Kidnapped by robert loui.., p.19
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       Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, p.19
 

           Robert Louis Stevenson
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  All the while, I was growing worse and worse. Once I had fallen, my leg simply doubling under me, and this had struck Alan for the moment; but I was afoot so briskly, and set off again with such a natural manner, that he soon forgot the incident. Flushes of heat went over me, and then spasms of shuddering. The stitch in my side was hardly bearable. At last I began to feel that I could trail myself no farther: and with that, there came on me all at once the wish to have it out with Alan, let my anger blaze, and be done with my life in a more sudden manner. He had just called me “Whig.” I stopped.

  “Mr. Stewart,” said I, in a voice that quivered like a fiddle-string, “you are older than I am, and should know your manners. Do you think it either very wise or very witty to cast my politics in my teeth? I thought, where folk differed, it was the part of gentlemen to differ civilly; and if I did not, I may tell you I could find a better taunt than some of yours.”

  Alan had stopped opposite to me, his hat cocked, his hands in his breeches pockets, his head a little on one side. He listened, smiling evilly, as I could see by the starlight; and when I had done he began to whistle a Jacobite air. It was the air made in mockery of General Cope’s defeat at Preston Pans:

  “Hey, Johnnie Cope, are ye waukin’ yet?

  And are your drums a-beatin’ yet?”

  And it came in my mind that Alan, on the day of that battle, had been engaged upon the royal side.

  “Why do ye take that air, Mr. Stewart?” said I. “Is that to remind me you have been beaten on both sides?”

  The air stopped on Alan’s lips. “David!” said he.

  “But it’s time these manners ceased,” I continued; “and I mean you shall henceforth speak civilly of my King and my good friends the Campbells.”

  “I am a Stewart—” began Alan.

  “O!” says I, “I ken ye bear a king’s name. But you are to remember, since I have been in the Highlands, I have seen a good many of those that bear it; and the best I can say of them is this, that they would be none the worse of washing.”

  “Do you know that you insult me?” said Alan, very low.

  “I am sorry for that,” said I, “for I am not done; and if you distaste the sermon, I doubt the pirliecue28 will please you as little. You have been chased in the field by the grown men of my party; it seems a poor kind of pleasure to out-face a boy. Both the Campbells and the Whigs have beaten you; you have run before them like a hare. It behoves you to speak of them as of your betters.”

  Alan stood quite still, the tails of his great-coat clapping behind him in the wind.

  “This is a pity,” he said at last. “There are things said that cannot be passed over.”

  “I never asked you to,” said I. “I am as ready as yourself.”

  “Ready?” said he.

  “Ready,” I repeated. “I am no blower and boaster like some that I could name. Come on!” And drawing my sword, I fell on guard as Alan himself had taught me.

  “David!” he cried. “Are ye daft? I cannae draw upon ye, David. It’s fair murder.”

  “That was your look-out when you insulted me,” said I.

  “It’s the truth!” cried Alan, and he stood for a moment, wringing his mouth in his hand like a man in sore perplexity. “It’s the bare truth,” he said, and drew his sword. But before I could touch his blade with mine, he had thrown it from him and fallen to the ground. “Na, na,” he kept saying, “na, na—I cannae, I cannae.”

  At this the last of my anger oozed all out of me; and I found myself only sick, and sorry, and blank, and wondering at myself. I would have given the world to take back what I had said; but a word once spoken, who can recapture it? I minded me of all Alan’s kindness and courage in the past, how he had helped and cheered and borne with me in our evil days; and then recalled my own insults, and saw that I had lost for ever that doughty friend. At the same time, the sickness that hung upon me seemed to redouble, and the pang in my side was like a sword for sharpness. I thought I must have swooned where I stood.

  This it was that gave me a thought. No apology could blot out what I had said; it was needless to think of one, none could cover the offence; but where an apology was vain, a mere cry for help might bring Alan back to my side. I put my pride away from me. “Alan!” I said; “if ye cannae help me, I must just die here.”

  He started up sitting, and looked at me.

