Catriona

Page 03

It was so now; but the more

part melted away incontinent until but three were left. One was a

girl; she was dressed like a lady, and had a screen of the Drummond

colours on her head; but her comrades or (I should say) followers

were ragged gillies, such as I had seen the matches of by the dozen

in my Highland journey. They all spoke together earnestly in

Gaelic, the sound of which was pleasant in my ears for the sake of

Alan; and, though the rain was by again, and my porter plucked at

me to be going, I even drew nearer where they were, to listen. The

lady scolded sharply, the others making apologies and cringeing

before her, so that I made sure she was come of a chief's house.

All the while the three of them sought in their pockets, and by

what I could make out, they had the matter of half a farthing among

the party; which made me smile a little to see all Highland folk

alike for fine obeisances and empty sporrans.

It chanced the girl turned suddenly about, so that I saw her face

for the first time. There is no greater wonder than the way the

face of a young woman fits in a man's mind, and stays there, and he

could never tell you why; it just seems it was the thing he wanted.

She had wonderful bright eyes like stars, and I daresay the eyes

had a part in it; but what I remember the most clearly was the way

her lips were a trifle open as she turned. And, whatever was the

cause, I stood there staring like a fool. On her side, as she had

not known there was anyone so near, she looked at me a little

longer, and perhaps with more surprise, than was entirely civil.

It went through my country head she might be wondering at my new

clothes; with that, I blushed to my hair, and at the sight of my

colouring it is to be supposed she drew her own conclusions, for

she moved her gillies farther down the close, and they fell again

to this dispute, where I could hear no more of it.

I had often admired a lassie before then, if scarce so sudden and

strong; and it was rather my disposition to withdraw than to come

forward, for I was much in fear of mockery from the womenkind. You

would have thought I had now all the more reason to pursue my

common practice, since I had met this young lady in the city

street, seemingly following a prisoner, and accompanied with two

very ragged indecent-like Highlandmen. But there was here a

different ingredient; it was plain the girl thought I had been

prying in her secrets; and with my new clothes and sword, and at

the top of my new fortunes, this was more than I could swallow.

The beggar on horseback could not bear to be thrust down so low,

or, at least of it, not by this young lady.

I followed, accordingly, and took off my new hat to her the best

that I was able.

"Madam," said I, "I think it only fair to myself to let you

understand I have no Gaelic. It is true I was listening, for I

have friends of my own across the Highland line, and the sound of

that tongue comes friendly; but for your private affairs, if you

had spoken Greek, I might have had more guess at them."

She made me a little, distant curtsey. "There is no harm done,"

said she, with a pretty accent, most like the English (but more

agreeable). "A cat may look at a king."

"I do not mean to offend," said I. "I have no skill of city

manners; I never before this day set foot inside the doors of

Edinburgh. Take me for a country lad--it's what I am; and I would

rather I told you than you found it out."

"Indeed, it will be a very unusual thing for strangers to be

speaking to each other on the causeway," she replied. "But if you

are landward {2} bred it will be different. I am as landward as

yourself; I am Highland, as you see, and think myself the farther

from my home."

"It is not yet a week since I passed the line," said I. "Less than

a week ago I was on the braes of Balwhidder."

"Balwhither?" she cries. "Come ye from Balwhither! The name of it

makes all there is of me rejoice.

Catriona Page 04

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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