Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Chapter 9

The Man with the Belt of Gold

More than a week went by, in which the ill-luck that had hitherto pursued the Covenant upon this voyage grew yet more strongly marked. Some days she made a little way; others, she was driven actually back. At last we were beaten so far to the south that we tossed and tacked to and fro the whole of the ninth day, within sight of Cape Wrath and the wild, rocky coast on either hand of it. There followed on that a council of the officers, and some decision which I did not rightly understand, seeing only the result: that we had made a fair wind of a foul one and were running south.

The tenth afternoon there was a falling swell and a thick, wet, white fog that hid one end of the brig from the other. All afternoon, when I went on deck, I saw men and officers listening hard over the bulwarks — “for breakers,” they said; and though I did not so much as understand the word, I felt danger in the air, and was excited.

Maybe about ten at night, I was serving Mr. Riach and the captain at their supper, when the ship struck something with a great sound, and we heard voices singing out. My two masters leaped to their feet.

“She’s struck!” said Mr. Riach.

“No, sir,” said the captain. “We’ve only run a boat down.”

And they hurried out.

The captain was in the right of it. We had run down a boat in the fog, and she had parted in the midst and gone to the bottom with all her crew but one. This man (as I heard afterwards) had been sitting in the stern as a passenger, while the rest were on the benches rowing. At the moment of the blow, the stern had been thrown into the air, and the man (having his hands free, and for all he was encumbered with a frieze overcoat that came below his knees) had leaped up and caught hold of the brig’s bowsprit. It showed he had luck and much agility and unusual strength, that he should have thus saved himself from such a pass. And yet, when the captain brought him into the round-house, and I set eyes on him for the first time, he looked as cool as I did.

He was smallish in stature, but well set and as nimble as a goat; his face was of a good open expression, but sunburnt very dark, and heavily freckled and pitted with the small-pox; his eyes were unusually light and had a kind of dancing madness in them, that was both engaging and alarming; and when he took off his great-coat, he laid a pair of fine silver-mounted pistols on the table, and I saw that he was belted with a great sword. His manners, besides, were elegant, and he pledged the captain handsomely. Altogether I thought of him, at the first sight, that here was a man I would rather call my friend than my enemy.

The captain, too, was taking his observations, but rather of the man’s clothes than his person. And to be sure, as soon as he had taken off the great-coat, he showed forth mighty fine for the round-house of a merchant brig: having a hat with feathers, a red waistcoat, breeches of black plush, and a blue coat with silver buttons and handsome silver lace; costly clothes, though somewhat spoiled with the fog and being slept in.

“I’m vexed, sir, about the boat,” says the captain.

“There are some pretty men gone to the bottom,” said the stranger, “that I would rather see on the dry land again than half a score of boats.”

“Friends of yours?” said Hoseason.

“You have none such friends in your country,” was the reply. “They would have died for me like dogs.”

“Well, sir,” said the captain, still watching him, “there are more men in the world than boats to put them in.”

“And that’s true, too,” cried the other, “and ye seem to be a gentleman of great penetration.”

“I have been in France, sir,” says the captain, so that it was plain he meant more by the words than showed upon the face of them.

“Well, sir,” says the other, “and so has many a pretty man, for the matter of that.”

“No doubt, sir” says the captain, “and fine coats.”

“Oho!” says the stranger, “is that how the wind sets?” And he laid his hand quickly on his pistols.

“Don’t be hasty,” said the captain. “Don’t do a mischief before ye see the need of it. Ye’ve a French soldier’s coat upon your back and a Scotch tongue in your head, to be sure; but so has many an honest fellow in these days, and I dare say none the worse of it.”

“So?” said the gentleman in the fine coat: “are ye of the honest party?” (meaning, Was he a Jacobite? for each side, in these sort of civil broils, takes the name of honesty for its own).

“Why, sir,” replied the captain, “I am a true-blue Protestant, and I thank God for it.” (It was the first word of any religion I had ever heard from him, but I learnt afterwards he was a great church-goer while on shore.) “But, for all that,” says he, “I can be sorry to see another man with his back to the wall.”

“Can ye so, indeed?” asked the Jacobite. “Well, sir, to be quite plain with ye, I am one of those honest gentlemen that were in trouble about the years forty-five and six; and (to be still quite plain with ye) if I got into the hands of any of the red-coated gentry, it’s like it would go hard with me. Now, sir, I was for France; and there was a French ship cruising here to pick me up; but she gave us the go-by in the fog — as I wish from the heart that ye had done yoursel’! And the best that I can say is this: If ye can set me ashore where I was going, I have that upon me will reward you highly for your trouble.”

“In France?” says the captain. “No, sir; that I cannot do. But where ye come from — we might talk of that.”

And then, unhappily, he observed me standing in my corner, and packed me off to the galley to get supper for the gentleman. I lost no time, I promise you; and when I came back into the round-house, I found the gentleman had taken a money-belt from about his waist, and poured out a guinea or two upon the table. The captain was looking at the guineas, and then at the belt, and then at the gentleman’s face; and I thought he seemed excited.