  “It’s true,” said I. “I’m by with it. O, let me get into the bield of a house—I’ll can die there easier.” I had no need to pretend; whether I chose or not, I spoke in a weeping voice that would have melted a heart of stone.

  “Can ye walk?” asked Alan.

  “No,” said I, “not without help. This last hour my legs have been fainting under me; I’ve a stitch in my side like a red-hot iron; I cannae breathe right. If I die, ye’ll can forgive me, Alan? In my heart, I liked ye fine—even when I was the angriest.”

  “Wheesht, wheesht!” cried Alan. “Dinna say that! David man, ye ken—” He shut his mouth upon a sob. “Let me get my arm about ye,” he continued; “that’s the way! Now lean upon me hard. Gude kens where there’s a house! We’re in Balwhidder, too; there should be no want of houses, no, nor friends’ houses here. Do ye gang easier so, Davie?”

  “Ay,” said I, “I can be doing this way;” and I pressed his arm with my hand.

  Again he came near sobbing. “Davie,” said he, “I’m no a right man at all; I have neither sense nor kindness; I could nae remember ye were just a bairn, I couldnae see ye were dying on your feet; Davie, ye’ll have to try and forgive me.”

  “O man, let’s say no more about it!” said I. “We’re neither one of us to mend the other—that’s the truth! We must just bear and forbear, man Alan. O, but my stitch is sore! Is there nae house?”

  “I’ll find a house to ye, David,” he said, stoutly. “We’ll follow down the burn, where there’s bound to be houses. My poor man, will ye no be better on my back?”

  “O, Alan,” says I, “and me a good twelve inches taller?”

  “Ye’re no such a thing,” cried Alan, with a start. “There may be a trifling matter of an inch or two; I’m no saying I’m just exactly what ye would call a tall man, whatever; and I dare say,” he added, his voice tailing off in a laughable manner, “now when I come to think of it, I dare say ye’ll be just about right. Ay, it’ll be a foot, or near hand; or may be even mair!”

  It was sweet and laughable to hear Alan eat his words up in the fear of some fresh quarrel. I could have laughed, had not my stitch caught me so hard; but if I had laughed, I think I must have wept too.

  “Alan,” cried I, “what makes ye so good to me? What makes ye care for such a thankless fellow?”

  “’Deed, and I don’t know,” said Alan. “For just precisely what I thought I liked about ye, was that ye never quarrelled:—and now I like ye better!”

  * * *

  28 A second sermon.

  CHAPTER 25

  In Balquhidder

  At the door of the first house we came to, Alan knocked, which was of no very safe enterprise in such a part of the Highlands as the Braes of Balquhidder. No great clan held rule there; it was filled and disputed by small septs, and broken remnants, and what they call “chiefless folk,” driven into the wild country about the springs of Forth and Teith by the advance of the Campbells. Here were Stewarts and Maclarens, which came to the same thing, for the Maclarens followed Alan’s chief in war, and made but one clan with Appin. Here, too, were many of that old, proscribed, nameless, red-handed clan of the Macgregors. They had always been ill-considered, and now worse than ever, having credit with no side or party in the whole country of Scotland. Their chief, Macgregor of Macgregor, was in exile; the more immediate leader of that part of them about Balquhidder, James More, Rob Roy’s eldest son, lay waiting his trial in Edinburgh Castle; they were in ill-blood with Highlander and Lowlander, with the Grahames, the Maclarens, and the Stewarts; and Alan, who took up the quarrel of any friend, however distant, was extrem
ely wishful to avoid them.

  Chance served us very well; for it was a household of Maclarens that we found, where Alan was not only welcome for his name’s sake but known by reputation. Here then I was got to bed without delay, and a doctor fetched, who found me in a sorry plight. But whether because he was a very good doctor, or I a very young, strong man, I lay bedridden for no more than a week, and before a month I was able to take the road again with a good heart.

