Author Note: Acknowledgements to my inspiration in so many things, the late, great 'RLS', for initially conceiving this fictional world, then putting it aside to work on Weir of Hermiston and dying leaving both incomplete; to Arthur Quiller-Couch and Jenni Calder, for both writing entertaining endings derived from Stevenson's notes; and to Allan Cubitt, scriptwriter, for essentially fan-ficcing a charming film based very loosely on the book.
Re: the chronology - The arrest of the family was surely in the Terror of 1793 (thereby placing this scene c. 1795), although the script Jacques was explicitly stated to turn 34 in 1813, and to have lost his parents when he was 12, i.e. in 1791, which doesn't fit. However, as Jacques had joined the army soon after, my suspicion is he added a couple of years to his age to do so: not an unusual practice. Also, while the film is not explicit about where the family came from, the name and title are unmistakably Breton, ditto Alain's first name.
being a prologue to St. Ives, or All for Love
Erru ul lestr e pleg ar mor,
E ouelioù gwenn gantañ digor...
(A ship has arrived from across the sea,
With white sails unfurled...)
Trad., An Alarc'h (The Swan)
"Somehow Alain escaped. He fled France and came here to me, a frightened boy... He has lived here with me from that day to this and made my life a misery."
Comte de Kéroual de Saint-Yves, in conversation with Miss Flora Gilchrist, 1814.
The autumn sky darkened over Inveresk, and as the wind rose, so the rain began to beat against the walls of an elegant mansion. Leaning against a pillar, a gaunt, grubby lad of fifteen pulled his threadbare woollen jacket closer around himself, vainly trying to keep warm. He wished he still had a flask of lambig - cider brandy: that would have taken the chill out of his bones...
Perhaps he should go to the kitchen door, as the claret cart on which he had ridden from Leith, had done. He was assuredly not fit to be seen at the front door like this, with his elbows and knees poking through his clothes, and clumsy boteier-koad - wooden shoes - on his feet.
But it was his right, and he had fought hard and journeyed long and far to get here. He had recognised the arms on the gates: a chevron, argent, on a field of azure, supported by the White Horse of Armorica; the motto, 'Fortuna Juvat Audaces'.1
Well, he would have to be bold, then, although it was not in his nature.
He knocked, then stepped back and waited.
The door was opened by a liveried butler, a stern man of about fifty. "No beggars here!" he barked in heavily accented English. "To the kitchen door, if you must have scraps!"
He tried to slam the door, but the youth braced his thin body against the jamb.
"Go, or I shall set the dogs on you!"
"I - come - home." The boy spoke slowly, insistently: English came to him with difficulty, from disuse. With haunted blue eyes he gazed imploringly at the butler. "Do you not know me, Yann ar Wiader?"2 he asked in Breton. "Set the dogs on me, and my grandfather will horsewhip you!"
The servant stared and crossed himself. He had not heard the language spoken in the half-dozen years he had lived in Scotland. And the urchin's fine features could not be mistaken, although they belonged to a child he had thought dead these two years...
"Qui est là?" A man's voice called imperiously from the drawing-room: "Jean! Qui est -?"
"- Tell him it is I, Yannig," said the boy. "Tell him it is Alan an hîr.3 That everyone else -" and he drew a finger across his throat.
Jean's visage, hard as the granite coast of Armorica, softened. "By Heaven's mercy, you...!" He bowed deeply. "Forgive me, Monsieur le Vicomte," he said in French. "Monseigneur your grandfather will be so pleased to see you! Come in out of the rain!"
The boy followed him into the entrance hall, his clothes dripping dirty puddles, his wooden shoes scraping on the black and white tiled floor. It reminded him of a chessboard. He used to play chess with Papa, so long ago, it seemed... His little brother never had the patience.
"Wait here, and I will announce you," said Jean.
The youth paced up and down, shivering with cold and anxiety. He peered at his reflection in the gilt-framed Chinoiserie mirror: hollow-eyed, half-starved, skin grey from ingrained dirt. Not like the ermine, which would rather die than be sullied;4 more like a fledgling crow that had fallen down a chimney... Lannig-ar-Vranig - 'Alan the Little Crow': that was what they had nicknamed him while he had been on the run, or with ar Chouanted. He wrung out his lank dark hair, and cracked one or two lice with his fingernails.
