My husband was always interested in this period of his country’s history, and had already the intention of writing a story that should turn on the Appin murder. The tale was to be of a boy, David Balfour, supposed to belong to my husband’s own family, who should travel in Scotland as though it were a foreign country, meeting with various adventures and misadventures by the way. From the trial of James Stewart my husband gleaned much valuable material for his novel, the most important being the character of Alan Breck. Aside from having described him as “smallish in stature,” my husband seems to have taken Alan Breck’s personal appearance, even to his clothing, from the book.
A letter from James Stewart to Mr. John Macfarlane, introduced as evidence in the trial, says: “There is one Alan Stewart, a distant friend of the late Ardshiel’s, who is in the French service, and came over in March last, as he said to some, in order to settle at home; to others, that he was to go soon back; and was, as I hear, the day that the murder was committed, seen not far from the place where it happened, and is not now to be seen; by which it is believed he was the actor. He is a desperate foolish fellow; and if he is guilty, came to the country for that very purpose. He is a tall, pock-pitted lad, very black hair, and wore a blue coat and metal buttons, an old red vest, and breeches of the same colour.
Alan Breck Stewart: A Fiery Spirit Amidst Clan Conflict and Historical Intrigue
There are many incidents given in the trial that point to Alan’s fiery spirit and Highland quickness to take offence. One witness “declared also That the said Alan Breck threatened that he would challenge Ballieveolan and his sons to fight because of his removing the declarant last year from Glenduror.” On another page: “Duncan Campbell, change-keeper at Annat, aged thirty-five years, married, witness cited, sworn, purged and examined ut supra, depones, That, in the month of April last, the deponent met with Alan Breck Stewart, with whom he was not acquainted, and John Stewart, in Auchnacoan, in the house of the walk miller of Auchofragan, and went on with them to the house.
Alan Breck Stewart said, that he hated all the name of Campbell; and the deponent said, he had no reason for doing so: But Alan said, he had very good reason for it: that thereafter they left that house; and, after drinking a dram at another house, came to the deponent’s house, where they went in, and drunk some drams, and Alan Breck renewed the former Conversation; and the deponent, making the same answer, Alan said, that, if the deponent had any respect for his friends, he would tell them, that if they offered to turn out the possessors of Ardshiel’s estate, he would make black cocks of them, before they entered into possession by which the deponent understood shooting them, it being a common phrase in the country.”
Some time after the publication of Kidnapped we stopped for a short while in the Appin country, where we were surprised and interested to discover that the feeling concerning the murder of Glenure (the “Red Fox,” also called “Colin Roy”) was almost as keen as though the tragedy had taken place the day before.
The Discovery of Beauty: Incorporating ‘Lily of the Valley Water’ into Kidnapped
One day, while my husband was busily at work, I sat beside him reading an old cookery book called The Compleat Housewife: or Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion. In the midst of receipts for “Rabbits, and Chickens mumbled, Pickled Samphire, Skirret Pye, Baked Tansy,” and other forgotten delicacies, there were directions for the preparation of several lotions for the preservation of beauty. One of these was so charming that I interrupted my husband to read it aloud. “Just what I wanted!” he exclaimed; and the receipt for the “Lily of the Valley Water” was instantly incorporated into Kidnapped.
Reflections on the Enigmatic Tale: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Appin Murder and Alan’s Guilt
If you ever read this tale, you will likely ask yourself more questions than I should care to answer: as for instance how the Appin murder has come to fall in the year 1751, how the Torran rocks have crept so near to Earraid, or why the printed trial is silent as to all that touches David Balfour.
These are nuts beyond my ability to crack. But if you tried me on the point of Alan’s guilt or innocence, I think I could defend the reading of the text. To this day you will find the tradition of Appin clear in Alan’s favour. If you inquire, you may even hear that the descendants of “the other man” . Who fired the shot are in the country to this day. But that other man’s name, inquire as you please, you shall not hear; for. The Highlander values a secret for itself and for the congenial exercise of keeping it. I might go on for long to justify one point and own another indefensible; it is more honest to confess at once how little I am touched by the desire of accuracy.
This is no furniture for the scholar’s library, but a book for the winter evening school-room. When the tasks are over and the hour for bed draws near. The honest Alan, who was a grim old fire-eater in his day has in this new avatar no more desperate. The purpose than to steal some young gentleman’s attention from his Ovid, carry him awhile into. The Highlands and the last century, and pack him to bed with some engaging images to mingle with his dreams.
I SET OFF UPON MY JOURNEY TO THE HOUSE OF SHAWS
will begin the story of my adventures with a certain morning early in the month of June. The year of grace 1751, when I took the key for the last time out of the door of my father’s house. The sun began to shine upon the summit of the hills as I went down the road. The time I had come as far as the manse, the blackbirds were whistling in the garden lilacs. The mist that hung around the valley in the time of the dawn was beginning to arise and die away.
Mr. Campbell, the minister of Essendean, was waiting for me by the garden gate, good man! He asked me if I had breakfasted; and hearing that I lacked for nothing. He took my hand in both of his and clapped it kindly under his arm.
“Well, Davie, lad,” said he, “I will go with you as far as the ford, to set you on the way.” And we began to walk forward in silence.
“Are ye sorry to leave Essendean?” said he, after awhile.
“Why, sir,” said I, “if I knew where I was going, or what was likely to become of me. I would tell you candidly. Essendean is a good place indeed, and I have been very happy there. But then I have never been anywhere else. My father and mother, since they are both dead. I shall be no nearer to in Essendean than in the Kingdom of Hungary, and, to speak truth. If I thought I had a chance to better myself where. I was going I would go with a good will.”
The Mysterious Inheritance: A Journey to the House of Shaws
Ay?” said Mr. Campbell. “Very well, Davie. Then it behoves me to tell your fortune; or so far as I may. When your mother was gone, and your father (the worthy, Christian man) began to sicken for his end. He gave me in charge a certain letter, which he said was your inheritance. ‘So soon,’ says he, ‘as I am gone, and the house is redd up. The gear disposed of’ (all which, Davie, hath been done), ‘give my boy. This letter into his hand, and start him off to the house of Shaws, not far from Cramond. That is the place I came from,’ he said, ‘and it’s where it befits that my boy should return. He is a steady lad,’ your father said, ‘and a canny goer. I doubt not he will come safe, and be well lived where he goes.’”
“The house of Shaws!” I cried. “What had my poor father to do with the house of Shaws?”
“Nay,” said Mr. Campbell, “who can tell that for a surety? But the name of that family, Davie, boy, is the name you bear Balfours of Shaws. An ancient, honest, reputable house, peradventure in these latter days decayed. Your father, too, was a man of learning as befitted his position; no man more plausibly conducted school. Not had he the manner or the speech of a common dominie. But took aye a pleasure to have him to the manse to meet the gentry; and those of my own house. Campbell of Kilrennet, Campbell of Dunswire, Campbell of Minch, and others, all well-kenned gentlemen, had pleasure in his society.