Your personal part in it, the
treacherous one of holding the poor wretch in talk, your
accomplices a pack of ragged Highland gillies. And it can be
shown, my great Mr. Balfour--it can be shown, and it WILL be shown,
trust ME that has a finger in the pie--it can be shown, and shall
be shown, that you were paid to do it. I think I can see the looks
go round the court when I adduce my evidence, and it shall appear
that you, a young man of education, let yourself be corrupted to
this shocking act for a suit of cast clothes, a bottle of Highland
spirits, and three-and-fivepence-halfpenny in copper money."
There was a touch of the truth in these words that knocked me like
a blow: clothes, a bottle of usquebaugh, and three-and-fivepence-
halfpenny in change made up, indeed, the most of what Alan and I
had carried from Auchurn; and I saw that some of James's people had
been blabbing in their dungeons.
"You see I know more than you fancied," he resumed in triumph.
"And as for giving it this turn, great Mr. David, you must not
suppose the Government of Great Britain and Ireland will ever be
stuck for want of evidence. We have men here in prison who will
swear out their lives as we direct them; as I direct, if you prefer
the phrase. So now you are to guess your part of glory if you
choose to die. On the one hand, life, wine, women, and a duke to
be your handgun: on the other, a rope to your craig, and a gibbet
to clatter your bones on, and the lousiest, lowest story to hand
down to your namesakes in the future that was ever told about a
hired assassin. And see here!" he cried, with a formidable shrill
voice, "see this paper that I pull out of my pocket. Look at the
name there: it is the name of the great David, I believe, the ink
scarce dry yet. Can you guess its nature? It is the warrant for
your arrest, which I have but to touch this bell beside me to have
executed on the spot. Once in the Tolbooth upon this paper, may
God help you, for the die is cast!"
I must never deny that I was greatly horrified by so much baseness,
and much unmanned by the immediacy and ugliness of my danger. Mr.
Simon had already gloried in the changes of my hue; I make no doubt
I was now no ruddier than my shirt; my speech besides trembled.
"There is a gentleman in this room," cried I. "I appeal to him. I
put my life and credit in his hands."
Prestongrange shut his book with a snap. "I told you so, Simon,"
said he; "you have played your hand for all it was worth, and you
have lost. Mr. David," he went on, "I wish you to believe it was
by no choice of mine you were subjected to this proof. I wish you
could understand how glad I am you should come forth from it with
so much credit. You may not quite see how, but it is a little of a
service to myself. For had our friend here been more successful
than I was last night, it might have appeared that he was a better
judge of men than I; it might have appeared we were altogether in
the wrong situations, Mr. Simon and myself. And I know our friend
Simon to be ambitious," says he, striking lightly on Fraser's
shoulder. "As for this stage play, it is over; my sentiments are
very much engaged in your behalf; and whatever issue we can find to
this unfortunate affair, I shall make it my business to see it is
adopted with tenderness to you."
These were very good words, and I could see besides that there was
little love, and perhaps a spice of genuine ill-will, between these
two who were opposed to me. For all that, it was unmistakable this
interview had been designed, perhaps rehearsed, with the consent of
both; it was plain my adversaries were in earnest to try me by all
methods; and now (persuasion, flattery, and menaces having been
tried in vain) I could not but wonder what would be their next
expedient. My eyes besides were still troubled, and my knees loose
under me, with the distress of the late ordeal; and I could do no
more than stammer the same form of words: "I put my life and
credit in your hands."
"Well, well," said he, "we must try to save them.