Part 1 out of 5
MEMOIRS OF THE ADVENTURES OF
IN THE YEAR 1751
HOW HE WAS KIDNAPPED AND CAST AWAY; HIS SUFFERINGS IN
A DESERT ISLE; HIS JOURNEY IN THE WILD HIGHLANDS;
HIS ACQUAINTANCE WITH ALAN BRECK STEWART
AND OTHER NOTORIOUS HIGHLAND JACOBITES;
WITH ALL THAT HE SUFFERED AT THE
HANDS OF HIS UNCLE, EBENEZER
BALFOUR OF SHAWS, FALSELY
WRITTEN BY HIMSELF AND NOW SET FORTH BY
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
WITH A PREFACE BY MRS. STEVENSON
THE BIOGRAPHICAL EDITION
While my husband and Mr. Henley were engaged in writing plays in
Bournemouth they made a number of titles, hoping to use them in
the future. Dramatic composition was not what my husband
preferred, but the torrent of Mr. Henley's enthusiasm swept him
off his feet. However, after several plays had been finished,
and his health seriously impaired by his endeavours to keep up
with Mr. Henley, play writing was abandoned forever, and my
husband returned to his legitimate vocation. Having added one of
the titles, The Hanging Judge, to the list of projected plays,
now thrown aside, and emboldened by my husband's offer to give me
any help needed, I concluded to try and write it myself.
As I wanted a trial scene in the Old Bailey, I chose the period
of 1700 for my purpose; but being shamefully ignorant of my
subject, and my husband confessing to little more knowledge than
I possessed, a London bookseller was commissioned to send us
everything he could procure bearing on Old Bailey trials. A
great package came in response to our order, and very soon we
were both absorbed, not so much in the trials as in following the
brilliant career of a Mr. Garrow, who appeared as counsel in many
of the cases. We sent for more books, and yet more, still intent
on Mr. Garrow, whose subtle cross-examination of witnesses and
masterly, if sometimes startling, methods of arriving at the
truth seemed more thrilling to us than any novel.
Occasionally other trials than those of the Old Bailey would be
included in the package of books we received from London; among
these my husband found and read with avidity:--
in Aucharn in Duror of Appin
Murder of COLIN CAMPBELL of Glenure, Efq;
Factor for His Majefty on the forfeited
Estate of Ardfhiel.
My husband was always interested in this period of his country's
history, and had already the intention of writing a story that
should turn on the Appin murder. The tale was to be of a boy,
David Balfour, supposed to belong to my husband's own family, who
should travel in Scotland as though it were a foreign country,
meeting with various adventures and misadventures by the way.
From the trial of James Stewart my husband gleaned much valuable
material for his novel, the most important being the character of
Alan Breck. Aside from having described him as "smallish in
stature," my husband seems to have taken Alan Breck's personal
appearance, even to his clothing, from the book.
A letter from James Stewart to Mr. John Macfarlane, introduced as
evidence in the trial, says: "There is one Alan Stewart, a
distant friend of the late Ardshiel's, who is in the French
service, and came over in March last, as he said to some, in
order to settle at home; to others, that he was to go soon back;
and was, as I hear, the day that the murder was committed, seen
not far from the place where it happened, and is not now to be
seen; by which it is believed he was the actor. He is a
desperate foolish fellow; and if he is guilty, came to the
country for that very purpose. He is a tall, pock-pitted lad,
very black hair, and wore a blue coat and metal buttons, an old
red vest, and breeches of the same colour." A second witness
testified to having seen him wearing "a blue coat with silver
buttons, a red waistcoat, black shag breeches, tartan hose, and a
feathered hat, with a big coat, dun coloured," a costume referred
to by one of the counsel as "French cloathes which were
There are many incidents given in the trial that point to Alan's
fiery spirit and Highland quickness to take offence. One witness
"declared also That the said Alan Breck threatened that he would
challenge Ballieveolan and his sons to fight because of his
removing the declarant last year from Glenduror." On another
page: "Duncan Campbell, change-keeper at Annat, aged thirty-five
years, married, witness cited, sworn, purged and examined ut
supra, depones, That, in the month of April last, the deponent
met with Alan Breck Stewart, with whom he was not acquainted, and
John Stewart, in Auchnacoan, in the house of the walk miller of
Auchofragan, and went on with them to the house: Alan Breck
Stewart said, that he hated all the name of Campbell; and the
deponent said, he had no reason for doing so: But Alan said, he
had very good reason for it: that thereafter they left that
house; and, after drinking a dram at another house, came to the
deponent's house, where they went in, and drunk some drams, and
Alan Breck renewed the former Conversation; and the deponent,
making the same answer, Alan said, that, if the deponent had any
respect for his friends, he would tell them, that if they offered
to turn out the possessors of Ardshiel's estate, he would make
black cocks of them, before they entered into possession by which
the deponent understood shooting them, it being a common phrase
in the country."
Some time after the publication of Kidnapped we stopped for a
short while in the Appin country, where we were surprised and
interested to discover that the feeling concerning the murder of
Glenure (the "Red Fox," also called "Colin Roy") was almost as
keen as though the tragedy had taken place the day before. For
several years my husband received letters of expostulation or
commendation from members of the Campbell and Stewart clans. I
have in my possession a paper, yellow with age, that was sent
soon after the novel appeared, containing "The Pedigree of the
Family of Appine," wherein it is said that "Alan 3rd Baron of
Appine was not killed at Flowdoun, tho there, but lived to a
great old age. He married Cameron Daughter to Ewen Cameron of
Lochiel." Following this is a paragraph stating that "John
Stewart 1st of Ardsheall of his descendants Alan Breck had better
be omitted. Duncan Baan Stewart in Achindarroch his father was a
One day, while my husband was busily at work, I sat beside him
reading an old cookery book called The Compleat Housewife: or
Accomplish'd Gentlewoman's Companion. In the midst of receipts
for "Rabbits, and Chickens mumbled, Pickled Samphire, Skirret
Pye, Baked Tansy," and other forgotten delicacies, there were
directions for the preparation of several lotions for the
preservation of beauty. One of these was so charming that I
interrupted my husband to read it aloud. "Just what I wanted!"
he exclaimed; and the receipt for the "Lily of the Valley Water"
was instantly incorporated into Kidnapped.
F. V. DE G. S.
MY DEAR CHARLES BAXTER:
If you ever read this tale, you will likely ask yourself more
questions than I should care to answer: as for instance how the
Appin murder has come to fall in the year 1751, how the Torran
rocks have crept so near to Earraid, or why the printed trial is
silent as to all that touches David Balfour. These are nuts
beyond my ability to crack. But if you tried me on the point of
Alan's guilt or innocence, I think I could defend the reading of
the text. To this day you will find the tradition of Appin clear
in Alan's favour. If you inquire, you may even hear that the
descendants of "the other man" who fired the shot are in the
country to this day. But that other man's name, inquire as you
please, you shall not hear; for the Highlander values a secret
for itself and for the congenial exercise of keeping it I might
go on for long to justify one point and own another indefensible;
it is more honest to confess at once how little I am touched by
the desire of accuracy. This is no furniture for the scholar's
library, but a book for the winter evening school-room when the
tasks are over and the hour for bed draws near; and honest Alan,
who was a grim old fire-eater in his day has in this new avatar
no more desperate purpose than to steal some young gentleman's
attention from his Ovid, carry him awhile into the Highlands and
the last century, and pack him to bed with some engaging images
to mingle with his dreams.