  All this time Alan would not leave me though I often pressed him, and indeed his foolhardiness in staying was a common subject of outcry with the two or three friends that were let into the secret. He hid by day in a hole of the braes under a little wood; and at night, when the coast was clear, would come into the house to visit me. I need not say if I was pleased to see him; Mrs. Maclaren, our hostess, thought nothing good enough for such a guest; and as Duncan Dhu (which was the name of our host) had a pair of pipes in his house, and was much of a lover of music, this time of my recovery was quite a festival, and we commonly turned night into day.

  The soldiers let us be; although once a party of two companies and some dragoons went by in the bottom of the valley, where I could see them through the window as I lay in bed. What was much more astonishing, no magistrate came near me, and there was no question put of whence I came or whither I was going; and in that time of excitement, I was as free of all inquiry as though I had lain in a desert. Yet my presence was known before I left to all the people in Balquhidder and the adjacent parts; many coming about the house on visits and these (after the custom of the country) spreading the news among their neighbours. The bills, too, had now been printed. There was one pinned near the foot of my bed, where I could read my own not very flattering portrait and, in larger characters, the amount of the blood money that had been set upon my life. Duncan Dhu and the rest that knew that I had come there in Alan’s company, could have entertained no doubt of who I was; and many others must have had their guess. For though I had changed my clothes, I could not change my age or person; and Lowland boys of eighteen were not so rife in these parts of the world, and above all about that time, that they could fail to put one thing with another, and connect me with the bill. So it was, at least. Other folk keep a secret among two or three near friends, and somehow it leaks out; but among these clansmen, it is told to a whole countryside, and they will keep it for a century.

  There was but one thing happened worth narrating; and that is the visit I had of Robin Oig, one of the sons of the notorious Rob Roy. He was sought upon all sides on a charge of carrying a young woman from Balfron and marrying her (as was alleged) by force; yet he stepped about Balquhidder like a gentleman in his own walled policy. It was he who had shot James Maclaren at the plough stilts, a quarrel never satisfied; yet he walked into the house of his blood enemies as a rider29 might into a public inn.

  Duncan had time to pass me word of who it was; and we looked at one another in concern. You should understand, it was then close upon the time of Alan’s coming; the two were little likely to agree; and yet if we sent word or sought to make a signal, it was sure to arouse suspicion in a man under so dark a cloud as the Macgregor.

  He came in with a great show of civility, but like a man among inferiors; took off his bonnet to Mrs. Maclaren, but clapped it on his head again to speak to Duncan; and having thus set himself (as he would have thought) in a proper light, came to my bedside and bowed.

  “I am given to know, sir,” says he, “that your name is Balfour.”

  “They call me David Balfour,” said I, “at your service.”

  “I would give ye my name in return, sir,” he replied, “but it’s one somewhat blown upon of late days; and it’ll perhaps suffice if I tell ye that I am own brother to James More Drummond or Macgregor, of whom ye will scarce have failed to hear.”

  “No, sir,” said I, a little alarmed; “nor yet of your father, Macgregor-Campbell.” And I sat up and bowed in bed; for I thought best to compliment him, in case he was proud of having had an outlaw to his father.

  He bowed in return. “But what I am come to say, sir,” he went on, “is this. In the year ‘45, my brother raised a part of the ‘Gregara’ and marched six companies to strike a stroke for the good side; and the surgeon that marched with our clan and cured my brother’s leg when it was broken in the brush at Preston Pans, was a gentleman of the same name precisely as yourself. He was brother to Balfour of Baith; and if you are in any reasonable degree of nearness one of that gentleman’s kin, I have come to put myself and my people at your command.”

  You are to remember that I knew no more of my descent than any cadger’s dog; my uncle, to be sure, had prated of some of our high connections, but nothing to the present purpose; and there was nothing left me but that bitter disgrace of owning that I could not tell.

  Robin told me shortly he was sorry he had put himself about, turned his back upon me without a sign of salutation, and as he went towards the door, I could hear him telling Duncan that I was “only some kinless loon that didn’t know his own father.” Angry as I was at these words, and ashamed of my own ignorance, I could scarce keep from smiling that a man who was under the lash of the law (and was indeed hanged some three years later) should be so nice as to the descent of his acquaintances.

