After the massacre at Culloden
the Crown and its lackeys impoverished
the Highlands – forbade the language and the kilt,
began the Clearances, the diasporas.
By Victorian times all that had become
the background of fiction – as in ‘Kidnapped’,
Robert Louis Stevenson’s adult novel
about bigotry, pride, loyalty and friendships,
masquerading as a boy’s adventure yarn
set among the lochs, the glens, the heather.
Young David Balfour – a Protestant
lowlander – is traduced, kidnapped, shipwrecked,
outlawed, redeemed. He becomes a killer
with a flintlock by force of circumstance.
Before he must take to the heather –
with his alter ego, Alan Breck
of the king’s coat with silver buttons –
he takes the ferry from Mull to the mainland.
The ferry is ramshackle. Nevertheless
the Sound is still, the day is bright, all
– passengers and boatmen – take turns at the oars
to a song in Gaelic, ‘Heel yo ho, boys!
Bring her head into the weather!’,
and David Balfour, although he understands
not a word, shares in the fellowship.
As they approach the mouth of Loch Aline
they see a ship at anchor, a coffin ship
destined for the American colonies,
and skiffs, plying between the ship and the shore,
full of people, and the shore crowded
with men, women, children – and, closer,
they hear from land and water a keening,
and one of the singers on the ferry
begins a lament, in which the others join.
Our hero, though he has none of the Gaelic,
is struck to the heart.
'Kidnapped by Robert Louis StevensonAlan BreckCullodenDavid BalfourGaelicHighland ClearancesLoch Aline