Kidnapped by robert loui.., p.3
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, p.3Robert Louis Stevenson
To my surprise, he lit no lamp or candle, but set forth into the dark passage, groped his way, breathing deeply, up a flight of steps, and paused before a door, which he unlocked. I was close upon his heels, having stumbled after him as best I might; and then he bade me go in, for that was my chamber. I did as he bid, but paused after a few steps, and begged a light to go to bed with.
“Hoot-toot!” said Uncle Ebenezer, “there’s a fine moon.”
“Neither moon nor star, sir, and pit-mirk,”1 said I. “I cannae see the bed.”
“Hoot-toot, hoot-toot!” said he. “Lights in a house is a thing I dinnae agree with. I’m unco feared of fires. Good-night to ye, Davie, my man.” And before I had time to add a further protest, he pulled the door to, and I heard him lock me in from the outside.
I did not know whether to laugh or cry. The room was as cold as a well, and the bed, when I had found my way to it, as damp as a peat-hag; but by good fortune I had caught up my bundle and my plaid, and rolling myself in the latter, I lay down upon the floor under lee of the big bedstead, and fell speedily asleep.
With the first peep of day I opened my eyes, to find myself in a great chamber, hung with stamped leather, furnished with fine embroidered furniture, and lit by three fair windows. Ten years ago, or perhaps twenty, it must have been as pleasant a room to lie down or to awake in as a man could wish; but damp, dirt, disuse, and the mice and spiders had done their worst since then. Many of the window-panes, besides, were broken; and indeed this was so common a feature in that house, that I believe my uncle must at some time have stood a siege from his indignant neighbours—perhaps with Jennet Clouston at their head.
Meanwhile the sun was shining outside; and being very cold in that miserable room, I knocked and shouted till my gaoler came and let me out. He carried me to the back of the house, where was a draw-well, and told me to “wash my face there, if I wanted;” and when that was done, I made the best of my own way back to the kitchen, where he had lit the fire and was making the porridge. The table was laid with two bowls and two horn spoons, but the same single measure of small beer. Perhaps my eye rested on this particular with some surprise, and perhaps my uncle observed it; for he spoke up as if in answer to my thought, asking me if I would like to drink ale—for so he called it.
I told him such was my habit, but not to put himself about.
“Na, na,” said he; “I’ll deny you nothing in reason.”
He fetched another cup from the shelf; and then, to my great surprise, instead of drawing more beer, he poured an accurate half from one cup to the other. There was a kind of nobleness in this that took my breath away; if my uncle was certainly a miser, he was one of that thorough breed that goes near to make the vice respectable.
When we had made an end of our meal, my uncle Ebenezer unlocked a drawer, and drew out of it a clay pipe and a lump of tobacco, from which he cut one fill before he locked it up again. Then he sat down in the sun at one of the windows and silently smoked. From time to time his eyes came coasting round to me, and he shot out one of his questions. Once it was, “And your mother?” and when I had told him that she, too, was dead, “Ay, she was a bonnie lassie!” Then, after another long pause, “Whae were these friends o’ yours?”
I told him they were different gentlemen of the name of Campbell; though, indeed, there was only one, and that the minister, that had ever taken the least note of me; but I began to think my uncle made too light of my position, and finding myself all alone with him, I did not wish him to suppose me helpless.
He seemed to turn this over in his mind; and then, “Davie, my man,” said he, “ye’ve come to the right bit when ye came to your uncle Ebenezer. I’ve a great notion of the family, and I mean to do the right by you; but while I’m taking a bit think to mysel’ of what’s the best thing to put you to—whether the law, or the meenistry, or maybe the army, whilk is what boys are fondest of—I wouldnae like the Balfours to be humbled before a wheen Hieland Campbells, and I’ll ask you to keep your tongue within your teeth. Nae letters; nae messages; no kind of word to onybody; or else—there’s my door.”
