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CHARLES BAXTER, Writer to the Signet.
My Dear Charles,
It is the fate of sequels to disappoint those who have waited for them; and my David, having been left to kick his heels for more than a lustre in the British Linen Company’s office, must expect his late re-appearance to be greeted with hoots, if not with missiles. Yet, when I remember the days of our explorations, I am not without hope. There should be left in our native city some seed of the elect; some long-legged, hot-headed youth must repeat to-day our dreams and wanderings of so many years ago; he will relish the pleasure, which should have been ours, to follow among named streets and numbered houses the country walks of David Balfour, to identify Dean, and Silvermills, and Broughton, and Hope Park, and Pilrig, and poor old Lochend—if it still be standing, and the Figgate Whins—if there be any of them left; or to push (on a long holiday) so far afield as Gillane or the Bass. So, perhaps, his eye shall be opened to behold the series of the generations, and he shall weigh with surprise his momentous and nugatory gift of life.
You are still—as when first I saw, as when I last addressed you—in the venerable city which I must always think of as my home. And I have come so far; and the sights and thoughts of my youth pursue me; and I see like a vision the youth of my father, and of his father, and the whole stream of lives flowing down there far in the north, with the sound of laughter and tears, to cast me out in the end, as by a sudden freshet, on these ultimate islands. And I admire and bow my head before the romance of destiny.
R. L. S.
The 25th day of August, 1751, about two in the afternoon, I, David Balfour, came forth of the British Linen Company, a porter attending me with a bag of money, and some of the chief of these merchants bowing me from their doors. Two days before, and even so late as yestermorning, I was like a beggar-man by the wayside, clad in rags, brought down to my last shillings, my companion a condemned traitor, a price set on my own head for a crime with the news of which the country rang. To-day I was served heir to my position in life, a landed laird, a bank porter by me carrying my gold, recommendations in my pocket, and (in the words of the saying) the ball directly at my foot.
There were two circumstances that served me as ballast to so much sail. The first was the very difficult and deadly business I had still to handle; the second, the place that I was in. The tall, black city, and the numbers and movement and noise of so many folk, made a new world for me, after the moorland braes, the sea-sands and the still country-sides that I had frequented up to then. The throng of the citizens in particular abashed me. Rankeillor’s son was short and small in the girth; his clothes scarce held on me; and it was plain I was ill qualified to strut in the front of a bank-porter. It was plain, if I did so, I should but set folk laughing, and (what was worse in my case) set them asking questions. So that I behooved to come by some clothes of my own, and in the meanwhile to walk by the porter’s side, and put my hand on his arm as though we were a pair of friends.
At a merchant’s in the Luckenbooths I had myself fitted out: none too fine, for I had no idea to appear like a beggar on horseback; but comely and responsible, so that servants should respect me. Thence to an armourer’s, where I got a plain sword, to suit with my degree in life. I felt safer with the weapon, though (for one so ignorant of defence) it might be called an added danger. The porter, who was naturally a man of some experience, judged my accoutrement to be well chosen.
“Naething kenspeckle,” said he; “plain, dacent claes. As for the rapier, nae doubt it sits wi’ your degree; but an I had been you, I would has waired my siller better-gates than that.” And he proposed I should buy winter-hosen from a wife in the Cowgate-back, that was a cousin of his own, and made them “extraordinar endurable.”
But I had other matters on my hand more pressing. Here I was in this old, black city, which was for all the world like a rabbit-warren, not only by the number of its indwellers, but the complication of its passages and holes. It was, indeed, a place where no stranger had a chance to find a friend, let be another stranger. Suppose him even to hit on the right close, people dwelt so thronged in these tall houses, he might very well seek a day before he chanced on the right door. The ordinary course was to hire a lad they called a caddie, who was like a guide or pilot, led you where you had occasion, and (your errands being done) brought you again where you were lodging. But these caddies, being always employed in the same sort of services, and having it for obligation to be well informed of every house and person in the city, had grown to form a brotherhood of spies; and I knew from tales of Mr. Campbell’s how they communicated one with another, what a rage of curiosity they conceived as to their employer’s business, and how they were like eyes and fingers to the police. It would be a piece of little wisdom, the way I was now placed, to take such a ferret to my tails. I had three visits to make, all immediately needful: to my kinsman Mr. Balfour of Pilrig, to Stewart the Writer that was Appin’s agent, and to William Grant Esquire of Prestongrange, Lord Advocate of Scotland. Mr. Balfour’s was a non-committal visit; and besides (Pilrig being in the country) I made bold to find the way to it myself, with the help of my two legs and a Scots tongue. But the rest were in a different case. Not only was the visit to Appin’s agent, in the midst of the cry about the Appin murder, dangerous in itself, but it was highly inconsistent with the other. I was like to have a bad enough time of it with my Lord Advocate Grant, the best of ways; but to go to him hot-foot from Appin’s agent, was little likely to mend my own affairs, and might prove the mere ruin of friend Alan’s. The whole thing, besides, gave me a look of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds that was little to my fancy. I determined, therefore, to be done at once with Mr. Stewart and the whole Jacobitical side of my business, and to profit for that purpose by the guidance of the porter at my side. But it chanced I had scarce given him the address, when there came a sprinkle of rain—nothing to hurt, only for my new clothes—and we took shelter under a pend at the head of a close or alley.
Being strange to what I saw, I stepped a little farther in. The narrow paved way descended swiftly. Prodigious tall houses sprang upon each side and bulged out, one storey beyond another, as they rose. At the top only a ribbon of sky showed in. By what I could spy in the windows, and by the respectable persons that passed out and in, I saw the houses to be very well occupied; and the whole appearance of the place interested me like a tale.
