We came at last to the foot of an exceeding steep wood, which
scrambled up a craggy hillside, and was crowned by a naked
"It's here," said one of the guides, and we struck up hill.
The trees clung upon the slope, like sailors on the shrouds of a
ship, and their trunks were like the rounds of a ladder, by which
Quite at the top, and just before the rocky face of the cliff
sprang above the foliage, we found that strange house which was
known in the country as "Cluny's Cage." The trunks of several
trees had been wattled across, the intervals strengthened with
stakes, and the ground behind this barricade levelled up with
earth to make the floor. A tree, which grew out from the
hillside, was the living centre-beam of the roof. The walls were
of wattle and covered with moss. The whole house had something
of an egg shape; and it half hung, half stood in that steep,
hillside thicket, like a wasp's nest in a green hawthorn.
Within, it was large enough to shelter five or six persons with
some comfort. A projection of the cliff had been cunningly
employed to be the fireplace; and the smoke rising against the
face of the rock, and being not dissimilar in colour, readily
escaped notice from below.
This was but one of Cluny's hiding-places; he had caves, besides,
and underground chambers in several parts of his country; and
following the reports of his scouts, he moved from one to another
as the soldiers drew near or moved away. By this manner of
living, and thanks to the affection of his clan, he had not only
stayed all this time in safety, while so many others had fled or
been taken and slain: but stayed four or five years longer, and
only went to France at last by the express command of his master.
There he soon died; and it is strange to reflect that he may have
regretted his Cage upon Ben Alder.
When we came to the door he was seated by his rock chimney,
watching a gillie about some cookery. He was mighty plainly
habited, with a knitted nightcap drawn over his ears, and smoked
a foul cutty pipe. For all that he had the manners of a king,
and it was quite a sight to see him rise out of his place to
"Well, Mr. Stewart, come awa', sir!" said he, "and bring
friend that as yet I dinna ken the name of."
"And how is yourself, Cluny?" said Alan. "I hope ye do brawly,
sir. And I am proud to see ye, and to present to ye my friend
the Laird of Shaws, Mr. David Balfour."
Alan never referred to my estate without a touch of a sneer, when
we were alone; but with strangers, he rang the words out like a
"Step in by, the both of ye, gentlemen," says Cluny. "I make
welcome to my house, which is a queer, rude place for certain,
but one where I have entertained a royal personage, Mr. Stewart
-- ye doubtless ken the personage I have in my eye. We'll take a
dram for luck, and as soon as this handless man of mine has the
collops ready, we'll dine and take a hand at the cartes as
gentlemen should. My life is a bit driegh," says he, pouring out
the brandy;" I see little company, and sit and twirl my thumbs,
and mind upon a great day that is gone by, and weary for another
great day that we all hope will be upon the road. And so here's
a toast to ye: The Restoration!"
Thereupon we all touched glasses and drank. I am sure I wished
no ill to King George; and if he had been there himself in proper
person, it's like he would have done as I did. No sooner had I
taken out the drain than I felt hugely better, and could look on
and listen, still a little mistily perhaps, but no longer with
the same groundless horror and distress of mind.
It was certainly a strange place, and we had a strange host. In
his long hiding, Cluny had grown to have all manner of precise
habits, like those of an old maid. He had a particular place,
where no one else must sit; the Cage was arranged in a particular
way, which none must disturb; cookery was one of his chief
fancies, and even while he was greeting us in, he kept an eye to
It appears, he sometimes visited or received visits from his wife
and one or two of his nearest friends, under the cover of night;
but for the more part lived quite alone, and communicated only
with his sentinels and the gillies that waited on him in the
Cage. The first thing in the morning, one of them, who was a
barber, came and shaved him, and gave him the news of the
country, of which he was immoderately greedy. There was no end
to his questions; he put them as earnestly as a child; and at
some of the answers, laughed out of all bounds of reason, and
would break out again laughing at the mere memory, hours after
the barber was gone.
To be sure, there might have been a purpose in his questions; for
though he was thus sequestered, and like the other landed
gentlemen of Scotland, stripped by the late Act of Parliament of
legal powers, he still exercised a patriarchal justice in his
clan. Disputes were brought to him in his hiding-hole to be
decided; and the men of his country, who would have snapped their
fingers at the Court of Session, laid aside revenge and paid down
money at the bare word of this forfeited and hunted outlaw. When
he was angered, which was often enough, he gave his commands and
breathed threats of punishment like any, king; and his gillies
trembled and crouched away from him like children before a hasty
father. With each of them, as he entered, he ceremoniously shook
hands, both parties touching their bonnets at the same time in a
military manner. Altogether, I had a fair chance to see some of
the inner workings of a Highland clan; and this with a
proscribed, fugitive chief; his country conquered; the troops
riding upon all sides in quest of him, sometimes within a mile of
where he lay; and when the least of the ragged fellows whom he
rated and threatened, could have made a fortune by betraying him.