“Uncle Ebenezer,” said I, “I’ve no manner of reason to suppose you mean anything but well by me. For all that, I would have you to know that I have a pride of my own. It was by no will of mine that I came seeking you; and if you show me your door again, I’ll take you at the word.”
He seemed grievously put out. “Hoots-toots,” said he, “ca’ cannie, man—ca’ cannie! Bide a day or two. I’m nae warlock, to find a fortune for you in the bottom of a parritch bowl; but just you give me a day or two, and say naething to naebody, and as sure as sure, I’ll do the right by you.”
“Very well,” said I, “enough said. If you want to help me, there’s no doubt but I’ll be glad of it, and none but I’ll be grateful.”
It seemed to me (too soon, I dare say) that I was getting the upper hand of my uncle; and I began next to say that I must have the bed and bedclothes aired and put to sun-dry; for nothing would make me sleep in such a pickle.
“Is this my house or yours?” said he, in his keen voice, and then all of a sudden broke off. “Na, na,” said he, “I didnae mean that. What’s mine is yours, Davie, my man, and what’s yours is mine. Blood’s thicker than water; and there’s naebody but you and me that ought the name.” And then on he rambled about the family, and its ancient greatness, and his father that began to enlarge the house, and himself that stopped the building as a sinful waste; and this put it in my head to give him Jennet Clouston’s message.
“The limmer!” he cried. “Twelve hunner and fifteen—that’s every day since I had the limmer rowpit!2 Dod, David, I’ll have her roasted on red peats before I’m by with it! A witch—a proclaimed witch! I’ll aff and see the session clerk.”
And with that he opened a chest, and got out a very old and well-preserved blue coat and waistcoat, and a good enough beaver hat, both without lace. These he threw on any way, and taking a staff from the cupboard, locked all up again, and was for setting out, when a thought arrested him.
“I cannae leave you by yoursel’ in the house,” said he. “I’ll have to lock you out.”
The blood came to my face. “If you lock me out,” I said, “it’ll be the last you’ll see of me in friendship.”
He turned very pale, and sucked his mouth in.
“This is no the way,” he said, looking wickedly at a corner of the floor—“this is no the way to win my favour, David.”
“Sir,” says I, “with a proper reverence for your age and our common blood, I do not value your favour at a boddle’s purchase. I was brought up to have a good conceit of myself; and if you were all the uncle, and all the family, I had in the world ten times over, I wouldn’t buy your liking at such prices.”
Uncle Ebenezer went and looked out of the window for awhile. I could see him all trembling and twitching, like a man with palsy. But when he turned round, he had a smile upon his face.
“Well, well,” said he, “we must bear and forbear. I’ll no go; that’s all that’s to be said of it.”
“Uncle Ebenezer,” I said, “I can make nothing out of this. You use me like a thief; you hate to have me in this house; you let me see it, every word and every minute: it’s not possible that you can like me; and as for me, I’ve spoken to you as I never thought to speak to any man. Why do you seek to keep me, then? Let me gang back—let me gang back to the friends I have, and that like me!”
“Na, na; na, na,” he said, very earnestly. “I like you fine; we’ll agree fine yet; and for the honour of the house I couldnae let you leave the way ye came. Bide here quiet, there’s a good lad; just you bide here quiet a bittie, and ye’ll find that we agree.”
“Well, sir,” said I, after I had thought the matter out in silence, “I’ll stay awhile. It’s more just I should be helped by my own blood than strangers; and if we don’t agree, I’ll do my best it shall be through no fault of mine.”
* * *
1 Dark as the pi
2 Sold up.
I Run a Great Danger in the House of Shaws
For a day that was begun so ill, the day passed fairly well. We had the porridge cold again at noon, and hot porridge at night; porridge and small beer was my uncle’s diet. He spoke but little, and that in the same way as before, shooting a question at me after a long silence; and when I sought to lead him to talk about my future, slipped out of it again. In a room next door to the kitchen, where he suffered me to go, I found a great number of books, both Latin and English, in which I took great pleasure all the afternoon. Indeed, the time passed so lightly in this good company, that I began to be almost reconciled to my residence at Shaws; and nothing but the sight of my uncle, and his eyes playing hide and seek with mine, revived the force of my distrust.
