thickly in front. His horse, of course, would tr_o cut us up as we deployed on the beach. But once let us form, and we shoul_oon know what to do. There's the weak point, there at the gap. I would swee_t with my guns, then roll in my cavalry, push the infantry on in gran_olumns, and that wing would find itself up in the air. Eh, Jock, where woul_our volunteers be?"
  • "Close at the heels of your hindmost man," said I; and we both burst out int_he hearty laugh with which such discussions usually ended.
  • Sometimes when he talked I thought he was joking, and at other times it wa_ot quite so easy to say. I well remember one evening that summer, when he wa_itting in the kitchen with my father, Jim, and me, after the women had gon_o bed, he began about Scotland and its relation to England.
  • "You used to have your own king and your own laws made at Edinburgh," said he.
  • "Does it not fill you with rage and despair when you think that it all come_o you from London now?"
  • Jim took his pipe out of his mouth.
  • "It was we who put our king over the English; so if there's any rage, i_hould have been over yonder," said he.
  • This was clearly news to the stranger, and it silenced him for the moment.
  • "Well, but your laws are made down there, and surely that is not good," h_aid at last.
  • "No, it would be well to have a Parliament back in Edinburgh," said my father;
  • "but I am kept so busy with the sheep that I have little enough time to thin_f such things."
  • "It is for fine young men like you two to think of it," said de Lapp. "When _ountry is injured, it is to its young men that it looks to avenge it."
  • "Aye! the English take too much upon themselves sometimes," said Jim.
  • "Well, if there are many of that way of thinking about, why should we not for_hem into battalions and march them upon London?" cried de Lapp.
  • "That would be a rare little picnic," said I, laughing. "And who would lea_s?"
  • He jumped up, bowing, with his hand on his heart, in his queer fashion.
  • "If you will allow me to have the honour!" he cried; and then seeing that w_ere all laughing, he began to laugh also, but I am sure that there was reall_o thought of a joke in his mind.
  • I could never make out what his age could be, nor could Jim Horscroft either.
  • Sometimes we thought that he was an oldish man that looked young, and a_thers that he was a youngish man who looked old. His brown, stiff, close- cropped hair needed no cropping at the top, where it thinned away to a shinin_urve. His skin, too, was intersected by a thousand fine wrinkles, lacing an_nterlacing, and was all burned, as I have already said, by the sun. Yet h_as as lithe as a boy, and he was as tough as whalebone, walking all day ove_he hills or rowing on the sea without turning a hair. On the whole we though_hat he might be about forty or forty-five, though it was hard to see how h_ould have seen so much of life in the time. But one day we got talking o_ges, and then he surprised us.
  • I had been saying that I was just twenty, and Jim said that he was twenty- seven.
  • "Then I am the most old of the three," said de Lapp.
  • We laughed at this, for by our reckoning he might almost have been our father.
  • "But not by so much," said he, arching his brows. "I was nine-and-twenty i_ecember."
  • And it was this even more than his talk which made us understand what a_xtraordinary life it must have been that he had led. He saw our astonishment, and laughed at it.
  • "I have lived! I have lived!" he cried. "I have spent my days and my nights. _ed a company in a battle where five nations were engaged when I was bu_ourteen. I made a king turn pale at the words I whispered in his car when _as twenty. I had a hand in remaking a kingdom and putting a fresh king upon _reat throne the very year that I came of age. Mon Dieu, I have lived my life!
  • That was the most that I ever heard him confess of his past life, and he onl_hook his head and laughed when we tried to get something more out of him.
  • There were times when we thought that he was but a clever impostor; for wha_ould a man of such influence and talents be loitering here in Berwickshir_or? But one day there came an incident which showed us that he had indeed _istory in the past. You will remember that there was an old officer of th_eninsula who lived no great way from us, the same who danced round th_onfire with his sister and the two maids. He had gone up to London on som_usiness about his pension and his wound money, and the chance of having som_ork given him, so that he did not come back until late in the autumn. One o_he first days after his return he came down to see us, and there for th_irst time he clapped eyes upon de Lapp. Never in my life did I look upon s_stonished a face, and he stared at our friend for a long minute without s_uch as a word. De Lapp looked back at him equally hard, but there was n_ecognition in his eyes.
  • "I do not know who you are, sir," he said at last; "but you look at me as i_ou had seen me before."
  • "So I have," answered the major.
  • "Never to my knowledge."
  • "But I 'll swear it!"
  • "Where then?"
  • "At the village of Astorga, in the year '8."
  • De Lapp started, and stared again at our neighbour.
  • "Mon Dieu, what a chance!" he cried. "And you were the English parliamentaire?
  • I remember you very well indeed, sir. Let me have a whisper in your ear."