On that first day, as soon as the collops were ready, Cluny gave
them with his own hand a squeeze of a lemon (for he was well
supplied with luxuries) and bade us draw in to our meal.
"They," said he, meaning the collops, "are such as I gave
Royal Highness in this very house; bating the lemon juice, for at
that time we were glad to get the meat and never fashed for
kitchen. Indeed, there were mair dragoons than lemons in my
country in the year forty-six."
I do not know if the collops were truly very good, but my heart
rose against the sight of them, and I could eat but little. All
the while Cluny entertained us with stories of Prince Charlie's
stay in the Cage, giving us the very words of the speakers, and
rising from his place to show us where they stood. By these, I
gathered the Prince was a gracious, spirited boy, like the son of
a race of polite kings, but not so wise as Solomon. I gathered,
too, that while he was in the Cage, he was often drunk; so the
fault that has since, by all accounts, made such a wreck of him,
had even then begun to show itself.
We were no sooner done eating than Cluny brought out an old,
thumbed, greasy pack of cards, such as you may find in a mean
inn; and his eyes brightened in his face as he proposed that we
should fall to playing.
Now this was one of the things I had been brought up to eschew
like disgrace; it being held by my father neither the part of a
Christian nor yet of a gentleman to set his own livelihood and
fish for that of others, on the cast of painted pasteboard. To
be sure, I might have pleaded my fatigue, which was excuse
enough; but I thought it behoved that I should bear a testimony.
I must have got very red in the face, but I spoke steadily, and
told them I had no call to be a judge of others, but for my own
part, it was a matter in which I had no clearness.
Cluny stopped mingling the cards. "What in deil's name is this?"
says he. "What kind of Whiggish, canting talk is this, for the
house of Cluny Macpherson?"
"I will put my hand in the fire for Mr. Balfour," says Alan. "He
is an honest and a mettle gentleman, and I would have ye bear in
mind who says it. I bear a king's name," says he, cocking his
hat; "and I and any that I call friend are company for the best.
But the gentleman is tired, and should sleep; if he has no mind
to the cartes, it will never hinder you and me. And I'm fit and
willing, sir, to play ye any game that ye can name."
"Sir," says Cluny, "in this poor house of mine I would have
to ken that any gentleman may follow his pleasure. If your
friend would like to stand on his head, he is welcome. And if
either he, or you, or any other man, is not preceesely satisfied,
I will be proud to step outside with him."
I had no will that these two friends should cut their throats for
"Sir," said I, "I am very wearied, as Alan says; and what's
as you are a man that likely has sons of your own, I may tell you
it was a promise to my father."
"Say nae mair, say nae mair," said Cluny, and pointed me to a
of heather in a corner of the Cage. For all that he was
displeased enough, looked at me askance, and grumbled when he
looked. And indeed it must be owned that both my scruples and
the words in which I declared them, smacked somewhat of the
Covenanter, and were little in their place among wild Highland
What with the brandy and the venison, a strange heaviness had
come over me; and I had scarce lain down upon the bed before I
fell into a kind of trance, in which I continued almost the whole
time of our stay in the Cage. Sometimes I was broad awake and
understood what passed; sometimes I only heard voices, or men
snoring, like the voice of a silly river; and the plaids upon the
wall dwindled down and swelled out again, like firelight shadows
on the roof. I must sometimes have spoken or cried out, for I
remember I was now and then amazed at being answered; yet I was
conscious of no particular nightmare, only of a general, black,
abiding horror -- a horror of the place I was in, and the bed I
lay in, and the plaids on the wall, and the voices, and the fire,
The barber-gillie, who was a doctor too, was called in to
prescribe for me; but as he spoke in the Gaelic, I understood not
a word of his opinion, and was too sick even to ask for a
translation. I knew well enough I was ill, and that was all I
I paid little heed while I lay in this poor pass. But Alan and
Cluny were most of the time at the cards, and I am clear that
Alan must have begun by winning; for I remember sitting up, and
seeing them hard at it, and a great glittering pile of as much as
sixty or a hundred guineas on the table. It looked strange
enough, to see all this wealth in a nest upon a cliff-side,
wattled about growing trees. And even then, I thought it seemed
deep water for Alan to be riding, who had no better battle-horse
than a green purse and a matter of five pounds.
