“I thank you for your honest expressions,” said I.
Whereupon Duncansby made his bow to the company, and left the chamber, as we had agreed upon before.
“What have I to do with this?” says Prestongrange.
“I will tell your lordship in two words,” said I. “I have brought this gentleman, a King’s officer, to do me so much justice. Now I think my character is covered, and until a certain date, which your lordship can very well supply, it will be quite in vain to despatch against me any more officers. I will not consent to fight my way through the garrison of the castle.”
The veins swelled on Prestongrange’s brow, and he regarded me with fury.
“I think the devil uncoupled this dog of a lad between my legs!” he cried; and then, turning fiercely on his neighbour, “This is some of your work, Symon,” he said. “I spy your hand in the business, and, let me tell you, I resent it. It is disloyal, when we are agreed upon one expedient, to follow another in the dark. You are disloyal to me. What! you let me send this lad to the place with my very daughters! And because I let drop a word to you ... Fy, sir, keep your dishonours to yourself!”
Symon was deadly pale. “I will be a kick-ball between you and the Duke no longer,” he exclaimed. “Either come to an agreement, or come to a differ, and have it out among yourselves. But I will no longer fetch and carry, and get your contrary instructions, and be blamed by both. For if I were to tell you what I think of all your Hanover business it would make your head sing.”
But Sheriff Erskine had preserved his temper, and now intervened smoothly. “And in the meantime,” says he, “I think we should tell Mr. Balfour that his character for valour is quite established. He may sleep in peace. Until the date he was so good as to refer to it shall be put to the proof no more.”
His coolness brought the others to their prudence; and they made haste, with a somewhat distracted civility, to pack me from the house.
* * * * *
THE HEATHER ON FIRE
When I left Prestongrange that afternoon I was for the first time angry. The Advocate had made a mock of me. He had pretended my testimony was to be received and myself respected; and in that very hour, not only was Symon practising against my life by the hands of the Highland soldier, but (as appeared from his own language) Prestongrange himself had some design in operation. I counted my enemies: Prestongrange with all the King’s authority behind him; and the Duke with the power of the West Highlands; and the Lovat interest by their side to help them with so great a force in the north, and the whole clan of old Jacobite spies and traffickers. And when I remembered James More, and the red head of Neil the son of Duncan, I thought there was perhaps