“Half of it,” he cried, “and I’m your man!”

The other swept back the guineas into the belt, and put it on again under his waistcoat. “I have told ye” sir” said he, “that not one doit of it belongs to me. It belongs to my chieftain,” and here he touched his hat, “and while I would be but a silly messenger to grudge some of it that the rest might come safe, I should show myself a hound indeed if I bought my own carcase any too dear. Thirty guineas on the sea-side, or sixty if ye set me on the Linnhe Loch. Take it, if ye will; if not, ye can do your worst.”

“Ay,” said Hoseason. “And if I give ye over to the soldiers?”

“Ye would make a fool’s bargain,” said the other. “My chief, let me tell you, sir, is forfeited, like every honest man in Scotland. His estate is in the hands of the man they call King George; and it is his officers that collect the rents, or try to collect them. But for the honour of Scotland, the poor tenant bodies take a thought upon their chief lying in exile; and this money is a part of that very rent for which King George is looking. Now, sir, ye seem to me to be a man that understands things: bring this money within the reach of Government, and how much of it’ll come to you?”

“Little enough, to be sure,” said Hoseason; and then, “if they, knew” he added, drily. “But I think, if I was to try, that I could hold my tongue about it.”

“Ah, but I’ll begowk12 ye there!” cried the gentleman. “Play me false, and I’ll play you cunning. If a hand is laid upon me, they shall ken what money it is.”

“Well,” returned the captain, “what must be must. Sixty guineas, and done. Here’s my hand upon it.”

“And here’s mine,” said the other.

And thereupon the captain went out (rather hurriedly, I thought), and left me alone in the round-house with the stranger.

At that period (so soon after the forty-five) there were many exiled gentlemen coming back at the peril of their lives, either to see their friends or to collect a little money; and as for the Highland chiefs that had been forfeited, it was a common matter of talk how their tenants would stint themselves to send them money, and their clansmen outface the soldiery to get it in, and run the gauntlet of our great navy to carry it across. All this I had, of course, heard tell of; and now I had a man under my eyes whose life was forfeit on all these counts and upon one more, for he was not only a rebel and a smuggler of rents, but had taken service with King Louis of France. And as if all this were not enough, he had a belt full of golden guineas round his loins. Whatever my opinions, I could not look on such a man without a lively interest.

“And so you’re a Jacobite?” said I, as I set meat before him.

“Ay,” said he, beginning to eat. “And you, by your long face, should be a Whig?”13

“Betwixt and between,” said I, not to annoy him; for indeed I was as good a Whig as Mr. Campbell could make me.

“And that’s naething,” said he. “But I’m saying, Mr. Betwixt-and-Between,” he added, “this bottle of yours is dry; and it’s hard if I’m to pay sixty guineas and be grudged a dram upon the back of it.”

“I’ll go and ask for the key,” said I, and stepped on deck.

The fog was as close as ever, but the swell almost down. They had laid the brig to, not knowing precisely where they were, and the wind (what little there was of it) not serving well for their true course. Some of the hands were still hearkening for breakers; but the captain and the two officers were in the waist with their heads together. It struck me (I don’t know why) that they were after no good; and the first word I heard, as I drew softly near, more than confirmed me.

It was Mr. Riach, crying out as if upon a sudden thought: “Couldn’t we wile him out of the round-house?”

“He’s better where he is,” returned Hoseason; “he hasn’t room to use his sword.”

“Well, that’s true,” said Riach; “but he’s hard to come at.”

“Hut!” said Hoseason. “We can get the man in talk, one upon each side, and pin him by the two arms; or if that’ll not hold, sir, we can make a run by both the doors and get him under hand before he has the time to draw”

At this hearing, I was seized with both fear and anger at these treacherous, greedy, bloody men that I sailed with. My first mind was to run away; my second was bolder.

“Captain,” said I, “the gentleman is seeking a dram, and the bottle’s out. Will you give me the key?”

They all started and turned about.

“Why, here’s our chance to get the firearms!”

Riach cried; and then to me: “Hark ye, David,” he said, “do ye ken where the pistols are?”

“Ay, ay,” put in Hoseason. “David kens; David’s a good lad. Ye see, David my man, yon wild Hielandman is a danger to the ship, besides being a rank foe to King George, God bless him!”

I had never been so be-Davided since I came on board: but I said Yes, as if all I heard were quite natural.

“The trouble is,” resumed the captain, “that all our firelocks, great and little, are in the round-house under this man’s nose; likewise the powder. Now, if I, or one of the officers, was to go in and take them, he would fall to thinking. But a lad like you, David, might snap up a horn and a pistol or two without remark. And if ye can do it cleverly, I’ll bear it in mind when it’ll be good for you to have friends; and that’s when we come to Carolina.”

Here Mr. Riach whispered him a little.