As for you, my dear Charles, I do not even ask you to like this
tale. But perhaps when he is older, your son will; he may then
be pleased to find his father's name on the fly-leaf; and in the
meanwhile it pleases me to set it there, in memory of many days
that were happy and some (now perhaps as pleasant to remember)
that were sad. If it is strange for me to look back from a
distance both in time and space on these bygone adventures of our
youth, it must be stranger for you who tread the same
streets--who may to-morrow open the door of the old Speculative,
where we begin to rank with Scott and Robert Emmet and the
beloved and inglorious Macbean--or may pass the corner of the
close where that great society, the L. J. R., held its meetings
and drank its beer, sitting in the seats of Burns and his
companions. I think I see you, moving there by plain daylight,
beholding with your natural eyes those places that have now
become for your companion a part of the scenery of dreams. How,
in the intervals of present business, the past must echo in your
memory! Let it not echo often without some kind thoughts of your
I I SET OFF UPON MY JOURNEY TO THE HOUSE OF SHAWS
II I COME TO MY JOURNEY'S END
III I MAKE ACQUAINTANCE OF MY UNCLE
IV I RUN A GREAT DANGER IN THE HOUSE OF SHAWS
V I GO TO THE QUEEN'S FERRY
VI WHAT BEFELL AT THE QUEEN'S FERRY
VII I GO TO SEA IN THE BRIG "COVENANT" OF DYSART
VIII THE ROUND-HOUSE
IX THE MAN WITH THE BELT OF GOLD
X THE SIEGE OF THE ROUND-HOUSE
XI THE CAPTAIN KNUCKLES UNDER
XII I HEAR OF THE "RED FOX"
XIII THE LOSS OF THE BRIG
XIV THE ISLET
XV THE LAD WITH THE SILVER BUTTON: THROUGH THE ISLE OF MULL
XVI THE LAD WITH THE SILVER BUTTON: ACROSS MORVEN
XVII THE DEATH OF THE RED FOX
XVIIII TALK WITH ALAN IN THE WOOD OF LETTERMORE
XIX THE HOUSE OF FEAR
XX THE FLIGHT IN THE HEATHER: THE ROCKS
XXI THE FLIGHT IN THE HEATHER: THE HEUGH OF CORRYNAKIEGH
XXII THE FLIGHT IN THE HEATHER: THE MOOR
XXIII CLUNY'S CAGE
XXIV THE FLIGHT IN THE HEATHER: THE QUARREL IN BALQUHIDDER
XXVI END OF THE FLIGHT: WE PASS THE FORTH
XXVII I COME TO MR. RANKEILLOR
XXVIII I GO IN QUEST OF MY INHERITANCE
XXIX I COME INTO MY KINGDOM
I SET OFF UPON MY JOURNEY TO THE HOUSE OF SHAWS
I will begin the story of my adventures with a certain morning
early in the month of June, the year of grace 1751, when I took
the key for the last time out of the door of my father's house.
The sun began to shine upon the summit of the hills as I went
down the road; and by the time I had come as far as the manse,
the blackbirds were whistling in the garden lilacs, and the mist
that hung around the valley in the time of the dawn was beginning
to arise and die away.
Mr. Campbell, the minister of Essendean, was waiting for me by
the garden gate, good man! He asked me if I had breakfasted; and
hearing that I lacked for nothing, he took my hand in both of his
and clapped it kindly under his arm.
"Well, Davie, lad," said he, "I will go with you as far as the
ford, to set you on the way." And we began to walk forward in
"Are ye sorry to leave Essendean?" said he, after awhile.
"Why, sir," said I, "if I knew where I was going, or what was
likely to become of me, I would tell you candidly. Essendean is
a good place indeed, and I have been very happy there; but then I
have never been anywhere else. My father and mother, since they
are both dead, I shall be no nearer to in Essendean than in the
Kingdom of Hungary, and, to speak truth, if I thought I had a
chance to better myself where I was going I would go with a good
"Ay?" said Mr. Campbell. "Very well, Davie. Then it behoves me
to tell your fortune; or so far as I may. When your mother was
gone, and your father (the worthy, Christian man) began to sicken
for his end, he gave me in charge a certain letter, which he said
was your inheritance. 'So soon,' says he, 'as I am gone, and the
house is redd up and the gear disposed of' (all which, Davie,
hath been done), 'give my boy this letter into his hand, and
start him off to the house of Shaws, not far from Cramond. That
is the place I came from,' he said, 'and it's where it befits
that my boy should return. He is a steady lad,' your father
said, 'and a canny goer; and I doubt not he will come safe, and
be well lived where he goes.'"
"The house of Shaws!" I cried. "What had my poor father to do
with the house of Shaws?"
"Nay," said Mr. Campbell, "who can tell that for a surety? But
the name of that family, Davie, boy, is the name you bear --
Balfours of Shaws: an ancient, honest, reputable house,
peradventure in these latter days decayed. Your father, too, was
a man of learning as befitted his position; no man more plausibly
conducted school; nor had he the manner or the speech of a common
dominie; but (as ye will yourself remember) I took aye a pleasure
to have him to the manse to meet the gentry; and those of my own
house, Campbell of Kilrennet, Campbell of Dunswire, Campbell of
Minch, and others, all well-kenned gentlemen, had pleasure in his
society. Lastly, to put all the elements of this affair before
you, here is the testamentary letter itself, superscrived by the
own hand of our departed brother."
He gave me the letter, which was addressed in these words: "To
the hands of Ebenezer Balfour, Esquire, of Shaws, in his house of
Shaws, these will be delivered by my son, David Balfour." My
heart was beating hard at this great prospect now suddenly
opening before a lad of seventeen years of age, the son of a poor
country dominie in the Forest of Ettrick.
"Mr. Campbell," I stammered, "and if you were in my shoes, would
"Of a surety," said the minister, "that would I, and without
pause. A pretty lad like you should get to Cramond (which is
near in by Edinburgh) in two days of walk. If the worst came to
the worst, and your high relations (as I cannot but suppose them
to be somewhat of your blood) should put you to the door, ye can
but walk the two days back again and risp at the manse door. But
I would rather hope that ye shall be well received, as your poor
father forecast for you, and for anything that I ken come to be a
great man in time. And here, Davie, laddie," he resumed, "it
lies near upon my conscience to improve this parting, and set you
on the right guard against the dangers of the world."
Here he cast about for a comfortable seat, lighted on a big
boulder under a birch by the trackside, sate down upon it with a
very long, serious upper lip, and the sun now shining in upon us
between two peaks, put his pocket-handkerchief over his cocked
hat to shelter him. There, then, with uplifted forefinger, he
first put me on my guard against a considerable number of
heresies, to which I had no temptation, and urged upon me to be
instant in my prayers and reading of the Bible. That done, he
drew a picture of the great house that I was bound to, and how I
should conduct myself with its inhabitants.
"Be soople, Davie, in things immaterial," said he. "Bear ye this
in mind, that, though gentle born, ye have had a country rearing.
Dinnae shame us, Davie, dinnae shame us! In yon great, muckle
house, with all these domestics, upper and under, show yourself
as nice, as circumspect, as quick at the conception, and as slow
of speech as any. As for the laird -- remember he's the laird; I
say no more: honour to whom honour. It's a pleasure to obey a
laird; or should be, to the young."
"Well, sir," said I, "it may be; and I'll promise you I'll try to
make it so."
"Why, very well said," replied Mr. Campbell, heartily. "And now
to come to the material, or (to make a quibble) to the
immaterial. I have here a little packet which contains four
things." He tugged it, as he spoke, and with some great
difficulty, from the skirt pocket of his coat. "Of these four
things, the first is your legal due: the little pickle money for
your father's books and plenishing, which I have bought (as I
have explained from the first) in the design of re-selling at a
profit to the incoming dominie. The other three are gifties that
Mrs. Campbell and myself would be blithe of your acceptance. The
first, which is round, will likely please ye best at the first
off-go; but, O Davie, laddie, it's but a drop of water in the
sea; it'll help you but a step, and vanish like the morning. The
second, which is flat and square and written upon, will stand by
you through life, like a good staff for the road, and a good
pillow to your head in sickness. And as for the last, which is
cubical, that'll see you, it's my prayerful wish, into a better
With that he got upon his feet, took off his hat, and prayed a
little while aloud, and in affecting terms, for a young man
setting out into the world; then suddenly took me in his arms and
embraced me very hard; then held me at arm's length, looking at
me with his face all working with sorrow; and then whipped about,
and crying good-bye to me, set off backward by the way that we
had come at a sort of jogging run. It might have been laughable
to another; but I was in no mind to laugh. I watched him as long
as he was in sight; and he never stopped hurrying, nor once
looked back. Then it came in upon my mind that this was all his
sorrow at my departure; and my conscience smote me hard and fast,
because I, for my part, was overjoyed to get away out of that
quiet country-side, and go to a great, busy house, among rich and
respected gentlefolk of my own name and blood.
