Catriona

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I could never deny, in looking back upon what followed,

that I was eminently stockish; and I must say the ladies were well

drilled to have so long a patience with me. The aunt indeed sat

close at her embroidery, only looking now and again and smiling;

but the misses, and especially the eldest, who was besides the most

handsome, paid me a score of attentions which I was very ill able

to repay. It was all in vain to tell myself I was a young follow

of some worth as well as a good estate, and had no call to feel

abashed before these lasses, the eldest not so much older than

myself, and no one of them by any probability half as learned.

Reasoning would not change the fact; and there were times when the

colour came into my face to think I was shaved that day for the

first time.

The talk going, with all their endeavours, very heavily, the eldest

took pity on my awkwardness, sat down to her instrument, of which

she was a passed mistress, and entertained me for a while with

playing and singing, both in the Scots and in the Italian manners;

this put me more at my ease, and being reminded of Alan's air that

he had taught me in the hole near Carriden, I made so bold as to

whistle a bar or two, and ask if she knew that.

She shook her head. "I never heard a note of it," said she.

"Whistle it all through. And now once again," she added, after I

had done so.

Then she picked it out upon the keyboard, and (to my surprise)

instantly enriched the same with well-sounding chords, and sang, as

she played, with a very droll expression and broad accent -

"Haenae I got just the lilt of it?

Isnae this the tune that ye whustled?"

"You see," she says, "I can do the poetry too, only it won't rhyme.

And then again:

"I am Miss Grant, sib to the Advocate:

You, I believe, are Dauvit Balfour."

I told her how much astonished I was by her genius.

"And what do you call the name of it?" she asked.

"I do not know the real name," said I. "I just call it Alan's

air."

She looked at me directly in the face. "I shall call it David's

air," said she; "though if it's the least like what your namesake

of Israel played to Saul I would never wonder that the king got

little good by it, for it's but melancholy music. Your other name

I do not like; so if you was ever wishing to hear your tune again

you are to ask for it by mine."

This was said with a significance that gave my heart a jog. "Why

that, Miss Grant?" I asked.

"Why," says she, "if ever you should come to get hanged, I will set

your last dying speech and confession to that tune and sing it."

This put it beyond a doubt that she was partly informed of my story

and peril. How, or just how much, it was more difficult to guess.

It was plain she knew there was something of danger in the name of

Alan, and thus warned me to leave it out of reference; and plain

she knew that I stood under some criminal suspicion. I judged

besides that the harshness of her last speech (which besides she

had followed up immediately with a very noisy piece of music) was

to put an end to the present conversation. I stood beside her,

affecting to listen and admire, but truly whirled away by my own

thoughts. I have always found this young lady to be a lover of the

mysterious; and certainly this first interview made a mystery that

was beyond my plummet. One thing I learned long after, the hours

of the Sunday had been well employed, the bank porter had been

found and examined, my visit to Charles Stewart was discovered, and

the deduction made that I was pretty deep with James and Alan, and

most likely in a continued correspondence with the last. Hence

this broad hint that was given me across the harpsichord.

In the midst of the piece of music, one of the younger misses, who

was at a window over the close, cried on her sisters to come quick,

for there was "Grey eyes again." The whole family trooped there at

once, and crowded one another for a look.

Catriona Page 21

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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