Rob’s business had its ups and downs, but overall the impression is that he was thriving, and expanding his activities. Occasional complaints about late deliveries look not like omens of coming doom so much as of routine and temporary difficulties with cashflow and cattle-flow. Sometimes legal actions were begun against him by creditors. In 1709 several ‘captions’ were obtained against him, orders that he be arrested as he had failed to obey previous orders to pay his creditors.1 Rob survived, but in view of his financial collapse three years later it may be that he was already so deeply ensnared in debt that long-term viability was already impossible. In the short term, he was lucky that his credibility survived. His business very much depended on his personal reputation and credit rating. Customers entrusted him with considerable sums of money each autumn to buy cattle for them deep in the Highlands and deliver to them to Lowland markets the following spring. But though there seem to have been plenty of customers ready to do business with him, by the second half of 1711 there are renewed signs that things were beginning to go wrong again.
A customer of importance and influence lost trust in him, and in a letter of 30 August Rob showed signs of panic. As he saw it, he had been let down by a friend – and indeed a relation. John MacKenzie of Delvine was a man of some standing, a prominent advocate in Edinburgh and principal clerk of the court of session. He was owed money by Rob – evidently a significant amount. Rob had been late in payments to Delvine some years before (as noted in the previous chapter), yet Delvine had continued to buy cattle through him. Now, in 1711, payments were again overdue, and Delvine’s patience reached breaking point. He passed one of the bonds (or bills of exchange) by which Rob was bound to make a payment to him to one Donald Stewart and his comrades, endorsing it so they had the