He heard shouting through the closed doors, his grandfather's voice: "Not another impostor! That last one tried to make off with the silver! - Let me guess: he's six feet tall, twenty-seven, and claims to be Jacques!"
"Monseigneur, I have no doubt of it: it is he. It is your grandson. It is the Vicomte Alain -"
"- We shall see..."
Several minutes passed: to Alain, they seemed interminable. Then Jean returned. "Monseigneur le Comte is ready to see you now, young master."
He was led into a large drawing room, hung with yellow silk. There were columns faced with dark marble, and an ornately carved fireplace surmounted by another Chinoiserie mirror. Candles flickered in ormulu sconces. As he gazed around him, it seemed as if years had fallen away. The familiar furniture, the Aubusson carpet, the paintings which Grandfather had shipped out with him in '89... Here, draped in black, was the portrait of Maman and Papa when they were first married; there, Grandfather as a young man. And there was Great-Grandfather and his older brother, that Alan an hîr who had not inherited, but had died with Pontcallec on the scaffold at Nantes. Their painted eyes reproached him for having failed them:
Traitour, ah! mallozh dit 'ta...5
And from another painted face, cold but curious living eyes pierced him through. For there, seated in an armchair, was Grandfather, exactly as Alain remembered him.
His Grace the Comte de Kéroual de Saint-Yves, Seigneur des Montagnes-Noires, feudal overlord of God knew how many petits manoirs from Cornouaille to Trégor - was in his mid-sixties. He had been a dandy and a libertine in his younger days, and still dressed accordingly. His frock-coat, black in mourning for His martyred Majesty, was boned, embroidered and, like his powdered wig, some twenty years out of style. His lined countenance owed its colour entirely to rouge. He stood up and slowly circled Alain, inspecting him from every angle. He prodded him with his silver-topped cane, while sniffing every few seconds into a perfumed handkerchief (for the youth, and his shabby clothes, were in sore need of a wash and stank accordingly).6
"At least this one looks the right age... Right colouring..."
He turned Alain's face toward the firelight. He glanced from him to a small portrait by a provincial imitator of Madame Vigée-Lebrun: two winsome little boys, aged about nine and eight, with dark curls and exaggeratedly large eyes. The elder had a pale, sensitive face, the younger rosy cheeks and a mischievous smile.
"One must allow for the passage of six years... Children grow so quickly; they change. - Can you speak, boy?"
Alain nodded, but he was afraid to say much. He was conscious that his French and English alike were rusted, his accent coarsened.
"What is your name, boy? In full?"
"Alain Arthus Ronan de Kéroual de Saint-Yves."
"And your father's?"
"And my father's?"
"Jacques, like my brother, but only because his brother – The heir is always Alain, to honour the great Duke."
"Your father taught you well. And what was your mother's name?"
"What is it? Surely you know your mother's name!"
His last sight of her arose before him. A crowded market-place two years ago. An out-of-tune army band playing Ça ira...7 The scaffold, and the blade... "Head... held up... all dripping... Maman..." he murmured.
"What was her name, boy?" the Count insisted.
"Florimonde... Florimonde de Champdivers."8 Tears stung his eyes. "- I saw them all die!" What he could not say was that it was all his fault...
"No tears, now! Be a man! – Tell me, how did you get here?"
"There was so many killed... Everyone is dead. I tried to go home, but there is nothing..." he sniffed. "So I stowed away. A Bordeaux ship come in at Brest because of storms. I hear she go to Leith, smuggling wine, so... Then they brung me here on a cart."
"Come, pour a glass for me, and for yourself!"
Alain nodded, and obeyed. It was gwin ar C'halloued,9 all right - but not claret. He recognised it at once: years ago, his grandfather had purchased a vineyard to the south, in France. It was not the best wine ever grown, but the old man's pride had demanded they have nothing else in the cellar. He smelled the cork, remembering sitting at the fireside in the castle: Papa with a glass beside him, reading aloud from an old book...
The Count looked at him approvingly: indeed, he began to smile.
But instead of pouring a second glass for himself, Alain took a large swig straight from the bottle. "Yec'hed mat, Aoutrou Kont!"10
The Count's jaw dropped.
