Catriona

Page 27

And I tell you fairly, there's too much Advocate's door and

Advocate's window here for a man that comes taigling after a

Macgregor's daughter. Ye can tell that to the Advocate that sent

ye, with my fond love. And I kiss my loof to ye, Mr. Balfour,"

says she, suiting the action to the word; "and a braw journey to ye

back to where ye cam frae."

"If you think me a spy," I broke out, and speech stuck in my

throat. I stood and looked murder at the old lady for a space,

then bowed and turned away.

"Here! Hoots! The callant's in a creel!" she cried. "Think ye a

spy? what else would I think ye--me that kens naething by ye? But

I see that I was wrong; and as I cannot fight, I'll have to

apologise. A bonny figure I would be with a broadsword. Ay! ay!"

she went on, "you're none such a bad lad in your way; I think ye'll

have some redeeming vices. But, O! Davit Balfour, ye're damned

countryfeed. Ye'll have to win over that, lad; ye'll have to

soople your back-bone, and think a wee pickle less of your dainty

self; and ye'll have to try to find out that women-folk are nae

grenadiers. But that can never be. To your last day you'll ken no

more of women-folk than what I do of sow-gelding."

I had never been used with such expressions from a lady's tongue,

the only two ladies I had known, Mrs. Campbell and my mother, being

most devout and most particular women; and I suppose my amazement

must have been depicted in my countenance, for Mrs. Ogilvy burst

forth suddenly in a fit of laughter.

"Keep me!" she cried, struggling with her mirth, "you have the

finest timber face--and you to marry the daughter of a Hieland

cateran! Davie, my dear, I think we'll have to make a match of it-

-if it was just to see the weans. And now," she went on, "there's

no manner of service in your daidling here, for the young woman is

from home, and it's my fear that the old woman is no suitable

companion for your father's son. Forbye that I have nobody but

myself to look after my reputation, and have been long enough alone

with a sedooctive youth. And come back another day for your

saxpence!" she cried after me as I left.

My skirmish with this disconcerting lady gave my thoughts a

boldness they had otherwise wanted. For two days the image of

Catriona had mixed in all my meditations; she made their

background, so that I scarce enjoyed my own company without a glint

of her in a corner of my mind. But now she came immediately near;

I seemed to touch her, whom I had never touched but the once; I let

myself flow out to her in a happy weakness, and looking all about,

and before and behind, saw the world like an undesirable desert,

where men go as soldiers on a march, following their duty with what

constancy they have, and Catriona alone there to offer me some

pleasure of my days. I wondered at myself that I could dwell on

such considerations in that time of my peril and disgrace; and when

I remembered my youth I was ashamed. I had my studies to complete:

I had to be called into some useful business; I had yet to take my

part of service in a place where all must serve; I had yet to

learn, and know, and prove myself a man; and I had so much sense as

blush that I should be already tempted with these further-on and

holier delights and duties. My education spoke home to me sharply;

I was never brought up on sugar biscuits but on the hard food of

the truth. I knew that he was quite unfit to be a husband who was

not prepared to be a father also; and for a boy like me to play the

father was a mere derision.

When I was in the midst of these thoughts and about half-way back

to town I saw a figure coming to meet me, and the trouble of my

heart was heightened. It seemed I had everything in the world to

say to her, but nothing to say first; and remembering how tongue-

tied I had been that morning at the Advocate's I made sure that I

would find myself struck dumb.

Catriona Page 28

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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