(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Because the story describes an earlier time—about thirty years before the date of its telling—and tells of a way of life unfamiliar to many readers, the narrator begins by describing the occupation of the drovers, men who herded highland cattle from the fairs in Scotland down across the border to markets in England. The two drovers of the story, Robin Oig M’Combich, a Scottish highlander, and Harry Wakefield, an English lowlander, are classic representatives of their cultures. Robin embodies the fierce spirit of the Highlands: he takes pride in his skill as a drover, his highland heritage, and his name, taken from the most famous of the highland outlaws, Rob Roy, his grandfather’s friend. Harry Wakefield takes pride in his work and his prowess as a fighter.

After the Doune Fair, as Robin prepares to set off to the south, his aunt, Janet of Tomahourich, delays him so that she can perform the deasil, a traditional ceremony to protect the herd and the drover from harm. She cuts short her performance and warns Robin of danger, urging him to delay his journey. With the second sight of the highland seer, she sees English blood on his dirk, the dagger that the highlander carries for protection. Less a believer in highland superstition than his aunt, Robin tries to ignore her plea, but she insists that he leave his dirk behind. Finally, he agrees to entrust it to another drover, Hugh Morrison, who plans to follow Robin to the English markets.

Although they have traveled together for three years, Robin and Harry understand little of each other’s culture. Harry cannot master Robin’s unfamiliar tongue, and beyond their cattle and their occupation they have little about which to talk. Their personal friendship is deep, if unspoken, however, for they have shared many journeys, and on several...

(The entire section is 744 words.)