"Davie, Davie," I thought, "was ever seen such black ingratitude?
Can you forget old favours and old friends at the mere whistle of
a name? Fie, fie; think shame."
And I sat down on the boulder the good man had just left, and
opened the parcel to see the nature of my gifts. That which he
had called cubical, I had never had much doubt of; sure enough it
was a little Bible, to carry in a plaid-neuk. That which he had
called round, I found to be a shilling piece; and the third,
which was to help me so wonderfully both in health and sickness
all the days of my life, was a little piece of coarse yellow
paper, written upon thus in red ink:
"TO MAKE LILLY OF THE VALLEY WATER.--Take the flowers of lilly of
the valley and distil them in sack, and drink a spooneful or two
as there is occasion. It restores speech to those that have the
dumb palsey. It is good against the Gout; it comforts the heart
and strengthens the memory; and the flowers, put into a Glasse,
close stopt, and set into ane hill of ants for a month, then take
it out, and you will find a liquor which comes from the flowers,
which keep in a vial; it is good, ill or well, and whether man or
And then, in the minister's own hand, was added:
"Likewise for sprains, rub it in; and for the cholic, a great
spooneful in the hour."
To be sure, I laughed over this; but it was rather tremulous
laughter; and I was glad to get my bundle on my staff's end and
set out over the ford and up the hill upon the farther side;
till, just as I came on the green drove-road running wide through
the heather, I took my last look of Kirk Essendean, the trees
about the manse, and the big rowans in the kirkyard where my
father and my mother lay.
I COME TO MY JOURNEY'S END
On the forenoon of the second day, coming to the top of a hill, I
saw all the country fall away before me down to the sea; and in
the midst of this descent, on a long ridge, the city of Edinburgh
smoking like a kiln. There was a flag upon the castle, and ships
moving or lying anchored in the firth; both of which, for as far
away as they were, I could distinguish clearly; and both brought
my country heart into my mouth.
Presently after, I came by a house where a shepherd lived, and
got a rough direction for the neighbourhood of Cramond; and so,
from one to another, worked my way to the westward of the capital
by Colinton, till I came out upon the Glasgow road. And there,
to my great pleasure and wonder, I beheld a regiment marching to
the fifes, every foot in time; an old red-faced general on a grey
horse at the one end, and at the other the company of Grenadiers,
with their Pope's-hats. The pride of life seemed to mount into
my brain at the sight of the red coats and the hearing of that
A little farther on, and I was told I was in Cramond parish, and
began to substitute in my inquiries the name of the house of
Shaws. It was a word that seemed to surprise those of whom I
sought my way. At first I thought the plainness of my
appearance, in my country habit, and that all dusty from the
road, consorted ill with the greatness of the place to which I
was bound. But after two, or maybe three, had given me the same
look and the same answer, I began to take it in my head there was
something strange about the Shaws itself.
The better to set this fear at rest, I changed the form of my
inquiries; and spying an honest fellow coming along a lane on the
shaft of his cart, I asked him if he had ever heard tell of a
house they called the house of Shaws.
He stopped his cart and looked at me, like the others.
"Ay" said he. "What for?"
"It's a great house?" I asked.
"Doubtless," says he. "The house is a big, muckle house."
"Ay," said I, "but the folk that are in it?"
"Folk?" cried he. "Are ye daft? There's nae folk there -- to
"What?" say I; "not Mr. Ebenezer?"
"Ou, ay" says the man; "there's the laird, to be sure, if it's
him you're wanting. What'll like be your business, mannie?"
"I was led to think that I would get a situation," I said,
looking as modest as I could.
"What?" cries the carter, in so sharp a note that his very horse
started; and then, "Well, mannie," he added, "it's nane of my
affairs; but ye seem a decent-spoken lad; and if ye'll take a
word from me, ye'll keep clear of the Shaws."
The next person I came across was a dapper little man in a
beautiful white wig, whom I saw to be a barber on his rounds; and
knowing well that barbers were great gossips, I asked him plainly
what sort of a man was Mr. Balfour of the Shaws.
"Hoot, hoot, hoot," said the barber, "nae kind of a man, nae kind
of a man at all;" and began to ask me very shrewdly what my
business was; but I was more than a match for him at that, and he
went on to his next customer no wiser than he came.
I cannot well describe the blow this dealt to my illusions. The
more indistinct the accusations were, the less I liked them, for
they left the wider field to fancy. What kind of a great house
was this, that all the parish should start and stare to be asked
the way to it? or what sort of a gentleman, that his ill-fame
should be thus current on the wayside? If an hour's walking would
have brought me back to Essendean, had left my adventure then and
there, and returned to Mr. Campbell's. But when I had come so
far a way already, mere shame would not suffer me to desist till
I had put the matter to the touch of proof; I was bound, out of
mere self-respect, to carry it through; and little as I liked the
sound of what I heard, and slow as I began to travel, I still
kept asking my way and still kept advancing.
It was drawing on to sundown when I met a stout, dark,
sour-looking woman coming trudging down a hill; and she, when I
had put my usual question, turned sharp about, accompanied me
back to the summit she had just left, and pointed to a great bulk
of building standing very bare upon a green in the bottom of the
next valley. The country was pleasant round about, running in
low hills, pleasantly watered and wooded, and the crops, to my
eyes, wonderfully good; but the house itself appeared to be a
kind of ruin; no road led up to it; no smoke arose from any of
the chimneys; nor was there any semblance of a garden. My heart
sank. "That!" I cried.
The woman's face lit up with a malignant anger. "That is the
house of Shaws!" she cried. "Blood built it; blood stopped the
building of it; blood shall bring it down. See here!" she cried
again -- "I spit upon the ground, and crack my thumb at it! Black
be its fall! If ye see the laird, tell him what ye hear; tell him
this makes the twelve hunner and nineteen time that Jennet
Clouston has called down the curse on him and his house, byre and
stable, man, guest, and master, wife, miss, or bairn -- black,
black be their fall!"
And the woman, whose voice had risen to a kind of eldritch
sing-song, turned with a skip, and was gone. I stood where she
left me, with my hair on end. In those days folk still believed
in witches and trembled at a curse; and this one, falling so pat,
like a wayside omen, to arrest me ere I carried out my purpose,
took the pith out of my legs.
I sat me down and stared at the house of Shaws. The more I
looked, the pleasanter that country-side appeared; being all set
with hawthorn bushes full of flowers; the fields dotted with
sheep; a fine flight of rooks in the sky; and every sign of a
kind soil and climate; and yet the barrack in the midst of it
went sore against my fancy.
Country folk went by from the fields as I sat there on the side
of the ditch, but I lacked the spirit to give them a good-e'en.
At last the sun went down, and then, right up against the yellow
sky, I saw a scroll of smoke go mounting, not much thicker, as it
seemed to me, than the smoke of a candle; but still there it was,
and meant a fire, and warmth, and cookery, and some living
inhabitant that must have lit it; and this comforted my heart.
So I set forward by a little faint track in the grass that led in
my direction. It was very faint indeed to be the only way to a
place of habitation; yet I saw no other. Presently it brought me
to stone uprights, with an unroofed lodge beside them, and coats
of arms upon the top. A main entrance it was plainly meant to
be, but never finished; instead of gates of wrought iron, a pair
of hurdles were tied across with a straw rope; and as there were
no park walls, nor any sign of avenue, the track that I was
following passed on the right hand of the pillars, and went
wandering on toward the house.
The nearer I got to that, the drearier it appeared. It seemed
like the one wing of a house that had never been finished. What
should have been the inner end stood open on the upper floors,
and showed against the sky with steps and stairs of uncompleted
masonry. Many of the windows were unglazed, and bats flew in and
out like doves out of a dove-cote.