I was still gazing, when there came a sudden brisk tramp of feet in time and clash of steel behind me. Turning quickly, I was aware of a party of armed soldiers, and, in their midst, a tall man in a great coat. He walked with a stoop that was like a piece of courtesy, genteel and insinuating: he waved his hands plausibly as he went, and his face was sly and handsome. I thought his eye took me in, but could not meet it. This procession went by to a door in the close, which a serving-man in a fine livery set open; and two of the soldier-lads carried the prisoner within, the rest lingering with their firelocks by the door.
There can nothing pass in the streets of a city without some following of idle folk and children. It was so now; but the more part melted away incontinent until but three were left. One was a girl; she was dressed like a lady, and had a screen of the Drummond colours on her head; but her comrades or (I should say) followers were ragged gillies, such as I had seen the matches of by the dozen in my Highland journey. They all spoke together earnestly in Gaelic, the sound of which was pleasant in my ears for the sake of Alan; and, though the rain was by again, and my porter plucked at me to be going, I even drew nearer where they were, to listen. The lady scolded sharply, the others making apologies and cringeing before her, so that I made sure she was come of a chief’s house. All the while the three of them sought in their pockets, and by what I could make out, they had the matter of half a farthing among the party; which made me smile a little to see all Highland folk alike for fine obeisances and empty sporrans.
It chanced the girl turned suddenly about, so that I saw her face for the first time. There is no greater wonder than the way the face of a young woman fits in a man’s mind, and stays there, and he could never tell you why; it just seems it was the thing he wanted. She had wonderful bright eyes like stars, and I daresay the eyes had a part in it; but what I remember the most clearly was the way her lips were a trifle open as she turned. And, whatever was the cause, I stood there staring like a fool. On her side, as she had not known there was anyone so near, she looked at me a little longer, and perhaps with more surprise, than was entirely civil.
It went through my country head she might be wondering at my new clothes; with that, I blushed to my hair, and at the sight of my colouring it is to be supposed she drew her own conclusions, for she moved her gillies farther down the close, and they fell again to this dispute, where I could hear no more of it.
I had often admired a lassie before then, if scarce so sudden and strong; and it was rather my disposition to withdraw than to come forward, for I was much in fear of mockery from the womenkind. You would have thought I had now all the more reason to pursue my common practice, since I had met this young lady in the city street, seemingly following a prisoner, and accompanied with two very ragged indecent-like Highlandmen. But there was here a different ingredient; it was plain the girl thought I had been prying in her secrets; and with my new clothes and sword, and at the top of my new fortunes, this was more than I could swallow. The beggar on horseback could not bear to be thrust down so low, or, at least of it, not by this young lady.
I followed, accordingly, and took off my new hat to her the best that I was able.
“Madam,” said I, “I think it only fair to myself to let you understand I have no Gaelic. It is true I was listening, for I have friends of my own across the Highland line, and the sound of that tongue comes friendly; but for your private affairs, if you had spoken Greek, I might have had more guess at them.”
She made me a little, distant curtsey. “There is no harm done,” said she, with a pretty accent, most like the English (but more agreeable). “A cat may look at a king.”
“I do not mean to offend,” said I. “I have no skill of city manners; I never before this day set foot inside the doors of Edinburgh. Take me for a country lad—it’s what I am; and I would rather I told you than you found it out.”
“Indeed, it will be a very unusual thing for strangers to be speaking to each other on the causeway,” she replied. “But if you are landward bred it will be different. I am as landward as yourself; I am Highland, as you see, and think myself the farther from my home.”
“It is not yet a week since I passed the line,” said I. “Less than a week ago I was on the braes of Balwhidder.”
“Balwhither?” she cries. “Come ye from Balwhither! The name of it makes all there is of me rejoice. You will not have been long there, and not known some of our friends or family?”
“I lived with a very honest, kind man called Duncan Dhu Maclaren,” I replied.
“Well, I know Duncan, and you give him the true name!” she said; “and if he is an honest man, his wife is honest indeed.”
“Ay,” said I, “they are fine people, and the place is a bonny place.”
“Where in the great world is such another!” she cries; “I am loving the smell of that place and the roots that grow there.”
I was infinitely taken with the spirit of the maid. “I could be wishing I had brought you a spray of that heather,” says I. “And, though I did ill to speak with you at the first, now it seems we have common acquaintance, I make it my petition you will not forget me. David Balfour is the name I am known by. This is my lucky day, when I have just come into a landed estate, and am not very long out of a deadly peril. I wish you would keep my name in mind for the sake of Balwhidder,” said I, “and I will yours for the sake of my lucky day.”
“My name is not spoken,” she replied, with a great deal of haughtiness. “More than a hundred years it has not gone upon men’s tongues, save for a blink. I am nameless, like the Folk of Peace. Catriona Drummond is the one I use.”
Now indeed I knew where I was standing. In all broad Scotland there was but the one name proscribed, and that was the name of the Macgregors. Yet so far from fleeing this undesirable acquaintancy, I plunged the deeper in.
“I have been sitting with one who was in the same case with yourself,” said I, “and I think he will be one of your friends. They called him Robin Oig.”
“Did ye so?” cries she. “Ye met Rob?”
“I passed the night with him,” said I.
“He is a fowl of the night,” said she.
“There was a set of pipes there,” I went on, “so you may judge if the time passed.”
“You should be no enemy, at all events,” said she. “That was his brother there a moment since, with the red soldiers round him. It is him that I call father.”
