“Well, Mr. Balfour,” said he, “what is all this I hear of ye?”
“It would not become me to prejudge,” said I, “but if the Advocate was your authority he is fully possessed of my opinions.”
“I may tell you I am engaged in the Appin case,” he went on; “I am to appear under Prestongrange; and from my study of the precognitions I can assure you your opinions are erroneous. The guilt of Breck is manifest; and your testimony, in which you admit you saw him on the hill at the very moment, will certify his hanging.”
“It will be rather ill to hang him till you catch him,” I observed. “And for other matters I very willingly leave you to your own impressions.”
“The Duke has been informed,” he went on. “I have just come from his Grace, and he expressed himself before me with an honest freedom like the great nobleman he is. He spoke of you by name, Mr. Balfour, and declared his gratitude beforehand in case you would be led by those who understand your own interests and those of the country so much better than yourself. Gratitude is no empty expression in that mouth: experto crede. I daresay you know something of my name and clan, and the damnable example and lamented end of my late father, to say nothing of my own errata. Well, I have made my peace with that good Duke; he has intervened for me with our friend Prestongrange; and here I am with my foot in the stirrup again and some of the responsibility shared into my hand of prosecuting King George’s enemies and avenging the late daring and barefaced insult to his Majesty.”
“Doubtless a proud position for your father’s son,” says I.
He wagged his bald eyebrows at me. “You are pleased to make experiments in the ironical, I think,” said he. “But I am here upon duty, I am here to discharge my errand in good faith, it is in vain you think to divert me. And let me tell you, for a young fellow of spirit and ambition like yourself, a good shove in the beginning will do more than ten years’ drudgery. The shove is now at your command; choose what you will to be advanced in, the Duke will watch upon you with the affectionate disposition of a father.”
“I am thinking that I lack the docility of the son,” says I.
“And do you really suppose, sir, that the whole policy of this country is to be suffered to trip up and tumble down for an ill-mannered colt of a boy?” he cried. “This has been made a test case, all who would prosper in the future must put a shoulder to the wheel. Look at me! Do you suppose it is for my pleasure that I put myself in the highly invidious position of prosecuting a man that I have drawn the sword alongside of? The choice is not left me.”
“But I think, sir, that you forfeited your choice when you mixed in with that unnatural rebellion,” I remarked. “My case is happily otherwise; I am a true man, and can look either the Duke or King George in the face without concern.”