The night had begun to fall as I got close; and in three of the
lower windows, which were very high up and narrow, and well
barred, the changing light of a little fire began to glimmer.
Was this the palace I had been coming to? Was it within these
walls that I was to seek new friends and begin great fortunes?
Why, in my father's house on Essen-Waterside, the fire and the
bright lights would show a mile away, and the door open to a
I came forward cautiously, and giving ear as I came, heard some
one rattling with dishes, and a little dry, eager cough that came
in fits; but there was no sound of speech, and not a dog barked.
The door, as well as I could see it in the dim light, was a great
piece of wood all studded with nails; and I lifted my hand with a
faint heart under my jacket, and knocked once. Then I stood and
waited. The house had fallen into a dead silence; a whole minute
passed away, and nothing stirred but the bats overhead. I
knocked again, and hearkened again. By this time my ears had
grown so accustomed to the quiet, that I could hear the ticking
of the clock inside as it slowly counted out the seconds; but
whoever was in that house kept deadly still, and must have held
I was in two minds whether to run away; but anger got the upper
hand, and I began instead to rain kicks and buffets on the door,
and to shout out aloud for Mr. Balfour. I was in full career,
when I heard the cough right overhead, and jumping back and
looking up, beheld a man's head in a tall nightcap, and the bell
mouth of a blunderbuss, at one of the first-storey windows.
"It's loaded," said a voice.
"I have come here with a letter," I said, "to Mr. Ebenezer
Balfour of Shaws. Is he here?"
"From whom is it?" asked the man with the blunderbuss.
"That is neither here nor there," said I, for I was growing very
"Well," was the reply, "ye can put it down upon the doorstep, and
be off with ye."
"I will do no such thing," I cried. "I will deliver it into Mr.
Balfour's hands, as it was meant I should. It is a letter of
"A what?" cried the voice, sharply.
I repeated what I had said.
"Who are ye, yourself?" was the next question, after a
"I am not ashamed of my name," said I. "They call me David
At that, I made sure the man started, for I heard the blunderbuss
rattle on the window-sill; and it was after quite a long pause,
and with a curious change of voice, that the next question
"Is your father dead?"
I was so much surprised at this, that I could find no voice to
answer, but stood staring.
"Ay" the man resumed, "he'll be dead, no doubt; and that'll be
what brings ye chapping to my door." Another pause, and then
defiantly, "Well, man," he said, "I'll let ye in;" and he
disappeared from the window.
I MAKE ACQUAINTANCE OF MY UNCLE
Presently there came a great rattling of chains and bolts, and
the door was cautiously opened and shut to again behind me as
soon as I had passed.
"Go into the kitchen and touch naething," said the voice; and
while the person of the house set himself to replacing the
defences of the door, I groped my way forward and entered the
The fire had burned up fairly bright, and showed me the barest
room I think I ever put my eyes on. Half-a-dozen dishes stood
upon the shelves; the table was laid for supper with a bowl of
porridge, a horn spoon, and a cup of small beer. Besides what I
have named, there was not another thing in that great,
stone-vaulted, empty chamber but lockfast chests arranged along
the wall and a corner cupboard with a padlock.
As soon as the last chain was up, the man rejoined me. He was a
mean, stooping, narrow-shouldered, clay-faced creature; and his
age might have been anything between fifty and seventy. His
nightcap was of flannel, and so was the nightgown that he wore,
instead of coat and waistcoat, over his ragged shirt. He was
long unshaved; but what most distressed and even daunted me, he
would neither take his eyes away from me nor look me fairly in
the face. What he was, whether by trade or birth, was more than
I could fathom; but he seemed most like an old, unprofitable
serving-man, who should have been left in charge of that big
house upon board wages.
"Are ye sharp-set?" he asked, glancing at about the level of my
knee. "Ye can eat that drop parritch?"
I said I feared it was his own supper.
"O," said he, "I can do fine wanting it. I'll take the ale,
though, for it slockens my cough." He drank the cup about
half out, still keeping an eye upon me as he drank; and then
suddenly held out his hand. "Let's see the letter," said he.
I told him the letter was for Mr. Balfour; not for him.
"And who do ye think I am?" says he. "Give me Alexander's
"You know my father's name?"
"It would be strange if I didnae," he returned, "for he was my
born brother; and little as ye seem to like either me or my
house, or my good parritch, I'm your born uncle, Davie, my man,
and you my born nephew. So give us the letter, and sit down and
fill your kyte."
If I had been some years younger, what with shame, weariness, and
disappointment, I believe I had burst into tears. As it was, I
could find no words, neither black nor white, but handed him
the letter, and sat down to the porridge with as little appetite
for meat as ever a young man had.
Meanwhile, my uncle, stooping over the fire, turned the letter
over and over in his hands.
"Do ye ken what's in it?" he asked, suddenly.
"You see for yourself, sir," said I, "that the seal has not been
"Ay," said he, "but what brought you here?"
"To give the letter," said I.
"No," says he, cunningly, "but ye'll have had some hopes, nae
"I confess, sir," said I, "when I was told that I had kinsfolk
well-to-do, I did indeed indulge the hope that they might help me
in my life. But I am no beggar; I look for no favours at your
hands, and I want none that are not freely given. For as poor as
I appear, I have friends of my own that will be blithe to help
"Hoot-toot!" said Uncle Ebenezer, "dinnae fly up in the snuff at
me. We'll agree fine yet. And, Davie, my man, if you're done
with that bit parritch, I could just take a sup of it myself.
Ay," he continued, as soon as he had ousted me from the stool and
spoon, "they're fine, halesome food -- they're grand food,
parritch." He murmured a little grace to himself and fell to.
"Your father was very fond of his meat, I mind; he was a hearty,
if not a great eater; but as for me, I could never do mair than
pyke at food." He took a pull at the small beer, which probably
reminded him of hospitable duties, for his next speech ran thus:
"If ye're dry ye'll find water behind the door."
To this I returned no answer, standing stiffly on my two feet,
and looking down upon my uncle with a mighty angry heart. He, on
his part, continued to eat like a man under some pressure of
time, and to throw out little darting glances now at my shoes and
now at my home-spun stockings. Once only, when he had ventured
to look a little higher, our eyes met; and no thief taken with a
hand in a man's pocket could have shown more lively signals of
distress. This set me in a muse, whether his timidity arose from
too long a disuse of any human company; and whether perhaps, upon
a little trial, it might pass off, and my uncle change into an
altogether different man. From this I was awakened by his sharp
"Your father's been long dead?" he asked.
"Three weeks, sir," said I.
"He was a secret man, Alexander -- a secret, silent man," he
continued. "He never said muckle when he was young. He'll never
have spoken muckle of me?"
"I never knew, sir, till you told it me yourself, that he had any
"Dear me, dear me!" said Ebenezer. "Nor yet of Shaws, I dare
"Not so much as the name, sir," said I.
"To think o' that!" said he. "A strange nature of a man!" For
all that, he seemed singularly satisfied, but whether with
himself, or me, or with this conduct of my father's, was more
than I could read. Certainly, however, he seemed to be
outgrowing that distaste, or ill-will, that he had conceived at
first against my person; for presently he jumped up, came across
the room behind me, and hit me a smack upon the shoulder. "We'll
agree fine yet!" he cried. "I'm just as glad I let you in. And
now come awa' to your bed."
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
"Hoot-toot!" said Uncle Ebenezer, "there's a fine moon."
"Neither moon nor star, sir, and pit-mirk," said I. "I cannae
see the bed."
 Dark as the pit.
"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
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
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
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
"The limmer!" he cried. "Twelve hunner and fifteen -- that's
every day since I had the limmer rowpit! 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."
 Sold up.
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
"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."
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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, without
sound of wind or thunder, the whole sky lighted up with wild fire
and went black again. I had to put my hand over my eyes to get
back to the colour of the darkness; and indeed I was already half
blinded when I stepped into the tower.
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.