“Is it so?” cried I. “Are you a daughter of James More’s?”
“All the daughter that he has,” says she: “the daughter of a prisoner; that I should forget it so, even for one hour, to talk with strangers!”
Here one of the gillies addressed her in what he had of English, to know what “she” (meaning by that himself) was to do about “ta sneeshin.” I took some note of him for a short, bandy-legged, red-haired, big-headed man, that I was to know more of to my cost.
“There can be none the day, Neil,” she replied. “How will you get ‘sneeshin,’ wanting siller! It will teach you another time to be more careful; and I think James More will not be very well pleased with Neil of the Tom.”
“Miss Drummond,” I said, “I told you I was in my lucky day. Here I am, and a bank-porter at my tail. And remember I have had the hospitality of your own country of Balwhidder.”
“It was not one of my people gave it,” said she.
“Ah, well,” said I, “but I am owing your uncle at least for some springs upon the pipes. Besides which, I have offered myself to be your friend, and you have been so forgetful that you did not refuse me in the proper time.”
“If it had been a great sum, it might have done you honour,” said she; “but I will tell you what this is. James More lies shackled in prison; but this time past they will be bringing him down here daily to the Advocate’s. . . .”
“The Advocate’s!” I cried. “Is that . . . ?”
“It is the house of the Lord Advocate Grant of Prestongrange,” said she. “There they bring my father one time and another, for what purpose I have no thought in my mind; but it seems there is some hope dawned for him. All this same time they will not let me be seeing him, nor yet him write; and we wait upon the King’s street to catch him; and now we give him his snuff as he goes by, and now something else. And here is this son of trouble, Neil, son of Duncan, has lost my four-penny piece that was to buy that snuff, and James More must go wanting, and will think his daughter has forgotten him.”
I took sixpence from my pocket, gave it to Neil, and bade him go about his errand. Then to her, “That sixpence came with me by Balwhidder,” said I.
“Ah!” she said, “you are a friend to the Gregara!”
“I would not like to deceive you, either,” said I. “I know very little of the Gregara and less of James More and his doings, but since the while I have been standing in this close, I seem to know something of yourself; and if you will just say ‘a friend to Miss Catriona’ I will see you are the less cheated.”
“The one cannot be without the other,” said she.
“I will even try,” said I.
“And what will you be thinking of myself!” she cried, “to be holding my hand to the first stranger!”
“I am thinking nothing but that you are a good daughter,” said I.
“I must not be without repaying it,” she said; “where is it you stop!”
“To tell the truth, I am stopping nowhere yet,” said I, “being not full three hours in the city; but if you will give me your direction, I will be so bold as come seeking my sixpence for myself.”
“Will I can trust you for that?” she asked.
“You need have little fear,” said I.
“James More could not bear it else,” said she. “I stop beyond the village of Dean, on the north side of the water, with Mrs. Drummond-Ogilvy of Allardyce, who is my near friend and will be glad to thank you.”
“You are to see me, then, so soon as what I have to do permits,” said I; and, the remembrance of Alan rolling in again upon my mind, I made haste to say farewell.
I could not but think, even as I did so, that we had made extraordinary free upon short acquaintance, and that a really wise young lady would have shown herself more backward. I think it was the bank-porter that put me from this ungallant train of thought.
“I thoucht ye had been a lad of some kind o’ sense,” he began, shooting out his lips. “Ye’re no likely to gang far this gate. A fule and his siller’s shune parted. Eh, but ye’re a green callant!” he cried, “an’ a veecious, tae! Cleikin’ up wi’ baubeejoes!”
“If you dare to speak of the young lady. . . ” I began.
“Leddy!” he cried. “Haud us and safe us, whatten leddy? Ca’ thon a leddy? The toun’s fu’ o’ them. Leddies! Man, its weel seen ye’re no very acquant in Embro!”
A clap of anger took me.
“Here,” said I, “lead me where I told you, and keep your foul mouth shut!”
He did not wholly obey me, for, though he no more addressed me directly, he very impudent sang at me as he went in a manner of innuendo, and with an exceedingly ill voice and ear—
“As Mally Lee cam doun the street, her capuchin did flee,
She cuist a look ahint her to see her negligee.
And we’re a’ gaun east and wast, we’re a’ gann ajee,
We’re a’ gaun east and wast courtin’ Mally Lee.”
Mr. Charles Stewart the Writer dwelt at the top of the longest stair ever mason set a hand to; fifteen flights of it, no less; and when I had come to his door, and a clerk had opened it, and told me his master was within, I had scarce breath enough to send my porter packing.
“Awa’ east and west wi’ ye!” said I, took the money bag out of his hands, and followed the clerk in.
The outer room was an office with the clerk’s chair at a table spread with law papers. In the inner chamber, which opened from it, a little brisk man sat poring on a deed, from which he scarce raised his eyes on my entrance; indeed, he still kept his finger in the place, as though prepared to show me out and fall again to his studies. This pleased me little enough; and what pleased me less, I thought the clerk was in a good posture to overhear what should pass between us.
I asked if he was Mr. Charles Stewart the Writer.
“The same,” says he; “and, if the question is equally fair, who may you be yourself?”
“You never heard tell of my name nor of me either,” said I, “but I bring you a token from a friend that you know well. That you know well,” I repeated, lowering my voice, “but maybe are not just so keen to hear from at this present being. And the bits of business that I have to propone to you are rather in the nature of being confidential. In short, I would like to think we were quite private.”
He rose without more words, casting down his paper like a man ill-pleased, sent forth his clerk of an errand, and shut to the house-door behind him.
