The window whither they
ran was in an odd corner of that room, gave above the entrance
door, and flanked up the close.
"Come, Mr. Balfour," they cried, "come and see. She is the most
beautiful creature! She hangs round the close-head these last
days, always with some wretched-like gillies, and yet seems quite a
I had no need to look; neither did I look twice, or long. I was
afraid she might have seen me there, looking down upon her from
that chamber of music, and she without, and her father in the same
house, perhaps begging for his life with tears, and myself come but
newly from rejecting his petitions. But even that glance set me in
a better conceit of myself and much less awe of the young ladies.
They were beautiful, that was beyond question, but Catriona was
beautiful too, and had a kind of brightness in her like a coal of
fire. As much as the others cast me down, she lifted me up. I
remembered I had talked easily with her. If I could make no hand
of it with these fine maids, it was perhaps something their own
fault. My embarrassment began to be a little mingled and lightened
with a sense of fun; and when the aunt smiled at me from her
embroidery, and the three daughters unbent to me like a baby, all
with "papa's orders" written on their faces, there were times when
I could have found it in my heart to smile myself.
Presently papa returned, the same kind, happy-like, pleasant-spoken
"Now, girls," said he, "I must take Mr. Balfour away again; but I
hope you have been able to persuade him to return where I shall be
always gratified to find him."
So they each made me a little farthing compliment, and I was led
If this visit to the family had been meant to soften my resistance,
it was the worst of failures. I was no such ass but what I
understood how poor a figure I had made, and that the girls would
be yawning their jaws off as soon as my stiff back was turned. I
felt I had shown how little I had in me of what was soft and
graceful; and I longed for a chance to prove that I had something
of the other stuff, the stern and dangerous.
Well, I was to be served to my desire, for the scene to which he
was conducting me was of a different character.
CHAPTER VI--UMQUILE THE MASTER OF LOVAT
There was a man waiting us in Prestongrange's study, whom I
distasted at the first look, as we distaste a ferret or an earwig.
He was bitter ugly, but seemed very much of a gentleman; had still
manners, but capable of sudden leaps and violences; and a small
voice, which could ring out shrill and dangerous when he so
The Advocate presented us in a familiar, friendly way.
"Here, Fraser," said he, "here is Mr. Balfour whom we talked about.
Mr. David, this is Mr. Simon Fraser, whom we used to call by
another title, but that is an old song. Mr. Fraser has an errand
With that he stepped aside to his book-shelves, and made believe to
consult a quarto volume in the far end.
I was thus left (in a sense) alone with perhaps the last person in
the world I had expected. There was no doubt upon the terms of
introduction; this could be no other than the forfeited Master of
Lovat and chief of the great clan Fraser. I knew he had led his
men in the Rebellion; I knew his father's head--my old lord's, that
grey fox of the mountains--to have fallen on the block for that
offence, the lands of the family to have been seized, and their
nobility attainted. I could not conceive what he should be doing
in Grant's house; I could not conceive that he had been called to
the bar, had eaten all his principles, and was now currying favour
with the Government even to the extent of acting Advocate-Depute in
the Appin murder.
"Well, Mr. Balfour," said he, "what is all this I hear of ye?"
"It would not become me to prejudge," said I, "but if the Advocate
was your authority he is fully possessed of my opinions."
"I may tell you I am engaged in the Appin case," he went on; "I am
to appear under Prestongrange; and from my study of the
precognitions I can assure you your opinions are erroneous.