THE FLIGHT IN THE HEATHER: THE MOOR
Some seven hours' incessant, hard travelling brought us early in
the morning to the end of a range of mountains. In front of us
there lay a piece of low, broken, desert land, which we must now
cross. The sun was not long up, and shone straight in our eyes;
a little, thin mist went up from the face of the moorland like a
smoke; so that (as Alan said) there might have been twenty
squadron of dragoons there and we none the wiser.
We sat down, therefore, in a howe of the hill-side till the mist
should have risen, and made ourselves a dish of drammach, and
held a council of war.
"David," said Alan, "this is the kittle bit. Shall we lie
till it comes night, or shall we risk it, and stave on ahead?"
"Well," said I, "I am tired indeed, but I could walk as far
again, if that was all."
"Ay, but it isnae," said Alan, "nor yet the half. This is
stand: Appin's fair death to us. To the south it's all
Campbells, and no to be thought of. To the north; well, there's
no muckle to be gained by going north; neither for you, that
wants to get to Queensferry, nor yet for me, that wants to get to
France. Well, then, we'll can strike east."
"East be it!" says I, quite cheerily; but I was thinking"
myself: "O, man, if you would only take one point of the compass
and let me take any other, it would be the best for both of us."
"Well, then, east, ye see, we have the muirs," said Alan. "Once
there, David, it's mere pitch-and-toss. Out on yon bald, naked,
flat place, where can a body turn to? Let the red-coats come over
a hill, they can spy you miles away; and the sorrow's in their
horses' heels, they would soon ride you down. It's no good
place, David; and I'm free to say, it's worse by daylight than by
"Alan," said I, "hear my way of it. Appin's death for us;
have none too much money, nor yet meal; the longer they seek, the
nearer they may guess where we are; it's all a risk; and I give
my word to go ahead until we drop."
Alan was delighted. "There are whiles," said he, "when ye
altogether too canny and Whiggish to be company for a gentleman
like me; but there come other whiles when ye show yoursel' a
mettle spark; and it's then, David, that I love ye like a brother."
The mist rose and died away, and showed us that country lying as
waste as the sea; only the moorfowl and the pewees crying upon
it, and far over to the east, a herd of deer, moving like dots.
Much of it was red with heather; much of the rest broken up with
bogs and hags and peaty pools; some had been burnt black in a
heath fire; and in another place there was quite a forest of dead
firs, standing like skeletons. A wearier-looking desert man
never saw; but at least it was clear of troops, which was our point.
We went down accordingly into the waste, and began to make our
toilsome and devious travel towards the eastern verge. There
were the tops of mountains all round (you are to remember) from
whence we might be spied at any moment; so it behoved us to keep
in the hollow parts of the moor, and when these turned aside from
our direction to move upon its naked face with infinite care.
Sometimes, for half an hour together, we must crawl from one
heather bush to another, as hunters do when they are hard upon
the deer. It was a clear day again, with a blazing sun; the
water in the brandy bottle was soon gone; and altogether, if I
had guessed what it would be to crawl half the time upon my belly
and to walk much of the rest stooping nearly to the knees, I
should certainly have held back from such a killing enterprise.
Toiling and resting and toiling again, we wore away the morning;
and about noon lay down in a thick bush of heather to sleep.
Alan took the first watch; and it seemed to me I had scarce
closed my eyes before I was shaken up to take the second. We had
no clock to go by; and Alan stuck a sprig of heath in the ground
to serve instead; so that as soon as the shadow of the bush
should fall so far to the east, I might know to rouse him. But I
was by this time so weary that I could have slept twelve hours at
a stretch; I had the taste of sleep in my throat; my joints slept
even when my mind was waking; the hot smell of the heather, and
the drone of the wild bees, were like possets to me; and every
now and again I would give a jump and find I had been dozing.
The last time I woke I seemed to come back from farther away, and
thought the sun had taken a great start in the heavens. I looked
at the sprig of heath, and at that I could have cried aloud: for
I saw I had betrayed my trust. My head was nearly turned with
fear and shame; and at what I saw, when I looked out around me on
the moor, my heart was like dying in my body. For sure enough, a
body of horse-soldiers had come down during my sleep, and were
drawing near to us from the south-east, spread out in the shape
of a fan and riding their horses to and fro in the deep parts of
When I waked Alan, he glanced first at the soldiers, then at the
mark and the position of the sun, and knitted his brows with a
sudden, quick look, both ugly and anxious, which was all the
reproach I had of him.
