Kidnapped & Catriona, Page 2Robert Louis Stevenson
“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 woman.”
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 merry music.
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 call folk.”
“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 wro
ught 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 beggar’s knock!
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 his breath.
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 wroth.
“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 introduction.”
“A what?” cried the voice, sharply.
I repeated what I had said.
“Who are ye, yourself?” was the next question, after a considerable pause.
“I am not ashamed of my name,” said I. “They call me David Balfour.”
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 followed:
“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 kitchen.
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 letter.”
“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 broken.”
“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 doubt?”
“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 me.”
“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 awak
ened by his sharp voice.
“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 brother.”
“Dear me, dear me!” said Ebenezer. “Nor yet of Shaws, I dare say?”
“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 with.
“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.”