The tower, I should have said, was square; and in every corner
the step was made of a great stone of a different shape to join
the flights. Well, I had come close to one of these turns, when,
feeling forward as usual, my hand slipped upon an edge and found
nothing but emptiness beyond it. The stair had been carried no
higher; to set a stranger mounting it in the darkness was to send
him straight to his death; and (although, thanks to the lightning
and my own precautions, I was safe enough) the mere thought of
the peril in which I might have stood, and the dreadful height I
might have fallen from, brought out the sweat upon my body and
relaxed my joints.
But I knew what I wanted now, and turned and groped my way down
again, with a wonderful anger in my heart. About half-way down,
the wind sprang up in a clap and shook the tower, and died again;
the rain followed; and before I had reached the ground level it
fell in buckets. I put out my head into the storm, and looked
along towards the kitchen. The door, which I had shut behind me
when I left, now stood open, and shed a little glimmer of light;
and I thought I could see a figure standing in the rain, quite
still, like a man hearkening. And then there came a blinding
flash, which showed me my uncle plainly, just where I had fancied
him to stand; and hard upon the heels of it, a great tow-row of
Now, whether my uncle thought the crash to be the sound of my
fall, or whether he heard in it God's voice denouncing murder, I
will leave you to guess. Certain it is, at least, that he was
seized on by a kind of panic fear, and that he ran into the house
and left the door open behind him. I followed as softly as I
could, and, coming unheard into the kitchen, stood and watched
He had found time to open the corner cupboard and bring out a
great case bottle of aqua vitae, and now sat with his back
towards me at the table. Ever and again he would be seized with
a fit of deadly shuddering and groan aloud, and carrying the
bottle to his lips, drink down the raw spirits by the mouthful.
I stepped forward, came close behind him where he sat, and
suddenly clapping my two hands down upon his shoulders -- "Ah!"
My uncle gave a kind of broken cry like a sheep's bleat, flung up
his arms, and tumbled to the floor like a dead man. I was
somewhat shocked at this; but I had myself to look to first of
all, and did not hesitate to let him lie as he had fallen. The
keys were hanging in the cupboard; and it was my design to
furnish myself with arms before my uncle should come again to his
senses and the power of devising evil. In the cupboard were a
few bottles, some apparently of medicine; a great many bills and
other papers, which I should willingly enough have rummaged, had
I had the time; and a few necessaries that were nothing to my
purpose. Thence I turned to the chests. The first was full of
meal; the second of moneybags and papers tied into sheaves; in
the third, with many other things (and these for the most part
clothes) I found a rusty, ugly-looking Highland dirk without the
scabbard. This, then, I concealed inside my waistcoat, and
turned to my uncle.
He lay as he had fallen, all huddled, with one knee up and one
arm sprawling abroad; his face had a strange colour of blue, and
he seemed to have ceased breathing. Fear came on me that he was
dead; then I got water and dashed it in his face; and with that
he seemed to come a little to himself, working his mouth and
fluttering his eyelids. At last he looked up and saw me, and
there came into his eyes a terror that was not of this world.
"Come, come," said I; "sit up."
"Are ye alive?" he sobbed. "O man, are ye alive?"
"That am I," said I. "Small thanks to you!"
He had begun to seek for his breath with deep sighs. "The blue
phial," said he -- "in the aumry -- the blue phial." His breath
came slower still.
I ran to the cupboard, and, sure enough, found there a blue phial
of medicine, with the dose written on it on a paper, and this I
administered to him with what speed I might.
"It's the trouble," said he, reviving a little; "I have a
trouble, Davie. It's the heart."
I set him on a chair and looked at him. It is true I felt some
pity for a man that looked so sick, but I was full besides of
righteous anger; and I numbered over before him the points on
which I wanted explanation: why he lied to me at every word; why
he feared that I should leave him; why he disliked it to be
hinted that he and my father were twins -- "Is that because it is
true?" I asked; why he had given me money to which I was
convinced I had no claim; and, last of all, why he had tried to
kill me. He heard me all through in silence; and then, in a
broken voice, begged me to let him go to bed.
"I'll tell ye the morn," he said; "as sure as death I will."
And so weak was he that I could do nothing but consent. I locked
him into his room, however, and pocketed the, key, and then
returning to the kitchen, made up such a blaze as had not shone
there for many a long year, and wrapping myself in my plaid, lay
down upon the chests and fell asleep.
I GO TO THE QUEEN'S FERRY
Much rain fell in the night; and the next morning there blew a
bitter wintry wind out of the north-west, driving scattered
clouds. For all that, and before the sun began to peep or the
last of the stars had vanished, I made my way to the side of the
burn, and had a plunge in a deep whirling pool. All aglow from
my bath, I sat down once more beside the fire, which I
replenished, and began gravely to consider my position.
There was now no doubt about my uncle's enmity; there was no
doubt I carried my life in my hand, and he would leave no stone
unturned that he might compass my destruction. But I was young
and spirited, and like most lads that have been country-bred, I
had a great opinion of my shrewdness. I had come to his door no
better than a beggar and little more than a child; he had met me
with treachery and violence; it would be a fine consummation to
take the upper hand, and drive him like a herd of sheep.
I sat there nursing my knee and smiling at the fire; and I saw
myself in fancy smell out his secrets one after another, and grow
to be that man's king and ruler. The warlock of Essendean, they
say, had made a mirror in which men could read the future; it
must have been of other stuff than burning coal; for in all the
shapes and pictures that I sat and gazed at, there was never a
ship, never a seaman with a hairy cap, never a big bludgeon for
my silly head, or the least sign of all those tribulations that
were ripe to fall on me.
Presently, all swollen with conceit, I went up-stairs and gave my
prisoner his liberty. He gave me good-morning civilly; and I
gave the same to him, smiling down upon him, from the heights of
my sufficiency. Soon we were set to breakfast, as it might have
been the day before.
"Well, sir," said I, with a jeering tone, "have you nothing more
to say to me?" And then, as he made no articulate reply, "It will
be time, I think, to understand each other," I continued. "You
took me for a country Johnnie Raw, with no more mother-wit or
courage than a porridge-stick. I took you for a good man, or no
worse than others at the least. It seems we were both wrong.
What cause you have to fear me, to cheat me, and to attempt my
He murmured something about a jest, and that he liked a bit of
fun; and then, seeing me smile, changed his tone, and assured me
he would make all clear as soon as we had breakfasted. I saw by
his face that he had no lie ready for me, though he was hard at
work preparing one; and I think I was about to tell him so, when
we were interrupted by a knocking at the door.
Bidding my uncle sit where he was, I went to open it, and found
on the doorstep a half-grown boy in sea-clothes. He had no
sooner seen me than he began to dance some steps of the
sea-hornpipe (which I had never before heard of far less seen),
snapping his fingers in the air and footing it right cleverly.
For all that, he was blue with the cold; and there was something
in his face, a look between tears and laughter, that was highly
pathetic and consisted ill with this gaiety of manner.
"What cheer, mate?" says he, with a cracked voice.
I asked him soberly to name his pleasure.
"O, pleasure!" says he; and then began to sing:
"For it's my delight, of a shiny night,
In the season of the year."
"Well," said I, "if you have no business at all, I will even be
so unmannerly as to shut you out."
"Stay, brother!" he cried. "Have you no fun about you? or do you
want to get me thrashed? I've brought a letter from old Heasyoasy
to Mr. Belflower." He showed me a letter as he spoke. "And I
say, mate," he added, "I'm mortal hungry."
"Well," said I, "come into the house, and you shall have a bite
if I go empty for it."
With that I brought him in and set him down to my own place,
where he fell-to greedily on the remains of breakfast, winking to
me between whiles, and making many faces, which I think the poor
soul considered manly. Meanwhile, my uncle had read the letter
and sat thinking; then, suddenly, he got to his feet with a great
air of liveliness, and pulled me apart into the farthest corner
of the room.
"Read that," said he, and put the letter in my hand.
Here it is, lying before me as I write:
"The Hawes Inn, at the Queen's Ferry.
