Robert Louis Stevenson - Kidnapped (1886)
This story was begun in March, 1885, while the author was living in his house called Skerryvore, at Bournemouth, Hants, England, but was soon laid aside and was not resumed till January, 1886. It was the earliest of Stevenson's historical romances, and, being intended for a boys' story, it made its first appearance in Young Folks from May to June, inclusive, 1856. It was suggested by a famous eighteenth-century historical incident, the Appin murder, and the whole work took him, as he said, "probably five months, one of these entirely over the last chapters, which had to be put together without inspiration, almost word for word, for I was nearly worked out." Stevenson thought the tale, as a whole, the best and most human piece of work he had yet done, and its success was immediate. Of it he has written: "In one of my books, and in one only, the characters took the bit in their teeth; all at once they became detached from the flat paper, they turned their backs on me and walked off bodily; and from that time my task was stenographic—it was they who spoke, it was they who wrote the remainder of the story." The scene of the book is in the Highlands, and the seas to the north and west of Scotland, and the period of action extends from early in June, 1751, till the 24th of August following.
THE story of my adventures begins with a morning in early June of 1751, when I, David Balfour, was leaving my father's house at Essendean for the last time. Mr. Campbell, the minister, who accompanied me as far as the ford, handed me a letter that my father had written and I was to deliver after his death. It was directed "To the hands of Ebenezer Balfour, Esquire, of Shaws; these will be delivered by my son, David Balfour." The good minister drew an imaginary picture of the great house I was going to, and after giving we much good advice parted from me in much sorrow, and my conscience smote me hard and fast, because I, for my part, was overjoyed to get away out of that quiet countryside and go to a great house among respected gentlefolk of my own name and blood.
In the afternoon of the second day of my long walk I began to make inquiries regarding the house of Shaws and its owner, but heard little good of Ebenezer Balfour. It was sunset when I reached the house, only to find it partly a ruin with few signs of occupation about it. After pounding a long while at the door, I saw a man with a blunderbuss standing at one of the upper windows, but not till after some parleying, and my telling him that I was David Balfour, was I admitted. To my great astonishment, this repulsive old man presently acknowledged me as his nephew, but till then I had not known my father had a brother. The kitchen where we sat was a bare apartment, and all the supper he offered me was a small quantity of porridge. He next directed me to a dark chamber, where I passed the night in a damp bed. Our meals the next day consisted wholly of porridge and beer, and my uncle, after declaring from time to time his intention to do well by me, at last gave me thirty-seven guineas, which he said he was glad for his brother's son to have.
Presently he looked at me sidewise.
"And see here," he said, "tit for tat."
I told him I was ready to serve him, and thereupon he asked me to bring him a chest of papers front the top of the stair tower, but he would not allow me to have a light for the purpose. Accordingly I felt my way upward in pitch darkness, and as the tower was square a step of one great stone was made at every corner to turn the flights. At one of these stones my hand slipped upon an edge and found nothing beyond, for the stair went no higher and to set a stranger mounting it was to send him straight to his death. I now groped my way down and, reaching the kitchen unheard, I confronted my uncle, who promptly fainted at the sight of me. When he came to Ï asked why he had given me money and then tried to kill me, and he promised to tell me in the morning. I locked him in his room for the night, and on the morrow set him free, and while we sat at breakfast a letter was brought him from Captain Hoseason of the trading brig Covenant, with whom he said he had a venture. e then proposed that we should walk over to the brig, where he could transact some private business, and thence visit his lawyer, Mr. Rankeillor. Thinking that he could do me no harm at the ship, and that I could then force hint to see the lawyer, I consented to go with him. From the cabin-boy who had brought the message I heard such tales of the Covenant that I told my uncle as we approached the inn at Queensferry nothing would inveigle me aboard of her. But presently a landsman's curiosity to see the ship moved me to visit her, and soon I saw my uncle returning to the shore in the skiff. Almost at the same moment I was stunned by a blow upon my head.