“Now, sir,” said he, returning, “speak out your mind and fear nothing; though before you begin,” he cries out, “I tell you mine misgives me! I tell you beforehand, ye’re either a Stewart or a Stewart sent ye. A good name it is, and one it would ill-become my father’s son to lightly. But I begin to grue at the sound of it.”
“My name is called Balfour,” said I, “David Balfour of Shaws. As for him that sent me, I will let his token speak.” And I showed the silver button.
“Put it in your pocket, sir!” cries he. “Ye need name no names. The deevil’s buckie, I ken the button of him! And de’il hae’t! Where is he now!”
I told him I knew not where Alan was, but he had some sure place (or thought he had) about the north side, where he was to lie until a ship was found for him; and how and where he had appointed to be spoken with.
“It’s been always my opinion that I would hang in a tow for this family of mine,” he cried, “and, dod! I believe the day’s come now! Get a ship for him, quot’ he! And who’s to pay for it? The man’s daft!”
“That is my part of the affair, Mr. Stewart,” said I. “Here is a bag of good money, and if more be wanted, more is to be had where it came from.”
“I needn’t ask your politics,” said he.
“Ye need not,” said I, smiling, “for I’m as big a Whig as grows.”
“Stop a bit, stop a bit,” says Mr. Stewart. “What’s all this? A Whig? Then why are you here with Alan’s button? and what kind of a black-foot traffic is this that I find ye out in, Mr. Whig? Here is a forfeited rebel and an accused murderer, with two hundred pounds on his life, and ye ask me to meddle in his business, and then tell me ye’re a Whig! I have no mind of any such Whigs before, though I’ve kent plenty of them.”
“He’s a forfeited rebel, the more’s the pity,” said I, “for the man’s my friend. I can only wish he had been better guided. And an accused murderer, that he is too, for his misfortune; but wrongfully accused.”
“I hear you say so,” said Stewart.
“More than you are to hear me say so, before long,” said I. “Alan Breck is innocent, and so is James.”
“Oh!” says he, “the two cases hang together. If Alan is out, James can never be in.”
Hereupon I told him briefly of my acquaintance with Alan, of the accident that brought me present at the Appin murder, and the various passages of our escape among the heather, and my recovery of my estate. “So, sir, you have now the whole train of these events,” I went on, “and can see for yourself how I come to be so much mingled up with the affairs of your family and friends, which (for all of our sakes) I wish had been plainer and less bloody. You can see for yourself, too, that I have certain pieces of business depending, which were scarcely fit to lay before a lawyer chosen at random. No more remains, but to ask if you will undertake my service?”
“I have no great mind to it; but coming as you do with Alan’s button, the choice is scarcely left me,” said he. “What are your instructions?” he added, and took up his pen.
“The first point is to smuggle Alan forth of this country,” said I, “but I need not be repeating that.”
“I am little likely to forget it,” said Stewart.
“The next thing is the bit money I am owing to Cluny,” I went on. “It would be ill for me to find a conveyance, but that should be no stick to you. It was two pounds five shillings and three-halfpence farthing sterling.”
He noted it.
“Then,” said I, “there’s a Mr. Henderland, a licensed preacher and missionary in Ardgour, that I would like well to get some snuff into the hands of; and, as I daresay you keep touch with your friends in Appin (so near by), it’s a job you could doubtless overtake with the other.”
“How much snuff are we to say?” he asked.
“I was thinking of two pounds,” said I.
“Two,” said he.
“Then there’s the lass Alison Hastie, in Lime Kilns,” said I. “Her that helped Alan and me across the Forth. I was thinking if I could get her a good Sunday gown, such as she could wear with decency in her degree, it would be an ease to my conscience; for the mere truth is, we owe her our two lives.”
“I am glad so see you are thrifty, Mr. Balfour,” says he, making his notes.
“I would think shame to be otherwise the first day of my fortune,” said I. “And now, if you will compute the outlay and your own proper charges, I would be glad to know if I could get some spending-money back. It’s not that I grudge the whole of it to get Alan safe; it’s not that I lack more; but having drawn so much the one day, I think it would have a very ill appearance if I was back again seeking, the next. Only be sure you have enough,” I added, “for I am very undesirous to meet with you again.”
“Well, and I’m pleased to see you’re cautious, too,” said the Writer. “But I think ye take a risk to lay so considerable a sum at my discretion.”
He said this with a plain sneer.
“I’ll have to run the hazard,” I replied. “O, and there’s another service I would ask, and that’s to direct me to a lodging, for I have no roof to my head. But it must be a lodging I may seem to have hit upon by accident, for it would never do if the Lord Advocate were to get any jealousy of our acquaintance.”
“Ye may set your weary spirit at rest,” said he. “I will never name your name, sir; and it’s my belief the Advocate is still so much to be sympathised with that he doesnae ken of your existence.”
I saw I had got to the wrong side of the man.
“There’s a braw day coming for him, then,” said I, “for he’ll have to learn of it on the deaf side of his head no later than to-morrow, when I call on him.”
“When ye call on him!” repeated Mr. Stewart. “Am I daft, or are you! What takes ye near the Advocate!”
“O, just to give myself up,” said I.
“Mr. Balfour,” he cried, “are ye making a mock of me?”
“No, sir,” said I, “though I think you have allowed yourself some such freedom with myself. But I give you to understand once and for all that I am in no jesting spirit.”
