I Hear of the “Red Fox”

Before we had done cleaning out the roundhouse, a breeze sprang up from a little to the east of north. This blew off the rain and brought out the sun.

And here I must explain; and the reader would do well to look at a map. On the day when the fog fell and we ran down Alan’s boat, we had been running through the Little Minch. At dawn after the battle, we lay becalmed to the east of the Isle of Canna or between that and Isle Eriska in the chain of the Long Island. Now to get from there to the Linnhe Loch, the straight course was through the narrows of the Sound of Mull. But the captain had no chart; he was afraid to trust his brig so deep among the islands; and the wind serving well, he preferred to go by west of Tiree and come up under the southern coast of the great Isle of Mull.

All day the breeze held in the same point, and rather freshened than died down; and towards afternoon, a swell began to set in from round the outer Hebrides. Our course, to go round about the inner isles, was to the west of south, so that at first we had this swell upon our beam, and were much rolled about. But after nightfall, when we had turned the end of Tiree and began to head more to the east, the sea came right astern.

Meanwhile, the early part of the day, before the swell came up, was very pleasant; sailing, as we were, in a bright sunshine and with many mountainous islands upon different sides. Alan and I sat in the roundhouse with the doors open on each side (the wind being straight astern), and smoked a pipe or two of the captain’s fine tobacco. It was at this time we heard each other’s stories, which was the more important to me, as I gained some knowledge of that wild Highland country on which I was so soon to land. In those days, so close on the back of the great rebellion, it was needful a man should know what he was doing when he went upon the heather.

It was I that showed the example, telling him all my misfortune; which he heard with great good-nature. Only, when I came to mention that good friend of mine, Mr. Campbell the minister, Alan fired up and cried out that he hated all that were of that name.

“Why,” said I, “he is a man you should be proud to give your hand to.”

“I know nothing I would help a Campbell to,” says he, “unless it was a leaden bullet. I would hunt all of that name like blackcocks. If I lay dying, I would crawl upon my knees to my chamber window for a shot at one.”

“Why, Alan,” I cried, “what ails ye at the Campbells?”

“Well,” says he, “ye ken very well that I am an Appin Stewart, and the Campbells have long harried and wasted those of my name; ay, and got lands of us by treachery⁠—but never with the sword,” he cried loudly, and with the word brought down his fist upon the table. But I paid the less attention to this, for I knew it was usually said by those who have the underhand. “There’s more than that,” he continued, “and all in the same story: lying words, lying papers, tricks fit for a peddler, and the show of what’s legal over all, to make a man the more angry.”

“You that are so wasteful of your buttons,” said I, “I can hardly think you would be a good judge of business.”

“Ah!” says he, falling again to smiling, “I got my wastefulness from the same man I got the buttons from; and that was my poor father, Duncan Stewart, grace be to him! He was the prettiest man of his kindred; and the best swordsman in the Hielands, David, and that is the same as to say, in all the world. I should ken, for it was him that taught me. He was in the Black Watch, when first it was mustered; and, like other gentlemen privates, had a gillie at his back to carry his firelock for him on the march. Well, the King, it appears, was wishful to see Hieland swordsmanship; and my father and three more were chosen out and sent to London town, to let him see it at the best. So they were had into the palace and showed the whole art of the sword for two hours at a stretch, before King George and Queen Carline, and the Butcher Cumberland, and many more of whom I havenae mind. And when they were through, the King (for all he was a rank usurper) spoke them fair and gave each man three guineas in his hand. Now, as they were going out of the palace, they had a porter’s lodge to go by; and it came in on my father, as he was perhaps the first private Hieland gentleman that had ever gone by that door, it was right he should give the poor porter a proper notion of their quality. So he gives the King’s three guineas into the man’s hand, as if it was his common custom; the three others that came behind him did the same; and there they were on the street, never a penny the better for their pains. Some say it was one, that was the first to fee the King’s porter; and some say it was another; but the truth of it is, that it was Duncan Stewart, as I am willing to prove with either sword or pistol. And that was the father that I had, God rest him!”

“I think he was not the man to leave you rich,” said I.

“And that’s true,” said Alan. “He left me my breeks to cover me, and little besides. And that was how I came to enlist, which was a black spot upon my character at the best of times, and would still be a sore job for me if I fell among the redcoats.”

“What,” cried I, “were you in the English army?”

“That was I,” said Alan. “But I deserted to the right side at Preston Pans⁠—and that’s some comfort.”

I could scarcely share this view: holding desertion under arms for an unpardonable fault in honour. But for all I was so young, I was wiser than say my thought. “Dear, dear,” says I, “the punishment is death.”

“Ay” said he, “if they got hands on me, it would be a short shrift and a lang tow for Alan! But I have the King of France’s commission in my pocket, which would aye be some protection.”

“I misdoubt it much,” said I.

“I have doubts mysel’,” said Alan drily.

