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Chapter 4

LORD ADVOCATE PRESTONGRANGE


My kinsman kept me to a meal, "for the honour of the roof," he said; and
I believe I made the better speed on my return. I had no thought but to
be done with the next stage, and have myself fully committed; to a
person circumstanced as I was, the appearance of closing a door on
hesitation and temptation was itself extremely tempting; and I was the
more disappointed, when I came to Prestongrange's house, to be informed
he was abroad. I believe it was true at the moment, and for some hours
after; and then I have no doubt the Advocate came home again, and
enjoyed himself in a neighbouring chamber among friends, while perhaps
the very fact of my arrival was forgotten. I would have gone away a
dozen times, only for this strong drawing to have done with my
declaration out of hand and be able to lay me down to sleep with a free
conscience. At first I read, for the little cabinet where I was left
contained a variety of books. But I fear I read with little profit; and
the weather falling cloudy, the dusk coming up earlier than usual, and
my cabinet being lighted with but a loophole of a window, I was at last
obliged to desist from this diversion (such as it was), and pass the
rest of my time of waiting in a very burthensome vacuity. The sound of
people talking in a naer chamber, the pleasant note of a harpsichord,
and once the voice of a lady singing, bore me a kind of company.

I do not know the hour, but the darkness was long come, when the door of
the cabinet opened, and I was aware, by the light behind him, of a tall
figure of a man upon the threshold. I rose at once.

"Is anybody there?" he asked. "Who is that?"

"I am bearer of a letter from the laird of Pilrig to the Lord Advocate,"
said I.

"Have you been here long?" he asked.

"I would not like to hazard an estimate of how many hours," said I.

"It is the first I hear of it," he replied, with a chuckle. "The lads
must have forgotten you. But you are in the bit at last, for I am
Prestongrange."

So saying, he passed before me into the next room, whither (upon his
sign) I followed him, and where he lit a candle and took his place
before a business-table. It was a long room, of a good proportion,
wholly lined with books. That small spark of light in a corner struck
out the man's handsome person and strong face. He was flushed, his eye
watered and sparkled, and before he sat down I observed him to sway back
and forth. No doubt he had been supping liberally; but his mind and
tongue were under full control.

"Well, sir, sit ye down," said he, "and let us see Pilrig's letter."

He glanced it through in the beginning carelessly, looking up and bowing
when he came to my name; but at the last words I thought I observed his
attention to redouble, and I made sure he read them twice. All this
while you are to suppose my heart was beating, for I had now crossed my
Rubicon and was come fairly on the field of battle.

"I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Balfour," he said, when he
had done. "Let me offer you a glass of claret."

"Under your favour, my lord, I think it would scarce be fair on me,"
said I. "I have come here, as the letter will have mentioned, on a
business of some gravity to myself; and as I am little used with wine, I
might be the sooner affected."

"You shall be the judge," said he. "But if you will permit, I believe I
will even have the bottle in myself."

He touched a bell, and the footman came, as at a signal, bringing wine
and glasses.

"You are sure you will not join me?" asked the Advocate. "Well, here is
to our better acquaintance! In what way can I serve you?"

"I should perhaps begin by telling you, my lord, that I am here at your
own pressing invitation," said I.

"You have the advantage of me somewhere," said he, "for I profess I
think I never heard of you before this evening."

"Right, my lord; the name is indeed new to you," said I. "And yet you
have been for some time extremely wishful to make my acquaintance, and
have declared the same in public."

"I wish you would afford me a clue," says he. "I am no Daniel."

"It will perhaps serve for such," said I, "that if I was in a jesting
humour--which is far from the case--I believe I might lay a claim on
your lordship for two hundred pounds."

"In what sense?" he inquired.

"In the sense of rewards offered for my person," said I.

He thrust away his glass once and for all, and sat straight up in the
chair where he had been previously lolling. "What am I to understand?"
said he.

"_A tall strong lad of about eighteen_," I quoted, "_speaks like a
Lowlander, and has no beard_."

"I recognise those words," said he, "which, if you have come here with
any ill-judged intention of amusing yourself, are like to prove
extremely prejudicial to your safety."

"My purpose in this," I replied, "is just entirely as serious as life
and death, and you have understood me perfectly. I am the boy who was
speaking with Glenure when he was shot."

