David Elliott meets David Balfour at the Moon Under Water pub
David Balfour had instructed me to meet him at the Moon Under Water Pub¹, “somewhere in London,” Balfour said. “You can’t miss it. Victorian architecture.” He said lots of characters meet each other there, including Long John Silver, Jay Gatsby, Eustacia Vye, Randall Flagg, Bill Sikes, Becky Sharp, and Professor Moriarity. I located it without difficulty, and passed through the double wooden doors. Holy cow, what a great place. A photograph of George Orwell pouring stout from a Guinness bottle into a china cup hung in a prominent place on the glass wall behind the mahogany bar. The room was quiet for a London pub, and I noticed there was no TV, radio or piano. The barmaids seemed to know all the customers, and the conversations seemed to be friendly and congenial. To my surprise, I recognized Holden Caulfield in his red cap, standing at the far end of the bar talking earnestly with a woman who had a scarlet letter “A” embroidered on her blouse. She couldn’t be Hester Prynne, could she? David Balfour said he would be the character wearing a silver button on a lanyard. I spotted him seated at the snack counter demolishing a large liver-sausage sandwich.
I thanked him for meeting me on short notice, and that I wanted to know more about him and his adventures in Kidnapped, an action-packed tale by Robert Louis Stevenson. I figured we were about the same age, but he was shorter than I. He had an unruly shock of reddish hair and blue eyes, a strong face and jaw. David looked the worse for wear. His gray-green coat which hung to his thighs was stained with water and mud. The pocket of his brown vest was torn almost off. His knickers were ripped at the knees, his once-white stockings, holes aplenty, sagged and his once-black shoes were slathered with muck and seaweed. He welcomed me in his deep Scottish voice.
“I’m well-pleased to meet ye,” he said. “Are ye hungry? The mussels are the specialty of the house. I’m allergic to ‘em, m’self. Allow me to stand for a couple pints. Sally,” he called to a passing barmaid, “bring us two Newcastles. And mind ye don’t fill ‘em half suds.”
“All suds for you, Davie,” Sally said with a wink at me.
“So, you’re curious to know about me. Well, I can sum my life in one sentence: ‘You can choose your friends, but not your relatives.’ My father’s older brother, Ebenezer, tried to kill me to prevent me from getting the family castle which was my rightful inheritance. Failing that, he tricked me. Sold me to a ship captain to become an indentured servant on a Carolina plantation.
“Through a strange set of circumstances, I met up with Alan Breck Stewart, and we fought our way to safety. Even though Alan was a Highlander and a dangerous rogue, while I’m from the Lowlands, we became good friends. Thanks to him I changed from boy to man. Not that we didn’t have our differences, Alan and me. His morals were all tail-first but he was willing to give his life for them, such as they were.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Alan was willing to let a killer go free and himself be accused and hunted as a murderer because of his loyalty to the clan. That didn’t jibe with my moral compass but I had to admire his fealty to the Stewarts, Jacobites though they be.”
“They were Catholics, you mean.”
Aye, and me a fine Presbyterian. Oh, the sparks flew between Alan and me at times, make no mistake.”
“Does Mr. Stewart come here?”
“A Highlander in London? I think not. Although Alan would like the Moon Under Water. Don’t let the quiet fool ye. There’s been some bloody rows here. Alan would jump at the chance to take the back of the underdog.”
“You look like you just had a ‘bloody row’ yourself,” I said nodding to his dishevelment. David Balfour looked at himself, rubbing at a muddy area on his sleeve.
“That’s N.C. Wyeth’s doing. His illustrations of me in Stevenson’s book were always when I was near drowned, fighting with the crew of cutthroats on the brig Covenant, or struggling to find a way off Earrid Island.” He took a swallow of Newcastle. “I’ve heard you’re no stranger to fighting if it comes to that. You got cross-wise with a couple baddies who pushed you off a cliff in your first adventure. What’s the name of that book?”
“What the Barber Knew.”
“Aye, Herrington’s first one. Then in his second bit o’ fiction, Dead to Rights, he puts you in a collieshangie with two rogue government agents.”
“What the heck’s a ‘collieshangie’?”
“Ahh. You had Alan Breck to fight beside you. I have my cousin Judy on my side. In Dead to Rights you just mentioned, she makes a kind of bomb to enable us to get out of a jam.”
“Judy? A lassie who knows how to fight?”
“I’ll tell the world she can fight. Judy’s tough and intelligent.” I bragged about Judy for a time, and told Davie that Herrington my creator was working on another adventure. Davie Balfour listened intently.
“Seems to me Herrington favors her more than you. I had the same thoughts about Alan at first, but when he pulled my iron out of the fire, I got over it. Besides, from what you tell me, she’s a bonnie lass, and can dish it out. And you’ve got more excitement coming. It’s all up with me. Robby Stevenson died in 1894. He created me in 1886. One and done, as you Yanks say.” “But you’re a famous character. For centuries boys and girls all over the world have read about you. Shoot, Bailey Herrington told me he read Kidnapped when he was in sixth grade. You’re right up there with Jim Hawkins, Huckleberry Finn and Sherlock Holmes.”
Davie brightened. “I’m much obliged to you for your kindness. Sometimes we Scots forget our natural good humor and become dour. Not very often, mind, but occasionally. Well, Elliott,” he said, “it’s time I returned to Chapter 30. That’s where I help Alan get to France safely, It’s the least I can do to repay him for all he did for me. Will you join me in a wee bonailie?”
“One for the road.”
¹ “The Moon Under Water” is a 1946 essay by George Orwell, originally published as the Saturday Essay in the Evening Standard on 9 February 1946, in which he provided a detailed description of his ideal pub, the fictitious Moon Under Water. Source: Wikipedia.