The Covenant was bound for the Carolinas, and it was the intention of my miserly, murderous uncle to have me sold to labor in the plantations there. I came to myself in great pain, and my wound was dressed by Riach, the second mate; who seemed to be friendly disposed toward me and to whom I presently told my whole story. The brig sailed north till we passed between the Orkney and Shetland Islands, and then turned south. One foggy night we ran down a boat, and all on board the small craft were drowned save one passenger who caught hold of the brig's bowsprit and came on board. The newcomer was one Alan Breck Stewart, a Highland gentleman banished after the Rebellion of 1745 and now occupied in smuggling rents from his clansmen to Ardshiel, their exiled chief in France. He had elegant manners, dressed handsomely, and was in possession of considerable rent-money. Captain Hoseason and his crew now determined to murder the Highlander for his gold; but overhearing the plot I informed Alan of what was intended and promised to assist him, hopeless as the case appeared, for there were fifteen against us. But Alan was a soldier of proven skill, and the brig's round house, where we then were, admitted of a stout defense. The attack soon came, and at the end of it the first mate, Shuan, and five more, were either killed or disabled. Captain Hoseason now knuckled under and a treaty was made by which it was agreed that Alan should be landed at such a place on the coast as would enable him to make good his way to his own region of Appin. This being settled, the Captain and Riach could then be happy again in their own way, the name of which was drink. By this time Alan and I were the best of friends, and he told me many things of himself. His faults were but on the surface and I now knew them all.
While the Covenant was passing alongside of the island of Mull she came to grief on the rocks. With the help of a spar I reached the land, only to find myself alone upon the uninhabited island of Earraid. I subsequently found it to be an island only at the will of the tide, and no seabred lad would have remained there a day, but I was there four days subsisting on shellfish and in great misery. When the way of release was pointed out to me by some fishermen from their boat, I waded quickly through the shallow water to the isle of Mull and there received tidings of the brig's crew and of Alan, who had left word that I was to follow him to Torosay, on the Sound of Mull. After crossing the ferry from Mull to the mainland I continued on my way, overtaking on the journey a catechist named Henderland, and spending a night with him at his house near Kingairloch. The next day he found for me a man who would row me across Loch Linnhe into Appin, which was Alan's country. After he had set me on shore by the wood of Lettermore I sat for some time by a spring to think over my situation, and while I did so four travelers came in sight—the King's factor, Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure, called the Red Fox; a lawyer, a servant wearing the Campbell tartan, and a sheriff's officer. I asked the factor the way to Aucharn.
"And what seek ye in Aucharn?"
"The man that lives there," said I.
" James of the Glens," says Glenure musingly, and then to the lawyer: "Is he gathering his people, think ye?"
"If you are concerned for me," said I, "I am neither of his people nor yours, but an honest subject of King George."
"Well said," replies the factor. "But what does this honest man so far from his country, and why does he come seeking the brother of Ardshiel? I have power here, and have twelve files of soldiers at my back."
"I have heard," said I, "that you were a hard man to drive."
"Well," said he, "your tongue is bold, but I am no unfriend to plainness. If you had asked me the way to the door of James Stewart on any other day but this, I would have set ye right and bidden ye Godspeed!"
Just then came the shot of a firelock from the hill, and Glenure fell dead in the road. For a moment I stood in horror while the sheriff's officer ran back to hasten the soldiers forward, and then I began to climb the hill, crying out: "The murderer! the murderer!" As I reached the top I could see the man moving away and I cried, "Here, I see him," but he quickly disappeared.
I was now at the edge of the upper wood and could see them waving me to come back and soldiers beginning to appear singly out of the lower wood.
"Why should I come back?" I said. "Come you on!"
"Ten pounds if ye take that lad," said the lawyer. "He is. an accomplice. He was posted here to hold us in talk."
Hearing this, I was overcome with terror and stood stupidly still till a voice close by said: "Come in here among the trees." I obeyed, and just then heard the musket-halls whistle among the birches, Within the shelter of the woods I found Alan Breck with a fishing-rod. He said only "Come," and for some time we ran through the woods till at last we could rest for a time in temporary safety. But T had seen murder done upon a man whom Alan hated, and I fancied him the murderer, whether he had fired the shot or only ordered it done. By my way of it, my only friend in that wild country was blood-guilty in the first degree, and I said to him that we must part. Thereupon he talked with me a long while and he looked so innocent and showed himself so ready to sacrifice himself for what he esteemed his duty that I could say no more. Alan's morals were all tail-foremost, but he was ready to give his life for them, such as they were, and I gave him my hand once more. He then said we must both flee that country-he because he was a deserter, and I because I was certainly involved in the murder. I asked him whither, and he answered, "To the Lowlands," and as we went along he told we how the Covenant was wrecked and how Hoseason and the sailors would have murdered him for his money after they had reached the shore but for the intervention of Riach, who bade him run while there was time.
