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By Robert Louis Stevenson

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Presently there came a great rattling of chains and bolts, and
the door was cautiously opened and shut to again behind me as
soon as I had passed.

"Go into the kitchen and touch naething," said the voice; and
while the person of the house set himself to replacing the
defences of the door, I groped my way forward and entered the

The fire had burned up fairly bright, and showed me the barest
room I think I ever put my eyes on. Half-a-dozen dishes stood
upon the shelves; the table was laid for supper with a bowl of
porridge, a horn spoon, and a cup of small beer. Besides what I
have named, there was not another thing in that great,
stone-vaulted, empty chamber but lockfast chests arranged along
the wall and a corner cupboard with a padlock.

As soon as the last chain was up, the man rejoined me. He was a
mean, stooping, narrow-shouldered, clay-faced creature; and his
age might have been anything between fifty and seventy. His
nightcap was of flannel, and so was the nightgown that he wore,
instead of coat and waistcoat, over his ragged shirt. He was
long unshaved; but what most distressed and even daunted me, he
would neither take his eyes away from me nor look me fairly in
the face. What he was, whether by trade or birth, was more than
I could fathom; but he seemed most like an old, unprofitable
serving-man, who should have been left in charge of that big
house upon board wages.

"Are ye sharp-set?" he asked, glancing at about the level of my
knee. "Ye can eat that drop parritch?"

I said I feared it was his own supper.

"O," said he, "I can do fine wanting it. I'll take the ale,
though, for it slockens[1] my cough." He drank the cup about
half out, still keeping an eye upon me as he drank; and then
suddenly held out his hand. "Let's see the letter," said he.

[1] Moistens.

I told him the letter was for Mr. Balfour; not for him.

"And who do ye think I am?" says he. "Give me Alexander's

"You know my father's name?"

"It would be strange if I didnae," he returned, "for he was my
born brother; and little as ye seem to like either me or my
house, or my good parritch, I'm your born uncle, Davie, my man,
and you my born nephew. So give us the letter, and sit down and
fill your kyte."

If I had been some years younger, what with shame, weariness, and
disappointment, I believe I had burst into tears. As it was, I
could find no words, neither black nor white, but handed him
the letter, and sat down to the porridge with as little appetite
for meat as ever a young man had.

Meanwhile, my uncle, stooping over the fire, turned the letter
over and over in his hands.

"Do ye ken what's in it?" he asked, suddenly.

"You see for yourself, sir," said I, "that the seal has not been

"Ay," said he, "but what brought you here?"

"To give the letter," said I.

"No," says he, cunningly, "but ye'll have had some hopes, nae

"I confess, sir," said I, "when I was told that I had kinsfolk
well-to-do, I did indeed indulge the hope that they might help me
in my life. But I am no beggar; I look for no favours at your
hands, and I want none that are not freely given. For as poor as
I appear, I have friends of my own that will be blithe to help

"Hoot-toot!" said Uncle Ebenezer, "dinnae fly up in the snuff at
me. We'll agree fine yet. And, Davie, my man, if you're done
with that bit parritch, I could just take a sup of it myself.
Ay," he continued, as soon as he had ousted me from the stool and
spoon, "they're fine, halesome food -- they're grand food,
parritch." He murmured a little grace to himself and fell to.
"Your father was very fond of his meat, I mind; he was a hearty,
if not a great eater; but as for me, I could never do mair than
pyke at food." He took a pull at the small beer, which probably
reminded him of hospitable duties, for his next speech ran thus:
"If ye're dry ye'll find water behind the door."

To this I returned no answer, standing stiffly on my two feet,
and looking down upon my uncle with a mighty angry heart. He, on
his part, continued to eat like a man under some pressure of
time, and to throw out little darting glances now at my shoes and
now at my home-spun stockings. Once only, when he had ventured
to look a little higher, our eyes met; and no thief taken with a
hand in a man's pocket could have shown more lively signals of
distress. This set me in a muse, whether his timidity arose from
too long a disuse of any human company; and whether perhaps, upon
a little trial, it might pass off, and my uncle change into an
altogether different man. From this I was awakened by his sharp

"Your father's been long dead?" he asked.