One thing I discovered, which put me in some doubt. This was an entry on the fly-leaf of a chap-book (one of Patrick Walker’s) plainly written by my father’s hand and thus conceived: “To my brother Ebenezer on his fifth birthday.” Now, what puzzled me was this: That, as my father was of course the younger brother, he must either have made some strange error, or he must have written, before he was yet five, an excellent, clear manly hand of writing.
I tried to get this out of my head; but though I took down many interesting authors, old and new, history, poetry, and story-book, this notion of my father’s hand of writing stuck to me; and when at length I went back into the kitchen, and sat down once more to porridge and small beer, the first thing I said to Uncle Ebenezer was to ask him if my father had not been very quick at his book.
“Alexander? No him!” was the reply. “I was far quicker mysel’; I was a clever chappie when I was young. Why, I could read as soon as he could.”
This puzzled me yet more; and a thought coming into my head, I asked if he and my father had been twins.
He jumped upon his stool, and the horn spoon fell out of his hand upon the floor. “What gars ye ask that?” he said, and he caught me by the breast of the jacket, and looked this time straight into my eyes: his own were little and light, and bright like a bird’s, blinking and winking strangely.
“What do you mean?” I asked, very calmly, for I was far stronger than he, and not easily frightened. “Take your hand from my jacket. This is no way to behave.”
My uncle seemed to make a great effort upon himself. “Dod man, David,” he said, “ye should-nae speak to me about your father. That’s where the mistake is.” He sat awhile and shook, blinking in his plate: “He was all the brother that ever I had,” he added, but with no heart in his voice; and then he caught up his spoon and fell to supper again, but still shaking.
Now this last passage, this laying of hands upon my person and sudden profession of love for my dead father, went so clean beyond my comprehension that it put me into both fear and hope. On the one hand, I began to think my uncle was perhaps insane and might be dangerous; on the other, there came up into my mind (quite unbidden by me and even discouraged) a story like some ballad I had heard folk singing, of a poor lad that was a rightful heir and a wicked kinsman that tried to keep him from his own. For why should my uncle play a part with a relative that came, almost a beggar, to his door, unless in his heart he had some cause to fear him?
With this notion, all unacknowledged, but nevertheless getting firmly settled in my head, I now began to imitate his covert looks; so that we sat at table like a cat and a mouse, each stealthily observing the other. Not another word had he to say to me, black or white, but was busy turning something secretly over in his mind; and the longer we sat and the more I looked at him, the more certain I became that the something was unfriendly to myself.
When he had cleared the platter, he got out a single pipeful of tobacco, just as in the morning, turned round a stool into the chimney corner, and sat awhile smoking, with his back to me.
“Davie,” he said, at length, “I’ve been thinking;” then he paused, and said it again. “There’s a wee bit siller that I half promised ye before ye were born,” he continued; “promised it to your father. O, naething legal, ye understand; just gentlemen daffing at their wine. Well, I keepit that bit money separate—it was a great expense, but a promise is a promise—and it has grown by now to be a matter of just precisely—just exactly”—and here he paused and stumbled—“of just exactly forty pounds!” This last he rapped out with a sidelong glance over his shoulder; and the next moment added, almost with a scream, “Scots!”
The pound Scots being the same thing as an English shilling, the difference made by this second thought was considerable; I could see, besides, that the whole story was a lie, invented with some end which it puzzled me to guess; and I made no attempt to conceal the tone of raillery in which I answered—
“O, think again, sir! Pounds sterling, I believe!”
“That’s what I said,” returned my uncle: “pounds sterling! And if you’ll step out-by to the door a minute, just to see what kind of a night it is, I’ll get it out to ye and call ye in again.”
