Catriona

Page 42

Then she turned to me. "He swears it is not," she said.

"Catriona," said I, "do you believe the man yourself?"

She made a gesture like wringing the hands.

"How will I can know?" she cried.

But I must find some means to know," said I. "I cannot continue to

go dovering round in the black night with two men's lives at my

girdle! Catriona, try to put yourself in my place, as I vow to God

I try hard to put myself in yours. This is no kind of talk that

should ever have fallen between me and you; no kind of talk; my

heart is sick with it. See, keep him here till two of the morning,

and I care not. Try him with that."

They spoke together once more in the Gaelic.

"He says he has James More my father's errand," said she. She was

whiter than ever, and her voice faltered as she said it.

"It is pretty plain now," said I, "and may God forgive the wicked!"

She said never anything to that, but continued gazing at me with

the same white face.

"This is a fine business," said I again. "Am I to fall, then, and

those two along with me?"

"O, what am I to do?" she cried. "Could I go against my father's

orders, him in prison, in the danger of his life!"

"But perhaps we go too fast," said I. "This may be a lie too. He

may have no right orders; all may be contrived by Simon, and your

father knowing nothing."

She burst out weeping between the pair of us; and my heart smote me

hard, for I thought this girl was in a dreadful situation.

"Here," said I, "keep him but the one hour; and I'll chance it, and

may God bless you."

She put out her hand to me, "I will he needing one good word," she

sobbed.

"The full hour, then?" said I, keeping her hand in mine. "Three

lives of it, my lass!"

"The full hour!" she said, and cried aloud on her Redeemer to

forgive her.

I thought it no fit place for me, and fled.

CHAPTER XI--THE WOOD BY SILVERMILLS

I lost no time, but down through the valley and by Stockbridge and

Silvermills as hard as I could stave. It was Alan's tryst to be

every night between twelve and two "in a bit scrog of wood by east

of Silvermills and by south the south mill-lade." This I found

easy enough, where it grew on a steep brae, with the mill-lade

flowing swift and deep along the foot of it; and here I began to

walk slower and to reflect more reasonably on my employment. I saw

I had made but a fool's bargain with Catriona. It was not to be

supposed that Neil was sent alone upon his errand, but perhaps he

was the only man belonging to James More; in which case I should

have done all I could to hang Catriona's father, and nothing the

least material to help myself. To tell the truth, I fancied

neither one of these ideas. Suppose by holding back Neil, the girl

should have helped to hang her father, I thought she would never

forgive herself this side of time. And suppose there were others

pursuing me that moment, what kind of a gift was I come bringing to

Alan? and how would I like that?

I was up with the west end of that wood when these two

considerations struck me like a cudgel. My feet stopped of

themselves and my heart along with them. "What wild game is this

that I have been playing?" thought I; and turned instantly upon my

heels to go elsewhere.

This brought my face to Silvermills; the path came past the village

with a crook, but all plainly visible; and, Highland or Lowland,

there was nobody stirring. Here was my advantage, here was just

such a conjuncture as Stewart had counselled me to profit by, and I

ran by the side of the mill-lade, fetched about beyond the east

corner of the wood, threaded through the midst of it, and returned

to the west selvage, whence I could again command the path, and yet

be myself unseen. Again it was all empty, and my heart began to

rise.

For more than an hour I sat close in the border of the trees, and

no hare or eagle could have kept a more particular watch.

Catriona Page 43

Robert Louis Stevenson

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