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 them,” 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 cobles pass from island to island in all weathers, ay, and by night too, for the matter of that.”
Coble: a small boat used in fishing.
“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.