Late that night we reached the house of James Stewart and found him in great concern over the death of his enemy, Colin Roy, for which, as it happened in Appin, he, Stewart, would in all likelihood be held responsible, To save himself he tried to persuade. us that as a magistrate he would presently have to offer a reward for our apprehension . paper us, he called it, and but for the remonstrance of Mrs. Stewart this might have been. So when this was settled Alan and I set out once more. Day found us in a valley without grass or trees to shelter us and through which ran a foaming river. At great peril of our lives we at last found a lodgment among some rocks in the river—a small spot where only three or four might lie concealed. While Alan watched I slept, but woke presently and as we cautiously peered over the edge of the rock we could see a soldiers' camp a half mile away and sentries stationed all through the valley that had been so solitary at dawn. All the morning the soldiers were stirring, sometimes coming close to our rock, upon which the sun beat down fiercely. By two o'clock, the sun being well in the west, there was a little shade on the east side of the rock, which was sheltered from the soldiers, and we then climbed down on that side. After resting in the shadow for a space, we crawled from rock to rock and through the heather till night came and we could walk upright.
We were now traversing the sides of mountains and ere dawn came to our destination, a mountain-cave among the clouds, where we spent five days, living the while on porridge and fishes from the burn below. On our first morning Alan said it would be long ere the soldiers would be seeking us there, and by means of a certain Gaelic signal he secured the service of an Appin tenant, who conveyed a message to James Stewart and in return brought us a little money from Mrs. Stewart and one of the proclamations or bills in which we, as fugitives, were described. This we looked upon with great curiosity, partly as a man may look in a mirror, partly as he might look into the barrel of an enemy's gun to judge whether it be truly aimed.
We now set off again and after hours of hard travel came to a stretch of desert land which must be crossed. A wearier-looking désert I never saw, but it was clear of soldiers, so far as we could see. We might be spied upon from the mountain-tops at any moment, however, and we moved with great care, crawling from one heather bush to another, as hunters do when they are hard upon the deer. At one time we saw a party of dragoons at a distance. They beat the ground thoroughly where they moved, but they did not discover us, and at nightfall they collected and camped about their fire. Seeing this, I en-treated Alan that we might sleep for a while, but to this he would not consent, saying that when day came we must be far from here, and so we crawled and stumbled blindly on and at last fell into an ambush and the next moment were on our backs, each with a dirk at his throat. Alan spoke in Gaelic to one of the party that had taken us, and we learned that these were out-sentries of Cluny Macpherson, chief of the clan Vourich. We were to bide here till word could be sent to Cluny of our arrival. He slept till the messenger returned, but I was too tired for slumber, and when we set out for the chief's two of the gillies carried me forward, for I was too weak to go without their aid.
At the top of a cliff we found the retreat known as "Cluny's Cage," consisting of tree-trunks wattled across and strengthened with stakes, and it half hung, half stood in that steep hillside thicket, like a wasp's nest in a green hawthorn, and large enough to shelter five or six persons. Here we were made welcome, and after we had eaten food Cluny proposed that we should fall to playing cards. I, detesting such amusement, declined, and this annoyed our host; but the matter was smoothed over, and that day Alan won a great pile of gold. The next day he lost, and, borrowing my little store, lost this also at the cards. Then there was much talk between us, and Cluny with some ill grace gave up the money to me, since otherwise we had none left, and at night we set out on our journey once more, a gillie leading us to another hiding-place near Loch Rannoch.
But we went silently; I angry and proud at Alan's behavior, he ashamed that he had lost my money and angry because I had taken his action ill. At the end of the second day the gillie told us how best to go onward, and we followed his directions and for days wandered over mountain-tops drenched in mist, I still sore at heart against him and acting much like a sulky boy, which indeed I was. At last I had almost provoked him to fight, and then, thinking I had lost my friend, I cried out for pain and weariness :
"Alan, if ye canna help me, I must just die here. If I die, yell can forgive me, Alan? In my heart I liked ye fine—even when I was the angriest."
At this all his anger fled and he begged my forgiveness. Thus we were friends once more, and as we were now in the Braes of Balquhidder he knocked at the door of the first house we came to, where he was welcome for his name's sake, and where before a month I was able to take the road again. By day he hid in the wood, and at night would visit me. Most folk in Balquhidder suspected who I was, but the secret was safe with these clansmen. Robin Dig, a son of Rob Roy, visited Balquhidder, and Alan, who played a match against him on the pipes, declared that the visitor was a grand piper.
August was more than half gone when Alan and I set out once more, this time making for Stirling Bridge. The moon was not up when we reached it and there appeared to be no guard on the bridge; but to make sure we hid ourselves till we heard a foot passenger challenged by the sentry and knew that this was no way for us. We kept on under the high line of the Ochil Mountains till we came to the hamlet of Limekilns, where we bought some bread and cheese from a lass at a small inn. From her, after the exercise of a good deal of diplomacy, Alan secured a promise to have us set over the Forth in a boat, and the next night, while her father the innkeeper, was asleep, she came to our assistance and set us on the Lothian shore near Carriden, having taken a neighbor's boat for the purpose.