  • He took him aside and talked very earnestly with him in French for a quarte_f an hour, gesticulating with his hands, and explaining something, while th_ajor nodded his old grizzled head from time to time. At last they seemed t_ome to some agreement, and I heard the major say "Parole d'honneur" severa_imes, and afterwards "Fortune de la guerre," which I could very wel_nderstand, for they gave you a fine upbringing at Birtwhistle's. But afte_hat I always noticed that the major never used the same free fashion o_peech that we did towards our lodger, but bowed when he addressed him, an_reated him with a wonderful deal of respect. I asked the major more than onc_hat he knew about him, but he always put it off, and I could get no answe_ut of him.
  • Jim Horscroft was at home all that summer, but late in the autumn he went bac_o Edinburgh again for the winter session, and as he intended to work ver_ard and get his degree next spring if he could, he said that he would bide u_here for the Christmas. So there was a great leave-taking between him an_ousin Edie; and he was to put up his plate and to marry her as soon as he ha_he right to practice. I never knew a man love a woman more fondly than he di_er, and she liked him well enough in a way — for, indeed, in the whole o_cotland she would not find a finer-looking man — but when it came t_arriage, I think she winced a little at the thought that all her wonderfu_reams should end in nothing more than in being the wife of a country surgeon.
  • Still there was only me and Jim to choose out of, and she took the best of us.
  • Of course there was de Lapp also; but we always felt that he was of a_ltogether different class to us, and so he didn't count. I was never ver_ure at that time whether Edie cared for him or not. When Jim was at home the_ook little notice of each other. After he was gone they were thrown mor_ogether, which was natural enough, as he had taken up so much of her tim_efore. Once or twice she spoke to me about de Lapp as though she did not lik_im, and yet she was uneasy if he were not in in the evening; and there was n_ne so fond of his talk, or with so many questions to ask him, as she. Sh_ade him describe what queens wore, and what sort of carpets they walked on, and whether they had hairpins in their hair, and how many feathers they had i_heir hats, until it was a wonder to me how he could find an answer to it all.
  • And yet an answer he always had; and was so ready and quick with his tongue, and so anxious to amuse her, that I wondered how it was that she did not lik_im better.
  • Well, the summer and the autumn and the best part of the winter passed away, and we were still all very happy together. We got well into the year 1815, an_he great Emperor was still eating his heart out at Elba; and all th_mbassadors were wrangling together at Vienna as to what they should do wit_he lion's skin, now that they had so fairly hunted him down. And we in ou_ittle corner of Europe went on with our petty peaceful business, lookin_fter the sheep, attending the Berwick cattle fairs, and chatting at nigh_ound the blazing peat fire. We never thought that what all these high an_ighty people were doing could have any bearing upon us; and as to war, wh_verybody was agreed that the great shadow was lifted from us for ever, an_hat, unless the Allies quarrelled among themselves, there would not be a sho_ired in Europe for another fifty years.
  • There was one incident, however, that stands out very clearly in my memory. _hink that it must have happened about the February of this year, and I wil_ell it to you before I go any further.
  • You know what the border Peel castles are like, I have no doubt. They wer_ust square heaps built every here and there along the line, so that the fol_ight have some place of protection against raiders and moss-troopers. Whe_ercy and his men were over the Marches, then the people would drive some o_heir cattle into the yard of the tower, shut up the big gate, and light _ire in the brazier at the top, which would be answered by all the other Pee_owers, until the lights would go twinkling up to the Lammermuir Hills, and s_arry the news on to the Pentlands and to Edinburgh. But now, of course, al_hese old keeps were warped and crumbling, and made fine nesting places fo_he wild birds. Many a good egg have I had for my collection out of th_orriemuir Peel Tower.
  • One day I had been a very long walk, away over to leave a message at th_aidlaw Armstrongs, who live two miles on this side of Ayton. About fiv_'clock, just before the sun set, I found myself on the brae path with th_able end of West Inch peeping up in front of me and the old Peel tower lyin_n my left. I turned my eyes on the keep, for it looked so fine with the flus_f the level sun beating full upon it and the blue sea stretching out behind; and as I stared, I suddenly saw the face of a man twinkle for a moment in on_f the holes in the wall.
  • Well I stood and wondered over this, for what could anybody be doing in such _lace now that it was too early for the nesting season? It was so queer that _as determined to come to the bottom of it; so, tired as I was, I turned m_houlder on home, and walked swiftly towards the tower. The grass stretche_ight up to the very base of the wall, and my feet made little noise until _eached the crumbling arch where the old gate used to be. I peeped through, and there was Bonaventure de Lapp standing inside the keep, and peeping ou_hrough the very hole at which I had seen his face. He was turned half awa_rom me, and it was clear that he had not seen me at all, for he was starin_ith all his eyes over in the direction of West Inch. As I advanced my foo_attled the rubble that lay in the gateway, and he turned round with a star_nd faced me.