“Nor yet me,” says Stewart. “And I give yon to understand (if that’s to be the word) that I like the looks of your behaviour less and less. You come here to me with all sorts of propositions, which will put me in a train of very doubtful acts and bring me among very undesirable persons this many a day to come. And then you tell me you’re going straight out of my office to make your peace with the Advocate! Alan’s button here or Alan’s button there, the four quarters of Alan wouldnae bribe me further in.”
“I would take it with a little more temper,” said I, “and perhaps we can avoid what you object to. I can see no way for it but to give myself up, but perhaps you can see another; and if you could, I could never deny but what I would be rather relieved. For I think my traffic with his lordship is little likely to agree with my health. There’s just the one thing clear, that I have to give my evidence; for I hope it’ll save Alan’s character (what’s left of it), and James’s neck, which is the more immediate.”
He was silent for a breathing-space, and then, “My man,” said he, “you’ll never be allowed to give such evidence.”
“We’ll have to see about that,” said I; “I’m stiff-necked when I like.”
“Ye muckle ass!” cried Stewart, “it’s James they want; James has got to hang—Alan, too, if they could catch him—but James whatever! Go near the Advocate with any such business, and you’ll see! he’ll find a way to muzzle, ye.”
“I think better of the Advocate than that,” said I.
“The Advocate be dammed!” cries he. “It’s the Campbells, man! You’ll have the whole clanjamfry of them on your back; and so will the Advocate too, poor body! It’s extraordinar ye cannot see where ye stand! If there’s no fair way to stop your gab, there’s a foul one gaping. They can put ye in the dock, do ye no see that?” he cried, and stabbed me with one finger in the leg.
“Ay,” said I, “I was told that same no further back than this morning by another lawyer.”
“And who was he?” asked Stewart, “He spoke sense at least.”
I told I must be excused from naming him, for he was a decent stout old Whig, and had little mind to be mixed up in such affairs.
“I think all the world seems to be mixed up in it!” cries Stewart. “But what said you?”
“I told him what had passed between Rankeillor and myself before the house of Shaws.
“Well, and so ye will hang!” said he. “Ye’ll hang beside James Stewart. There’s your fortune told.”
“I hope better of it yet than that,” said I; “but I could never deny there was a risk.”
“Risk!” says he, and then sat silent again. “I ought to thank you for your staunchness to my friends, to whom you show a very good spirit,” he says, “if you have the strength to stand by it. But I warn you that you’re wading deep. I wouldn’t put myself in your place (me that’s a Stewart born!) for all the Stewarts that ever there were since Noah. Risk? ay, I take over-many; but to be tried in court before a Campbell jury and a Campbell judge, and that in a Campbell country and upon a Campbell quarrel—think what you like of me, Balfour, it’s beyond me.”
“It’s a different way of thinking, I suppose,” said I; “I was brought up to this one by my father before me.”
“Glory to his bones! he has left a decent son to his name,” says he. “Yet I would not have you judge me over-sorely. My case is dooms hard. See, sir, ye tell me ye’re a Whig: I wonder what I am. No Whig to be sure; I couldnae be just that. But—laigh in your ear, man—I’m maybe no very keen on the other side.”
“Is that a fact?” cried I. “It’s what I would think of a man of your intelligence.”
“Hut! none of your whillywhas!” cries he. “There’s intelligence upon both sides. But for my private part I have no particular desire to harm King George; and as for King James, God bless him! he does very well for me across the water. I’m a lawyer, ye see: fond of my books and my bottle, a good plea, a well-drawn deed, a crack in the Parliament House with other lawyer bodies, and perhaps a turn at the golf on a Saturday at e’en. Where do ye come in with your Hieland plaids and claymores?”
“Well,” said I, “it’s a fact ye have little of the wild Highlandman.”
“Little?” quoth he. “Nothing, man! And yet I’m Hieland born, and when the clan pipes, who but me has to dance! The clan and the name, that goes by all. It’s just what you said yourself; my father learned it to me, and a bonny trade I have of it. Treason and traitors, and the smuggling of them out and in; and the French recruiting, weary fall it! and the smuggling through of the recruits; and their pleas—a sorrow of their pleas! Here have I been moving one for young Ardsheil, my cousin; claimed the estate under the marriage contract—a forfeited estate! I told them it was nonsense: muckle they cared! And there was I cocking behind a yadvocate that liked the business as little as myself, for it was fair ruin to the pair of us—a black mark, disaffected, branded on our hurdies, like folk’s names upon their kye! And what can I do? I’m a Stewart, ye see, and must fend for my clan and family. Then no later by than yesterday there was one of our Stewart lads carried to the Castle. What for? I ken fine: Act of 1736: recruiting for King Lewie. And you’ll see, he’ll whistle me in to be his lawyer, and there’ll be another black mark on my chara’ter! I tell you fair: if I but kent the heid of a Hebrew word from the hurdies of it, be dammed but I would fling the whole thing up and turn minister!”
“It’s rather a hard position,” said I.
“Dooms hard!” cries he. “And that’s what makes me think so much of ye—you that’s no Stewart—to stick your head so deep in Stewart business. And for what, I do not know: unless it was the sense of duty.”
“I hope it will be that,” said I.
“Well,” says he, “it’s a grand quality. But here is my clerk back; and, by your leave, we’ll pick a bit of dinner, all the three of us. When that’s done, I’ll give you the direction of a very decent man, that’ll be very fain to have you for a lodger. And I’ll fill your pockets to ye, forbye, out of your ain bag. For this business’ll not be near as dear as ye suppose—not even the ship part of it.”
I made him a sign that his clerk was within hearing.
“Hoot, ye neednae mind for Robbie,” cries he. “A Stewart, too, puir deevil! and has smuggled out more French recruits and trafficking Papists than what he has hairs upon his face. Why, it’s Robin that manages that branch of my affairs. Who will we have now, Rob, for across the water!”
