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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 respectable.

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 bonny lassie!" Then after another long pause,
"Wha 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 wouldna 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 grateful."

It seemed to me (too soon, I daresay) 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 did na 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."

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 anyway, and, taking a staff from
the cupboard, locked all up again, and was for setting out, when a
thought arrested him.

"I canna 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 bodle'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 a while. 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 couldna 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 agree."

"Well, sir," said I, after I had thought the matter out in silence,
"I'll stay a while. 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."


FOOTNOTES:

[1] Moistens.

[2] Dark as the pit.

[3] Sold up.




CHAPTER IV

I RUN A GREAT DANGER IN THE HOUSE OF SHAWS


For a day that was begun so ill, the day passed fairly well. We had the
porridge cold again at noon, and hot porridge at night; porridge and
small beer was my uncle's diet. He spoke but little, and that in the
same way as before, shooting a question at me after a long silence; and,
when I sought to lead him in talk about my future, slipped out of it
again. In a room next door to the kitchen, where he suffered me to go, I
found a great number of books, both Latin and English, in which I took
great pleasure all the afternoon. Indeed the time passed so lightly in
this good company, that I began to be almost reconciled to my residence
at Shaws; and nothing but the sight of my uncle, and his eyes playing
hide and seek with mine, revived the force of my distrust.

One thing I discovered, which put me in some doubt. This was an entry on
the fly-leaf of a chap-book (one of Patrick Walker's) plainly written by
my father's hand and thus conceived: "To my brother Ebenezer on his
fifth birthday." Now, what puzzled me was this: That as my father was of
course the younger brother, he must either have made some strange error,
or he must have written, before he was yet five, an excellent, clear,
manly hand of writing.

I tried to get this out of my head; but though I took down many
interesting authors, old and new, history, poetry, and story-book, this
notion of my father's hand of writing stuck to me; and when at length I
went back into the kitchen, and sat down once more to porridge and small
beer, the first thing I said to uncle Ebenezer was to ask him if my
father had not been very quick at his book.

"Alexander? No' him!" was the reply. "I was far quicker mysel'; I was a
clever chappie when I was young. Why, I could read as soon as he could."

This puzzled me yet more; and, a thought coming into my head, I asked if
he and my father had been twins.

He jumped upon his stool, and the horn spoon fell out of his hand upon
the floor. "What gars ye ask that?" he said, and he caught me by the
breast of the jacket, and looked this time straight into my eyes: his
own were little and light, and bright like a bird's, blinking and
winking strangely.

"What do you mean?" I asked, very calmly, for I was far stronger than
he, and not easily frightened. "Take your hand from my jacket. This is
no way to behave."

My uncle seemed to make a great effort upon himself. "Dod, man, David,"
he said, "ye shouldna speak to me about your father. That's where the
mistake is." He sat a while and shook, blinking in his plate: "He was
all the brother that ever I had," he added, but with no heart in his
voice; and then he caught up his spoon and fell to supper again, but
still shaking.

Now this last passage, this laying of hands upon my person and sudden
profession of love for my dead father, went so clean beyond my
comprehension that it put me into both fear and hope. On the one hand, I
began to think my uncle was perhaps insane, and might be dangerous; on
the other, there came up into my mind (quite unbidden by me, and even
discouraged) a story like some ballad I had heard folk singing, of a
poor lad that was a rightful heir and a wicked kinsman that tried to
keep him from his own. For why should my uncle play a part with a
relative that came, almost a beggar, to his door, unless in his heart he
had some cause to fear him?

With this notion, all unacknowledged, but nevertheless getting firmly
settled in my head, I now began to imitate his covert looks; so that we
sat at table like a cat and a mouse, each stealthily observing the
other. Not another word had he to say to me, black or white, but was
busy turning something secretly over in his mind; and the longer we sat
and the more I looked at him, the more certain I became that the
something was unfriendly to myself.

When he had cleared the platter, he got out a single pipeful of tobacco,
just as in the morning, turned round a stool into the chimney-corner,
and sat a while smoking, with his back to me.

"Davie," he said at length, "I've been thinking"; then he paused, and
said it again. "There's a wee bit siller that I half promised ye before
ye were born," he continued; "promised it to your father. O, naething
legal, ye understand; just gentlemen daffing at their wine. Well, I
keepit that bit money separate--it was a great expense, but a promise is
a promise--and it has grown by now to be a maitter of just
precisely--just exactly"--and here he paused and stumbled--"of just
exactly forty pounds!" This last he rapped out with a sidelong glance
over his shoulder; and the next moment added, almost with a scream,
"Scots!"

The pound Scots being the same thing as an English shilling, the
difference made by this second thought was considerable; I could see,
besides, that the whole story was a lie, invented with some end which it
puzzled me to guess; and I made no attempt to conceal the tone of
raillery in which I answered--

"O, think again, sir!



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