Chapter 24 Summary
The Flight in the Heather: The Quarrel
Macpherson’s men ferry David and Stewart across Loch Errocht under cover of night and escort them to another hiding place. David is able to walk but is still weak from his sickness and the terrain is still treacherous. They travel in silence. David is angry and proud while Stewart is angry and ashamed. David thinks more strongly than ever about leaving, but it would be an awful repayment of friendship, so he keeps walking.
Nevertheless, David is angry that his friend wheedled money from him when he was virtually delirious. Stewart asks David’s forgiveness; but David’s response is frosty. Very quietly, Stewart says he has long owed the boy his life, and now he owes David money; as a gentleman, David should try to make his friend’s burden lighter since he knows that. David knows Stewart is right and that he is behaving badly but cannot bring himself to apologize or forgive.
They continue traveling and are forced to cross into Campbell lands because it is the least treacherous path. For three nights they travel through eerie mountains in the rain; during the days they sleep in the wet heather. It is a “dreadful time,” and David dreams of other dreadful times in his life: the tower of Shaws lit by lightning, Ransome carried to his bunk to die, Shuan dying on the roundhouse floor, and Colin Campbell being murdered. Stewart remains silent but tries to be solicitous of the boy’s welfare; David continues to nurse his anger and refuses the man’s help until finally Stewart says he will not offer again. David still refuses and Stewart takes the opportunity to absolve himself from any guilt.
Now Stewart feels free to taunt the boy, calling him names like “Whiggie.” David realizes this is his own fault, but he is too weary to repent. Physically David is spent, and one day he has had enough. He confronts Stewart and says he will bear no more insults toward his king or his friends, the Campbells. Stewart has been defeated by both the king and the Campbells and is now running like an animal from both; perhaps Stewart should speak more graciously about them. Stewart immediately calls on the boy to draw his sword; however, when David actually does it, Stewart cannot fight because he knows it would be murder.
All of David’s anger seeps from him, and he wishes he could take back what he said. An apology will not suffice, so he tells Stewart the truth—if Stewart will not help him, David is going to die and he hopes then Stewart will forgive him. Stewart grabs the exhausted boy and asks his forgiveness for failing to notice that David is so weak and hurt. This nearly provokes another argument, but Stewart laughs and tells David the thing he has always liked most about the boy is that he never quarrels. Now he likes David even better.