“There’ll be Andie Scougal, in the Thristle,” replied Rob. “I saw Hoseason the other day, but it seems he’s wanting the ship. Then there’ll be Tam Stobo; but I’m none so sure of Tam. I’ve seen him colloguing with some gey queer acquaintances; and if was anybody important, I would give Tam the go-by.”
“The head’s worth two hundred pounds, Robin,” said Stewart.
“Gosh, that’ll no be Alan Breck!” cried the clerk.
“Just Alan,” said his master.
“Weary winds! that’s sayrious,” cried Robin. “I’ll try Andie, then; Andie’ll be the best.”
“It seems it’s quite a big business,” I observed.
“Mr. Balfour, there’s no end to it,” said Stewart.
“There was a name your clerk mentioned,” I went on: “Hoseason. That must be my man, I think: Hoseason, of the brig Covenant. Would you set your trust on him?”
“He didnae behave very well to you and Alan,” said Mr. Stewart; “but my mind of the man in general is rather otherwise. If he had taken Alan on board his ship on an agreement, it’s my notion he would have proved a just dealer. How say ye, Rob?”
“No more honest skipper in the trade than Eli,” said the clerk. “I would lippen to Eli’s word—ay, if it was the Chevalier, or Appin himsel’,” he added.
“And it was him that brought the doctor, wasnae’t?” asked the master.
“He was the very man,” said the clerk.
“And I think he took the doctor back?” says Stewart.
“Ay, with his sporran full!” cried Robin. “And Eli kent of that!”
“Well, it seems it’s hard to ken folk rightly,” said I.
“That was just what I forgot when ye came in, Mr. Balfour!” says the Writer.
The next morning, I was no sooner awake in my new lodging than I was up and into my new clothes; and no sooner the breakfast swallowed, than I was forth on my adventurers. Alan, I could hope, was fended for; James was like to be a more difficult affair, and I could not but think that enterprise might cost me dear, even as everybody said to whom I had opened my opinion. It seemed I was come to the top of the mountain only to cast myself down; that I had clambered up, through so many and hard trials, to be rich, to be recognised, to wear city clothes and a sword to my side, all to commit mere suicide at the last end of it, and the worst kind of suicide, besides, which is to get hanged at the King’s charges.
What was I doing it for? I asked, as I went down the high Street and out north by Leith Wynd. First I said it was to save James Stewart; and no doubt the memory of his distress, and his wife’s cries, and a word or so I had let drop on that occasion worked upon me strongly. At the same time I reflected that it was (or ought to be) the most indifferent matter to my father’s son, whether James died in his bed or from a scaffold. He was Alan’s cousin, to be sure; but so far as regarded Alan, the best thing would be to lie low, and let the King, and his Grace of Argyll, and the corbie crows, pick the bones of his kinsman their own way. Nor could I forget that, while we were all in the pot together, James had shown no such particular anxiety whether for Alan or me.
Next it came upon me I was acting for the sake of justice: and I thought that a fine word, and reasoned it out that (since we dwelt in polities, at some discomfort to each one of us) the main thing of all must still be justice, and the death of any innocent man a wound upon the whole community. Next, again, it was the Accuser of the Brethren that gave me a turn of his argument; bade me think shame for pretending myself concerned in these high matters, and told me I was but a prating vain child, who had spoken big words to Rankeillor and to Stewart, and held myself bound upon my vanity to make good that boastfulness. Nay, and he hit me with the other end of the stick; for he accused me of a kind of artful cowardice, going about at the expense of a little risk to purchase greater safety. No doubt, until I had declared and cleared myself, I might any day encounter Mungo Campbell or the sheriff’s officer, and be recognised, and dragged into the Appin murder by the heels; and, no doubt, in case I could manage my declaration with success, I should breathe more free for ever after. But when I looked this argument full in the face I could see nothing to be ashamed of. As for the rest, “Here are the two roads,” I thought, “and both go to the same place. It’s unjust that James should hang if I can save him; and it would be ridiculous in me to have talked so much and then do nothing. It’s lucky for James of the Glens that I have boasted beforehand; and none so unlucky for myself, because now I’m committed to do right. I have the name of a gentleman and the means of one; it would be a poor duty that I was wanting in the essence.” And then I thought this was a Pagan spirit, and said a prayer in to myself, asking for what courage I might lack, and that I might go straight to my duty like a soldier to battle, and come off again scatheless, as so many do.
This train of reasoning brought me to a more resolved complexion; though it was far from closing up my sense of the dangers that surrounded me, nor of how very apt I was (if I went on) to stumble on the ladder of the gallows. It was a plain, fair morning, but the wind in the east. The little chill of it sang in my blood, and gave me a feeling of the autumn, and the dead leaves, and dead folks’ bodies in their graves. It seemed the devil was in it, if I was to die in that tide of my fortunes and for other folks’ affairs. On the top of the Calton Hill, though it was not the customary time of year for that diversion, some children were crying and running with their kites. These toys appeared very plain against the sky; I remarked a great one soar on the wind to a high altitude and then plump among the whins; and I thought to myself at sight of it, “There goes Davie.”
