Catriona

Page 52

The more reason there should be one decent man in such a

land of thieves! My word in passed, and I'll stick to it. I said

long syne to your kinswoman that I would stumble at no risk. Do ye

mind of that?--the night Red Colin fell, it was. No more I will,

then. Here I stop. Prestongrange promised me my life: if he's to

be mansworn, here I'll have to die."

"Aweel aweel," said Alan.

All this time we had seen or heard no more of our pursuers. In

truth we had caught them unawares; their whole party (as I was to

learn afterwards) had not yet reached the scene; what there was of

them was spread among the bents towards Gillane. It was quite an

affair to call them in and bring them over, and the boat was making

speed. They were besides but cowardly fellows: a mere leash of

Highland cattle-thieves, of several clans, no gentleman there to be

the captain and the more they looked at Alan and me upon the beach,

the less (I must suppose) they liked the look of us.

Whoever had betrayed Alan it was not the captain: he was in the

skiff himself, steering and stirring up his oarsmen, like a man

with his heart in his employ. Already he was near in, and the boat

securing--already Alan's face had flamed crimson with the

excitement of his deliverance, when our friends in the bents,

either in their despair to see their prey escape them or with some

hope of scaring Andie, raised suddenly a shrill cry of several

voices.

This sound, arising from what appeared to be a quite deserted

coast, was really very daunting, and the men in the boat held water

instantly.

"What's this of it?" sings out the captain, for he was come within

an easy hail.

"Freens o'mine," says Alan, and began immediately to wade forth in

the shallow water towards the boat. "Davie," he said, pausing,

"Davie, are ye no coming? I am swier to leave ye."

"Not a hair of me," said I.

"He stood part of a second where he was to his knees in the salt

water, hesitating.

"He that will to Cupar, maun to Cupar," said he, and swashing in

deeper than his waist, was hauled into the skiff, which was

immediately directed for the ship.

I stood where he had left me, with my hands behind my back; Alan

sat with his head turned watching me; and the boat drew smoothly

away. Of a sudden I came the nearest hand to shedding tears, and

seemed to myself the most deserted solitary lad in Scotland. With

that I turned my back upon the sea and faced the sandhills. There

was no sight or sound of man; the sun shone on the wet sand and the

dry, the wind blew in the bents, the gulls made a dreary piping.

As I passed higher up the beach, the sand-lice were hopping nimbly

about the stranded tangles. The devil any other sight or sound in

that unchancy place. And yet I knew there were folk there,

observing me, upon some secret purpose. They were no soldiers, or

they would have fallen on and taken us ere now; doubtless they were

some common rogues hired for my undoing, perhaps to kidnap, perhaps

to murder me outright. From the position of those engaged, the

first was the more likely; from what I knew of their character and

ardency in this business, I thought the second very possible; and

the blood ran cold about my heart.

I had a mad idea to loosen my sword in the scabbard; for though I

was very unfit to stand up like a gentleman blade to blade, I

thought I could do some scathe in a random combat. But I perceived

in time the folly of resistance. This was no doubt the joint

"expedient" on which Prestongrange and Fraser were agreed. The

first, I was very sure, had done something to secure my life; the

second was pretty likely to have slipped in some contrary hints

into the ears of Neil and his companions; and it I were to show

bare steel I might play straight into the hands of my worst enemy

and seal my own doom.

These thoughts brought me to the head of the beach. I cast a look

behind, the boat was nearing the brig, and Alan flew his

handkerchief for a farewell, which I replied to with the waving of

my hand.

Catriona Page 53

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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