I went into the business with the monstrous solemnity of youth, and took stock of my equipment as if I were casting up an account. Many a time in those days I studied my appearance in the glass like a foolish maid. I was not well featured, having a freckled, square face, a biggish head, a blunt nose, grey, colourless eyes, and a sandy thatch of hair, I had great square shoulders, but my arms were too short for my stature, and—from an accident in my nursing days—of indifferent strength. All this stood on the debit side of my account. On the credit side I set down that I had unshaken good health and an uncommon power of endurance, especially in the legs. There was no runner in the Upper Ward of Lanark who was my match, and I had travelled the hills so constantly in all weathers that I had acquired a gipsy lore in the matter of beasts and birds and wild things, I had long, clear, unerring eyesight, which had often stood me in good stead in the time of my father’s troubles. Of moral qualities, Heaven forgive me, I fear I thought less; but I believed, though I had been little proved, that I was as courageous as the common run of men.
All this looks babyish in the writing, but there was a method in this self-examination. I believed that I was fated to engage in strange ventures, and I wanted to equip myself for the future. The pressing business was that of self-defence, and I turned first to a gentleman’s proper weapon, the sword. Here, alas! I was doomed to a bitter disappointment. My father had given me a lesson now and then, but never enough to test me, and when I came into the hands of a Glasgow master my unfitness was soon manifest. Neither with broadsword nor small sword could I acquire any skill. My short arm lacked reach and vigour, and there seemed to be some stiffness in wrist and elbow and shoulder which compelled me to yield to smaller men. Here was a pretty business, for though gentleman born I was as loutish with a gentleman’s weapon as any country hind.
This discovery gave me some melancholy weeks, but I plucked up heart and set to reasoning. If my hand were to guard my head it must find some other way of it. My thoughts turned to powder and shot, to the musket and the pistol. Here was a weapon which needed only a stout nerve, a good eye, and a steady hand; one of these I possessed to the full, and the others were not beyond my attainment. There lived an armourer in the Gallowgate, one Weir, with whom I began to spend my leisure. There was an alley by the Molendinar Burn, close to the archery butts, where he would let me practise at a mark with guns from his store. Soon to my delight I found that here was a weapon with which I need fear few rivals. I had a natural genius for the thing, as some men have for sword-play, and Weir was a zealous teacher, for he loved his flint-locks.
“See, Andrew,” he would cry, “this is the true leveller of mankind. It will make the man his master’s equal, for though your gentleman may cock on a horse and wave his Andrew Ferrara, this will bring him off it. Brains, my lad, will tell in coming days, for it takes a head to shoot well, though any flesher may swing a sword.”