Catriona

Page 31

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"but such in the fact."

"And when did you part with him again?" said he.

"I reserve my answer," said I. "The question will be put to me at

the assize."

"Mr. Balfour," said he, "will you not understand that all this is

without prejudice to yourself? I have promised you life and

honour; and, believe me, I can keep my word. You are therefore

clear of all anxiety. Alan, it appears, you suppose you can

protect; and you talk to me of your gratitude, which I think (if

you push me) is not ill-deserved. There are a great many different

considerations all pointing the same way; and I will never be

persuaded that you could not help us (if you chose) to put salt on

Alan's tail."

"My lord," said I, "I give you my word I do not so much as guess

where Alan is."

He paused a breath. "Nor how he might be found?" he asked.

I sat before him like a log of wood.

"And so much for your gratitude, Mr. David!" he observed. Again

there was a piece of silence. "Well," said he, rising, "I am not

fortunate, and we are a couple at cross purposes. Let us speak of

it no more; you will receive notice when, where, and by whom, we

are to take your precognition. And in the meantime, my misses must

be waiting you. They will never forgive me if I detain their

cavalier."

Into the hands of these Graces I was accordingly offered up, and

found them dressed beyond what I had thought possible, and looking

fair as a posy.

As we went forth from the doors a small circumstance occurred which

came afterwards to look extremely big. I heard a whistle sound

loud and brief like a signal, and looking all about, spied for one

moment the red head of Neil of the Tom, the son of Duncan. The

next moment he was gone again, nor could I see so much as the

skirt-tail of Catriona, upon whom I naturally supposed him to be

then attending.

My three keepers led me out by Bristo and the Bruntsfield Links;

whence a path carried us to Hope Park, a beautiful pleasance, laid

with gravel-walks, furnished with seats and summer-sheds, and

warded by a keeper. The way there was a little longsome; the two

younger misses affected an air of genteel weariness that damped me

cruelly, the eldest considered me with something that at times

appeared like mirth; and though I thought I did myself more justice

than the day before, it was not without some effort. Upon our

reaching the park I was launched on a bevy of eight or ten young

gentlemen (some of them cockaded officers, the rest chiefly

advocates) who crowded to attend upon these beauties; and though I

was presented to all of them in very good words, it seemed I was by

all immediately forgotten. Young folk in a company are like to

savage animals: they fall upon or scorn a stranger without

civility, or I may say, humanity; and I am sure, if I had been

among baboons, they would have shown me quite as much of both.

Some of the advocates set up to be wits, and some of the soldiers

to be rattles; and I could not tell which of these extremes annoyed

me most. All had a manner of handling their swords and coat-

skirts, for the which (in mere black envy) I could have kicked them

from the park. I daresay, upon their side, they grudged me

extremely the fine company in which I had arrived; and altogether I

had soon fallen behind, and stepped stiffly in the rear of all that

merriment with my own thoughts.

From these I was recalled by one of the officers, Lieutenant Hector

Duncansby, a gawky, leering Highland boy, asking if my name was not

"Palfour."

I told him it was, not very kindly, for his manner was scant civil.

"Ha, Palfour," says he, and then, repeating it, "Palfour, Palfour!"

"I am afraid you do not like my name, sir," says I, annoyed with

myself to be annoyed with such a rustical fellow.

"No," says he, "but I wass thinking."

"I would not advise you to make a practice of that, sir," says I.

Catriona Page 32

Robert Louis Stevenson

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