"What are we to do now?" I asked.
"We'll have to play at being hares," said he. "Do ye see
mountain?" pointing to one on the north-eastern sky.
"Ay," said I.
"Well, then," says he, "let us strike for that. Its name
Alder. it is a wild, desert mountain full of hills and hollows,
and if we can win to it before the morn, we may do yet."
"But, Alan," cried I, "that will take us across the very
of the soldiers!"
"I ken that fine," said he; "but if we are driven back on
we are two dead men. So now, David man, be brisk!"
With that he began to run forward on his hands and knees with an
incredible quickness, as though it were his natural way of going.
All the time, too, he kept winding in and out in the lower parts
of the moorland where we were the best concealed. Some of these
had been burned or at least scathed with fire; and there rose in
our faces (which were close to the ground) a blinding, choking
dust as fine as smoke. The water was long out; and this posture
of running on the hands and knees brings an overmastering
weakness and weariness, so that the joints ache and the wrists
faint under your weight.
Now and then, indeed, where was a big bush of heather, we lay
awhile, and panted, and putting aside the leaves, looked back at
the dragoons. They had not spied us, for they held straight on;
a half-troop, I think, covering about two miles of ground, and
beating it mighty thoroughly as they went. I had awakened just
in time; a little later, and we must have fled in front of them,
instead of escaping on one side. Even as it was, the least
misfortune might betray us; and now and again, when a grouse rose
out of the heather with a clap of wings, we lay as still as the
dead and were afraid to breathe.
The aching and faintness of my body, the labouring of my heart,
the soreness of my hands, and the smarting of my throat and eyes
in the continual smoke of dust and ashes, had soon grown to be so
unbearable that I would gladly have given up. Nothing but the
fear of Alan lent me enough of a false kind of courage to
continue. As for himself (and you are to bear in mind that he
was cumbered with a great-coat) he had first turned crimson, but
as time went on the redness began to be mingled with patches of
white; his breath cried and whistled as it came; and his voice,
when he whispered his observations in my ear during our halts,
sounded like nothing human. Yet he seemed in no way dashed in
spirits, nor did he at all abate in his activity, so that I was
driven, to marvel at the man's endurance.
At length, in the first gloaming of the night, we heard a trumpet
sound, and looking back from among the heather, saw the troop
beginning to collect. A little after, they had built a fire and
camped for the night, about the middle of the waste.
At this I begged and besought that we might lie down and sleep.
"There shall be no sleep the night!" said Alan. "From now
these weary dragoons of yours will keep the crown of the
muirland, and none will get out of Appin but winged fowls. We
got through in the nick of time, and shall we jeopard what we've
gained? Na, na, when the day comes, it shall find you and me in
a fast place on Ben Alder."
"Alan," I said, "it's not the want of will: it's the strength
that I want.
If I could, I would; but as sure as I'm alive I cannot."
"Very well, then," said Alan. "I'll carry ye."
I looked to see if he were jesting; but no, the little man was in
dead earnest; and the sight of so much resolution shamed me.
"Lead away!" said I. "I'll follow."
He gave me one look as much as to say, "Well done, David!" and
off he set again at his top speed.
It grew cooler and even a little darker (but not much) with the
coming of the night. The sky was cloudless; it was still early
in July, and pretty far north; in the darkest part of that night,
you would have needed pretty good eyes to read, but for all that,
I have often seen it darker in a winter mid-day. Heavy dew fell
and drenched the moor like rain; and this refreshed me for a
while. When we stopped to breathe, and I had time to see all
about me, the clearness and sweetness of the night, the shapes of
the hills like things asleep, and the fire dwindling away behind
us, like a bright spot in the midst of the moor, anger would come
upon me in a clap that I must still drag myself in agony and eat
the dust like a worm.
