Catriona

Page 53

But Alan himself was shrunk to a small thing in my view,

alongside of this pass that lay in front of me. I set my hat hard

on my head, clenched my teeth, and went right before me up the face

of the sand-wreath. It made a hard climb, being steep, and the

sand like water underfoot. But I caught hold at last by the long

bent-grass on the brae-top, and pulled myself to a good footing.

The same moment men stirred and stood up here and there, six or

seven of them, ragged-like knaves, each with a dagger in his hand.

The fair truth is, I shut my eyes and prayed. When I opened them

again, the rogues were crept the least thing nearer without speech

or hurry. Every eye was upon mine, which struck me with a strange

sensation of their brightness, and of the fear with which they

continued to approach me. I held out my hands empty; whereupon one

asked, with a strong Highland brogue, if I surrendered.

"Under protest," said I, "if ye ken what that means, which I

misdoubt."

At that word, they came all in upon me like a flight of birds upon

a carrion, seized me, took my sword, and all the money from my

pockets, bound me hand and foot with some strong line, and cast me

on a tussock of bent. There they sat about their captive in a part

of a circle and gazed upon him silently like something dangerous,

perhaps a lion or a tiger on the spring. Presently this attention

was relaxed. They drew nearer together, fell to speech in the

Gaelic, and very cynically divided my property before my eyes. It

was my diversion in this time that I could watch from my place the

progress of my friend's escape. I saw the boat come to the brig

and be hoisted in, the sails fill, and the ship pass out seaward

behind the isles and by North Berwick.

In the course of two hours or so, more and more ragged Highlandmen

kept collecting. Neil among the first, until the party must have

numbered near a score. With each new arrival there was a fresh

bout of talk, that sounded like complaints and explanations; but I

observed one thing, none of those who came late had any share in

the division of my spoils. The last discussion was very violent

and eager, so that once I thought they would have quarrelled; on

the heels of which their company parted, the bulk of them returning

westward in a troop, and only three, Neil and two others, remaining

sentries on the prisoner.

"I could name one who would be very ill pleased with your day's

work, Neil Duncanson," said I, when the rest had moved away.

He assured me in answer I should be tenderly used, for he knew he

was "acquent wi' the leddy."

This was all our talk, nor did any other son of man appear upon

that portion of the coast until the sun had gone down among the

Highland mountains, and the gloaming was beginning to grow dark.

At which hour I was aware of a long, lean, bony-like Lothian man of

a very swarthy countenance, that came towards us among the bents on

a farm horse.

"Lads," cried he, "has ye a paper like this?" and held up one in

his hand. Neil produced a second, which the newcomer studied

through a pair of horn spectacles, and saying all was right and we

were the folk he was seeking, immediately dismounted. I was then

set in his place, my feet tied under the horse's belly, and we set

forth under the guidance of the Lowlander. His path must have been

very well chosen, for we met but one pair--a pair of lovers--the

whole way, and these, perhaps taking us to be free-traders, fled on

our approach. We were at one time close at the foot of Berwick Law

on the south side; at another, as we passed over some open hills, I

spied the lights of a clachan and the old tower of a church among

some trees not far off, but too far to cry for help, if I had

dreamed of it. At last we came again within sound of the sea.

There was moonlight, though not much; and by this I could see the

three huge towers and broken battlements of Tantallon, that old

chief place of the Red Douglases.

Catriona Page 54

Robert Louis Stevenson

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book