“And, good heaven, man,” cried I, “you that are a condemned rebel, and a deserter, and a man of the French King’s⁠—what tempts ye back into this country? It’s a braving of Providence.”

“Tut!” says Alan, “I have been back every year since forty-six!”

“And what brings ye, man?” cried I.

“Well, ye see, I weary for my friends and country,” said he. “France is a braw place, nae doubt; but I weary for the heather and the deer. And then I have bit things that I attend to. Whiles I pick up a few lads to serve the King of France: recruits, ye see; and that’s aye a little money. But the heart of the matter is the business of my chief, Ardshiel.”

“I thought they called your chief Appin,” said I.

“Ay, but Ardshiel is the captain of the clan,” said he, which scarcely cleared my mind. “Ye see, David, he that was all his life so great a man, and come of the blood and bearing the name of kings, is now brought down to live in a French town like a poor and private person. He that had four hundred swords at his whistle, I have seen, with these eyes of mine, buying butter in the marketplace, and taking it home in a kale-leaf. This is not only a pain but a disgrace to us of his family and clan. There are the bairns forby, the children and the hope of Appin, that must be learned their letters and how to hold a sword, in that far country. Now, the tenants of Appin have to pay a rent to King George; but their hearts are staunch, they are true to their chief; and what with love and a bit of pressure, and maybe a threat or two, the poor folk scrape up a second rent for Ardshiel. Well, David, I’m the hand that carries it.” And he struck the belt about his body, so that the guineas rang.

“Do they pay both?” cried I.

“Ay, David, both,” says he.

“What! two rents?” I repeated.

“Ay, David,” said he. “I told a different tale to yon captain man; but this is the truth of it. And it’s wonderful to me how little pressure is needed. But that’s the handiwork of my good kinsman and my father’s friend, James of the Glens: James Stewart, that is: Ardshiel’s half-brother. He it is that gets the money in, and does the management.”

This was the first time I heard the name of that James Stewart, who was afterwards so famous at the time of his hanging. But I took little heed at the moment, for all my mind was occupied with the generosity of these poor Highlanders.

“I call it noble,” I cried. “I’m a Whig, or little better; but I call it noble.”

“Ay” said he, “ye’re a Whig, but ye’re a gentleman; and that’s what does it. Now, if ye were one of the cursed race of Campbell, ye would gnash your teeth to hear tell of it. If ye were the Red Fox⁠ ⁠…” And at that name, his teeth shut together, and he ceased speaking. I have seen many a grim face, but never a grimmer than Alan’s when he had named the Red Fox.

“And who is the Red Fox?” I asked, daunted, but still curious.

“Who is he?” cried Alan. “Well, and I’ll tell you that. When the men of the clans were broken at Culloden, and the good cause went down, and the horses rode over the fetlocks in the best blood of the north, Ardshiel had to flee like a poor deer upon the mountains⁠—he and his lady and his bairns. A sair job we had of it before we got him shipped; and while he still lay in the heather, the English rogues, that couldnae come at his life, were striking at his rights. They stripped him of his powers; they stripped him of his lands; they plucked the weapons from the hands of his clansmen, that had borne arms for thirty centuries; ay, and the very clothes off their backs⁠—so that it’s now a sin to wear a tartan plaid, and a man may be cast into a gaol if he has but a kilt about his legs. One thing they couldnae kill. That was the love the clansmen bore their chief. These guineas are the proof of it. And now, in there steps a man, a Campbell, redheaded Colin of Glenure⁠—”

“Is that him you call the Red Fox?” said I.

“Will ye bring me his brush?” cries Alan, fiercely. “Ay, that’s the man. In he steps, and gets papers from King George, to be so-called King’s factor on the lands of Appin. And at first he sings small, and is hail-fellow-well-met with Sheamus⁠—that’s James of the Glens, my chieftain’s agent. But by-and-by, that came to his ears that I have just told you; how the poor commons of Appin, the farmers and the crofters and the boumen, were wringing their very plaids to get a second rent, and send it overseas for Ardshiel and his poor bairns. What was it ye called it, when I told ye?”

“I called it noble, Alan,” said I.

“And you little better than a common Whig!” cries Alan. “But when it came to Colin Roy, the black Campbell blood in him ran wild. He sat gnashing his teeth at the wine table. What! should a Stewart get a bite of bread, and him not be able to prevent it? Ah! Red Fox, if ever I hold you at a gun’s end, the Lord have pity upon ye!” (Alan stopped to swallow down his anger.) “Well, David, what does he do? He declares all the farms to let. And, thinks he, in his black heart, ‘I’ll soon get other tenants that’ll overbid these Stewarts, and Maccolls, and Macrobs’ (for these are all names in my clan, David); ‘and then,’ thinks he, ‘Ardshiel will have to hold his bonnet on a French roadside.’ ”

“Well,” said I, “what followed?”

Alan laid down his pipe, which he had long since suffered to go out, and set his two hands upon his knees.

