Catriona

Page 51

Then they awoke on board the Thistle, and it seemed they had all in

readiness, for there was scarce a second's bustle on the deck

before we saw a skiff put round her stern and begin to pull lively

for the coast. Almost at the same moment of time, and perhaps half

a mile away towards Gillane Ness, the figure of a man appeared for

a blink upon a sandhill, waving with his arms; and though he was

gone again in the same flash, the gulls in that part continued a

little longer to fly wild.

Alan had not seen this, looking straight to seaward at the ship and

skiff.

"It maun be as it will!" said he, when I had told him, "Weel may

yon boatie row, or my craig'll have to thole a raxing."

That part of the beach was long and flat, and excellent walking

when the tide was down; a little cressy burn flowed over it in one

place to the sea; and the sandhills ran along the head of it like

the rampart of a town. No eye of ours could spy what was passing

behind there in the bents, no hurry of ours could mend the speed of

the boat's coming: time stood still with us through that uncanny

period of waiting.

"There is one thing I would like to ken," say Alan. "I would like

to ken these gentry's orders. We're worth four hunner pound the

pair of us: how if they took the guns to us, Davie! They would

get a bonny shot from the top of that lang sandy bank."

"Morally impossible," said I. "The point is that they can have no

guns. This thing has been gone about too secret; pistols they may

have, but never guns."

"I believe ye'll be in the right," says Alan. "For all which I am

wearing a good deal for yon boat."

And he snapped his fingers and whistled to it like a dog.

It was now perhaps a third of the way in, and we ourselves already

hard on the margin of the sea, so that the soft sand rose over my

shoes. There was no more to do whatever but to wait, to look as

much as we were able at the creeping nearer of the boat, and as

little as we could manage at the long impenetrable front of the

sandhills, over which the gulls twinkled and behind which our

enemies were doubtless marshalling.

"This is a fine, bright, caller place to get shot in," says Alan

suddenly; "and, man, I wish that I had your courage!"

"Alan!" I cried, "what kind of talk is this of it! You're just

made of courage; it's the character of the man, as I could prove

myself if there was nobody else."

"And you would be the more mistaken," said he. "What makes the

differ with me is just my great penetration and knowledge of

affairs. But for auld, cauld, dour, deadly courage, I am not fit

to hold a candle to yourself. Look at us two here upon the sands.

Here am I, fair hotching to be off; here's you (for all that I ken)

in two minds of it whether you'll no stop. Do you think that I

could do that, or would? No me! Firstly, because I havenae got

the courage and wouldnae daur; and secondly, because I am a man of

so much penetration and would see ye damned first."

"It's there ye're coming, is it?" I cried. "Ah, man Alan, you can

wile your old wives, but you never can wile me."

Remembrance of my temptation in the wood made me strong as iron.

"I have a tryst to keep," I continued. "I am trysted with your

cousin Charlie; I have passed my word."

"Braw trysts that you'll can keep," said Alan. "Ye'll just

mistryst aince and for a' with the gentry in the bents. And what

for?" he went on with an extreme threatening gravity. "Just tell

me that, my mannie! Are ye to be speerited away like Lady Grange?

Are they to drive a dirk in your inside and bury ye in the bents?

Or is it to be the other way, and are they to bring ye in with

James? Are they folk to be trustit? Would ye stick your head in

the mouth of Sim Fraser and the ither Whigs?" he added with

extraordinary bitterness.

"Alan," cried I, "they're all rogues and liars, and I'm with ye

there.

Catriona Page 52

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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