"I can only suppose (seeing you here) that you claim to be innocent,"
said he.

"The inference is clear," I said. "I am a very loyal subject to King
George, but if I had anything to reproach myself with, I would have had
more discretion than to walk into your den."

"I am glad of that," said he. "This horrid crime, Mr. Balfour, is of a
dye which cannot permit any clemency. Blood has been barbarously shed.
It has been shed in direct opposition to his Majesty and our whole frame
of laws, by those who are their known and public oppugnants. I take a
very high sense of this. I will not deny that I consider the crime as
directly personal to his Majesty."

"And unfortunately, my lord," I added a little drily, "directly personal
to another great personage who may be nameless."

"If you mean anything by those words, I must tell you I consider them
unfit for a good subject; and were they spoke publicly I should make it
my business to take note of them," said he. "You do not appear to me to
recognise the gravity of your situation, or you would be more careful
not to pejorate the same by words which glance upon the purity of
justice. Justice, in this country, and in my poor hands, is no respecter
of persons."

"You give me too great a share in my own speech, my lord," said I. "I
did but repeat the common talk of the country, which I have heard
everywhere, and from men of all opinions as I came along."

"When you are come to more discretion you will understand such talk is
not to be listened to, how much less repeated," says the Advocate. "But
I acquit you of an ill intention. That nobleman, whom we all honour and
who has indeed been wounded in a near place by the late barbarity, sits
too high to be reached by these aspersions. The Duke of Argyle--you see
that I deal plainly with you--takes it to heart as I do, and as we are
both bound to do by our judicial functions and the service of his
Majesty; and I could wish that all hands, in this ill age, were equally
clean of family rancour. But from the accident that this is a Campbell
who has fallen martyr to his duty--as who else but the Campbells have
ever put themselves foremost on that path? I may say it, who am no
Campbell--and that the chief of that great house happens (for all our
advantages) to be the present head of the College of Justice, small
minds and disaffected tongues are set agog in every changehouse in the
country; and I find a young gentleman like Mr. Balfour so ill-advised as
to make himself their echo." So much he spoke with a very oratorical
delivery, as if in court, and then declined again upon the manner of a
gentleman. "All this apart," said he. "It now remains that I should
learn what I am to do with you."

"I had thought it was rather I that should learn the same from your
lordship," said I.

"Ay, true," says the Advocate. "But, you see, you come to me well
recommended. There is a good honest Whig name to this letter," says he,
picking it up a moment from the table. "And--extra-judicially, Mr.
Balfour--there is always the possibility of some arrangement. I tell
you, and I tell you beforehand that you may be the more upon your guard,
your fate lies with me singly. In such a matter (be it said with
reverence) I am more powerful than the king's Majesty; and should you
please me--and of course satisfy my conscience--in what remains to be
held of our interview, I tell you it may remain between ourselves."

"Meaning how?" I asked.

"Why, I mean it thus, Mr. Balfour," said he, "that if you give
satisfaction, no soul need know so much as that you visited my house;
and you may observe that I do not even call my clerk."

I saw what way he was driving. "I suppose it is needless anyone should
be informed upon my visit," said I, "though the precise nature of my
gains by that I cannot see. I am not at all ashamed of coming here."

"And have no cause to be," says he, encouragingly. "Nor yet (if you are
careful) to fear the consequences."

"My lord," said I, "speaking under your correction, I am not very easy
to be frightened."

"And I am sure I do not seek to frighten you," says he. "But to the
interrogation; and let me warn you to volunteer nothing beyond the
questions I shall ask you. It may consist very immediately with your
safety. I have a great discretion, it is true, but there are bounds to
it."

"I shall try to follow your lordship's advice," said I.

He spread a sheet of paper on the table and wrote a heading. "It appears
you were present, by the way, in the wood of Lettermore at the moment of
the fatal shot," he began. "Was this by accident?"

"By accident," said I.

"How came you in speech with Colin Campbell?" he asked.

"I was inquiring my way of him to Aucharn," I replied.

I observed he did not write this answer down.

"H'm, true," said he, "I had forgotten that. And do you know, Mr.
Balfour, I would dwell, if I were you, as little as might be on your
relations with these Stewarts? It might be found to complicate our
business. I am not yet inclined to regard these matters as essential."

