And I told him what behooved, making rather a jumble of it, but clear enough when done. He heard me out with very few questions, laughing here and there like a man delighted: and the sound of his laughing (above all there, in the dark, where neither one of us could see the other) was extraordinary friendly to my heart.
“Ay, Davie, ye’re a queer character,” says he, when I had done: “a queer bitch after a’, and I have no mind of meeting with the like of ye. As for your story, Prestongrange is a Whig like yoursel’, so I’ll say the less of him; and, dod! I believe he was the best friend ye had, if ye could only trust him. But Symon Fraser and James More are my ain kind of cattle, and I’ll give them the name that they deserve. The muckle black de’il was father to the Frasers, a’body kens that; and as for the Gregara, I never could abye the reek of them since I could stotter on two feet. I bloodied the nose of one, I mind, when I was still so wambly on my legs that I cowped upon the top of him. A proud man was my father that day, God rest him! and I think he had the cause. I’ll never can deny but what Robin was something of a piper,” he added; “but as for James More, the de’il guide him for me!”
“One thing we have to consider,” said I. “Was Charles Stewart right or wrong? Is it only me they’re after, or the pair of us?”
“And what’s your ain opinion, you that’s a man of so much experience?” said he.
“It passes me,” said I.
“And me too,” says Alan. “Do ye think this lass would keep her word to ye?” he asked.
“I do that,” said I.
“Well, there’s nae telling,” said he. “And anyway, that’s over and done: he’ll be joined to the rest of them lang syne.”
“How many would ye think there would be of them?” I asked.
“That depends,” said Alan. “If it was only you, they would likely send two-three lively, brisk young birkies, and if they thought that I was to appear in the employ, I daresay ten or twelve,” said he.
It was no use, I gave a little crack of laughter.
“And I think your own two eyes will have seen me drive that number, or the double of it, nearer hand!” cries he.
“It matters the less,” said I, “because I am well rid of them for this time.”
“Nae doubt that’s your opinion,” said he; “but I wouldnae be the least surprised if they were hunkering this wood. Ye see, David man, they’ll be Hieland folk. There’ll be some Frasers, I’m thinking, and some of the Gregara; and I would never deny but what the both of them, and the Gregara in especial, were clever experienced persons. A man kens little till he’s driven a spreagh of neat cattle (say) ten miles through a throng lowland country and the black soldiers maybe at his tail. It’s there that I learned a great part of my penetration. And ye need nae tell me: it’s better than war; which is the next best, however, though generally rather a bauchle of a business. Now the Gregara have had grand practice.”