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Salute to Adventurers

4. Of A Stairhead And A Sea-Captain
With the escapade that landed me in the Tolbooth there came an end to the nightmare
years of my first youth. A week later I got word that my father was dead of an ague in
the Low Countries, and I had to be off post-haste to Auchencairn to see to the ordering
of our little estate. We were destined to be bitter poor, what with dues and regalities
incident on the passing of the ownership, and I thought it best to leave my mother to
farm it, with the help of Robin Gilfillan the grieve, and seek employment which would
bring me an honest penny. Her one brother, Andrew Sempill, from whom I was named,
was a merchant in Glasgow, the owner of three ships that traded to the Western Seas,
and by repute a man of a shrewd and venturesome temper. He was single, too, and I
might reasonably look to be his heir; so when a letter came from him offering me a hand
in his business, my mother was instant for my going. I was little loath myself, for I saw
nothing now to draw me to the profession of the law, which had been my first notion.
"Hame's hame," runs the proverb, "as the devil said when he found himself in the Court
of Session," and I had lost any desire for that sinister company. Besides, I liked the
notion of having to do with ships and far lands; for I was at the age when youth burns
fiercely in a lad, and his fancy is as riotous as a poet's.
Yet the events I have just related had worked a change in my life. They had driven the
unthinking child out of me and forced me to reflect on my future. Two things rankled in
my soul--a wench's mocking laughter and the treatment I had got from the dragoon. It
was not that I was in love with the black-haired girl; indeed, I think I hated her; but I
could not get her face out of my head or her voice out of my ears. She had mocked me,
treated me as if I was no more than a foolish servant, and my vanity was raw. I longed
to beat down her pride, to make her creep humbly to me, Andrew Garvald, as her only
deliverer; and how that should be compassed was the subject of many hot fantasies in
my brain. The dragoon, too, had tossed me about like a silly sheep, and my manhood
cried out at the recollection. What sort of man was I if any lubberly soldier could venture
on such liberties?
I went into the business with the monstrous solemnity of youth, and took stock of my
equipment as if I were casting up an account. Many a time in those days I studied my
appearance in the glass like a foolish maid. I was not well featured, having a freckled,
square face, a biggish head, a blunt nose, grey, colourless eyes, and a sandy thatch of
hair, I had great square shoulders, but my arms were too short for my stature, and--from
an accident in my nursing days--of indifferent strength. All this stood on the debit side of
my account. On the credit side I set down that I had unshaken good health and an
uncommon power of endurance, especially in the legs. There was no runner in the
Upper Ward of Lanark who was my match, and I had travelled the hills so constantly in
all weathers that I had acquired a gipsy lore in the matter of beasts and birds and wild
things, I had long, clear, unerring eyesight, which had often stood me in good stead in
the time of my father's troubles. Of moral qualities, Heaven forgive me, I fear I thought
less; but I believed, though I had been little proved, that I was as courageous as the
common run of men.