I GO TO PILRIG
The next morning, I was no sooner awake in my new lodging than I was up
and into my new clothes; and no sooner the breakfast swallowed, than I
was forth on my adventures. Alan, I could hope, was fended for; James
was like to be a more difficult affair, and I could not but think that
enterprise might cost me dear, even as everybody said to whom I had
opened my opinion. It seemed I was come to the top of the mountain only
to cast myself down; that I had clambered up, through so many and hard
trials, to be rich, to be recognised, to wear city clothes and a sword
to my side, all to commit mere suicide at the last end of it, and the
worst kind of suicide besides, which is to get hanged at the King's
What was I doing it for? I asked, as I went down the High Street and out
north by Leith Wynd. First I said it was to save James Stewart, and no
doubt the memory of his distress, and his wife's cries, and a word or so
I had let drop on that occasion worked upon me strongly. At the same
time I reflected that it was (or ought to be) the most indifferent
matter to my father's son, whether James died in his bed or from a
scaffold. He was Alan's cousin, to be sure; but so far as regarded Alan,
the best thing would be to lie low, and let the King, and his Grace of
Argyll, and the corbie crows, pick the bones of his kinsman their own
way. Nor could I forget that, while we were all in the pot together,
James had shown no such particular anxiety whether for Alan or me.
Next it came upon me I was acting for the sake of justice: and I thought
that a fine word, and reasoned it out that (since we dwelt in polities,
at some discomfort to each one of us) the main thing of all must still
be justice, and the death of any innocent man a wound upon the whole
community. Next, again, it was the Accuser of the Brethren that gave me
a turn of his argument; bid me think shame for pretending myself
concerned in these high matters, and told me I was but a prating vain
child, who had spoken big words to Rankeillor and to Stewart, and held
myself bound upon my vanity to make good that boastfulness. Nay, and he
hit me with the other end of the stick; for he accused me of a kind of
artful cowardice, going about at the expense of a little risk to
purchase greater safety. No doubt, until I had declared and cleared
myself, I might any day encounter Mungo Campbell or the sheriff's
officer, and be recognised, and dragged into the Appin murder by the
heels; and, no doubt, in case I could manage my declaration with
success, I should breathe more free for ever after. But when I looked
this argument full in the face I could see nothing to be ashamed of. As
for the rest, "Here are the two roads," I thought, "and both go to the
same place. It's unjust that James should hang if I can save him; and it
would be ridiculous in me to have talked so much and then do nothing.
It's lucky for James of the Glens that I have boasted beforehand; and
none so unlucky for myself, because now I'm committed to do right. I
have the name of a gentleman and the means of one; it would be a poor
discovery that I was wanting in the essence." And then I thought this
was a Pagan spirit, and said a prayer in to myself, asking for what
courage I might lack, and that I might go straight to my duty like a
soldier to battle, and come off again scatheless as so many do.
This train of reasoning brought me to a more resolved complexion; though
it was far from closing up my sense of the dangers that surrounded me,
nor of how very apt I was (if I went on) to stumble on the ladder of the
gallows. It was a plain, fair morning, but the wind in the east. The
little chill of it sang in my blood, and gave me a feeling of the
autumn, and the dead leaves, and dead folks' bodies in their graves. It
seemed the devil was in it, if I was to die in that tide of my fortunes
and for other folks' affairs. On the top of the Calton Hill, though it
was not the customary time of year for that diversion, some children
were crying and running with their kites. These toys appeared very plain
against the sky; I remarked a great one soar on the wind to a high
altitude and then plump among the whins; and I thought to myself at
sight of it, "There goes Davie."
