David Balfour: Second Part

Robert Louis Stevenson

David Balfour: Second Part Page 36

"I suspect there is some very weary cattle by the road," said I.

"If I had known you were such a mosstrooper you should have tasted longer of the Bass," says he.

"Speaking of which, my lord, I return your letter." And I gave him the enclosure in the counterfeit hand.

"There was the cover also with the seal," said he.

"I have it not," said I. "It bore naught but the address, and could not compromise a cat. The second enclosure I have, and with your permission, I desire to keep it."

I thought he winced a little, but he said nothing to the point. "To-morrow," he resumed, "our business here is to be finished, and I proceed by Glasgow. I would be very glad to have you of my party, Mr. David."

"My lord...." I began.

"I do not deny it will be of service to me," he interrupted. "I desire even that, when we shall come to Edinburgh you should alight at my house. You have very warm friends in the Miss Grants, who will be overjoyed to have you to themselves. If you think I have been of use to you, you can thus easily repay me, and so far from losing, may reap some advantage by the way. It is not every strange young man who is presented in society by the King's Advocate."

Often enough already (in our brief relations) this gentleman had caused my head to spin; no doubt but what for a moment he did so again now. Here was the old fiction still maintained of my particular favour with his daughters, one of whom had been so good as laugh at me, while the other two had scarce deigned to remark the fact of my existence. And now I was to ride with my lord to Glascow; I was to dwell with him in Edinburgh; I was to be brought into society under his protection! That he should have so much good-nature as to forgive me was surprising enough; that he could wish to take me up and serve me seemed impossible; and I began to seek for some ulterior meaning. One was plain. If I became his guest, repentance was excluded; I could never think better of my present design and bring any action. And besides, would not my presence in his house draw out the whole pungency of the memorial? For that complaint could not be very seriously regarded, if the person chiefly injured was the guest of the official most incriminated. As I thought upon this, I could not quite refrain from smiling.

"This is in the nature of a countercheck to the memorial?" said I.

"You are cunning, Mr. David," said he, "and you do not wholly guess wrong; the fact will be of use to me in my defence. Perhaps, however, you underrate my friendly sentiments, which are perfectly genuine. I have a respect for you, Mr. David, mingled with awe," says he, smiling.

"I am more than willing, I am earnestly desirous to meet your wishes," said I. "It is my design to be called to the bar, where your lordship's countenance would be invaluable; and I am besides sincerely grateful to yourself and family for different marks of interest and of indulgence. The difficulty is here. There is one point in which we pull two ways. You are trying to hang James Stewart, I am trying to save him. In so far as my riding with you would better your lordship's defence, I am at your lordship's orders; but in so far as it would help to hang James Stewart, you see me at a stick."

I thought he swore to himself. "You should certainly be called; the bar is the true scene for your talents," says he, bitterly, and then fell a while silent. "I will tell you," he presently resumed, "there is no question of James Stewart, for or against. James is a dead man; his life is given and taken--bought (if you like it better) and sold; no memorial can help--no defalcation of a faithful Mr. David hurt him. Blow high, blow low, there will be no pardon for James Stewart: and take that for said! The question is now of myself: am I to stand or fall? and I do not deny to you that I am in some danger. But will Mr. David Balfour consider why? It is not because I have pushed the case unduly against James; for that, I am sure of condonation. And it is not because I have sequestered Mr. David on a rock, though it will pass under that colour; but because I did not take the ready and plain path, to which I was pressed repeatedly, and send Mr. David to his grave or to the gallows. Hence the scandal--hence this damned memorial," striking the paper on his leg. "My tenderness for you has brought me in this difficulty. I wish to know if your tenderness to your own conscience is too great to let you help me out of it?"

No doubt but there was much of the truth in what he said; if James was past helping, whom was it more natural that I should turn to help than just the man before me, who had helped myself so often, and was even now setting me a pattern of patience? I was besides not only weary, but beginning to be ashamed of my perpetual attitude of suspicion and refusal.

"If you will name the time and place, I will be punctually ready to attend your lordship," said I.

He shook hands with me. "And I think my misses have some news for you," says he, dismissing me.

I came away, vastly pleased to have my peace made, yet a little concerned in conscience; nor could I help wondering, as I went back, whether, perhaps, I had not been a scruple too good-natured. But there was the fact, that this was a man that might have been my father, an able man, a great dignitary, and one that, in the hour of my need, had reached a hand to my assistance. I was in the better humour to enjoy the remainder of that evening, which I passed with the advocates, in excellent company no doubt, but perhaps with rather more than a sufficiency of punch: for though I went early to bed I have no clear mind of how I got there.

* * * * *



On the morrow, from the justices' private room, where none could see me, I heard the verdict given in and judgment rendered upon James. The Duke's words I am quite sure I have correctly; and since that famous passage has been made a subject of dispute, I may as well commemorate my version. Having referred to the year '45, the chief of the Campbells, sitting as Justice-General upon the bench, thus addressed the unfortunate Stewart before him: "If you had been successful in that rebellion, you might have been giving the law where you have now received the judgment of it; we, who are this day your judges, might have been tried before one of your mock courts of judicature; and then you might have been satiated with the blood of any name or clan to which you had an aversion."

"This is to let the cat out of the bag, indeed," thought I. And that was the general impression. It was extraordinary how the young advocate lads took hold and made a mock of this speech, and how scarce a meal passed but what some one would get in the words: "And then you might have been satiated." Many songs were made in that time for the hour's diversion, and are near all forgot. I remember one began:

What do ye want the bluid of, bluid of? Is it a name, or is it a clan, Or is it an aefauld Hielandman, That ye want the bluid of, bluid of?

Another went to my old favourite air, The House of Airlie, and began thus:

It fell on a day when Argyle was on the bench, That they served him a Stewart for his denner.

And one of the verses ran:

Then up and spak the Duke, and flyted on his cook, I regaird it as a sensible aspersion, That I would sup ava', an' satiate my maw, With the bluid of ony clan of my aversion.

James was as fairly murdered as though the Duke had got a fowling-piece and stalked him. So much of course I knew: but others knew not so much, and were more affected by the items of scandal that came to light in the progress of the cause. One of the chief was certainly this sally of the justice's. It was run hard by another of a juryman, who had struck into the midst of Colstoun's speech for the defence with a "Pray, sir, cut it short, we are quite weary," which seemed the very excess of impudence and simplicity. But some of my new lawyer friends were still more staggered with an innovation that had disgraced and even vitiated the proceedings.

Robert Louis Stevenson
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