"David Balfour?" he repeated, in rather a high tone, like one surprised. "And where have you come from, Mr. David Balfour?" he asked, looking me pretty drily in the face.
"I have come from a great many strange places, sir," said I; "but I think it would be as well to tell you where and how in a more private manner."
He seemed to muse awhile, holding his lip in his hand, and looking now at me and now upon the causeway of the street.
"Yes," says he, "that will be the best, no doubt." And he led me back with him into his house, cried out to some one whom I could not see that he would be engaged all morning, and brought me into a little dusty chamber full of books and documents. Here he sate down, and bade me be seated; though I thought he looked a little ruefully from his clean chair to my muddy rags. "And now," says he, "if you have any business, pray be brief and come swiftly to the point. Nec gemino bellum Trojanum orditur ab ovo --do you understand that?" says he, with a keen look.
"I will even do as Horace says, sir," I answered, smiling, "and carry you in medias res." He nodded as if he was well pleased, and indeed his scrap of Latin had been set to test me. For all that, and though I was somewhat encouraged, the blood came in my face when I added: "I have reason to believe myself some rights on the estate of Shaws."
He got a paper book out of a drawer and set it before him open. "Well?" said he.
But I had shot my bolt and sat speechless.
"Come, come, Mr. Balfour," said he, "you must continue. Where were you born?"
"In Essendean, sir," said I, "the year 1733, the 12th of March."
He seemed to follow this statement in his paper book; but what that meant I knew not. "Your father and mother?" said he.
"My father was Alexander Balfour, schoolmaster of that place," said I, "and my mother Grace Pitarrow; I think her people were from Angus."
"Have you any papers proving your identity?" asked Mr. Rankeillor.
"No, sir," said I, "but they are in the hands of Mr. Campbell, the minister, and could be readily produced. Mr. Campbell, too, would give me his word; and for that matter, I do not think my uncle would deny me."
"Meaning Mr. Ebenezer Balfour?" says he.
"The same," said I.
"Whom you have seen?" he asked.
"By whom I was received into his own house," I answered.
"Did you ever meet a man of the name of Hoseason?" asked Mr. Rankeillor.
"I did so, sir, for my sins," said I; "for it was by his means and the procurement of my uncle, that I was kidnapped within sight of this town, carried to sea, suffered shipwreck and a hundred other hardships, and stand before you to-day in this poor accoutrement."
"You say you were shipwrecked," said Rankeillor; "where was that?"
"Off the south end of the Isle of Mull," said I. "The name of the isle on which I was cast up is the Island Earraid."
"Ah!" says he, smiling, "you are deeper than me in the geography. But so far, I may tell you, this agrees pretty exactly with other informations that I hold. But you say you were kidnapped; in what sense?"
"In the plain meaning of the word, sir," said I. "I was on my way to your house, when I was trepanned on board the brig, cruelly struck down, thrown below, and knew no more of anything till we were far at sea. I was destined for the plantations; a fate that, in God's providence, I have escaped."
"The brig was lost on June the 27th," says he, looking in his book," and we are now at August the 24th. Here is a considerable hiatus, Mr. Balfour, of near upon two months. It has already caused a vast amount of trouble to your friends; and I own I shall not be very well contented until it is set right."