My way lay over Mouter’s Hill, and through an end of a clachan on the braeside among fields. There was a whirr of looms in it went from house to house; bees bummed in the gardens; the neighbours that I saw at the doorsteps talked in a strange tongue; and I found out later that this was Picardy, a village where the French weavers wrought for the Linen Company. Here I got a fresh direction for Pilrig, my destination; and a little beyond, on the wayside, came by a gibbet and two men hanged in chains. They were dipped in tar, as the manner is; the wind span them, the chains clattered, and the birds hung about the uncanny jumping-jacks and cried. The sight coming on me suddenly, like an illustration of my fears, I could scarce be done with examining it and drinking in discomfort. And, as I thus turned and turned about the gibbet, what should I strike on, but a weird old wife, that sat behind a leg of it, and nodded, and talked aloud to herself with becks and courtesies.
“Who are these two, mother?” I asked, and pointed to the corpses.
“A blessing on your precious face!” she cried. “Twa joes o’mine: just two o’ my old joes, my hinny dear.”
“What did they suffer for?” I asked.
“Ou, just for the guid cause,” said she. “Aften I spaed to them the way that it would end. Twa shillin’ Scots: no pickle mair; and there are twa bonny callants hingin’ for ’t! They took it frae a wean belanged to Brouchton.”
“Ay!” said I to myself, and not to the daft limmer, “and did they come to such a figure for so poor a business? This is to lose all indeed.”
“Gie’s your loof, hinny,” says she, “and let me spae your weird to ye.”
“No, mother,” said I, “I see far enough the way I am. It’s an unco thing to see too far in front.”
“I read it in your bree,” she said. “There’s a bonnie lassie that has bricht een, and there’s a wee man in a braw coat, and a big man in a pouthered wig, and there’s the shadow of the wuddy, joe, that lies braid across your path. Gie’s your loof, hinny, and let Auld Merren spae it to ye bonny.”
The two chance shots that seemed to point at Alan and the daughter of James More struck me hard; and I fled from the eldritch creature, casting her a baubee, which she continued to sit and play with under the moving shadows of the hanged.
My way down the causeway of Leith Walk would have been more pleasant to me but for this encounter. The old rampart ran among fields, the like of them I had never seen for artfulness of agriculture; I was pleased, besides, to be so far in the still countryside; but the shackles of the gibbet clattered in my head; and the mope and mows of the old witch, and the thought of the dead men, hag-rode my spirits. To hang on a gallows, that seemed a hard case; and whether a man came to hang there for two shillings Scots, or (as Mr. Stewart had it) from the sense of duty, once he was tarred and shackled and hung up, the difference seemed small. There might David Balfour hang, and other lads pass on their errands and think light of him; and old daft limmers sit at a leg-foot and spae their fortunes; and the clean genty maids go by, and look to the other aide, and hold a nose. I saw them plain, and they had grey eyes, and their screens upon their heads were of the Drummed colours.
I was thus in the poorest of spirits, though still pretty resolved, when I came in view of Pilrig, a pleasant gabled house set by the walkside among some brave young woods. The laird’s horse was standing saddled at the door as I came up, but himself was in the study, where he received me in the midst of learned works and musical instruments, for he was not only a deep philosopher but much of a musician. He greeted me at first pretty well, and when he had read Rankeillor’s letter, placed himself obligingly at my disposal.
“And what is it, cousin David!” said he—“since it appears that we are cousins—what is this that I can do for you! A word to Prestongrange! Doubtless that is easily given. But what should be the word?”
“Mr. Balfour,” said I, “if I were to tell you my whole story the way it fell out, it’s my opinion (and it was Rankeillor’s before me) that you would be very little made up with it.”
“I am sorry to hear this of you, kinsman,” says he.
“I must not take that at your hands, Mr. Balfour,” said I; “I have nothing to my charge to make me sorry, or you for me, but just the common infirmities of mankind. ‘The guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of my whole nature,’ so much I must answer for, and I hope I have been taught where to look for help,” I said; for I judged from the look of the man he would think the better of me if I knew my questions. “But in the way of worldly honour I have no great stumble to reproach myself with; and my difficulties have befallen me very much against my will and (by all that I can see) without my fault. My trouble is to have become dipped in a political complication, which it is judged you would be blythe to avoid a knowledge of.”
“Why, very well, Mr. David,” he replied, “I am pleased to see you are all that Rankeillor represented. And for what you say of political complications, you do me no more than justice. It is my study to be beyond suspicion, and indeed outside the field of it. The question is,” says he, “how, if I am to know nothing of the matter, I can very well assist you?”
“Why sir,” said I, “I propose you should write to his lordship, that I am a young man of reasonable good family and of good means: both of which I believe to be the case.”
“I have Rankeillor’s word for it,” said Mr. Balfour, “and I count that a warran-dice against all deadly.”
“To which you might add (if you will take my word for so much) that I am a good churchman, loyal to King George, and so brought up,” I went on.
“None of which will do you any harm,” said Mr. Balfour.
“Then you might go on to say that I sought his lordship on a matter of great moment, connected with His Majesty’s service and the administration of justice,” I suggested.
“As I am not to hear the matter,” says the laird, “I will not take upon myself to qualify its weight. ‘Great moment’ therefore falls, and ‘moment’ along with it. For the rest I might express myself much as you propose.”
“And then, sir,” said I, and rubbed my neck a little with my thumb, “then I would be very desirous if you could slip in a word that might perhaps tell for my protection.”
“Protection?” says he, “for your protection! Here is a phrase that somewhat dampens me. If the matter be so dangerous, I own I would be a little loath to move in it blindfold.”
“I believe I could indicate in two words where the thing sticks,” said I.
“Perhaps that would be the best,” said he.
“Well, it’s the Appin murder,” said I.
He held up both his hands. “Sirs! sirs!” cried he.
I thought by the expression of his face and voice that I had lost my helper.