"Sir, -- I lie here with my hawser up and down, and send my
cabin-boy to informe. If you have any further commands for
over-seas, to-day will be the last occasion, as the wind will
serve us well out of the firth. I will not seek to deny that I
have had crosses with your doer, Mr. Rankeillor; of which, if
not speedily redd up, you may looke to see some losses follow. I
have drawn a bill upon you, as per margin, and am, sir, your most
obedt., humble servant,
"You see, Davie," resumed my uncle, as soon as he saw that I had
done, "I have a venture with this man Hoseason, the captain of a
trading brig, the Covenant, of Dysart. Now, if you and me was to
walk over with yon lad, I could see the captain at the Hawes, or
maybe on board the Covenant if there was papers to be signed; and
so far from a loss of time, we can jog on to the lawyer, Mr.
Rankeillor's. After a' that's come and gone, ye would be
swier to believe me upon my naked word; but ye'll believe
Rankeillor. He's factor to half the gentry in these parts; an
auld man, forby: highly respeckit, and he kenned your father."
I stood awhile and thought. I was going to some place of
shipping, which was doubtless populous, and where my uncle durst
attempt no violence, and, indeed, even the society of the
cabin-boy so far protected me. Once there, I believed I could
force on the visit to the lawyer, even if my uncle were now
insincere in proposing it; and, perhaps, in the bottom of my
heart, I wished a nearer view of the sea and ships. You are to
remember I had lived all my life in the inland hills, and just
two days before had my first sight of the firth lying like a blue
floor, and the sailed ships moving on the face of it, no bigger
than toys. One thing with another, I made up my mind.
"Very well," says I, "let us go to the Ferry."
My uncle got into his hat and coat, and buckled an old rusty
cutlass on; and then we trod the fire out, locked the door, and
set forth upon our walk.
The wind, being in that cold quarter the north-west, blew nearly
in our faces as we went. It was the month of June; the grass was
all white with daisies, and the trees with blossom; but, to judge
by our blue nails and aching wrists, the time might have been
winter and the whiteness a December frost.
Uncle Ebenezer trudged in the ditch, jogging from side to side
like an old ploughman coming home from work. He never said a
word the whole way; and I was thrown for talk on the cabin-boy.
He told me his name was Ransome, and that he had followed the sea
since he was nine, but could not say how old he was, as he had
lost his reckoning. He showed me tattoo marks, baring his breast
in the teeth of the wind and in spite of my remonstrances, for I
thought it was enough to kill him; he swore horribly whenever he
remembered, but more like a silly schoolboy than a man; and
boasted of many wild and bad things that he had done: stealthy
thefts, false accusations, ay, and even murder; but all with such
a dearth of likelihood in the details, and such a weak and crazy
swagger in the delivery, as disposed me rather to pity than to
I asked him of the brig (which he declared was the finest ship
that sailed) and of Captain Hoseason, in whose praises he was
equally loud. Heasyoasy (for so he still named the skipper) was
a man, by his account, that minded for nothing either in heaven
or earth; one that, as people said, would "crack on all sail into
the day of judgment;" rough, fierce, unscrupulous, and brutal;
and all this my poor cabin-boy had taught himself to admire as
something seamanlike and manly. He would only admit one flaw in
his idol. "He ain't no seaman," he admitted. "That's Mr. Shuan
that navigates the brig; he's the finest seaman in the trade,
only for drink; and I tell you I believe it! Why, look'ere;" and
turning down his stocking he showed me a great, raw, red wound
that made my blood run cold. "He done that -- Mr. Shuan done
it," he said, with an air of pride.
"What!" I cried, "do you take such savage usage at his hands?
Why, you are no slave, to be so handled!"
"No," said the poor moon-calf, changing his tune at once, "and so
he'll find. See'ere;" and he showed me a great case-knife, which
he told me was stolen. "O," says he, "let me see him, try; I
dare him to; I'll do for him! O, he ain't the first!" And he
confirmed it with a poor, silly, ugly oath.
I have never felt such pity for any one in this wide world as I
felt for that half-witted creature, and it began to come over me
that the brig Covenant (for all her pious name) was little better
than a hell upon the seas.
"Have you no friends?" said I.
He said he had a father in some English seaport, I forget which.
"He was a fine man, too," he said, "but he's dead."
"In Heaven's name," cried I, "can you find no reputable life on
"O, no," says he, winking and looking very sly, "they would put
me to a trade. I know a trick worth two of that, I do!"
I asked him what trade could be so dreadful as the one he
followed, where he ran the continual peril of his life, not alone
from wind and sea, but by the horrid cruelty of those who were
his masters. He said it was very true; and then began to praise
the life, and tell what a pleasure it was to get on shore with
money in his pocket, and spend it like a man, and buy apples, and
swagger, and surprise what he called stick-in-the-mud boys. "And
then it's not all as bad as that," says he; "there's worse off
than me: there's the twenty-pounders. O, laws! you should see
them taking on. Why, I've seen a man as old as you, I dessay" --
(to him I seemed old)-- "ah, and he had a beard, too -- well, and
as soon as we cleared out of the river, and he had the drug out
of his head -- my! how he cried and carried on! I made a fine
fool of him, I tell you! And then there's little uns, too: oh,
little by me! I tell you, I keep them in order. When we carry
little uns, I have a rope's end of my own to wollop'em." And so
he ran on, until it came in on me what he meant by
twenty-pounders were those unhappy criminals who were sent
over-seas to slavery in North America, or the still more unhappy
innocents who were kidnapped or trepanned (as the word went) for
private interest or vengeance.
Just then we came to the top of the hill, and looked down on the
Ferry and the Hope. The Firth of Forth (as is very well known)
narrows at this point to the width of a good-sized river, which
makes a convenient ferry going north, and turns the upper reach
into a landlocked haven for all manner of ships. Right in the
midst of the narrows lies an islet with some ruins; on the south
shore they have built a pier for the service of the Ferry; and at
the end of the pier, on the other side of the road, and backed
against a pretty garden of holly-trees and hawthorns, I could see
the building which they called the Hawes Inn.
The town of Queensferry lies farther west, and the neighbourhood
of the inn looked pretty lonely at that time of day, for the boat
had just gone north with passengers. A skiff, however, lay
beside the pier, with some seamen sleeping on the thwarts; this,
as Ransome told me, was the brig's boat waiting for the captain;
and about half a mile off, and all alone in the anchorage, he
showed me the Covenant herself. There was a sea-going bustle on
board; yards were swinging into place; and as the wind blew from
that quarter, I could hear the song of the sailors as they pulled
upon the ropes. After all I had listened to upon the way, I
looked at that ship with an extreme abhorrence; and from the
bottom of my heart I pitied all poor souls that were condemned to
sail in her.
We had all three pulled up on the brow of the hill; and now I
marched across the road and addressed my uncle. "I think it
right to tell you, sir." says I, "there's nothing that will
bring me on board that Covenant."
He seemed to waken from a dream. "Eh?" he said. "What's that?"
I told him over again.
"Well, well," he said, "we'll have to please ye, I suppose. But
what are we standing here for? It's perishing cold; and if I'm no
mistaken, they're busking the Covenant for sea."
WHAT BEFELL AT THE QUEEN'S FERRY
As soon as we came to the inn, Ransome led us up the stair to a
small room, with a bed in it, and heated like an oven by a great
fire of coal. At a table hard by the chimney, a tall, dark,
sober-looking man sat writing. In spite of the heat of the room,
he wore a thick sea-jacket, buttoned to the neck, and a tall
hairy cap drawn down over his ears; yet I never saw any man, not
even a judge upon the bench, look cooler, or more studious and
self-possessed, than this ship-captain.
He got to his feet at once, and coming forward, offered his large
hand to Ebenezer. "I am proud to see you, Mr. Balfour," said he,
in a fine deep voice, "and glad that ye are here in time. The
wind's fair, and the tide upon the turn; we'll see the old
coal-bucket burning on the Isle of May before to-night."
