The footman owned his master was at home, but declared him engaged with other gentlemen on very private business, and his door forbidden.
"My business is but for three minutes, and it cannot wait," said I. "You may say it is by no means private, and I shall be even glad to have some witnesses."
As the man departed unwillingly enough upon this errand, we made so bold as to follow him to the antechamber, whence I could hear for a while the murmuring of several voices in the room within. The truth is, they were three at the one table--Prestongrange, Symon Fraser, and Mr. Erskine, Sheriff of Perth; and as they were met in consultation on the very business of the Appin murder, they were a little disturbed at my appearance, but decided to receive me.
"Well, well, Mr. Balfour, and what brings you here again? and who is this you bring with you?" says Prestongrange.
As for Fraser, he looked before him on the table.
"He is here to bear a little testimony in my favour, my lord, which I think it very needful you should hear," said I, and turned to Duncansby.
"I have only to say this," said the lieutenant, "that I stood up this day with Palfour in the Hunter's Pog, which I am now fery sorry for, and he behaved himself as pretty as a shentlemans could ask it. And I have creat respects for Palfour," he added.
"I thank you for your honest expressions," said I.
Whereupon Duncansby made his bow to the company, and left the chamber, as we had agreed upon before.
"What have I to do with this?" says Prestongrange.
"I will tell your lordship in two words," said I. "I have brought this gentleman, a King's officer, to do me so much justice. Now I think my character is covered, and until a certain date, which your lordship can very well supply, it will be quite in vain to despatch against me any more officers. I will not consent to fight my way through the garrison of the castle."
The veins swelled on Prestongrange's brow, and he regarded me with fury.
"I think the devil uncoupled this dog of a lad between my legs!" he cried; and then, turning fiercely on his neighbour, "This is some of your work, Symon," he said. "I spy your hand in the business, and, let me tell you, I resent it. It is disloyal, when we are agreed upon one expedient, to follow another in the dark. You are disloyal to me. What! you let me send this lad to the place with my very daughters! And because I let drop a word to you ... Fy, sir, keep your dishonours to yourself!"
Symon was deadly pale. "I will be a kick-ball between you and the Duke no longer," he exclaimed. "Either come to an agreement, or come to a differ, and have it out among yourselves. But I will no longer fetch and carry, and get your contrary instructions, and be blamed by both. For if I were to tell you what I think of all your Hanover business it would make your head sing."
But Sheriff Erskine had preserved his temper, and now intervened smoothly. "And in the meantime," says he, "I think we should tell Mr. Balfour that his character for valour is quite established. He may sleep in peace. Until the date he was so good as to refer to it shall be put to the proof no more."
His coolness brought the others to their prudence; and they made haste, with a somewhat distracted civility, to pack me from the house.
* * * * *
THE HEATHER ON FIRE
When I left Prestongrange that afternoon I was for the first time angry. The Advocate had made a mock of me. He had pretended my testimony was to be received and myself respected; and in that very hour, not only was Symon practising against my life by the hands of the Highland soldier, but (as appeared from his own language) Prestongrange himself had some design in operation. I counted my enemies: Prestongrange with all the King's authority behind him; and the Duke with the power of the West Highlands; and the Lovat interest by their side to help them with so great a force in the north, and the whole clan of old Jacobite spies and traffickers. And when I remembered James More, and the red head of Neil the son of Duncan, I thought there was perhaps a fourth in the confederacy, and what remained of Rob Roy's old desperate sept of caterans would be banded against me with the others. One thing was requisite, some strong friend or wise adviser. The country must be full of such, both able and eager to support me, or Lovat and the Duke and Prestongrange had not been nosing for expedients; and it made me rage to think that I might brush against my champions in the street and be no wiser.
And just then (like an answer) a gentleman brushed against me going by, gave me a meaning look, and turned into a close. I knew him with the tail of my eye--it was Stewart the Writer; and, blessing my good fortune, turned in to follow him. As soon as I had entered the close I saw him standing in the mouth of a stair, where he made me a signal and immediately vanished. Seven storeys up, there he was again in a house door, the which he locked behind us after we had entered. The house was quite dismantled, with not a stick of furniture; indeed, it was one of which Stewart had the letting in his hands.
"We'll have to sit upon the floor," said he; "but we're safe here for the time being, and I've been wearying to see ye, Mr. Balfour."
"How's it with Alan?'" I asked.
"Brawly," said he. "Andie picks him up at Gillane Sands to-morrow, Wednesday. He was keen to say good-by to ye, but the way that things were going, I was feared the pair of ye was maybe best apart. And that brings me to the essential: how does your business speed?"
"Why," said I, "I was told only this morning that my testimony was accepted, and I was to travel to Inverary with the Advocate, no less."
"Hout awa!" cried Stewart. "I'll never believe that."
"I have maybe a suspicion of my own," says I, "but I would like fine to hear your reasons."
"Well, I tell ye fairly, I'm horn-mad," cries Stewart. "If my one hand could pull their Government down I would pluck it like a rotten apple. I'm doer for Appin and for James of the Glens; and, of course, it's my duty to defend my kinsman for his life. Hear how it goes with me, and I'll leave the judgment of it to yourself. The first thing they have to do is to get rid of Alan. They cannae bring in James as art and part until they've brought in Alan first as principal; that's sound law: they could never put the cart before the horse."
"And how are they to bring in Alan till they can catch him?" says I.
"Ah, but there is a way to evite that arrestment," said he. "Sound law, too. It would be a bonny thing if, by the escape of one ill-doer another was to go scatheless, and the remeid is to summon the principal and put him to outlawry for the non-compearance. Now there's four places where a person can be summoned: at his dwelling-house; at a place where he has resided forty days; at the head burgh of the shire where he ordinarily resorts; or lastly (if there be ground to think him forth of Scotland), at the cross of Edinburgh, and the pier and shore of Leith, for sixty days. The purpose of which last provision is evident upon its face: being that outgoing ships may have time to carry news of the transaction, and the summonsing be something other than a form. Now take the case of Alan. He has no dwelling-house that ever I could hear of; I would be obliged if anyone would show me where he has lived forty days together since the '45; there is no shire where he resorts whether ordinarily or extraordinarily; if he has a domicile at all, which I misdoubt, it must be with his regiment in France; and if he is not yet forth of Scotland (as we happen to know and they happen to guess) it must be evident to the most dull it's what he's aiming for. Where, then, and what way should he be summoned? I ask it at yourself, a layman."
"You have given the very words," said I. "Here at the cross, and at the pier and shore of Leith, for sixty days."
"Ye're a sounder Scots lawyer than Prestongrange, then!" cries the Writer.