  • He was not a man whom you could put out of countenance, and his face change_o more than if he had been expecting me there for a twelvemonth; but ther_as something in his eyes which let me know that he would have paid a goo_rice to have me back on the brae path again.
  • "Hullo!" said I, "what are you doing here?"
  • "I may ask you that," said he.
  • "I came up because I saw your face at the window."
  • "And I because, as you may well have observed, I have very much interest fo_ll that has to do with the military, and, of course castles are among them.
  • You will excuse me for one moment, my dear Jack."
  • And he stepped out suddenly through the hole in the wall so as to be out of m_ight.
  • But I was very much too curious to excuse him so easily. I shifted my groun_wiftly to see what it was that he was after. He was standing outside, an_aving his hand frantically, as in a signal.
  • "What are you doing?" I cried; and then, running out to his side, I looke_cross the moors to see whom he was beckoning to.
  • "You go too far, sir," said he, angrily; "I didn't thought you would have gon_o far. A gentleman has the freedom to act as he choose without your being th_py upon him. If we are to be friends, you must not interfere in my affairs."
  • "I don't like these secret doings," said I, "and my father would not like the_ither."
  • "Your father can speak for himself, and there is no secret," said he, curtly.
  • "It is you with your imaginings that make a secret. Ta, ta, ta! I have n_atience with such foolishness."
  • And without as much as a nod, he turned his back upon me, and started walkin_wiftly to West Inch.
  • Well, I followed him, and in the worst of tempers; for I had a feeling tha_here was some mischief in the wind, and yet I could not for the life of m_hink what it all meant. Again I found myself puzzling over the whole myster_f this man's coming, and of his long residence among us. And whom could h_ave expected to meet at the Peel Tower? Was the fellow a spy, and was it som_rother spy who came to speak with him there? But that was absurd. What coul_here be to spy about in Berwickshire? And besides, Major Elliott knew al_bout him, and he would not show him such respect if there were anythin_miss.
  • I had just got as far as this in my thoughts when I heard a cheery hail, an_here was the major himself coming down the hill from his house, with his bi_ulldog Bounder held in leash. This dog was a savage creature, and had cause_ore than one accident on the country-side; but the major was very fond of it, and would never go out without it, though he kept it tied with a good thic_hong of leather. Well, just as I was looking at the major, waiting for him t_ome up, he stumbled with his lame leg over a branch of gorse, and i_ecovering himself he let go his hold of the leash, and in an instant ther_as the beast of a dog flying down the hillside in my direction.
  • I did not like it, I can tell you; for there was neither stick nor ston_bout, and I knew that the brute was dangerous. The major was shrieking to i_rom behind, and I think that the creature thought that he was hallooing i_n, so furiously did it rush. But I knew its name, and I thought that mayb_hat might give me the privileges of acquaintanceship; so as it came to m_ith bristling hair and its nose screwed back between its two red eyes, _ried out "Bounder! Bounder!" at the pitch of my lungs. It had its effect, fo_he beast passed me with a snarl, and flew along the path on the traces o_onaventure de Lapp.
  • He turned at the shouting, and seemed to take in the whole thing at a glance; but he strolled along as slowly as ever. My heart was in my mouth for him, fo_he dog had never seen him before; and I ran as fast as my feet would carry m_o, drag it away from him. But somehow, as it bounded up and saw th_wittering finger and thumb which de Lapp held out behind him, its fury die_uddenly away, and we saw it wagging its thumb of a tail and clawing at hi_nee.
  • "Your dog then, major?" said he, as its owner came hobbling up. "Ah, it is _ine beast — a fine, pretty thing!"
  • The major was blowing hard, for he had covered the ground nearly as fast as I.
  • "I was afraid lest he might have hurt you," he panted.
  • "Ta, ta, ta!" cried de Lapp. "He is a pretty, gentle thing; I always love th_ogs. But I am glad that I have met you, major; for here is this youn_entleman, to whom I owe very much, who has begun to think that am a spy. I_t not so, Jack?"
  • I was so taken aback by his words that I could not lay my tongue to an answer, but coloured up and looked askance, like the awkward country lad that I was.
  • "You know me, major," said de Lapp, "and I am sure that you will tell him tha_his could not be."
  • "No, no, Jack! Certainly not! certainly not!" cried the major.
  • "Thank you," said de Lapp. "You know me, and you do me justice. And yourself, I hope that your knee is better, and that you will soon have your regimen_iven you."
  • "I am well enough," answered the major; "but they will never give me a plac_nless there is war, and there will be no more war in my time."
  • "Oh, you think that!" said de Lapp with a smile. "Well, nous verrons! We shal_ee, my friend!"
  • He whisked off his hat, and turning briskly he walked off in the direction o_est Inch. The major stood looking after him with thoughtful eyes, and the_sked me what it was that had made me think that he was a spy. When I told hi_e said nothing, but he shook his head, and looked like a man who was ill a_ase in his mind.