Catriona

Page 32

"I feel sure you would not find it to agree with you."

"Tit you effer hear where Alan Grigor fand the tangs?" said he.

I asked him what he could possibly mean, and he answered, with a

heckling laugh, that he thought I must have found the poker in the

same place and swallowed it.

There could be no mistake about this, and my cheek burned.

"Before I went about to put affronts on gentlemen," said I, "I

think I would learn the English language first."

He took me by the sleeve with a nod and a wink and led me quietly

outside Hope Park. But no sooner were we beyond the view of the

promenaders, than the fashion of his countenance changed. "You tam

lowland scoon'rel!" cries he, and hit me a buffet on the jaw with

his closed fist.

I paid him as good or better on the return; whereupon he stepped a

little back and took off his hat to me decorously.

"Enough plows I think," says he. "I will be the offended

shentleman, for who effer heard of such suffeeciency as tell a

shentlemans that is the king's officer he cannae speak Cot's

English? We have swords at our hurdles, and here is the King's

Park at hand. Will ye walk first, or let me show ye the way?"

I returned his bow, told him to go first, and followed him. As he

went I heard him grumble to himself about COT'S ENGLISH and the

KING'S COAT, so that I might have supposed him to be seriously

offended. But his manner at the beginning of our interview was

there to belie him. It was manifest he had come prepared to fasten

a quarrel on me, right or wrong; manifest that I was taken in a

fresh contrivance of my enemies; and to me (conscious as I was of

my deficiencies) manifest enough that I should be the one to fall

in our encounter.

As we came into that rough rocky desert of the King's Park I was

tempted half-a-dozen times to take to my heels and run for it, so

loath was I to show my ignorance in fencing, and so much averse to

die or even to be wounded. But I considered if their malice went

as far as this, it would likely stick at nothing; and that to fall

by the sword, however ungracefully, was still an improvement on the

gallows. I considered besides that by the unguarded pertness of my

words and the quickness of my blow I had put myself quite out of

court; and that even if I ran, my adversary would probably pursue

and catch me, which would add disgrace to my misfortune. So that,

taking all in all, I continued marching behind him, much as a man

follows the hangman, and certainly with no more hope.

We went about the end of the long craigs, and came into the

Hunter's Bog. Here, on a piece of fair turf, my adversary drew.

There was nobody there to see us but some birds; and no resource

for me but to follow his example, and stand on guard with the best

face I could display. It seems it was not good enough for Mr.

Dancansby, who spied some flaw in my manoeuvres, paused, looked

upon me sharply, and came off and on, and menaced me with his blade

in the air. As I had seen no such proceedings from Alan, and was

besides a good deal affected with the proximity of death, I grew

quite bewildered, stood helpless, and could have longed to run

away.

"Fat deil ails her?" cries the lieutenant.

And suddenly engaging, he twitched the sword out of my grasp and

sent it flying far among the rushes.

Twice was this manoeuvre repeated; and the third time when I

brought back my humiliated weapon, I found he had returned his own

to the scabbard, and stood awaiting me with a face of some anger,

and his hands clasped under his skirt.

"Pe tamned if I touch you!" he cried, and asked me bitterly what

right I had to stand up before "shentlemans" when I did not know

the back of a sword from the front of it.

I answered that was the fault of my upbringing; and would he do me

the justice to say I had given him all the satisfaction it was

unfortunately in my power to offer, and had stood up like a man?

"And that is the truth," said he.

Catriona Page 33

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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