Catriona

Page 41

A path led in the foot of it, the water bickered

and sang in the midst; the sunbeams overhead struck out of the west

among long shadows and (as the valley turned) made like a new scene

and a new world of it at every corner. With Catriona behind and

Alan before me, I was like one lifted up. The place besides, and

the hour, and the talking of the water, infinitely pleased me; and

I lingered in my steps and looked before and behind me as I went.

This was the cause, under Providence, that I spied a little in my

rear a red head among some bushes.

Anger sprang in my heart, and I turned straight about and walked at

a stiff pace to where I came from. The path lay close by the

bushes where I had remarked the head. The cover came to the

wayside, and as I passed I was all strung up to meet and to resist

an onfall. No such thing befell, I went by unmeddled with; and at

that fear increased upon me. It was still day indeed, but the

place exceeding solitary. If my haunters had let slip that fair

occasion I could but judge they aimed at something more than David

Balfour. The lives of Alan and James weighed upon my spirit with

the weight of two grown bullocks.

Catriona was yet in the garden walking by herself.

"Catriona," said I, "you see me back again."

"With a changed face," said she.

"I carry two men's lives besides my own," said I. "It would be a

sin and shame not to walk carefully. I was doubtful whether I did

right to come here. I would like it ill, if it was by that means

we were brought to harm."

"I could tell you one that would be liking it less, and will like

little enough to hear you talking at this very same time," she

cried. "What have I done, at all events?"

"O, you I you are not alone," I replied. "But since I went off I

have been dogged again, and I can give you the name of him that

follows me. It is Neil, son of Duncan, your man or your father's."

"To be sure you are mistaken there," she said, with a white face.

"Neil is in Edinburgh on errands from my father."

"It is what I fear," said I, "the last of it. But for his being in

Edinburgh I think I can show you another of that. For sure you

have some signal, a signal of need, such as would bring him to your

help, if he was anywhere within the reach of ears and legs?"

"Why, how will you know that?" says she.

"By means of a magical talisman God gave to me when I was born, and

the name they call it by is Common-sense," said I. "Oblige me so

far as make your signal, and I will show you the red head of Neil."

No doubt but I spoke bitter and sharp. My heart was bitter. I

blamed myself and the girl and hated both of us: her for the vile

crew that she was come of, myself for my wanton folly to have stuck

my head in such a byke of wasps.

Catriona set her fingers to her lips and whistled once, with an

exceeding clear, strong, mounting note, as full as a ploughman's.

A while we stood silent; and I was about to ask her to repeat the

same, when I heard the sound of some one bursting through the

bushes below on the braeside. I pointed in that direction with a

smile, and presently Neil leaped into the garden. His eyes burned,

and he had a black knife (as they call it on the Highland side)

naked in his hand; but, seeing me beside his mistress, stood like a

man struck.

"He has come to your call," said I; "judge how near he was to

Edinburgh, or what was the nature of your father's errands. Ask

himself. If I am to lose my life, or the lives of those that hang

by me, through the means of your clan, let me go where I have to go

with my eyes open."

She addressed him tremulously in the Gaelic. Remembering Alan's

anxious civility in that particular, I could have laughed out loud

for bitterness; here, sure, in the midst of these suspicions, was

the hour she should have stuck by English.

Twice or thrice they spoke together, and I could make out that Neil

(for all his obsequiousness) was an angry man.

Catriona Page 42

Robert Louis Stevenson

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