Chapter 23 Summary
At last, Stewart and David are ushered into a hidden place where they see a strange house known in the area as “Cluny’s Cage.” Five or six men can fit comfortably inside; it is oval-shaped and made of trees covered with wattle and moss. This is just one of Cluny Macpherson’s lairs; he moves from one to another whenever soldiers get too close. (Macpherson lives this way for another five or six years before being commanded to go to France by his master where he soon dies. Perhaps he will regret what happens in his Cage on Ben Adler mountain in the next few days.)
Though Macpherson is a plain-looking man, he has the manners and bearing of a king and rises to greet his guests. Stewart introduces the boy as “Laird of the Shaws, Mr. David Balfour.” Though he regularly derides David for his title, Stewart is always proud to share it with others. Macpherson says they shall play cards after they eat, just as gentlemen do. The food is undoubtedly good, but David cannot eat much. Macpherson regales his visitors with stories of his life and friends, including a drunken Prince Charlie, and soon it is time to play cards. David explains that he was raised not to play cards or gamble, but he certainly does not judge others for doing so. Macpherson is offended until David explains it is a promise he made to his father. This seems to satisfy Macpherson and David sleeps; however, the clan chieftain is still disgruntled at the boy’s disapproval of his behavior.
For the rest of their time in the Cage, David is sick and in a kind of trance. He is occasionally lucid, but often he is only aware of the noises around him. A doctor comes and prescribes some bitter medicine. In his lucid moments, David is aware that the two men are playing cards; at one point Stewart begs David for his money and the sick boy gives it to him just to be rid of him. On the third day in the Cage, David wakes from his delirium, though he is still weak and weary. Macpherson’s soldiers report that it is safe for the travelers to head south, but there is a problem: Stewart has lost all their money playing cards.
As they prepare to leave, Stewart is too embarrassed to ask for their money back, so David has to; Macpherson is mortified that the men think he was actually going to keep their money and returns it. David is angry that Stewart gambled their money, and Stewart feels guilty for losing their money at cards. Finally the travelers leave the Cage.