Catriona

Page 21

The window whither they

ran was in an odd corner of that room, gave above the entrance

door, and flanked up the close.

"Come, Mr. Balfour," they cried, "come and see. She is the most

beautiful creature! She hangs round the close-head these last

days, always with some wretched-like gillies, and yet seems quite a

lady."

I had no need to look; neither did I look twice, or long. I was

afraid she might have seen me there, looking down upon her from

that chamber of music, and she without, and her father in the same

house, perhaps begging for his life with tears, and myself come but

newly from rejecting his petitions. But even that glance set me in

a better conceit of myself and much less awe of the young ladies.

They were beautiful, that was beyond question, but Catriona was

beautiful too, and had a kind of brightness in her like a coal of

fire. As much as the others cast me down, she lifted me up. I

remembered I had talked easily with her. If I could make no hand

of it with these fine maids, it was perhaps something their own

fault. My embarrassment began to be a little mingled and lightened

with a sense of fun; and when the aunt smiled at me from her

embroidery, and the three daughters unbent to me like a baby, all

with "papa's orders" written on their faces, there were times when

I could have found it in my heart to smile myself.

Presently papa returned, the same kind, happy-like, pleasant-spoken

man.

"Now, girls," said he, "I must take Mr. Balfour away again; but I

hope you have been able to persuade him to return where I shall be

always gratified to find him."

So they each made me a little farthing compliment, and I was led

away.

If this visit to the family had been meant to soften my resistance,

it was the worst of failures. I was no such ass but what I

understood how poor a figure I had made, and that the girls would

be yawning their jaws off as soon as my stiff back was turned. I

felt I had shown how little I had in me of what was soft and

graceful; and I longed for a chance to prove that I had something

of the other stuff, the stern and dangerous.

Well, I was to be served to my desire, for the scene to which he

was conducting me was of a different character.

CHAPTER VI--UMQUILE THE MASTER OF LOVAT

There was a man waiting us in Prestongrange's study, whom I

distasted at the first look, as we distaste a ferret or an earwig.

He was bitter ugly, but seemed very much of a gentleman; had still

manners, but capable of sudden leaps and violences; and a small

voice, which could ring out shrill and dangerous when he so

desired.

The Advocate presented us in a familiar, friendly way.

"Here, Fraser," said he, "here is Mr. Balfour whom we talked about.

Mr. David, this is Mr. Simon Fraser, whom we used to call by

another title, but that is an old song. Mr. Fraser has an errand

to you."

With that he stepped aside to his book-shelves, and made believe to

consult a quarto volume in the far end.

I was thus left (in a sense) alone with perhaps the last person in

the world I had expected. There was no doubt upon the terms of

introduction; this could be no other than the forfeited Master of

Lovat and chief of the great clan Fraser. I knew he had led his

men in the Rebellion; I knew his father's head--my old lord's, that

grey fox of the mountains--to have fallen on the block for that

offence, the lands of the family to have been seized, and their

nobility attainted. I could not conceive what he should be doing

in Grant's house; I could not conceive that he had been called to

the bar, had eaten all his principles, and was now currying favour

with the Government even to the extent of acting Advocate-Depute in

the Appin murder.

"Well, Mr. Balfour," said he, "what is all this I hear of ye?"

"It would not become me to prejudge," said I, "but if the Advocate

was your authority he is fully possessed of my opinions."

"I may tell you I am engaged in the Appin case," he went on; "I am

to appear under Prestongrange; and from my study of the

precognitions I can assure you your opinions are erroneous.

Catriona Page 22

Robert Louis Stevenson

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