"I had thought, my lord, that all points of fact were equally material
in such a case," said I.

"You forget we are now trying these Stewarts," he replied, with great
significance. "If we should ever come to be trying you, it will be very
different; and I shall press these very questions that I am now willing
to glide upon. But to resume: I have it here in Mr. Mungo Campbell's
precognition that you ran immediately up the brae. How came that?"

"Not immediately, my lord, and the cause was my seeing of the murderer."

"You saw him, then?"

"As plain as I see your lordship, though not so near hand."

"You know him?"

"I should know him again."

"In your pursuit you were not so fortunate, then, as to overtake him?"

"I was not."

"Was he alone?"

"He was alone."

"There was no one else in that neighbourhood?"

"Alan Breck Stewart was not far off, in a piece of a wood."

The Advocate laid his pen down. "I think we are playing at cross
purposes," said he, "which you will find to prove a very ill amusement
for yourself."

"I content myself with following your lordship's advice, and answering
what I am asked," said I.

"Be so wise as to bethink yourself in time," said he. "I use you with
the most anxious tenderness, which you scarce seem to appreciate, and
which (unless you be more careful) may prove to be in vain."

"I do appreciate your tenderness, but conceive it to be mistaken," I
replied, with something of a falter, for I saw we were come to grips at
last. "I am here to lay before you certain information, by which I shall
convince you Alan had no hand whatever in the killing of Glenure."

The Advocate appeared for a moment at a stick, sitting with pursed lips,
and blinking his eyes upon me like an angry cat. "Mr. Balfour," he said
at last, "I tell you pointedly you go an ill way for your own
interests."

"My lord," I said, "I am as free of the charge of considering my own
interests in this matter as your lordship. As God judges me, I have but
the one design, and that is to see justice executed and the innocent go
clear. If in pursuit of that I come to fall under your lordship's
displeasure, I must bear it as I may."

At this he rose from his chair, lit a second candle, and for a while
gazed upon me steadily. I was surprised to see a great change of gravity
fallen upon his face, and I could have almost thought he was a little
pale.

"You are either very simple, or extremely the reverse, and I see that I
must deal with you more confidentially," says he. "This is a political
case--ah, yes, Mr. Balfour! whether we like it or no, the case is
political--and I tremble when I think what issues may depend from it. To
a political case, I need scarce tell a young man of your education, we
approach with very different thoughts from one which is criminal only.
_Salus populi suprema lex_ is a maxim susceptible of great abuse, but it
has that force which we find elsewhere only in the laws of nature: I
mean it has the force of necessity. I will open this out to you, if you
will allow me, at more length. You would have me believe--"

"Under your pardon, my lord, I would have you to believe nothing but
that which I can prove," said I.

"Tut! tut! young gentleman," says he, "be not so pragmatical, and suffer
a man who might be your father (if it was nothing more) to employ his
own imperfect language, and express his own poor thoughts, even when
they have the misfortune not to coincide with Mr. Balfour's. You would
have me to believe Breck innocent. I would think this of little account,
the more so as we cannot catch our man. But the matter of Breck's
innocence shoots beyond itself. Once admitted, it would destroy the
whole presumptions of our case against another and a very different
criminal; a man grown old in treason, already twice in arms against his
king and already twice forgiven; a fomenter of discontent, and (whoever
may have fired the shot) the unmistakable original of the deed in
question. I need not tell you that I mean James Stewart."

"And I can just say plainly that the innocence of Alan and of James is
what I am here to declare in private to your lordship, and what I am
prepared to establish at the trial by my testimony," said I.

"To which I can only answer by an equal plainness, Mr. Balfour," said
he, "that (in that case) your testimony will not be called by me, and I
desire you to withhold it altogether."

"You are at the head of Justice in this country," I cried, "and you
propose to me a crime!"

"I am a man nursing with both hands the interests of this country," he
replied, "and I press on you a political necessity. Patriotism is not
always moral in the formal sense. You might be glad of it, I think: it
is your own protection; the facts are heavy against you; and if I am
still trying to except you from a very dangerous place, it is in part of
course because I am not insensible to your honesty in coming here; in
part because of Pilrig's letter; but in part, and in chief part, because
I regard in this matter my political duty first and my judicial duty
only second. For the same reason--I repeat it to you in the same frank
words--I do not want your testimony."

