Catriona

Page 48

He engaged the

goodwife of the house with some compliments upon the rizzoring of

our haddocks; and the whole of the rest of our stay held her in

talk about a cold he had taken on his stomach, gravely relating all

manner of symptoms and sufferings, and hearing with a vast show of

interest all the old wives' remedies she could supply him with in

return.

We left Musselburgh before the first ninepenny coach was due from

Edinburgh for (as Alan said) that was a rencounter we might very

well avoid. The wind although still high, was very mild, the sun

shone strong, and Alan began to suffer in proportion. From

Prestonpans he had me aside to the field of Gladsmuir, where he

exerted himself a great deal more than needful to describe the

stages of the battle. Thence, at his old round pace, we travelled

to Cockenzie. Though they were building herring-busses there at

Mrs. Cadell's, it seemed a desert-like, back-going town, about half

full of ruined houses; but the ale-house was clean, and Alan, who

was now in a glowing heat, must indulge himself with a bottle of

ale, and carry on to the new luckie with the old story of the cold

upon his stomach, only now the symptoms were all different.

I sat listening; and it came in my mind that I had scarce ever

heard him address three serious words to any woman, but he was

always drolling and fleering and making a private mock of them, and

yet brought to that business a remarkable degree of energy and

interest. Something to this effect I remarked to him, when the

good-wife (as chanced) was called away.

"What do ye want?" says he. "A man should aye put his best foot

forrit with the womankind; he should aye give them a bit of a story

to divert them, the poor lambs! It's what ye should learn to

attend to, David; ye should get the principles, it's like a trade.

Now, if this had been a young lassie, or onyways bonnie, she would

never have heard tell of my stomach, Davie. But aince they're too

old to be seeking joes, they a' set up to be apotecaries. Why?

What do I ken? They'll be just the way God made them, I suppose.

But I think a man would be a gomeral that didnae give his attention

to the same."

And here, the luckie coming back, he turned from me as if with

impatience to renew their former conversation. The lady had

branched some while before from Alan's stomach to the case of a

goodbrother of her own in Aberlady, whose last sickness and demise

she was describing at extraordinary length. Sometimes it was

merely dull, sometimes both dull and awful, for she talked with

unction. The upshot was that I fell in a deep muse, looking forth

of the window on the road, and scarce marking what I saw.

Presently had any been looking they might have seen me to start.

"We pit a fomentation to his feet," the good-wife was saying, "and

a het stane to his wame, and we gied him hyssop and water of

pennyroyal, and fine, clean balsam of sulphur for the hoast. . . "

"Sir," says I, cutting very quietly in, "there's a friend of mine

gone by the house."

"Is that e'en sae?" replies Alan, as though it were a thing of

small account. And then, "Ye were saying, mem?" says he; and the

wearyful wife went on.

Presently, however, he paid her with a half-crown piece, and she

must go forth after the change.

"Was it him with the red head?" asked Alan.

"Ye have it," said I.

"What did I tell you in the wood?" he cried. "And yet it's strange

he should be here too! Was he his lane?"

"His lee-lane for what I could see," said I.

"Did he gang by?" he asked.

"Straight by," said I, "and looked neither to the right nor left."

"And that's queerer yet," said Alan. "It sticks in my mind, Davie,

that we should be stirring. But where to?--deil hae't! This is

like old days fairly," cries he.

"There is one big differ, though," said I, "that now we have money

in our pockets."

"And another big differ, Mr.

Catriona Page 49

Robert Louis Stevenson

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