Then again: “Yon’s a fine lass,” he would say.
I did not reply, for I had no heart to speak of what I had left behind.
“Cheer up, young one,” he cried. “There was more lost at Flodden. A gentleman-adventurer must live by the hour, and it’s surprising how Fortune favours them that trust her. There was a man I mind, in Breadalbane....” And here he would tell some tale of how light came out of black darkness for the trusting heart.
“Man, Ringan,” I said, “I see your kindly purpose. But tell me, did ever you hear of such a tangle as ours being straightened out?
“Why, yes,” he said. “I’ve been in worse myself, and here I am. I have been in a cell at Cartagena, chained to a man that had died of the plague, with the gallows preparing for me at cock-crow. But in the night some friends o’ mine came into the bay, and I had the solemn joy of stepping out of yon cell over the corp of the Almirante. I’ve been mad with fever, and jumped into the Palmas River among the alligators, and not one of them touched me, though I was swimming about crying that the water was burning oil. And then a lad in a boat gave me a clout on the head that knocked the daftness out of me, and in a week I was marching on my own deck, with my bonnet cocked like a king’s captain. I’ve been set by my unfriends on a rock in the Florida Keys, with a keg of dirty water and a bunch of figs, and the sun like to melt my brains, and two bullet holes in my thigh. But I came out of the pickle, and lived to make the men that put me there sorry they had been born. Ay, and I’ve seen my grave dug, and my dead clothes ready, and in a week I was making napkins out of them. There’s a wonderful kindness in Providence to mettled folk.”
“Ay, Ringan, but that was only the risk of your own neck. I think I could endure that. But was there ever another you liked far better than yourself, that you had to see in deadly peril?”
“No. I’ll be honest with you, there never was. I grant you that’s the hardest thing to thole. But you’ll keep a stiff lip even to that, seeing you are the braver of the two of us.”
At that I cried out in expostulation, but Ringan was firm.
“Ay, the braver by far, and I’ll say it again. I’m a man of the dancing blood, with a rare appetite for frays and forays. You are the sedate soul that would be happier at home in the chimney corner. And yet you are the most determined of the lot of us, though you have no pleasure in it. Why? Just because you are the bravest. You can force yourself to a job when flesh and spirit cry out against it. I let no man alive cry down my courage, but I say freely that it’s not to be evened with yours.”
I was not feeling very courageous. As we sped along the ridge in the afternoon I seemed to myself like a midge lost in a monstrous net. The dank, dripping trees and the misty hills seemed to muffle and deaden the world. I could not believe that they ever would end; that anywhere there was a clear sky and open country. And I had always the feeling that in those banks of vapour lurked deadly enemies who any moment might steal out and encompass us.