Catriona

Page 38

If you're sure that

you're not followed, Mr. Balfour--but make sure of that--lie in a

good place and watch your road for a clear hour before ye risk it.

It would be a dreadful business if both you and him was to

miscarry!"

CHAPTER X--THE RED-HEADED MAN

It was about half-past three when I came forth on the Lang Dykes.

Dean was where I wanted to go. Since Catriona dwelled there, and

her kinsfolk the Glengyle Macgregors appeared almost certainly to

be employed against me, it was just one of the few places I should

have kept away from; and being a very young man, and beginning to

be very much in love, I turned my face in that direction without

pause. As a slave to my conscience and common sense, however, I

took a measure of precaution. Coming over the crown of a bit of a

rise in the road, I clapped down suddenly among the barley and lay

waiting. After a while, a man went by that looked to be a

Highlandman, but I had never seen him till that hour. Presently

after came Neil of the red head. The next to go past was a

miller's cart, and after that nothing but manifest country people.

Here was enough to have turned the most foolhardy from his purpose,

but my inclination ran too strong the other way. I argued it out

that if Neil was on that road, it was the right road to find him

in, leading direct to his chief's daughter; as for the other

Highlandman, if I was to be startled off by every Highlandman I

saw, I would scarce reach anywhere. And having quite satisfied

myself with this disingenuous debate, I made the better speed of

it, and came a little after four to Mrs. Drumond-Ogilvy's.

Both ladies were within the house; and upon my perceiving them

together by the open door, I plucked off my hat and said, "Here was

a lad come seeking saxpence," which I thought might please the

dowager.

Catriona ran out to greet me heartily, and, to my surprise, the old

lady seemed scarce less forward than herself. I learned long

afterwards that she had despatched a horseman by daylight to

Rankeillor at the Queensferry, whom she knew to be the doer for

Shaws, and had then in her pocket a letter from that good friend of

mine, presenting, in the most favourable view, my character and

prospects. But had I read it I could scarce have seen more clear

in her designs. Maybe I was COUNTRYFEED; at least, I was not so

much so as she thought; and it was even to my homespun wits, that

she was bent to hammer up a match between her cousin and a

beardless boy that was something of a laird in Lothian.

"Saxpence had better take his broth with us, Catrine," says she.

"Run and tell the lasses."

And for the little while we were alone was at a good deal of pains

to flatter me; always cleverly, always with the appearance of a

banter, still calling me Saxpence, but with such a turn that should

rather uplift me in my own opinion. When Catriona returned, the

design became if possible more obvious; and she showed off the

girl's advantages like a horse-couper with a horse. My face flamed

that she should think me so obtuse. Now I would fancy the girl was

being innocently made a show of, and then I could have beaten the

old carline wife with a cudgel; and now, that perhaps these two had

set their heads together to entrap me, and at that I sat and

gloomed betwixt them like the very image of ill-will. At last the

matchmaker had a better device, which was to leave the pair of us

alone. When my suspicions are anyway roused it is sometimes a

little the wrong side of easy to allay them. But though I knew

what breed she was of, and that was a breed of thieves, I could

never look in Catriona's face and disbelieve her.

"I must not ask?" says she, eagerly, the same moment we were left

alone.

"Ah, but to-day I can talk with a free conscience," I replied. "I

am lightened of my pledge, and indeed (after what has come and gone

since morning) I would not have renewed it were it asked."

"Tell me," she said.

Catriona Page 39

Robert Louis Stevenson

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