It was agreed that Alan should fend for himself next day till nightfall, when he must visit the roadside fields near Newhalls and remain till he should hear me whistle a certain air. I was bound for the house of Mr. Rankeillor at Queensferry, but as I walked on I grew despondent, for I saw that I had no means of establishing my identity to the lawyer of the Shaws estate, and who would listen to such a tattered, travel-stained lad as I had now become?
As I. chanced to stop before a handsome house a kindly, con-sequential man just at that moment stepped out and, seeing me, came straightforward and asked me what I did. I replied that I was in Queensferry on business and wished to see Mr. Rankeillor. He thereupon declared himself to be that person, and I then told him I was David Balfour. On this he led me into the house, where he asked me many questions and whether I had any papers to prove my identity. Mr. Campbell, the minister of Essendean, had such papers, I said, and I added that I did not think my uncle, Ebenezer Balfour, would deny me. I also told how I was kidnapped and afterward wrecked off the coast of Mull.
"The brig was lost on June the 27th," said he, "and we are now at August the 24th. Here is a hiatus of near two months. I shall not be contented till it is set right."
He then related how Mr. Campbell had come to Queensferry to inquire for me; how my uncle declared he had given me large sums, on receiving which I had set out for the Continent. He believed I was in Leyden. Captain Hoseason had then appeared with the tale that I was drowned.
With the proviso that I committed a friend's life to his discretion, I now told the lawyer my whole story, only when I named Alan Breck he suggested that no unnecessary names be mentioned and that the person be hereafter spoken of as Thom-son. To this I assented, for there were two parties in the state and quiet persons sought every cranny to avoid offense to either. He then invited me to dinner and showed me to a room where he laid out some clothes of his son's for my use, and at dinner he related the story of my father and my uncle. As lads they fell in love with the same lady, and Ebenezer, when he found himself rejected, made the whole country ring with his sorrow. My father, moved by this behavior, would have resigned the lady, an arrangement to which she objected; and it was finally arranged that my father should have the lady, and Ebenezer the estate. The lawyer declared the estate to be mine without a doubt, but that Ebenezer Balfour would assuredly contest the matter and in the course of the proceedings my relations with "Mr. Thomson" might come out. Since it might be difficult to prove the kidnapping, it were best to leave my uncle at Shaws and content myself meanwhile with a fair provision. But as the great matter was to bring home the kidnapping to Ebenezer Balfour, I concocted a plot to this end, and although this involved the lawyer's meeting with "Mr. Thomson" he at length consented to its trial. Late in the afternoon I went to meet Alan, who rose at once to my whistle and submitted, after my explanation, to be introduced to the lawyer as "Mr. Thomson." These two now moved on to Shaws, while Torrance, Mr. Rankeillor's clerk, followed them with me. It was dark when we reached the house, and Alan by pounding on the door soon brought my uncle to the window; but as the visitor would not tell his business, further than that it concerned me, the other was obliged to come out upon the doorstep. Alan then pretended that I was held for a ransom in Mull, and that unless it was paid soon I should never be seen again. To this my uncle responded that I was not a good lad at the best, and he had no call to pay it. Alan rep-resented that for very shame Mr. Balfour could not desert his nephew, and at last my uncle consented that I should be kept and not killed. As to the price of keeping, Alan said he must first know what had been paid Hoseason for the kidnapping in the first place, and after various denials of the circumstance my uncle admitted that it was twenty pounds, adding:
"But I'll be honest with ye: forby that he was to have the selling of the lad in Caroliny, whilk would be as muckle mair, but no from my pocket."
Then the lawyer, Torrance, and I, came forward and my uncle stared at us like a man turned to stone. Mr. Rankeillor now led him indoors, and at the end of an hour they had arrived at a formal agreement to the effect that my title to the estate was fully acknowledged and my uncle was to pay me two clear thirds of the income of Shaws.
So I had come to port at last, but Alan, to whom I was so greatly beholden, was still on my hands, and I felt also a heavy charge in the matter of James Stewart of the Glens. Mr. Rankeillor was clear that I must help my friend out of his danger at any risk, but regarding the other man he thought differently. However, he suggested a plan that involved my seeking the Lord Advocate, telling him my story and offering my testimony as to Stewart's innocence; and that matters should be made as easy for nie as possible, he gave me a letter to the laird of Pilrig, whose name was also Balfour and who stood well with the Lord Advocate. Alan and I now turned to Edinburgh and presently parted, I having given him money for immediate necessities and arranged that he should have safe passage in a ship soon to sail. But as I went on my way alone I could have wept like anybody.
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
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