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Chapter 1 The House of Shaws




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Early one morning in June 1751 I left my father's house in Essendean for the last time. I walked down the road, and met that good man Mr Campbell near his church.

'Did you have some breakfast, David Balfour, my boy?' he asked.

'Yes, Mr Campbell. Thank you,' I answered.

'Then I'll walk with you to the river,' he said.

We walked quietly for a time. Then Mr Campbell said,' Now, Davie, I've got something for you. It's a letter from your father. He gave it to me after your mother died. Before he died. He said, " Give it to David after they sell the house. Then he has to take it to the house of Shaws, near Cramond. Please tell him that." Here's the letter, David.'

' The house of Shaws ?' I said.' Why did he want me to go there ?'

' I don't know,' said Mr Campbell.' I think your father came from there. It's the home of the family Balfour of Shaws. Perhaps your father came from that family. He never spoke about it. He was a clever man. Cleverer than most village school teachers.'

Mr Campbell put the letter into my hand, and I read on it:' To Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws. My son, David Balfour, will give this letter to him.'

I was seventeen years old, and the son of a country teacher. I planned to go to Edinburgh. I wanted to be a student in one of the great schools there.

' Mr Campbell,' I said,' do I have to go ?'

'Cramond isn't a long way from Edinburgh,' he answered. ' You can walk there in two days.'

At the river, Mr Campbell took my hand in his hands. He suddenly looked very sad. 'Goodbye, Davie,' he said. And he turned and went quickly away.

I carried my little bag across the river, then started to climb the hill. At the top, I turned and looked back at Essendean village for the last time.

 

Two days later, in the morning, I came to the top of a hill. I could see the city of Edinburgh, and ships on the sea.

I started to walk down the hill. After a time I saw a man, and I asked him the way to Cramond.' It's to the west of the city,' he said. On my way down, I asked two or three more people. Then I came to the Edinburgh to Glasgow road.

When I was near Cramond, I began to ask the way to the house of Shaws. People looked at me strangely. 'Is it because of my clothes?' I thought. 'I'm a country boy and I'm going to a great house. Do they think that's strange ? Or is there something strange about the house?'

I changed my question when I spoke to the next man.

' Do you know the house of Shaws ?' I asked.

' Yes,' he said.' Why ?'

' Is it a big house ?' I asked.

' Oh yes. It's big,' he said.

' And the people in it ?' I said.

' People ?' he said.' What's wrong with you ? There aren't any people.'

' Oh!' I said.' Not Mr Ebenezer ?'

' Oh yes,' he said.' He's there. What do you want from him?'

' Perhaps I can get work,' I said.

' What!' He moved nearer me. ' Listen!' he said. ' Stay away from there. Stay away!'

It was nearly dark when I found the house. I stood and looked at it.' I don't like it,' I thought.' There are walls, but no glass in the windows!' I could see the light of a little fire in one of the rooms. I went to the thick, heavy door and hit it.

No answer. Everything was quiet.

'Is somebody listening to me in there?' I thought. I could hear a clock when I put my ear to the door. I nearly ran away, but suddenly I was angry. I kicked the door and shouted for Mr Balfour.

There was a sound above my head. I jumped and looked up — at an old gun, at one of the windows.

'I — I'm here with a letter,' I said. 'A letter for Mr Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws. Is he here?'

' Put it down outside the door, and go away,' said the man with the gun.

' I will not!' I said, angrily.' I'll put it into Mr Balfour's hand. It's a letter about me.'

' And who are you ?' was the next question.

' My name is David Balfour,' I said.

The man was quiet for a minute. Then he said,' Is your father dead ? Yes, of course he's dead — you're here.' He stopped and thought.' Wait there and I'll come down.'

 







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