I did his will, smiling to myself in my contempt that he should think I was so easily to be deceived. It was a dark night, with a few stars low down; and as I stood just outside the door, I heard a hollow moaning of wind far off among the hills. I said to myself there was something thundery and changeful in the weather, and little knew of what a vast importance that should prove to me before the evening passed.
When I was called in again, my uncle counted out into my hand seven and thirty golden guinea pieces; the rest was in his hand, in small gold and silver; but his heart failed him there, and he crammed the change into his pocket.
“There,” said he, “that’ll show you! I’m a queer man, and strange wi’ strangers; but my word is my bond, and there’s the proof of it.”
Now, my uncle seemed so miserly that I was struck dumb by this sudden generosity, and could find no words in which to thank him.
“No a word!” said he. “Nae thanks; I want nae thanks. I do my duty. I’m no saying that everybody would have done it; but for my part (though I’m a careful body, too) it’s a pleasure to me to do the right by my brother’s son; and it’s a pleasure to me to think that now we’ll agree as such near friends should.”
I spoke him in return as handsomely as I was able; but all the while I was wondering what would come next, and why he had parted with his precious guineas; for as to the reason he had given, a baby would have refused it.
Presently he looked towards me sideways.
“And see here,” says he, “tit for tat.”
I told him I was ready to prove my gratitude in any reasonable degree, and then waited, looking for some monstrous demand. And yet, when at last he plucked up courage to speak, it was only to tell me (very properly, as I thought) that he was growing old and a little broken, and that he would expect me to help him with the house and the bit garden.
I answered, and expressed my readiness to serve.
“Well,” he said, “let’s begin.” He pulled out of his pocket a rusty key. “There,” says he, “there’s the key of the stair-tower at the far end of the house. Ye can only win into it from the outside, for that part of the house is no finished. Gang ye in there, and up the stairs, and bring me down the chest that’s at the top. There’s papers in’t,” he added.
“Can I have a light, sir?” said I.
“Na,” said he, very cunningly. “Nae lights in my house.”
“Very well, sir,” said I. “Are the stairs good?”
“They’re grand,” said he; and then, as I was going, “Keep to the wall,” he added; “there’s nae bannisters. But the stairs are grand underfoot.”
Out I went into the night. The wind was still moaning in the distance, though never a breath of it came near the house of Shaws. It had fallen blacker than ever; and I was glad to feel along the wall, till I came the length of the stairtower door at the far end of the unfinished wing. I had got the key into the keyhole and had just turned it, when all upon a sudden, wi
It was so dark inside, it seemed a body could scarce breathe; but I pushed out with foot and hand, and presently struck the wall with the one, and the lowermost round of the stair with the other. The wall, by the touch, was of fine hewn stone; the steps too, though somewhat steep and narrow, were of polished masonwork, and regular and solid underfoot. Minding my uncle’s word about the bannisters, I kept close to the tower side, and felt my way in the pitch darkness with a beating heart.
The house of Shaws stood some five full storeys high, not counting lofts. Well, as I advanced, it seemed to me the stair grew airier and a thought more lightsome; and I was wondering what might be the cause of this change, when a second blink of the summer lightning came and went. If I did not cry out, it was because fear had me by the throat; and if I did not fall, it was more by Heaven’s mercy than my own strength. It was not only that the flash shone in on every side through breaches in the wall, so that I seemed to be clambering aloft upon an open scaffold, but the same passing brightness showed me the steps were of unequal length, and that one of my feet rested that moment within two inches of the well.
This was the grand stair! I thought; and with the thought, a gust of a kind of angry courage came into my heart. My uncle had sent me here, certainly to run great risks, perhaps to die. I swore I would settle that “perhaps,” if I should break my neck for it; got me down upon my hands and knees; and as slowly as a snail, feeling before me every inch, and testing the solidity of every stone, I continued to ascend the stair. The darkness, by contrast with the flash, appeared to have redoubled; nor was that all, for my ears were now troubled and my mind confounded by a great stir of bats in the top part of the tower, and the foul beasts, flying downwards, sometimes beat about my face and body.
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson by Robert Louis Stevenson / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes