Catriona

Page 17

"You

are not so young," he said, "but what you must remember very

clearly the year '45 and the shock that went about the country. I

read in Pilrig's letter that you are sound in Kirk and State. Who

saved them in that fatal year? I do not refer to His Royal

Highness and his ramrods, which were extremely useful in their day;

but the country had been saved and the field won before ever

Cumberland came upon Drummossie. Who saved it? I repeat; who

saved the Protestant religion and the whole frame of our civil

institutions? The late Lord President Culloden, for one; he played

a man's part, and small thanks he got for it--even as I, whom you

see before you, straining every nerve in the same service, look for

no reward beyond the conscience of my duties done. After the

President, who else? You know the answer as well as I do; 'tis

partly a scandal, and you glanced at it yourself, and I reproved

you for it, when you first came in. It was the Duke and the great

clan of Campbell. Now here is a Campbell foully murdered, and that

in the King's service. The Duke and I are Highlanders. But we are

Highlanders civilised, and it is not so with the great mass of our

clans and families. They have still savage virtues and defects.

They are still barbarians, like these Stewarts; only the Campbells

were barbarians on the right side, and the Stewarts were barbarians

on the wrong. Now be you the judge. The Campbells expect

vengeance. If they do not get it--if this man James escape--there

will be trouble with the Campbells. That means disturbance in the

Highlands, which are uneasy and very far from being disarmed: the

disarming is a farce. . ."

"I can bear you out in that," said I.

"Disturbance in the Highlands makes the hour of our old watchful

enemy," pursued his lordship, holding out a finger as he paced;

"and I give you my word we may have a '45 again with the Campbells

on the other side. To protect the life of this man Stewart--which

is forfeit already on half-a-dozen different counts if not on this-

-do you propose to plunge your country in war, to jeopardise the

faith of your fathers, and to expose the lives and fortunes of how

many thousand innocent persons? . . . These are considerations

that weigh with me, and that I hope will weigh no less with

yourself, Mr. Balfour, as a lover of your country, good government,

and religious truth."

"You deal with me very frankly, and I thank you for it," said I.

"I will try on my side to be no less honest. I believe your policy

to be sound. I believe these deep duties may lie upon your

lordship; I believe you may have laid them on your conscience when

you took the oath of the high office which you hold. But for me,

who am just a plain man--or scarce a man yet--the plain duties must

suffice. I can think but of two things, of a poor soul in the

immediate and unjust danger of a shameful death, and of the cries

and tears of his wife that still tingle in my head. I cannot see

beyond, my lord. It's the way that I am made. If the country has

to fall, it has to fall. And I pray God, if this be wilful

blindness, that He may enlighten me before too late."

He had heard me motionless, and stood so a while longer.

"This is an unexpected obstacle," says he, aloud, but to himself.

"And how is your lordship to dispose of me?" I asked.

"If I wished," said he, "you know that you might sleep in gaol?"

"My lord," said I, "I have slept in worse places."

"Well, my boy," said he, "there is one thing appears very plainly

from our interview, that I may rely on your pledged word. Give me

your honour that you will be wholly secret, not only on what has

passed to-night, but in the matter of the Appin case, and I let you

go free."

"I will give it till to-morrow or any other near day that you may

please to set," said I. "I would not be thought too wily; but if I

gave the promise without qualification your lordship would have

attained his end."

"I had no thought to entrap you," said he.

Catriona Page 18

Robert Louis Stevenson

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book