By what I have read in books, I think few that have held a pen
were ever really wearied, or they would write of it more
strongly. I had no care of my life, neither past nor future, and
I scarce remembered there was such a lad as David Balfour. I did
not think of myself, but just of each fresh step which I was sure
would be my last, with despair -- and of Alan, who was the cause
of it, with hatred. Alan was in the right trade as a soldier;
this is the officer's part to make men continue to do things,
they know not wherefore, and when, if the choice was offered,
they would lie down where they were and be killed. And I dare
say I would have made a good enough private; for in these last
hours it never occurred to me that I had any choice but just to
obey as long as I was able, and die obeying.
Day began to come in, after years, I thought; and by that time we
were past the greatest danger, and could walk upon our feet like
men, instead of crawling like brutes. But, dear heart have
mercy! what a pair we must have made, going double like old
grandfathers, stumbling like babes, and as white as dead folk.
Never a word passed between us; each set his mouth and kept his
eyes in front of him, and lifted up his foot and set it down
again, like people lifting weights at a country play; all the
while, with the moorfowl crying "peep!" in the heather, and the
light coming slowly clearer in the east.
 Village fair.
I say Alan did as I did. Not that ever I looked at him, for I
had enough ado to keep my feet; but because it is plain he must
have been as stupid with weariness as myself, and looked as
little where we were going, or we should not have walked into an
ambush like blind men.
It fell in this way. We were going down a heathery brae, Alan
leading and I following a pace or two behind, like a fiddler and
his wife; when upon a sudden the heather gave a rustle, three or
four ragged men leaped out, and the next moment we were lying on
our backs, each with a dirk at his throat.
I don't think I cared; the pain of this rough handling was quite
swallowed up by the pains of which I was already full; and I was
too glad to have stopped walking to mind about a dirk. I lay
looking up in the face of the man that held me; and I mind his
face was black with the sun, and his eyes very light, but I was
not afraid of him. I heard Alan and another whispering in the
Gaelic; and what they said was all one to me.
Then the dirks were put up, our weapons were taken away, and we
were set face to face, sitting in the heather.
"They are Cluny's men," said Alan. "We couldnae have fallen
better. We're just to bide here with these, which are his
out-sentries, till they can get word to the chief of my arrival."
Now Cluny Macpherson, the chief of the clan Vourich, had been one
of the leaders of the great rebellion six years before; there was
a price on his life; and I had supposed him long ago in France,
with the rest of the heads of that desperate party. Even tired
as I was, the surprise of what I heard half wakened me.
"What," I cried, "is Cluny still here?"
"Ay, is he so!" said Alan. "Still in his own country and
his own clan. King George can do no more."
I think I would have asked farther, but Alan gave me the put-off.
"I am rather wearied," he said, "and I would like fine to
sleep." And without more words, he rolled on his face in a deep
heather bush, and seemed to sleep at once.
There was no such thing possible for me. You have heard
grasshoppers whirring in the grass in the summer time? Well, I
had no sooner closed my eyes, than my body, and above all my
head, belly, and wrists, seemed to be filled with whirring
grasshoppers; and I must open my eyes again at once, and tumble
and toss, and sit up and lie down; and look at the sky which
dazzled me, or at Cluny's wild and dirty sentries, peering out
over the top of the brae and chattering to each other in the Gaelic.
That was all the rest I had, until the messenger returned; when,
as it appeared that Cluny would be glad to receive us, we must
get once more upon our feet and set forward. Alan was in
excellent good spirits, much refreshed by his sleep, very hungry,
and looking pleasantly forward to a dram and a dish of hot
collops, of which, it seems, the messenger had brought him word.
For my part, it made me sick to hear of eating. I had been
dead-heavy before, and now I felt a kind of dreadful lightness,
which would not suffer me to walk. I drifted like a gossamer;
the ground seemed to me a cloud, the hills a feather-weight, the
air to have a current, like a running burn, which carried me to
and fro. With all that, a sort of horror of despair sat on my
mind, so that I could have wept at my own helplessness.
I saw Alan knitting his brows at me, and supposed it was in
anger; and that gave me a pang of light-headed fear, like what a
child may have. I remember, too, that I was smiling, and could
not stop smiling, hard as I tried; for I thought it was out of
place at such a time. But my good companion had nothing in his
mind but kindness; and the next moment, two of the gillies had me
by the arms, and I began to be carried forward with great
swiftness (or so it appeared to me, although I dare say it was
slowly enough in truth), through a labyrinth of dreary glens and
hollows and into the heart of that dismal mountain of Ben Alder.
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