"Three weeks, sir," said I.

"He was a secret man, Alexander -- a secret, silent man," he
continued. "He never said muckle when he was young. He'll never
have spoken muckle of me?"

"I never knew, sir, till you told it me yourself, that he had any

"Dear me, dear me!" said Ebenezer. "Nor yet of Shaws, I dare

"Not so much as the name, sir," said I.

"To think o' that!" said he. "A strange nature of a man!" For
all that, he seemed singularly satisfied, but whether with
himself, or me, or with this conduct of my father's, was more
than I could read. Certainly, however, he seemed to be
outgrowing that distaste, or ill-will, that he had conceived at
first against my person; for presently he jumped up, came across
the room behind me, and hit me a smack upon the shoulder. "We'll
agree fine yet!" he cried. "I'm just as glad I let you in. And
now come awa' to your bed."

To my surprise, he lit no lamp or candle, but set forth into the
dark passage, groped his way, breathing deeply, up a flight of
steps, and paused before a door, which he unlocked. I was close
upon his heels, having stumbled after him as best I might; and
then he bade me go in, for that was my chamber. I did as he bid,
but paused after a few steps, and begged a light to go to bed

"Hoot-toot!" said Uncle Ebenezer, "there's a fine moon."

"Neither moon nor star, sir, and pit-mirk,"[2] said I. "I cannae
see the bed."

[2] Dark as the pit.

"Hoot-toot, hoot-toot!" said he. "Lights in a house is a thing I
dinnae agree with. I'm unco feared of fires. Good-night to ye,
Davie, my man." And before I had time to add a further protest,
he pulled the door to, and I heard him lock me in from the

I did not know whether to laugh or cry. The room was as cold as
a well, and the bed, when I had found my way to it, as damp as a
peat-hag; but by good fortune I had caught up my bundle and my
plaid, and rolling myself in the latter, I lay down upon the
floor under lee of the big bedstead, and fell speedily asleep.

With the first peep of day I opened my eyes, to find myself in a
great chamber, hung with stamped leather, furnished with fine
embroidered furniture, and lit by three fair windows. Ten years
ago, or perhaps twenty, it must have been as pleasant a room to
lie down or to awake in as a man could wish; but damp, dirt,
disuse, and the mice and spiders had done their worst since then.
Many of the window-panes, besides, were broken; and indeed this
was so common a feature in that house, that I believe my uncle
must at some time have stood a siege from his indignant
neighbours -- perhaps with Jennet Clouston at their head.

Meanwhile the sun was shining outside; and being very cold in
that miserable room, I knocked and shouted till my gaoler came
and let me out. He carried me to the back of the house, where
was a draw-well, and told me to "wash my face there, if I
wanted;" and when that was done, I made the best of my own way
back to the kitchen, where he had lit the fire and was making the
porridge. The table was laid with two bowls and two horn spoons,
but the same single measure of small beer. Perhaps my eye rested
on this particular with some surprise, and perhaps my uncle
observed it; for he spoke up as if in answer to my thought,
asking me if I would like to drink ale -- for so he called it.

I told him such was my habit, but not to put himself about.

"Na, na," said he; "I'll deny you nothing in reason."

He fetched another cup from the shelf; and then, to my great
surprise, instead of drawing more beer, he poured an accurate
half from one cup to the other. There was a kind of nobleness in
this that took my breath away; if my uncle was certainly a miser,
he was one of that thorough breed that goes near to make the vice

When we had made an end of our meal, my uncle Ebenezer unlocked a
drawer, and drew out of it a clay pipe and a lump of tobacco,
from which he cut one fill before he locked it up again. Then he
sat down in the sun at one of the windows and silently smoked.
From time to time his eyes came coasting round to me, and he shot
out one of his questions. Once it was, "And your mother?" and
when I had told him that she, too, was dead, "Ay, she was a
bonnie lassie!" Then, after another long pause, "Whae were these
friends o' yours?"

I told him they were different gentlemen of the name of Campbell;
though, indeed, there was only one, and that the minister, that
had ever taken the least note of me; but I began to think my
uncle made too light of my position, and finding myself all alone
with him, I did not wish him to suppose me helpless.