“Let me explain. . .” I began.
“I thank you kindly, I will hear no more of it,” says he. “I decline in toto to hear more of it. For your name’s sake and Rankeillor’s, and perhaps a little for your own, I will do what I can to help you; but I will hear no more upon the facts. And it is my first clear duty to warn you. These are deep waters, Mr. David, and you are a young man. Be cautious and think twice.”
“It is to be supposed I will have thought oftener than that, Mr. Balfour,” said I, “and I will direct your attention again to Rankeillor’s letter, where (I hope and believe) he has registered his approval of that which I design.”
“Well, well,” said he; and then again, “Well, well! I will do what I can for you.” There with he took a pen and paper, sat a while in thought, and began to write with much consideration. “I understand that Rankeillor approved of what you have in mind?” he asked presently.
“After some discussion, sir, he bade me to go forward in God’s name,” said I.
“That is the name to go in,” said Mr. Balfour, and resumed his writing. Presently, he signed, re-read what he had written, and addressed me again. “Now here, Mr. David,” said he, “is a letter of introduction, which I will seal without closing, and give into your hands open, as the form requires. But, since I am acting in the dark, I will just read it to you, so that you may see if it will secure your end—
“Pilrig, August 26th, 1751.
“My Lord,—This is to bring to your notice my namesake and cousin, David Balfour Esquire of Shaws, a young gentleman of unblemished descent and good estate. He has enjoyed, besides, the more valuable advantages of a godly training, and his political principles are all that your lordship can desire. I am not in Mr. Balfour’s confidence, but I understand him to have a matter to declare, touching His Majesty’s service and the administration of justice; purposes for which your Lordship’s zeal is known. I should add that the young gentleman’s intention is known to and approved by some of his friends, who will watch with hopeful anxiety the event of his success or failure.
“Whereupon,” continued Mr. Balfour, “I have subscribed myself with the usual compliments. You observe I have said ‘some of your friends’; I hope you can justify my plural?”
“Perfectly, sir; my purpose is known and approved by more than one,” said I. “And your letter, which I take a pleasure to thank you for, is all I could have hoped.”
“It was all I could squeeze out,” said he; “and from what I know of the matter you design to meddle in, I can only pray God that it may prove sufficient.”
My kinsman kept me to a meal, “for the honour of the roof,” he said; and I believe I made the better speed on my return. I had no thought but to be done with the next stage, and have myself fully committed; to a person circumstanced as I was, the appearance of closing a door on hesitation and temptation was itself extremely tempting; and I was the more disappointed, when I came to Prestongrange’s house, to be informed he was abroad. I believe it was true at the moment, and for some hours after; and then I have no doubt the Advocate came home again, and enjoyed himself in a neighbouring chamber among friends, while perhaps the very fact of my arrival was forgotten. I would have gone away a dozen times, only for this strong drawing to have done with my declaration out of hand and be able to lay me down to sleep with a free conscience. At first I read, for the little cabinet where I was left contained a variety of books. But I fear I read with little profit; and the weather falling cloudy, the dusk coming up earlier than usual, and my cabinet being lighted with but a loophole of a window, I was at last obliged to desist from this diversion (such as it was), and pass the rest of my time of waiting in a very burthensome vacuity. The sound of people talking in a near chamber, the pleasant note of a harpsichord, and once the voice of a lady singing, bore me a kind of company.
I do not know the hour, but the darkness was long come, when the door of the cabinet opened, and I was aware, by the light behind him, of a tall figure of a man upon the threshold. I rose at once.
“Is anybody there?” he asked. “Who in that?”
“I am bearer of a letter from the laird of Pilrig to the Lord Advocate,” said I.
“Have you been here long?” he asked.
“I would not like to hazard an estimate of how many hours,” said I.
“It is the first I hear of it,” he replied, with a chuckle. “The lads must have forgotten you. But you are in the bit at last, for I am Prestongrange.”
So saying, he passed before me into the next room, whither (upon his sign) I followed him, and where he lit a candle and took his place before a business-table. It was a long room, of a good proportion, wholly lined with books. That small spark of light in a corner struck out the man’s handsome person and strong face. He was flushed, his eye watered and sparkled, and before he sat down I observed him to sway back and forth. No doubt, he had been supping liberally; but his mind and tongue were under full control.
“Well, sir, sit ye down,” said he, “and let us see Pilrig’s letter.”
He glanced it through in the beginning carelessly, looking up and bowing when he came to my name; but at the last words I thought I observed his attention to redouble, and I made sure he read them twice. All this while you are to suppose my heart was beating, for I had now crossed my Rubicon and was come fairly on the field of battle.
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Balfour,” he said, when he had done. “Let me offer you a glass of claret.”
“Under your favour, my lord, I think it would scarce be fair on me,” said I. “I have come here, as the letter will have mentioned, on a business of some gravity to myself; and, as I am little used with wine, I might be the sooner affected.”
“You shall be the judge,” said he. “But if you will permit, I believe I will even have the bottle in myself.”
He touched a bell, and a footman came, as at a signal, bringing wine and glasses.
“You are sure you will not join me?” asked the Advocate. “Well, here is to our better acquaintance! In what way can I serve you?”
“I should, perhaps, begin by telling you, my lord, that I am here at your own pressing invitation,” said I.
“You have the advantage of me somewhere,” said he, “for I profess I think I never heard of you before this evening.”
“Right, my lord; the name is, indeed, new to you,” said I. “And yet you have been for some time extremely wishful to make my acquaintance, and have declared the same in public.”
“I wish you would afford me a clue,” says he. “I am no Daniel.”