David Balfour: Second Part

Robert Louis Stevenson

David Balfour: Second Part Page 35

I remember hearing we had a riot in Edinburgh when I was an infant child, which gave occasion to the late Queen to call this country barbarous; and I always understood that we had rather lost than gained by that. Then came the year 'Forty-five, which made Scotland to be talked of everywhere; but I never heard it said we had anyway gained by the 'Forty-five. And now we come to this cause of Mr. Balfour's, as you call it. Sheriff Miller tells us historical writers are to date from it, and I would not wonder. It is only my fear they would date from it as a period of calamity and public reproach."

The nimble-witted Miller had already smelt where I was travelling to, and made haste to get on the same road. "Forcibly put, Mr. Balfour," says he. "A weighty observe, sir."

"We have next to ask ourselves if it will be good for King George," I pursued. "Sheriff Miller appears pretty easy upon this; but I doubt you will scarce be able to pull down the house from under him, without his Majesty coming by a knock or two, one of which might easily prove fatal."

I gave them a chance to answer, but none volunteered.

"Of those for whom the case was to be profitable," I went on, "Sheriff Miller gave us the names of several, among the which he was good enough to mention mine. I hope he will pardon me if I think otherwise. I believe I hung not the least back in this affair while there was life to be saved; but I own I thought myself extremely hazarded, and I own I think it would be a pity for a young man, with some idea of coming to the bar, to ingrain upon himself the character of a turbulent, factious fellow before he was yet twenty. As for James, it seems--at this date of the proceedings, with the sentence as good as pronounced--he has no hope but in the King's mercy. May not his Majesty, then, be more pointedly addressed, the characters of these high officers sheltered from the public, and myself kept out of a position which I think spells ruin for me?"

They all sat and gazed into their glasses, and I could see they found my attitude on the affair unpalatable. But Miller was ready at all events.

"If I may be allowed to put our young friend's notion in more formal shape," says he, "I understand him to propose that we should embody the fact of his sequestration, and perhaps some heads of the testimony he was prepared to offer, in a memorial to the Crown. This plan has elements of success. It is as likely as any other (and perhaps likelier) to help our client. Perhaps his Majesty would have the goodness to feel a certain gratitude to all concerned in such a memorial, which might be construed into an expression of a very delicate loyalty; and I think, in the drafting of the same, this view might be brought forward."

They all nodded to each other, not without sighs, for the former alternative was doubtless more after their inclination.

"Paper then, Mr. Stewart, if you please," pursued Miller; "and I think it might very fittingly be signed by the five of us here present, as procurators for the 'condemned man.'"

"It can do none of us any harm at least," says Colstoun, heaving another sigh, for he had seen himself Lord Advocate the last ten minutes.

Thereupon they set themselves, not very enthusiastically, to draft the memorial--a process in the course of which they soon caught fire; and I had no more ado but to sit looking on and answer an occasional question. The paper was very well expressed; beginning with a recitation of the facts about myself, the reward offered for my apprehension, my surrender, the pressure brought to bear upon me; my sequestration; and my arrival at Inverary in time to be too late; going on to explain the reasons of loyalty and public interest for which it was agreed to waive any right of action; and winding up with a forcible appeal to the King's mercy on behalf of James.

Methought I was a good deal sacrificed, and rather represented in the light of a firebrand of a fellow whom my cloud of lawyers had restrained with difficulty from extremes. But I let it pass, and made but the one suggestion, that I should be described as ready to deliver my own evidence and adduce that of others before any commission of inquiry--and the one demand, that I should be immediately furnished with a copy.

Colstoun hummed and hawed. "This is a very confidential document," said he.

"And my position towards Prestongrange is highly peculiar," I replied. "No question but I must have touched his heart at our first interview, so that he has since stood my friend consistently. But for him, gentlemen, I must now be lying dead or awaiting my sentence alongside poor James. For which reason I choose to communicate to him the fact of this memorial as soon as it is copied. You are to consider also that this step will make for my protection. I have enemies here accustomed to drive hard; his Grace is in his own country, Lovat by his side; and if there should hang any ambiguity over our proceedings, I think I might very well awake in gaol."

Not finding any very ready answer to these considerations, my company of advisers were at the last persuaded to consent, and made only this condition that I was to lay the paper before Prestongrange with the express compliments of all concerned.

The Advocate was at the castle dining with his Grace. By the hand of one of Colstoun's servants I sent him a billet asking for an interview, and received a summons to meet him at once in a private house of the town. Here I found him alone in a chamber; from his face there was nothing to be gleaned; yet I was not so unobservant but what I spied some halberts in the hall, and not so stupid but what I could gather he was prepared to arrest me there and then, should it appear advisable.

"So, Mr. David, this is you?" said he.

"Where I fear I am not overly welcome, my lord," said I. "And I would like before I go further to express my sense of your lordship's continued good offices, even should they now cease."

"I have heard of your gratitude before," he replied drily, "and I think this can scarce be the matter you called me from my wine to listen to. I would remember also, if I were you, that you still stand on a very boggy foundation."

"Not now, my lord, I think," said I; "and if your lordship will but glance an eye along this, you will perhaps think as I do."

He read it sedulously through, frowning heavily; then turned back to one part and another which he seemed to weigh and compare the effect of. His face a little lightened.

"This is not so bad but what it might be worse," said he; "though I am still likely to pay dear for my acquaintance with Mr. David Balfour."

"Rather for your indulgence to that unlucky young man, my lord," said I.

He still skimmed the paper, and all the while his spirits seemed to mend.

"And to whom am I indebted for this?" he asked presently. "Other counsels must have been discussed, I think. Who was it proposed this private method? Was it Miller?"

"My lord, it was myself," said I. "These gentlemen have shown me no such consideration, as that I should deny myself any credit I can fairly claim, or spare them any responsibility they should properly bear. And the mere truth is, that they were all in favour of a process which should have remarkable consequences in the Parliament House, and prove for them (in one of their own expressions) a dripping roast. Before I intervened, I think they were on the point of sharing out the different law appointments. Our friend Mr. Symon was to be taken in upon some composition."

Prestongrange smiled. "These are our friends!" said he. "And what were your reasons for dissenting, Mr. David?"

I told them without concealment, expressing, however, with more force and volume those which regarded Prestongrange himself.

"You do me no more than justice," said he. "I have fought as hard in your interest as you have fought against mine. And how came you here to-day?" he asked. "As the case drew out, I began to grow uneasy that I had clipped the period so fine, and I was even expecting you to-morrow. But to-day--I never dreamed of it."

I was not, of course, going to betray Andie.

Robert Louis Stevenson
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