He seemed to turn this over in his mind; and then, "Davie, my
man," said he, "ye've come to the right bit when ye came to your
uncle Ebenezer. I've a great notion of the family, and I mean to
do the right by you; but while I'm taking a bit think to mysel'
of what's the best thing to put you to -- whether the law, or the
meenistry, or maybe the army, whilk is what boys are fondest of
-- I wouldnae like the Balfours to be humbled before a wheen
Hieland Campbells, and I'll ask you to keep your tongue within
your teeth. Nae letters; nae messages; no kind of word to
onybody; or else -- there's my door."

"Uncle Ebenezer," said I, "I've no manner of reason to suppose
you mean anything but well by me. For all that, I would have you
to know that I have a pride of my own. It was by no will of mine
that I came seeking you; and if you show me your door again, I'll
take you at the word."

He seemed grievously put out. "Hoots-toots," said he, "ca'
cannie, man -- ca' cannie! Bide a day or two. I'm nae warlock,
to find a fortune for you in the bottom of a parritch bowl; but
just you give me a day or two, and say naething to naebody, and
as sure as sure, I'll do the right by you."

"Very well," said I, "enough said. If you want to help me,
there's no doubt but I'll be glad of it, and none but I'll be

It seemed to me (too soon, I dare say) that I was getting the
upper hand of my uncle; and I began next to say that I must have
the bed and bedclothes aired and put to sun-dry; for nothing
would make me sleep in such a pickle.

"Is this my house or yours?" said he, in his keen voice, and then
all of a sudden broke off. "Na, na," said he, "I didnae mean
that. What's mine is yours, Davie, my man, and what's yours is
mine. Blood's thicker than water; and there's naebody but you
and me that ought the name." And then on he rambled about the
family, and its ancient greatness, and his father that began to
enlarge the house, and himself that stopped the building as a
sinful waste; and this put it in my head to give him Jennet
Clouston's message.

"The limmer!" he cried. "Twelve hunner and fifteen -- that's
every day since I had the limmer rowpit![3] Dod, David, I'll have
her roasted on red peats before I'm by with it! A witch -- a
proclaimed witch! I'll aff and see the session clerk."

[3] Sold up.

And with that he opened a chest, and got out a very old and
well-preserved blue coat and waistcoat, and a good enough beaver
hat, both without lace. These he threw on any way, and taking a
staff from the cupboard, locked all up again, and was for setting
out, when a thought arrested him.

"I cannae leave you by yoursel' in the house," said he. "I'll
have to lock you out."

The blood came to my face. "If you lock me out," I said, "it'll
be the last you'll see of me in friendship."

He turned very pale, and sucked his mouth in.

"This is no the way" he said, looking wickedly at a corner of the
floor -- "this is no the way to win my favour, David."

"Sir," says I, "with a proper reverence for your age and our
common blood, I do not value your favour at a boddle's purchase.
I was brought up to have a good conceit of myself; and if you
were all the uncle, and all the family, I had in the world ten
times over, I wouldn't buy your liking at such prices."

Uncle Ebenezer went and looked out of the window for awhile. I
could see him all trembling and twitching, like a man with palsy.
But when he turned round, he had a smile upon his face.

"Well, well," said he, "we must bear and forbear. I'll no go;
that's all that's to be said of it."

"Uncle Ebenezer," I said, "I can make nothing out of this. You
use me like a thief; you hate to have me in this house; you let
me see it, every word and every minute: it's not possible that
you can like me; and as for me, I've spoken to you as I never
thought to speak to any man. Why do you seek to keep me, then?
Let me gang back -- let me gang back to the friends I have, and
that like me!"

"Na, na; na, na," he said, very earnestly. "I like you fine;
we'll agree fine yet; and for the honour of the house I couldnae
let you leave the way ye came. Bide here quiet, there's a good
lad; just you bide here quiet a bittie, and ye'll find that we

"Well, sir," said I, after I had thought the matter out in
silence, "I'll stay awhile. It's more just I should be helped by
my own blood than strangers; and if we don't agree, I'll do my
best it shall be through no fault of mine."



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