My way lay over Mouter's Hill, and through an end of a clachan on the
braeside among fields. There was a whirr of looms in it went from house
to house; bees bummed in the gardens; the neighbours that I saw at the
doorsteps talked in a strange tongue; and I found out later that this
was Picardy, a village where the French weavers wrought for the Linen
Company. Here I got a fresh direction for Pilrig, my destination; and a
little beyond, on the wayside, came by a gibbet and two men hanged in
chains. They were dipped in tar, as the manner is; the wind span them,
the chains clattered, and the birds hung about the uncanny jumping-jacks
and cried. The sight coming on me suddenly, like an illustration of my
fears, I could scarce be done with examining it and drinking in
discomfort. And as I thus turned and turned about the gibbet, what
should I strike on, but a weird old wife, that sat behind a leg of it,
and nodded, and talked aloud to herself with becks and courtesies.
"Who are these two, mother?" I asked, and pointed to the corpses.
"A blessing on your precious face!" she cried. "Twa joes o' mine:
just twa o' my old joes, my hinny dear."
"What did they suffer for?" I asked.
"Ou, just for the guid cause," said she. "Aften I spaed to them the way
that it would end. Twa shillin' Scots; no pickle mair; and there are twa
bonny callants hingin' for 't! They took it frae a wean belanged to
"Ay!" said I to myself, and not to the daft limmer, "and did they come
to such a figure for so poor a business? This is to lose all indeed."
"Gie's your loof, hinny," says she, "and let me spae your weird to
"No, mother," said I, "I see far enough the way I am. It's an unco thing
to see too far in front."
"I read it in your bree," she said. "There's a bonnie lassie that has
bricht een, and there's a wee man in a braw coat, and a big man in a
pouthered wig, and there's the shadow of the wuddy, joe, that lies
braid across your path. Gie's your loof, hinny, and let Auld Merren spae
it to ye bonny."
The two chance shots that seemed to point at Alan and the daughter of
James More, struck me hard; and I fled from the eldritch creature,
casting her a baubee, which she continued to sit and play with under the
moving shadows of the hanged.
My way down the causeway of Leith Walk would have been more pleasant to
me but for this encounter. The old rampart ran among fields, the like of
them I had never seen for artfulness of agriculture; I was pleased,
besides, to be so far in the still countryside; but the shackles of the
gibbet clattered in my head; and the mops and mows of the old witch, and
the thought of the dead men, hag-rode my spirits. To hang on a gallows,
that seemed a hard case; and whether a man came to hang there for two
shillings Scots, or (as Mr. Stewart had it) from the sense of duty, once
he was tarred and shackled and hung up, the difference seemed small.
There might David Balfour hang, and other lads pass on their errands and
think light of him; and old daft limmers sit at leg-foot and spae their
fortunes; and the clean genty maids go by, and look to the other side,
and hold a nose. I saw them plain, and they had grey eyes, and their
screens upon their heads were of the Drummond colours.
I was thus in the poorest of spirits, though still pretty resolved, when
I came in view of Pilrig, a pleasant gabled house set by the walkside
among some brave young woods. The laird's horse was standing saddled at
the door as I came up, but himself was in the study, where he received
me in the midst of learned works and musical instruments, for he was not
only a deep philosopher but much of a musician. He greeted me at first
pretty well, and when he had read Rankeillor's letter, placed himself
obligingly at my disposal.
"And what is it, cousin David?" says he--"since it appears that we are
cousins--what is this that I can do for you? A word to Prestongrange?
Doubtless that is easily given. But what should be the word?"
"Mr. Balfour," said I, "if I were to tell you my whole story the way it
fell out, it's my opinion (and it was Rankeillor's before me) that you
would be very little made up with it."
"I am sorry to hear this of you, kinsman," says he.
"I must not take that at your hands, Mr. Balfour," said I; "I have
nothing to my charge to make me sorry, or you for me, but just the
common infirmities of mankind. 'The guilt of Adam's first sin, the want
of original righteousness, and the corruption of my whole nature,' so
much I must answer for, and I hope I have been taught where to look for
help," I said; for I judged from the look of the man he would think the
better of me if I knew my questions. "But in the way of worldly
honour I have no great stumble to reproach myself with; and my
difficulties have befallen me very much against my will and (by all that
I can see) without my fault. My trouble is to have become dipped in a
political complication, which it is judged you would be blythe to avoid
a knowledge of."