"Captain Hoseason," returned my uncle, "you keep your room unco
"It's a habit I have, Mr. Balfour," said the skipper. "I'm a
cold-rife man by my nature; I have a cold blood, sir. There's
neither fur, nor flannel -- no, sir, nor hot rum, will warm up
what they call the temperature. Sir, it's the same with most men
that have been carbonadoed, as they call it, in the tropic seas."
"Well, well, captain," replied my uncle, "we must all be the way
But it chanced that this fancy of the captain's had a great share
in my misfortunes. For though I had promised myself not to let
my kinsman out of sight, I was both so impatient for a nearer
look of the sea, and so sickened by the closeness of the room,
that when he told me to "run down-stairs and play myself awhile,"
I was fool enough to take him at his word.
Away I went, therefore, leaving the two men sitting down to a
bottle and a great mass of papers; and crossing the road in front
of the inn, walked down upon the beach. With the wind in that
quarter, only little wavelets, not much bigger than I had seen
upon a lake, beat upon the shore. But the weeds were new to me
-- some green, some brown and long, and some with little bladders
that crackled between my fingers. Even so far up the firth, the
smell of the sea-water was exceedingly salt and stirring; the
Covenant, besides, was beginning to shake out her sails, which
hung upon the yards in clusters; and the spirit of all that I
beheld put me in thoughts of far voyages and foreign places.
I looked, too, at the seamen with the skiff -- big brown fellows,
some in shirts, some with jackets, some with coloured
handkerchiefs about their throats, one with a brace of pistols
stuck into his pockets, two or three with knotty bludgeons, and
all with their case-knives. I passed the time of day with one
that looked less desperate than his fellows, and asked him of the
sailing of the brig. He said they would get under way as soon as
the ebb set, and expressed his gladness to be out of a port where
there were no taverns and fiddlers; but all with such horrifying
oaths, that I made haste to get away from him.
This threw me back on Ransome, who seemed the least wicked of
that gang, and who soon came out of the inn and ran to me, crying
for a bowl of punch. I told him I would give him no such thing,
for neither he nor I was of an age for such indulgences. "But a
glass of ale you may have, and welcome," said I. He mopped and
mowed at me, and called me names; but he was glad to get the ale,
for all that; and presently we were set down at a table in the
front room of the inn, and both eating and drinking with a good
Here it occurred to me that, as the landlord was a man of that
county, I might do well to make a friend of him. I offered him a
share, as was much the custom in those days; but he was far too
great a man to sit with such poor customers as Ransome and
myself, and he was leaving the room, when I called him back to
ask if he knew Mr. Rankeillor.
"Hoot, ay," says he, "and a very honest man. And, O, by-the-by,"
says he, "was it you that came in with Ebenezer?" And when I had
told him yes, "Ye'll be no friend of his?" he asked, meaning, in
the Scottish way, that I would be no relative.
I told him no, none.
"I thought not," said he, "and yet ye have a kind of gliff of
I said it seemed that Ebenezer was ill-seen in the country.
"Nae doubt," said the landlord. "He's a wicked auld man, and
there's many would like to see him girning in the tow. Jennet
Clouston and mony mair that he has harried out of house and hame.
And yet he was ance a fine young fellow, too. But that was
before the sough gaed abroad about Mr. Alexander, that was
like the death of him."
"And what was it?" I asked.
"Ou, just that he had killed him," said the landlord. "Did ye
never hear that?"
"And what would he kill him for?" said I.
"And what for, but just to get the place," said he.
"The place?" said I. "The Shaws?"
"Nae other place that I ken," said he.
"Ay, man?" said I. "Is that so? Was my -- was Alexander the
"'Deed was he," said the landlord. "What else would he have
killed him for?"
And with that he went away, as he had been impatient to do from
Of course, I had guessed it a long while ago; but it is one thing
to guess, another to know; and I sat stunned with my good
fortune, and could scarce grow to believe that the same poor lad
who had trudged in the dust from Ettrick Forest not two days ago,
was now one of the rich of the earth, and had a house and broad
lands, and might mount his horse tomorrow. All these pleasant
things, and a thousand others, crowded into my mind, as I sat
staring before me out of the inn window, and paying no heed to
what I saw; only I remember that my eye lighted on Captain
Hoseason down on the pier among his seamen, and speaking with
some authority. And presently he came marching back towards the
house, with no mark of a sailor's clumsiness, but carrying his
fine, tall figure with a manly bearing, and still with the same
sober, grave expression on his face. I wondered if it was
possible that Ransome's stories could be true, and half
disbelieved them; they fitted so ill with the man's looks. But
indeed, he was neither so good as I supposed him, nor quite so
bad as Ransome did; for, in fact, he was two men, and left the
better one behind as soon as he set foot on board his vessel.
The next thing, I heard my uncle calling me, and found the pair
in the road together. It was the captain who addressed me, and
that with an air (very flattering to a young lad) of grave
"Sir," said he, "Mr. Balfour tells me great things of you; and
for my own part, I like your looks. I wish I was for longer
here, that we might make the better friends; but we'll make the
most of what we have. Ye shall come on board my brig for half an
hour, till the ebb sets, and drink a bowl with me."
Now, I longed to see the inside of a ship more than words can
tell; but I was not going to put myself in jeopardy, and I told
him my uncle and I had an appointment with a lawyer.
"Ay, ay," said he, "he passed me word of that. But, ye see, the
boat'll set ye ashore at the town pier, and that's but a penny
stonecast from Rankeillor's house." And here he suddenly leaned
down and whispered in my ear: "Take care of the old tod; he
means mischief. Come aboard till I can get a word with ye." And
then, passing his arm through mine, he continued aloud, as he set
off towards his boat: "But, come, what can I bring ye from the
Carolinas? Any friend of Mr. Balfour's can command. A roll of
tobacco? Indian feather-work? a skin of a wild beast? a stone
pipe? the mocking-bird that mews for all the world like a cat?
the cardinal bird that is as red as blood? -- take your pick and
say your pleasure."
By this time we were at the boat-side, and he was handing me in.
I did not dream of hanging back; I thought (the poor fool!) that
I had found a good friend and helper, and I was rejoiced to see
the ship. As soon as we were all set in our places, the boat was
thrust off from the pier and began to move over the waters: and
what with my pleasure in this new movement and my surprise at our
low position, and the appearance of the shores, and the growing
bigness of the brig as we drew near to it, I could hardly
understand what the captain said, and must have answered him at
As soon as we were alongside (where I sat fairly gaping at the
ship's height, the strong humming of the tide against its sides,
and the pleasant cries of the seamen at their work) Hoseason,
declaring that he and I must be the first aboard, ordered a
tackle to be sent down from the main-yard. In this I was whipped
into the air and set down again on the deck, where the captain
stood ready waiting for me, and instantly slipped back his arm
under mine. There I stood some while, a little dizzy with the
unsteadiness of all around me, perhaps a little afraid, and yet
vastly pleased with these strange sights; the captain meanwhile
pointing out the strangest, and telling me their names and uses.
"But where is my uncle?" said I suddenly.
"Ay," said Hoseason, with a sudden grimness, "that's the point."
I felt I was lost. With all my strength, I plucked myself clear
of him and ran to the bulwarks. Sure enough, there was the boat
pulling for the town, with my uncle sitting in the stern. I gave
a piercing cry -- "Help, help! Murder!" -- so that both sides of
the anchorage rang with it, and my uncle turned round where he
was sitting, and showed me a face full of cruelty and terror.
It was the last I saw. Already strong hands had been plucking me
back from the ship's side; and now a thunderbolt seemed to strike
me; I saw a great flash of fire, and fell senseless.
I GO TO SEA IN THE BRIG "COVENANT" OF DYSART
I came to myself in darkness, in great pain, bound hand and foot,
and deafened by many unfamiliar noises. There sounded in my ears
a roaring of water as of a huge mill-dam, the thrashing of heavy
sprays, the thundering of the sails, and the shrill cries of
seamen. The whole world now heaved giddily up, and now rushed
giddily downward; and so sick and hurt was I in body, and my mind
so much confounded, that it took me a long while, chasing my
thoughts up and down, and ever stunned again by a fresh stab of
pain, to realise that I must be lying somewhere bound in the
belly of that unlucky ship, and that the wind must have
strengthened to a gale. With the clear perception of my plight,
there fell upon me a blackness of despair, a horror of remorse at
my own folly, and a passion of anger at my uncle, that once more
bereft me of my senses.