“Very right, sir,” said the captain; and then to myself: “And see here, David, yon man has a beltful of gold, and I give you my word that you shall have your fingers in it.”

I told him I would do as he wished, though indeed I had scarce breath to speak with; and upon that he gave me the key of the spirit locker, and I began to go slowly back to the round-house. What was I to do? They were dogs and thieves; they had stolen me from my own country; they had killed poor Ransome; and was I to hold the candle to another murder? But then, upon the other hand, there was the fear of death very plain before me; for what could a boy and a man, if they were as brave as lions, against a whole ship’s company?

I was still arguing it back and forth, and getting no great clearness, when I came into the round-house and saw the Jacobite eating his supper under the lamp; and at that my mind was made up all in a moment. I have no credit by it; it was by no choice of mine, but as if by compulsion, that I walked right up to the table and put my hand on his shoulder.

“Do ye want to be killed?” said I. He sprang to his feet, and looked a question at me as clear as if he had spoken.

“O!” cried I, “they’re all murderers here; it’s a ship full of them! They’ve murdered a boy already. Now it’s you.”

“Ay, ay” said he; “but they have n’t got me yet.” And then looking at me curiously, “Will ye stand with me?”

“That will I!” said I. “I am no thief, nor yet murderer. I’ll stand by you.”

“Why, then,” said he, “what’s your name?”

“David Balfour,” said I; and then, thinking that a man with so fine a coat must like fine people, I added for the first time, “of Shaws.”

It never occurred to him to doubt me, for a Highlander is used to see great gentlefolk in great poverty; but as he had no estate of his own, my words nettled a very childish vanity he had.

“My name is Stewart,” he said, drawing himself up. “Alan Breck, they call me. A king’s name is good enough for me, though I bear it plain and have the name of no farm-midden to clap to the hind-end of it.”

And having administered this rebuke, as though it were something of a chief importance, he turned to examine our defences.

The round-house was built very strong, to support the breaching of the seas. Of its five apertures, only the skylight and the two doors were large enough for the passage of a man. The doors, besides, could be drawn close: they were of stout oak, and ran in grooves, and were fitted with hooks to keep them either shut or open, as the need arose. The one that was already shut I secured in this fashion; but when I was proceeding to slide to the other, Alan stopped me.

“David,” said he — “for I cannae bring to mind the name of your landed estate, and so will make so bold as to call you David — that door, being open, is the best part of my defences.”

“It would be yet better shut,” says I.

“Not so, David,” says he. “Ye see, I have but one face; but so long as that door is open and my face to it, the best part of my enemies will be in front of me, where I would aye wish to find them.”

Then he gave me from the rack a cutlass (of which there were a few besides the firearms), choosing it with great care, shaking his head and saying he had never in all his life seen poorer weapons; and next he set me down to the table with a powder-horn, a bag of bullets and all the pistols, which he bade me charge.

“And that will be better work, let me tell you,” said he, “for a gentleman of decent birth, than scraping plates and raxing14 drams to a wheen tarry sailors.”

Thereupon he stood up in the midst with his face to the door, and drawing his great sword, made trial of the room he had to wield it in.

“I must stick to the point,” he said, shaking his head; “and that’s a pity, too. It doesn’t set my genius, which is all for the upper guard. And, now” said he, “do you keep on charging the pistols, and give heed to me.”

I told him I would listen closely. My chest was tight, my mouth dry, the light dark to my eyes; the thought of the numbers that were soon to leap in upon us kept my heart in a flutter: and the sea, which I heard washing round the brig, and where I thought my dead body would be cast ere morning, ran in my mind strangely.

“First of all,” said he, “how many are against us?”

I reckoned them up; and such was the hurry of my mind, I had to cast the numbers twice. “Fifteen,” said I.

Alan whistled. “Well,” said he, “that can’t be cured. And now follow me. It is my part to keep this door, where I look for the main battle. In that, ye have no hand. And mind and dinnae fire to this side unless they get me down; for I would rather have ten foes in front of me than one friend like you cracking pistols at my back.”

I told him, indeed I was no great shot.

“And that, s very bravely said,” he cried, in a great admiration of my candour. “There’s many a pretty gentleman that wouldnae dare to say it.”

“But then, sir” said I, “there is the door behind you” which they may perhaps break in.”

“Ay,” said he, “and that is a part of your work. No sooner the pistols charged, than ye must climb up into yon bed where ye’re handy at the window; and if they lift hand, against the door, ye’re to shoot. But that’s not all. Let’s make a bit of a soldier of ye, David. What else have ye to guard?”

“There’s the skylight,” said I. “But indeed, Mr. Stewart, I would need to have eyes upon both sides to keep the two of them; for when my face is at the one, my back is to the other.”

“And that’s very true,” said Alan. “But have ye no ears to your head?”

“To be sure!” cried I. “I must hear the bursting of the glass!”

“Ye have some rudiments of sense,” said Alan, grimly.

12 Befool.

13 Whig or Whigamore was the cant name for those who were loyal to King George.

14 Reaching.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30