"Why, very well, Mr. David," he replied, "I am pleased to see you are
all that Rankeillor represented. And for what you say of political
complications, you do me no more than justice. It is my study to be
beyond suspicion, and indeed outside the field of it. The question is,"
says he, "how, if I am to know nothing of the matter, I can very well
"Why, sir," said I, "I propose you should write to his lordship, that I
am a young man of reasonable good family and of good means: both of
which I believe to be the case."
"I have Rankeillor's word for it," said Mr. Balfour, "and I count that a
warrandice against all deadly."
"To which you might add (if you will take my word for so much) that I am
a good churchman, loyal to King George, and so brought up," I went on.
"None of which will do you any harm," said Mr. Balfour.
"Then you might go on to say that I sought his lordship on a matter of
great moment, connected with His Majesty's service and the
administration of justice," I suggested.
"As I am not to hear the matter," says the laird, "I will not take upon
myself to qualify its weight. 'Great moment' therefore falls, and
'moment' along with it. For the rest, I might express myself much as you
"And then, sir," said I, and rubbed my neck a little with my thumb,
"then I would be very desirous if you could slip in a word that might
perhaps tell for my protection."
"Protection?" says he. "For your protection? Here is a phrase that
somewhat dampens me. If the matter be so dangerous, I own I would be a
little loath to move in it blindfold."
"I believe I could indicate in two words where the thing sticks," said
"Perhaps that would be the best," said he.
"Well, it's the Appin murder," said I.
He held up both the hands. "Sirs! sirs!" cried he.
I thought by the expression of his face and voice that I had lost my
"Let me explain ..." I began.
"I thank you kindly, I will hear no more of it," says he. "I decline _in
toto_ to hear more of it. For your name's sake and Rankeillor's, and
perhaps a little for your own, I will do what I can to help you; but I
will hear no more upon the facts. And it is my first clear duty to warn
you. These are deep waters, Mr. David, and you are a young man. Be
cautious and think twice."
"It is to be supposed I will have thought oftener than that, Mr.
Balfour," said I, "and I will direct your attention again to
Rankeillor's letter, where (I hope and believe) he has registered his
approval of that which I design."
"Well, well," said he; and then again, "Well, well! I will do what I can
for you." Therewith he took a pen and paper, sat awhile in thought, and
began to write with much consideration. "I understand that Rankeillor
approves of what you have in mind?" he asked presently.
"After some discussion, sir, he bade me to go forward in God's name,"
"That is the name to go in," said Mr. Balfour, and resumed his writing.
Presently, he signed, re-read what he had written, and addressed me
again. "Now here, Mr. David," said he, "is a letter of introduction,
which I will seal without closing, and give into your hands open, as the
form requires. But since I am acting in the dark, I will just read it to
you, so that you may see if it will secure your end--
"PILRIG, _August 26th_, 1751.
"MY LORD,--This is to bring to your notice my namesake and
cousin, David Balfour Esquire of Shaws, a young gentleman
of unblemished descent and good estate. He has enjoyed besides
the more valuable advantages of a godly training, and his
principles are all that your lordship can desire. I am not in
Mr. Balfour's confidence, but I understand him to have a
to declare, touching His Majesty's service and the
of justice: purposes for which your lordship's zeal is known.
I should add that the young gentleman's intention is known to
and approved by some of his friends, who will watch with
anxiety the event of his success or failure.'
"Whereupon," continued Mr. Balfour, "I have subscribed myself with the
usual compliments. You observe I have said 'some of your friends;' I
hope you can justify my plural?"
"Perfectly, sir; my purpose is known and approved by more than one,"
said I. "And your letter, which I take a pleasure to thank you for, is
all I could have hoped."
"It was all I could squeeze out," said he; "and from what I know of the
matter you design to meddle in, I can only pray God that it may prove
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