His grandson - who had not eaten all day – gulped down more wine. "French wine's good," he said in Breton, "but lambig keeps the cold out better!"
The Count strode across the room, his face working with grief, disappointment - and rage.
"Salaud!"11 He struck the boy hard across the shoulders with his cane, knocking him to the floor and making him splutter red wine over the Aubusson.
Shaking, bewildered, Alain repeated over and over: "Aoutrou Kont! Tad-kozh! Tad-kozh!"12 He stretched out his arms - in vain.
"How dare you speak like some filthy troc'her-buzhug!" He all but spat the word - 'worm-cutter', peasant - in the language he despised. "Under my roof, you speak French, or you speak English! You understand?" He poked the end of his cane in the boy's narrow chest.
Alain swallowed a sob. "But it is long time since..."
"No excuses! You are my heir: do not shame me! - Jean, what are you gawking at? Get that" - and he prodded the youth again - "washed and into some clean clothes... One of the footmen's uniforms will do for now... I don't want to see him until he looks like a gentleman, and remembers how to speak like one! – Send for one of the maids to get the wine out of the carpet. - And when you've finished, pour me a brandy. A large one."
Jean reached out a hand. The boy shrank back. "Come along, Monsieur Alain," he said. "You are home now. You are safe." He felt sick at heart. God knew what the lad had endured to get here, and to welcome him like this...
He led Alain out of the drawing-room. Before they climbed the elegant, curving staircase, he gently said, "Shoes, young master."
Alain took off his boteier-koad and carried them, lest he scratch the marble. His bare feet left a trail of grimy prints on the cool white stone.
"Mortdieu!" the Count swore to himself, knocking back his wine. He fingered the chivalric order about his neck. "Be careful what you pray for... At least he was no disgrace to me dead!"
1. Fortuna Juvat Audaces – Fortune Favours the Bold, the family motto.
2. Yann - Breton for John (French: Jean). Affectionate forms and diminutives are formed by adding –ig (pronounced –ik) as a suffix, so Yannig is 'Jack' or 'Johnny'. His surname, Ar Wiader is equivalent to 'Webster' or 'Weaver'.
3. Alan an hîr – Alain the heir.
4. Potius Mori Quam Foedari (Kentoc'h Mervet Eget Am Zoatran) - "Better to die than be sullied" is the motto of the Duchy of Brittany, and the ermine - a stoat in winter coat - is the national animal. Legend has it that when Duke Alan (whence the popularity of the name among Bretons) was preparing to fight the Vikings/Normans, though outnumbered, he was inspired by seeing an ermine, chased by a fox, refuse to cross a muddy puddle (which would have soiled its white fur), but turn to defend itself, although it was only tiny. Alan won the battle; however, the fate of the stoat, one suspects, was as a small, crunchy fox-snack. (It's a bit like the 'Robert de Brus and spider' story, but mustelids have a higher cute-and-furry rating than most arachnids.) Actually, the use of ermine on the Breton arms is of later mediaeval origin. It also figures in the modern flag, the Gwenn-ha-Du ('White-and-Black').
5. "Traitour, ah! mallozh dit 'ta..." - 'Traitor! A curse upon you!", refrain of the Gwerz Marv Pontkalleg, the lament for the betrayal and execution of the Marquis de Pontcallec in 1720.
See Barzaz Breiz.
6. My characterisation of the Count in his somewhat younger days is drawn from the unfinished RLS novel: a selfish and vicious rake – not someone you'd expect to be a good moral influence on a traumatised adolescent refugee. Funnily enough, he parallels the characters the actor in the film had played when younger, in historical melodramas like Blanche Fury. (Michael Gough has been described as the Vincent Price of the British B-movie.)
7. Ça ira – a Revolutionary song.
8. Florimonde de Champdivers is the name of the hero's mother in the novel, in which Alain is his cousin, not his brother, but I thought I'd keep her.
9. gwin ar C'halloued - French wine
10. Yec'hed mat, Aoutrou Kont! – Good health, my lord Count!
11. Salaud! - Scum!
12. Aoutrou Kont! Tad-kozh! Tad-kozh! – My lord Count! Grandfather! Grandfather!