“And that’s very well said, Mr. Macgregor,” returned Alan; “and in the meantime” (laying a strong accent on the word) “I take back the lie. I appeal to Duncan.”
“Indeed, ye need appeal to naebody,” said Robin. “Ye’re a far better judge than any Maclaren in Balquhidder: for it’s a God’s truth that you’re a very creditable piper for a Stewart. Hand me the pipes.” Alan did as he asked; and Robin proceeded to imitate and correct some part of Alan’s variations, which it seemed that he remembered perfectly.
“Ay, ye have music,” said Alan, gloomily.
“And now be the judge yourself, Mr. Stewart,” said Robin; and taking up the variations from the beginning, he worked them throughout to so new a purpose, with such ingenuity and sentiment, and with so odd a fancy and so quick a knack in the grace-notes, that I was amazed to hear him.
As for Alan, his face grew dark and hot, and he sat and gnawed his fingers, like a man under some deep affront. “Enough!” he cried. “Ye can blow the pipes—make the most of that.” And he made as if to rise.
But Robin only held out his hand as if to ask for silence, and struck into the slow measure of a pibroch. It was a fine piece of music in itself, and nobly played; but it seems, besides, it was a piece peculiar to the Appin Stewarts and a chief favourite with Alan. The first notes were scarce out, before there came a change in his face; when the time quickened, he seemed to grow restless in his seat; and long before that piece was at an end, the last signs of his anger died from him, and he had no thought but for the music.
“Robin Oig,” he said, when it was done, “ye are a great piper. I am not fit to blow in the same kingdom with ye. Body of me! ye have mair music in your sporran than I have in my head! And though it still sticks in my mind that I could maybe show ye another of it with the cold steel, I warn ye beforehand—it’ll no be fair! It would go against my heart to haggle a man that can blow the pipes as you can!”
Thereupon that quarrel was made up; all night long the brose was going and the pipes changing hands; and the day had come pretty bright, and the three men were none the better for what they had been taking, before Robin as much as thought upon the road.
END OF THE FLIGHT: WE PASS THE FORTH
The month, as I have said, was not yet out, but it was already far through August, and beautiful warm weather, with every sign of an early and great harvest, when I was pronounced able for my journey. Our money was now run to so low an ebb that we must think first of all on speed; for if we came not soon to Mr. Rankeillor’s, or if when we came there he should fail to help me, we must surely starve. In Alan’s view, besides, the hunt must have now greatly slackened; and the line of the Forth and even Stirling Bridge, which is the main pass over that river, would be watched with little interest.