Chapter 3 Summary

I Make Acquaintance of My Uncle

The door opens with a great rattling of chains and bolts. Davie is then instructed to go straight to the kitchen without touching anything. The boy gropes his way in the dark; other than a few spoons and dishes and a table set with a bowl of porridge, there is nothing in the room but locked chests and cupboards. Once he properly rebolts the door, the man comes to the kitchen. He is between fifty and seventy years old, a mean, stooped creature in a flannel nightgown and nightcap. Davie assumes he is some kind of miserly servant left in charge of this mausoleum, for he never takes his eyes from Davie’s face but refuses to look directly at him. He offers Davie the porridge and drinks the ale himself.

Finally Ebenezer Balfour takes the letter. Davie is old enough not to burst into tears, but that is exactly what he feels like doing. His uncle unseals and reads the letter by the light of the fire and cunningly asks the boy if this is what he had hoped to find when he came here. Davie assures Balfour that though he had hoped for a family who would help him in life, he is not a beggar and will not accept anything that is not freely given. Balfour eats what is left of the porridge like a miser hovering over his treasure. Davie wonders if his uncle is simply unused to any human companionship and might become a different man in time.

Alexander has been dead for three weeks and he never spoke of a brother or of the Shaws. This pleases Balfour. He takes Davie to his bedroom in complete darkness; when the boy asks for a light, his uncle laughs and tells him he is especially afraid of fires. Balfour leaves after locking Davie in for the night. In the morning, Davie sees that this was once a grand room; however, dampness, disuse, and vermin have made it uninhabitable and many of the windowpanes are broken. The sun is shining but Davie is cold, so he shouts for Balfour to unlock the door.

After breakfast (the same porridge and ale as last night, divided in half), Balfour says he intends to launch Davie into an appropriate career but insists that Davie refrain from contacting anyone or Balfour will send him away; Davie agrees. When Davie tells his uncle about the woman who cursed him, Balfour prepares to report her to the authorities until he realizes he will have to lock his nephew out; Davie says this will be the end of their tenuous relationship. After some private deliberation, Balfour smiles and decides not to go. Davie is confused, for Balfour treats him like a thief and hates having him here but says he must uphold the family honor and help Davie. Davie is determined that if the two of them do not agree, it will not be Davie’s fault.