When I returned again to life, the same uproar, the same confused
and violent movements, shook and deafened me; and presently, to
my other pains and distresses, there was added the sickness of an
unused landsman on the sea. In that time of my adventurous
youth, I suffered many hardships; but none that was so crushing
to my mind and body, or lit by so few hopes, as these first hours
aboard the brig.
I heard a gun fire, and supposed the storm had proved too strong
for us, and we were firing signals of distress. The thought of
deliverance, even by death in the deep sea, was welcome to me.
Yet it was no such matter; but (as I was afterwards told) a
common habit of the captain's, which I here set down to show that
even the worst man may have his kindlier side. We were then
passing, it appeared, within some miles of Dysart, where the brig
was built, and where old Mrs. Hoseason, the captain's mother, had
come some years before to live; and whether outward or inward
bound, the Covenant was never suffered to go by that place by
day, without a gun fired and colours shown.
I had no measure of time; day and night were alike in that
ill-smelling cavern of the ship's bowels where, I lay; and the
misery of my situation drew out the hours to double. How long,
therefore, I lay waiting to hear the ship split upon some rock,
or to feel her reel head foremost into the depths of the sea, I
have not the means of computation. But sleep at length stole
from me the consciousness of sorrow.
I was awakened by the light of a hand-lantern shining in my face.
A small man of about thirty, with green eyes and a tangle of fair
hair, stood looking down at me.
"Well," said he, "how goes it?"
I answered by a sob; and my visitor then felt my pulse and
temples, and set himself to wash and dress the wound upon my
"Ay," said he, "a sore dunt. What, man? Cheer up! The
world's no done; you've made a bad start of it but you'll make a
better. Have you had any meat?"
I said I could not look at it: and thereupon he gave me some
brandy and water in a tin pannikin, and left me once more to
The next time he came to see me, I was lying betwixt sleep and
waking, my eyes wide open in the darkness, the sickness quite
departed, but succeeded by a horrid giddiness and swimming that
was almost worse to bear. I ached, besides, in every limb, and
the cords that bound me seemed to be of fire. The smell of the
hole in which I lay seemed to have become a part of me; and
during the long interval since his last visit I had suffered
tortures of fear, now from the scurrying of the ship's rats, that
sometimes pattered on my very face, and now from the dismal
imaginings that haunt the bed of fever.
The glimmer of the lantern, as a trap opened, shone in like the
heaven's sunlight; and though it only showed me the strong, dark
beams of the ship that was my prison, I could have cried aloud
for gladness. The man with the green eyes was the first to
descend the ladder, and I noticed that he came somewhat
unsteadily. He was followed by the captain. Neither said a
word; but the first set to and examined me, and dressed my wound
as before, while Hoseason looked me in my face with an odd, black
"Now, sir, you see for yourself," said the first: "a high fever,
no appetite, no light, no meat: you see for yourself what that
"I am no conjurer, Mr. Riach," said the captain.
"Give me leave, sir" said Riach; "you've a good head upon your
shoulders, and a good Scotch tongue to ask with; but I will leave
you no manner of excuse; I want that boy taken out of this hole
and put in the forecastle."
"What ye may want, sir, is a matter of concern to nobody but
yoursel'," returned the captain; "but I can tell ye that which is
to be. Here he is; here he shall bide."
"Admitting that you have been paid in a proportion," said the
other, "I will crave leave humbly to say that I have not. Paid I
am, and none too much, to be the second officer of this old tub,
and you ken very well if I do my best to earn it. But I was paid
for nothing more."
"If ye could hold back your hand from the tin-pan, Mr. Riach, I
would have no complaint to make of ye," returned the skipper;
"and instead of asking riddles, I make bold to say that ye would
keep your breath to cool your porridge. We'll be required on
deck," he added, in a sharper note, and set one foot upon the
But Mr. Riach caught him by the sleeve.
"Admitting that you have been paid to do a murder ----" he began.
Hoseason turned upon him with a flash.
"What's that?" he cried. "What kind of talk is that?"
"It seems it is the talk that you can understand," said Mr.
Riach, looking him steadily in the face.
"Mr. Riach, I have sailed with ye three cruises," replied the
captain. "In all that time, sir, ye should have learned to know
me: I'm a stiff man, and a dour man; but for what ye say the now
-- fie, fie! -- it comes from a bad heart and a black conscience.
If ye say the lad will die----"
"Ay, will he!" said Mr. Riach.
"Well, sir, is not that enough?" said Hoseason. "Flit him where
Thereupon the captain ascended the ladder; and I, who had lain
silent throughout this strange conversation, beheld Mr. Riach
turn after him and bow as low as to his knees in what was plainly
a spirit of derision. Even in my then state of sickness, I
perceived two things: that the mate was touched with liquor, as
the captain hinted, and that (drunk or sober) he was like to
prove a valuable friend.
Five minutes afterwards my bonds were cut, I was hoisted on a
man's back, carried up to the forecastle, and laid in a bunk on
some sea-blankets; where the first thing that I did was to lose
It was a blessed thing indeed to open my eyes again upon the
daylight, and to find myself in the society of men. The
forecastle was a roomy place enough, set all about with berths,
in which the men of the watch below were seated smoking, or lying
down asleep. The day being calm and the wind fair, the scuttle
was open, and not only the good daylight, but from time to time
(as the ship rolled) a dusty beam of sunlight shone in, and
dazzled and delighted me. I had no sooner moved, moreover, than
one of the men brought me a drink of something healing which Mr.
Riach had prepared, and bade me lie still and I should soon be
well again. There were no bones broken, he explained: "A
clour on the head was naething. Man," said he, "it was me
that gave it ye!"
Here I lay for the space of many days a close prisoner, and not
only got my health again, but came to know my companions. They
were a rough lot indeed, as sailors mostly are: being men rooted
out of all the kindly parts of life, and condemned to toss
together on the rough seas, with masters no less cruel. There
were some among them that had sailed with the pirates and seen
things it would be a shame even to speak of; some were men that
had run from the king's ships, and went with a halter round their
necks, of which they made no secret; and all, as the saying goes,
were "at a word and a blow" with their best friends. Yet I had
not been many days shut up with them before I began to be ashamed
of my first judgment, when I had drawn away from them at the
Ferry pier, as though they had been unclean beasts. No class of
man is altogether bad, but each has its own faults and virtues;
and these shipmates of mine were no exception to the rule. Rough
they were, sure enough; and bad, I suppose; but they had many
virtues. They were kind when it occurred to them, simple even
beyond the simplicity of a country lad like me, and had some
glimmerings of honesty.
There was one man, of maybe forty, that would sit on my berthside
for hours and tell me of his wife and child. He was a fisher
that had lost his boat, and thus been driven to the deep-sea
voyaging. Well, it is years ago now: but I have never forgotten
him. His wife (who was "young by him," as he often told me)
waited in vain to see her man return; he would never again make
the fire for her in the morning, nor yet keep the bairn when she
was sick. Indeed, many of these poor fellows (as the event
proved) were upon their last cruise; the deep seas and cannibal
fish received them; and it is a thankless business to speak ill
of the dead.
Among other good deeds that they did, they returned my money,
which had been shared among them; and though it was about a third
short, I was very glad to get it, and hoped great good from it in
the land I was going to. The ship was bound for the Carolinas;
and you must not suppose that I was going to that place merely as
an exile. The trade was even then much depressed; since that,
and with the rebellion of the colonies and the formation of the
United States, it has, of course, come to an end; but in those
days of my youth, white men were still sold into slavery on the
plantations, and that was the destiny to which my wicked uncle
had condemned me.
The cabin-boy Ransome (from whom I had first heard of these