“Ay,” said he, “ye’ll never guess that! For these same Stewarts, and Maccolls, and Macrobs (that had two rents to pay, one to King George by stark force, and one to Ardshiel by natural kindness) offered him a better price than any Campbell in all broad Scotland; and far he sent seeking them⁠—as far as to the sides of Clyde and the cross of Edinburgh⁠—seeking, and fleeching, and begging them to come, where there was a Stewart to be starved and a redheaded hound of a Campbell to be pleasured!”

“Well, Alan,” said I, “that is a strange story, and a fine one, too. And Whig as I may be, I am glad the man was beaten.”

“Him beaten?” echoed Alan. “It’s little ye ken of Campbells, and less of the Red Fox. Him beaten? No: nor will be, till his blood’s on the hillside! But if the day comes, David man, that I can find time and leisure for a bit of hunting, there grows not enough heather in all Scotland to hide him from my vengeance!”

“Man Alan,” said I, “ye are neither very wise nor very Christian to blow off so many words of anger. They will do the man ye call the Fox no harm, and yourself no good. Tell me your tale plainly out. What did he next?”

“And that’s a good observe, David,” said Alan. “Troth and indeed, they will do him no harm; the more’s the pity! And barring that about Christianity (of which my opinion is quite otherwise, or I would be nae Christian), I am much of your mind.”

“Opinion here or opinion there,” said I, “it’s a kent thing that Christianity forbids revenge.”

“Ay” said he, “it’s well seen it was a Campbell taught ye! It would be a convenient world for them and their sort, if there was no such a thing as a lad and a gun behind a heather bush! But that’s nothing to the point. This is what he did.”

“Ay” said I, “come to that.”

“Well, David,” said he, “since he couldnae be rid of the loyal commons by fair means, he swore he would be rid of them by foul. Ardshiel was to starve: that was the thing he aimed at. And since them that fed him in his exile wouldnae be bought out⁠—right or wrong, he would drive them out. Therefore he sent for lawyers, and papers, and redcoats to stand at his back. And the kindly folk of that country must all pack and tramp, every father’s son out of his father’s house, and out of the place where he was bred and fed, and played when he was a callant. And who are to succeed them? Bare-leggit beggars! King George is to whistle for his rents; he maun dow with less; he can spread his butter thinner: what cares Red Colin? If he can hurt Ardshiel, he has his wish; if he can pluck the meat from my chieftain’s table, and the bit toys out of his children’s hands, he will gang hame singing to Glenure!”

“Let me have a word,” said I. “Be sure, if they take less rents, be sure Government has a finger in the pie. It’s not this Campbell’s fault, man⁠—it’s his orders. And if ye killed this Colin tomorrow, what better would ye be? There would be another factor in his shoes, as fast as spur can drive.”

“Ye’re a good lad in a fight,” said Alan; “but, man! ye have Whig blood in ye!”

He spoke kindly enough, but there was so much anger under his contempt that I thought it was wise to change the conversation. I expressed my wonder how, with the Highlands covered with troops, and guarded like a city in a siege, a man in his situation could come and go without arrest.

“It’s easier than ye would think,” said Alan. “A bare hillside (ye see) is like all one road; if there’s a sentry at one place, ye just go by another. And then the heather’s a great help. And everywhere there are friends’ houses and friends’ byres and haystacks. And besides, when folk talk of a country covered with troops, it’s but a kind of a byword at the best. A soldier covers nae mair of it than his boot-soles. I have fished a water with a sentry on the other side of the brae, and killed a fine trout; and I have sat in a heather bush within six feet of another, and learned a real bonny tune from his whistling. This was it,” said he, and whistled me the air.

“And then, besides,” he continued, “it’s no sae bad now as it was in forty-six. The Hielands are what they call pacified. Small wonder, with never a gun or a sword left from Cantyre to Cape Wrath, but what tenty17 folk have hidden in their thatch! But what I would like to ken, David, is just how long? Not long, ye would think, with men like Ardshiel in exile and men like the Red Fox sitting birling the wine and oppressing the poor at home. But it’s a kittle thing to decide what folk’ll bear, and what they will not. Or why would Red Colin be riding his horse all over my poor country of Appin, and never a pretty lad to put a bullet in him?”

And with this Alan fell into a muse, and for a long time sat very sad and silent.

I will add the rest of what I have to say about my friend, that he was skilled in all kinds of music, but principally pipe-music; was a well-considered poet in his own tongue; had read several books both in French and English; was a dead shot, a good angler, and an excellent fencer with the small sword as well as with his own particular weapon. For his faults, they were on his face, and I now knew them all. But the worst of them, his childish propensity to take offence and to pick quarrels, he greatly laid aside in my case, out of regard for the battle of the roundhouse. But whether it was because I had done well myself, or because I had been a witness of his own much greater prowess, is more than I can tell. For though he had a great taste for courage in other men, yet he admired it most in Alan Breck.