Catriona

Page 10

o far as regarded Alan, the best thing would be to lie

low, and let the King, and his Grace of Argyll, and the corbie

crows, pick the bones of his kinsman their own way. Nor could I

forget that, while we were all in the pot together, James had shown

no such particular anxiety whether for Alan or me.

Next it came upon me I was acting for the sake of justice: and I

thought that a fine word, and reasoned it out that (since we dwelt

in polities, at some discomfort to each one of us) the main thing

of all must still be justice, and the death of any innocent man a

wound upon the whole community. Next, again, it was the Accuser of

the Brethren that gave me a turn of his argument; bade me think

shame for pretending myself concerned in these high matters, and

told me I was but a prating vain child, who had spoken big words to

Rankeillor and to Stewart, and held myself bound upon my vanity to

make good that boastfulness. Nay, and he hit me with the other end

of the stick; for he accused me of a kind of artful cowardice,

going about at the expense of a little risk to purchase greater

safety. No doubt, until I had declared and cleared myself, I might

any day encounter Mungo Campbell or the sheriff's officer, and be

recognised, and dragged into the Appin murder by the heels; and, no

doubt, in case I could manage my declaration with success, I should

breathe more free for ever after. But when I looked this argument

full in the face I could see nothing to be ashamed of. As for the

rest, "Here are the two roads," I thought, "and both go to the same

place. It's unjust that James should hang if I can save him; and

it would be ridiculous in me to have talked so much and then do

nothing. It's lucky for James of the Glens that I have boasted

beforehand; and none so unlucky for myself, because now I'm

committed to do right. I have the name of a gentleman and the

means of one; it would be a poor duty that I was wanting in the

essence." And then I thought this was a Pagan spirit, and said a

prayer in to myself, asking for what courage I might lack, and that

I might go straight to my duty like a soldier to battle, and come

off again scatheless, as so many do.

This train of reasoning brought me to a more resolved complexion;

though it was far from closing up my sense of the dangers that

surrounded me, nor of how very apt I was (if I went on) to stumble

on the ladder of the gallows. It was a plain, fair morning, but

the wind in the east. The little chill of it sang in my blood, and

gave me a feeling of the autumn, and the dead leaves, and dead

folks' bodies in their graves. It seemed the devil was in it, if I

was to die in that tide of my fortunes and for other folks'

affairs. On the top of the Calton Hill, though it was not the

customary time of year for that diversion, some children were

crying and running with their kites. These toys appeared very

plain against the sky; I remarked a great one soar on the wind to a

high altitude and then plump among the whins; and I thought to

myself at sight of it, "There goes Davie."

My way lay over Mouter's Hill, and through an end of a clachan on

the braeside among fields. There was a whirr of looms in it went

from house to house; bees bummed in the gardens; the neighbours

that I saw at the doorsteps talked in a strange tongue; and I found

out later that this was Picardy, a village where the French weavers

wrought for the Linen Company. Here I got a fresh direction for

Pilrig, my destination; and a little beyond, on the wayside, came

by a gibbet and two men hanged in chains. They were dipped in tar,

as the manner is; the wind span them, the chains clattered, and the

birds hung about the uncanny jumping-jacks and cried. The sight

coming on me suddenly, like an illustration of my fears, I could

scarce be done with examining it and drinking in discomfort. And,

as I thus turned and turned about the gibbet, what should I strike

on, but a weird old wife, that sat behind a leg of it, and nodded,

and talked aloud to herself with becks and courtesies.

Catriona Page 11

Robert Louis Stevenson

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book