The luck, it seems, changed on the second day. About noon I was
wakened as usual for dinner, and as usual refused to eat, and was
given a dram with some bitter infusion which the barber had
prescribed. The sun was shining in at the open door of the Cage,
and this dazzled and offended me. Cluny sat at the table, biting
the pack of cards. Alan had stooped over the bed, and had his
face close to my eyes; to which, troubled as they were with the
fever, it seemed of the most shocking bigness.
He asked me for a loan of my money.
"What for?" said I.
"O, just for a loan," said he.
"But why?" I repeated. "I don't see."
"Hut, David!" said Alan, "ye wouldnae grudge me a loan?"
I would, though, if I had had my senses! But all I thought of
then was to get his face away, and I handed him my money.
On the morning of the third day, when we had been forty-eight
hours in the Cage, I awoke with a great relief of spirits, very
weak and weary indeed, but seeing things of the right size and
with their honest, everyday appearance. I had a mind to eat,
moreover, rose from bed of my own movement, and as soon as we had
breakfasted, stepped to the entry of the Cage and sat down
outside in the top of the wood. It was a grey day with a cool,
mild air: and I sat in a dream all morning, only disturbed by the
passing by of Cluny's scouts and servants coming with provisions
and reports; for as the coast was at that time clear, you might
almost say he held court openly.
When I returned, he and Alan had laid the cards aside, and were
questioning a gillie; and the chief turned about and spoke to me
in the Gaelic.
"I have no Gaelic, sir," said I.
Now since the card question, everything I said or did had the
power of annoying Cluny. "Your name has more sense than
yourself, then," said he angrily. "for it's good Gaelic. But the
point is this. My scout reports all clear in the south, and the
question is, have ye the strength to go?"
I saw cards on the table, but no gold; only a heap of little
written papers, and these all on Cluny's side. Alan, besides,
had an odd look, like a man not very well content; and I began to
have a strong misgiving.
"I do not know if I am as well as I should be," said I, looking
at Alan; "but the little money we have has a long way to carry us."
Alan took his under-lip into his mouth, and looked upon the ground.
"David," says he at last, "I've lost it; there's the naked
"My money too?" said I.
"Your money too," says Alan, with a groan. "Ye shouldnae
given it me. I'm daft when I get to the cartes."
"Hoot-toot! hoot-toot!" said Cluny. "It was all daffing;
nonsense. Of course you'll have your money back again, and the
double of it, if ye'll make so free with me. It would be a
singular thing for me to keep it. It's not to be supposed that I
would be any hindrance to gentlemen in your situation; that would
be a singular thing!" cries he, and began to pull gold out of his
pocket with a mighty red face.
Alan said nothing, only looked on the ground.
"Will you step to the door with me, sir?" said I.
Cluny said he would be very glad, and followed me readily enough,
but he looked flustered and put out.
"And now, sir," says I, "I must first acknowledge your
"Nonsensical nonsense!" cries Cluny. "Where's the generosity?
This is just a most unfortunate affair; but what would ye have me
do -- boxed up in this bee-skep of a cage of mine -- but just set
my friends to the cartes, when I can get them? And if they lose,
of course, it's not to be supposed ----" And here he came to a
"Yes," said I, "if they lose, you give them back their money;
if they win, they carry away yours in their pouches! I have said
before that I grant your generosity; but to me, sir, it's a very
painful thing to be placed in this position."
There was a little silence, in which Cluny seemed always as if he
was about to speak, but said nothing. All the time he grew
redder and redder in the face.
"I am a young man," said I, "and I ask your advice. Advise
as you would your son. My friend fairly lost his money, after
having fairly gained a far greater sum of yours; can I accept it
back again? Would that be the right part for me to play?
Whatever I do, you can see for yourself it must be hard upon a
man of any pride."
"It's rather hard on me, too, Mr. Balfour," said Cluny, "and
give me very much the look of a man that has entrapped poor
people to their hurt. I wouldnae have my friends come to any
house of mine to accept affronts; no," he cried, with a sudden
heat of anger, "nor yet to give them!"
"And so you see, sir," said I, "there is something to be
upon my side; and this gambling is a very poor employ for
gentlefolks. But I am still waiting your opinion."
I am sure if ever Cluny hated any man it was David Balfour. He
looked me all over with a warlike eye, and I saw the challenge at
his lips. But either my youth disarmed him, or perhaps his own
sense of justice. Certainly it was a mortifying matter for all
concerned, and not least Cluny; the more credit that he took it
as he did.
"Mr. Balfour," said he, "I think you are too nice and
covenanting, but for all that you have the spirit of a very
pretty gentleman. Upon my honest word, ye may take this money --
it's what I would tell my son -- and here's my hand along with it!"
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