Chapter 4 Summary

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I Run a Great Danger in the House of Shaws

Though it began poorly, the day was good—except for the food. All Balfour eats is porridge, cold or hot, and beer. Their conversation is limited, but Davie enjoys reading the books he finds. In one flyleaf, Davie sees that his father gave this book to his brother Ebenezer on Ebenezer’s fifth birthday. Something is strange, for a younger sibling (which is what Ebenezer claims Alexander was) is unlikely to have written such a fine inscription. Davie asks Balfour about it at dinner and the answer confuses the young boy even further.

Then Davie asks if Ebenezer and Alexander were twins. Balfour’s reaction is strange and immediate; Balfour says Davie should not speak about Alexander, though Balfour loved his brother very much. Davie begins to wonder if his uncle is crazy and perhaps even dangerous; or perhaps the man is simply afraid of Davie for some reason. Now both Balfours furtively watch one another. It is clear that the old man is thinking, and Davie suspects he is thinking about doing his nephew harm. Eventually Balfour explains that he made a promise to Davie when the boy was born, and he has kept it. Now he has forty Scottish pounds set aside for Davie.

After sending the lad out of the house, Balfour meticulously counts out thirty-seven golden guineas into Davie’s hands. He is obviously struggling to part with the last few coins and finally puts them back in his pocket. The boy is dumbstruck at the miserly man’s painful generosity but still doubts his reason for giving it. Balfour sends Davie to collect a chest from one of the towers which can only be reached from the house's exterior. It is storming outside, but Davie goes to do his uncle’s bidding. He is still not allowed any light, and the though the stairs in the tower are sturdy enough, there is no banister. As he gropes along the wall of the tower, Davie discovers that the stairs come to an abrupt halt. Ebenezer Balfour, his uncle, obviously intended his nephew to die in a horrible fall.

Angry now, Davie sees Balfour standing in the rain, panicked by the crashing thunder. Davie surreptitiously follows his shaken uncle, and the man collapses when Davie places his hands on his shoulders. Davie arms himself from an open cupboard. When Balfour regains consciousness, he is amazed to see that Davie is alive. Balfour asks Davie to administer his heart medicine, which he does. While Davie feels some pity for the old man, he is merciless in his anger. Davie wants to know why Balfour has lied to him, why he is afraid Davie will leave him, why he is so upset at the suggestion that he and Alexander were twins, why he gave Davie money he did not owe him, and why he tried to kill him. Balfour promises to explain everything in the morning, and Davie locks his uncle in for the night. 

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