"I desire not to be thought to make a repartee, when I express only the
plain sense of our position," said I. "But if your lordship has no need
of my testimony, I believe the other side would be extremely blythe to
get it."

Prestongrange arose and began to pace to and fro in the room. "You are
not so young," he said, "but what you must remember very clearly the
year '45 and the shock that went about the country. I read in Pilrig's
letter that you are sound in Kirk and State. Who saved them in that
fatal year? I do not refer to his Royal Highness and his ramrods, which
were extremely useful in their day; but the country had been saved and
the field won before ever Cumberland came upon Drummossie. Who saved it?
I repeat; who saved the Protestant religion and the whole frame of our
civil institutions? The late Lord President Culloden, for one; he played
a man's part, and small thanks he got for it--even as I, whom you see
before you, straining every nerve in the same service, look for no
reward beyond the conscience of my duties done. After the President, who
else? You know the answer as well as I do; 'tis partly a scandal, and
you glanced at it yourself, and I reproved you for it, when you first
came in. It was the Duke and the great clan of Campbell. Now here is a
Campbell foully murdered, and that in the King's service. The Duke and I
are Highlanders. But we are Highlanders civilised, and it is not so with
the great mass of our clans and families. They have still savage virtues
and defects. They are still barbarians, like these Stewarts; only the
Campbells were barbarians on the right side, and the Stewarts were
barbarians on the wrong. Now be you the judge. The Campbells expect
vengeance. If they do not get it--if this man James escape--there will
be trouble with the Campbells. That means disturbance in the Highlands,
which are uneasy and very far from being disarmed: the disarming is a
farce...."

"I can bear you out in that," said I.

"Disturbance in the Highlands makes the hour of our old watchful enemy,"
pursued his lordship, holding out a finger as he paced; "and I give you
my word we may have a '45 again with the Campbells on the other side. To
protect the life of this man Stewart--which is forfeit already on
half-a-dozen different counts if not on this--do you propose to plunge
your country in war, to jeopardise the faith of your fathers, and to
expose the lives and fortunes of how many thousand innocent persons? . . .
These are considerations that weigh with me, and that I hope will weigh
no less with yourself, Mr. Balfour, as a lover of your country, good
government, and religious truth."

"You deal with me very frankly, and I thank you for it," said I. "I will
try on my side to be no less honest. I believe your policy to be sound.
I believe these deep duties may lie upon your lordship; I believe you
may have laid them on your conscience when you took the oaths of the
high office which you hold. But for me, who am just a plain man--or
scarce a man yet--the plain duties must suffice. I can think but of two
things, of a poor soul in the immediate and unjust danger of a shameful
death, and of the cries and tears of his wife that still tingle in my
head. I cannot see beyond, my lord. It's the way that I am made. If the
country has to fall, it has to fall. And I pray God, if this be wilful
blindness, that he may enlighten me before too late."

He had heard me motionless, and stood so a while longer.

"This is an unexpected obstacle," says he, aloud, but to himself.

"And how is your lordship to dispose of me?" I asked.

"If I wished," said he, "you know that you might sleep in gaol?"

"My lord," says I, "I have slept in worse places."

"Well, my boy," said he, "there is one thing appears very plainly from
our interview, that I may rely on your pledged word. Give me your honour
that you will be wholly secret, not only on what has passed to-night,
but in the matter of the Appin case, and I let you go free."

"I will give it till to-morrow or any other near day that you may please
to set," said I. "I would not be thought too wily; but if I gave the
promise without qualification, your lordship would have attained his
end."

"I had no thought to entrap you," said he.

"I am sure of that," said I.

"Let me see," he continued. "To-morrow is the Sabbath. Come to me on
Monday by eight in the morning, and give me your promise until then."

"Freely given, my lord," said I. "And with regard to what has fallen
from yourself, I will give it for as long as it shall please God to
spare your days."

"You will observe," he said next, "that I have made no employment of
menaces."

"It was like your lordship's nobility," said I. "Yet I am not altogether
so dull but what I can perceive the nature of those you have not
uttered."

"Well," said he, "good-night to you. May you sleep well, for I think it
is more than I am like to do."

With that he sighed, took up a candle, and gave me his conveyance as far
as the street door.

Robert Louis Stevenson

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