Chapter 25 Summary

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The Balquhidder

Stewart knocks at the door of the first house he sees, a risky thing in the Braes of Balquhidder, which is inhabited by the “chiefless folk,” Highlanders who have been driven into the wild country by the Campbells. This house belongs to Maclarens, who know and respect Duncan Stewart. A doctor treats David and he is bedridden for a week; within a month he is ready to travel.

During that month, Stewart will not leave David, though the friends who know him think he is foolish to stay. By day Stewart hides in the woods, but at night he comes to the Maclaren house to visit the boy. Mrs. Maclaren adores having such an important guest, and many nights the music and revelry last until morning. Though soldiers occasionally march through the valley, they never bother anyone. Even more surprising is the fact that no magistrate ever bothers David to ask where he came from or where he is going, despite the fact that David’s presence is well known to everyone in Balquhidder and surrounding areas. A wanted poster even hangs at the foot of his bed, yet no one thinks of turning the boy—or Stewart—in, which David finds astonishing. Other folks cannot keep a secret even if only two or three know it; among these clansmen, though, an entire countryside could keep silent for a century if need be.

One day the infamous outlaw Rob Roy comes to visit, and there is some trepidation about what might happen if he and Stewart cross paths. Roy tells David that a surgeon named Balfour once marched with his clan and healed his brother’s leg at the Battle at Prestonpans. If David is related to that branch of the Balfours, Roy has come to put himself and his people at David’s command. Unfortunately, David knows virtually nothing about his family history and has to tell Roy that he does not know if he is related to the surgeon. Roy disdainfully walks away, telling Maclaren that David is “only some kinless loon” that does not know his own father. David is angry and ashamed at his ignorance but finds it humorous that an outlaw such as Rob Roy (who was hanged three years later) is so particular about the lineage of his acquaintances.

Roy is leaving as Stewart arrives, and the two men circle one another and puff up their feathers like two fighting roosters before they begin insulting one another’s families. Their insults turn to challenges, and soon these enemies, poised at the edge of a quarrel, are playing the pipes to see who the superior musician is. Both men play well, but Stewart finally has to admit that Roy is the better piper. Though Stewart could certainly defeat Roy in a swordfight, he would not like to do any hurt to such a fine musician. The rest of the night is spent in great music and revelry. 

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