It was a dark night, and there were no lights in the windows. My uncle was probably in bed. Mr Rankeillor, Torrance and I hid below the steps, near enough to hear any conversation, while Alan went straight up to the door and knocked loudly. After some time my uncle opened his bedroom window, and called down, in a frightened voice, 'What do ye want at this time of night? Who are ye?'
'I do not want to give ye my own name,' replied Alan, 'but I've come to talk to ye about someone called—David.'
'What!' cried my uncle. And after a moment, he said unhappily, 'Will ye come inside, to discuss—the matter?'
'I will not,' said Alan sharply. 'It's here on this doorstep that we must talk. Come down and speak to me.'
After Ebenezer had thought about it, he decided to do what Alan wanted. It took him a long time to come downstairs, and a longer time to unlock the heavy door, but at last we saw him in the doorway, holding his gun in his shaking hands.
'Now,' said Alan, 'ye're intelligent enough to see that I'm a Highlander. I have friends who live near the island of Mull. Well, it seems that a ship went down near there, and soon afterwards my friends found a lad, half-dead, on the beach. Your nephew, Mr Balfour. Since then they've been taking care of him. And now they'd like to know, Mr Balfour, if ye want him back. Ye'll have to pay, if ye do. My friends are very poor.
'I don't want him back,' said my uncle. 'He wasn't a good lad. I won't pay a shilling for him!'
'Blood's thicker than water, sir,' said Alan. 'He's your brother's son! But if ye don't want him back, will ye pay us to keep him? And ye'll have to hurry. I'm not waiting here all night!'
'Give me a minute to think, will ye?' cried my uncle.
'In two words, sir, do ye want us to kill or keep the lad?'
'Oh, sir!' cried Ebenezer. 'Don't talk of killing!'
'Well, killing's easier, and quicker, and cheaper.'
'I'm an honest man,' said my uncle, 'and no murderer.'
'Well, well,' replied Alan, 'and now how much will ye pay for us to keep him? First I need to know how much ye paid Hoseason to kidnap the lad. How much was it?'
'Hoseason? Kidnap? What are ye talking about, man?' screamed my uncle, jumping up and down on the doorstep.
'Hoseason himself has told me about it,' said Alan calmly, 'so ye needn't pretend. Just answer the question, or ye'll find my sword in your stomach!'
'Don't get angry!' cried my uncle. 'I gave him twenty pounds, that's all. But to be honest with ye—he was going to sell the lad as a slave, and keep that money, ye see.'
'Thank you, Mr Thomson, that's excellent,' said the lawyer, stepping forward. 'Good evening, Mr Balfour,' he said politely to the old man.
And, 'Good evening, uncle Ebenezer,' said I.
And, 'It's a grand evening, Mr Balfour,' added Torrance.
My uncle said nothing, but stood there on the doorstep with his mouth open. We took him into the kitchen, and sat down to discuss matters. After an hour, it was all decided. My uncle accepted that Shaws belonged to me, but he would stay there during his lifetime. He agreed to pay me money every year, and Mr Rankeillor would check that he did.