  Just in the door, he met Alan coming in; and the two drew back and looked at each other like strange dogs. They were neither of them big men, but they seemed fairly to swell out with pride. Each wore a sword, and by a movement of his haunch, thrust clear the hilt of it, so that it might be the more readily grasped and the blade drawn.

  “Mr. Stewart, I am thinking,” says Robin.

  “Troth, Mr. Macgregor, it’s not a name to be ashamed of,” answered Alan.

  “I did not know ye were in my country, sir,” says Robin.

  “It sticks in my mind that I am in the country of my friends the Maclarens,” says Alan.

  “That’s a kittle point,” returned the other. “There may be two words to say to that. But I think I will have heard that you are a man of your sword?”

  “Unless ye were born deaf, Mr. Macgregor, ye will have heard a good deal more than that,” says Alan. “I am not the only man that can draw steel in Appin; and when my kinsman and captain, Ardshiel, had a talk with a gentleman of your name, not so many years back, I could never hear that the Macgregor had the best of it.”

  “Do ye mean my father, sir?” says Robin.

  “Well, I wouldnae wonder,” said Alan. “The gentleman I have in my mind had the ill-taste to clap Campbell to his name.”

  “My father was an old man,” returned Robin.

  “The match was unequal. You and me would make a better pair, sir.”

  “I was thinking that,” said Alan.

  I was half out of bed, and Duncan had been hanging at the elbow of these fighting cocks, ready to intervene upon the least occasion. But when that word was uttered, it was a case of now or never; and Duncan, with something of a white face to be sure, thrust himself between.

  “Gentlemen,” said he, “I will have been thinking of a very different matter, whateffer. Here are my pipes, and here are you two gentlemen who are baith acclaimed pipers. It’s an auld dispute which one of ye’s the best. Here will be a braw chance to settle it.”

  “Why, sir,” said Alan, still addressing Robin, from whom indeed he had not so much as shifted his eyes, nor yet Robin from him, “why, sir,” says Alan, “I think I will have heard some sough30 of the sort. Have ye music, as folk say? Are ye a bit of a piper?”

  “I can pipe like a Macrimmon!” cries Robin.

  “And that is a very bold word,” quoth Alan.

  “I have made bolder words good before now,” returned Robin, “and that against better adversaries.”

  “It is easy to try that,” says Alan.

  Duncan Dhu made haste to bring out the pair of pipes that was his principal possession, and to set before his guests a mutton-ham and a bottle of that drink which they call Athole brose, and which i
s made of old whiskey, strained honey, and sweet cream, slowly beaten together in the right order and proportion. The two enemies were still on the very breach of a quarrel; but down they sat, one upon each side of the peat fire, with a mighty show of politeness. Maclaren pressed them to taste his mutton-ham and “the wife’s brose,” reminding them the wife was out of Athole and had a name far and wide for her skill in that confection. But Robin put aside these hospitalities as bad for the breath.

  “I would have ye to remark, sir,” said Alan, “that I havenae broken bread for near upon ten hours, which will be worse for the breath than any brose in Scotland.”

  “I will take no advantages, Mr. Stewart,” replied Robin. “Eat and drink; I’ll follow you.”

  Each ate a small portion of the ham and drank a glass of the brose to Mrs. Maclaren; and then after a great number of civilities, Robin took the pipes and played a little spring in a very ranting manner.

  “Ay, ye can blow” said Alan; and taking the instrument from his rival, he first played the same spring in a manner identical with Robin’s; and then wandered into variations, which, as he went on, he decorated with a perfect flight of grace-notes, such as pipers love, and call the “warblers.”

  I had been pleased with Robin’s playing, Alan’s ravished me.

  “That’s no very bad, Mr. Stewart,” said the rival, “but ye show a poor device in your warblers.”

  “Me!” cried Alan, the blood starting to his face. “I give ye the lie.”

  “Do ye own yourself beaten at the pipes, then,” said Robin, “that ye seek to change them for the sword?”

  “And that’s very well said, Mr. Macgregor,” returned Alan; “and in the meantime” (laying a strong accent on the word) “I take back the lie. I appeal to Duncan.”

 
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